Pub Science Experiment #1

The Railway Bell, Mitcham Road

Category: nearly-Railway

In the shiny darkness of a rainy late autumn evening in London’s South Western suburbs, the Railway Bell looks rather promising. From the front it’s wide but low, and the yellowy lights promise cosiness and warmth. You could imagine it was doing that country-pub-in-London thing.

And stepping inside, it’s not unfriendly. Rather, it’s utterly indifferent to your presence. You’re shot uninterested glances from the few small groups of people huddled in the pub’s wide-open spaces. It’s early evening on a Tuesday: something of a graveyard shift. Even so you can tell it’s a bleak old place. I suppose once upon a time it may have had several – five or six? – middle-sized bars, each with its own character(s). Now they’ve all been knocked into one, with a large, but still rather marooned, island bar in the centre. There are a few pool tables scattered about.

The three hand pumps on the bar don’t look like they’ve been used for a while. There remains the odd hint of possible past glories: a decent tiled fireplace or a few remnants of some stained glass. Now this feels like one of those blighted pubs near major football grounds – pubs which make all their money in a three hour spell before a game once a week, and which have cleared out anything which might obstruct the football fan’s route to the packed bar. But there’s no big club nearby, and the threadbare sofas seem to point a bit apologetically to the little telly in the corner, which was using its Sky connection to play Heart FM, or similar. So at least the music was good.

I mention my surprise that they don’t seem to have any rail memorabilia past a few pictures of engines. Tom shrugs: he seems to be catching the mood of the place. We sup up unusually fast, and wander off, thinking that this experiment might be a long one.

Overall mark: (out of 10) 3