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The Royal Oak is a Grade II listed public house at 73 Columbia Road in Bethnal Green, East London. Although not known to have been associated with the twins, it was used as a filming location for both Kray twins films.

The only real connection there is between twin gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray and The Royal Oak pub located at 73 Columbia Road in the Bethnal Green district near Hackney is the fact that the pub was one of the filming locations used in the 1990 film The Krays, which starred brothers Gary and Martin Kemp.

HistoryEdit

The address formerly being 19 Barnet Street, this pub was re-built in its current form in 1923, although records state a public house being situated here since 1842. It was built in 1923 for Truman's Brewery, and probably designed by their in-house architect A. E. Sewell. It was Grade II listed in 2015 by Historic England.

Inter-war ‘improved’ or ‘reformed’ pubs stemmed from a desire to cut back on the amount of drunkenness associated with conventional Victorian and Edwardian public houses. Licensing magistrates and breweries combined to improve the facilities and reputation of the building type. Improved pubs were generally more spacious than their predecessors, often with restaurant facilities, function rooms and gardens, and consciously appealed to families and to a mix of incomes and classes. Central, island serveries with counters opening onto several bar areas allowed the monitoring of customers and also the efficient distribution of staff to whichever area needed service. Many, although not all, of the new pubs were built as an accompaniment to new suburban development around cities, and a policy of ‘fewer and better’ was followed by magistrates both in town and on the outskirts. A licence might be granted for a new establishment on surrender of one or more licences for smaller urban premises. Approximately 1,000 new pubs were built in the 1920s – the vast majority of them on ‘improved’ lines - and almost 2,000 in the period 1935-39. Neo-Tudor and Neo-Georgian were the favoured styles, although others began to appear at the end of the period.

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Exterior of the pub, 2015.

The Royal Oak was an early example of a pub improvement project undertaken by the east London brewery Truman’s, founded c1666. Dating from 1923, it was a rebuilding on the site of an earlier pub of the same name that was licensed from at least 1842. The earlier pub was clearly part of the early development of Columbia Road which was built up from 1830, and formed the corner-piece of a terrace of modest, two-storey houses to the east. A plan from c1900 shows stabling provision to the rear, accounting for the unusual length of the Royal Oak’s plot, which runs north-west to what was once Providence Yard (now part of Ezra Street).

No plans of the 1923 rebuilding are known to survive, but on stylistic grounds it is very likely to have been designed by Truman’s lead architect, Arthur Edward Sewell (1872-1946). Sewell, a licentiate of the RIBA, was the principal architect and surveyor for Truman’s throughout the inter-war period; he was initially employed by the brewery in 1902 and designed at least 40 pubs for the firm; his last known work, the Royal George near Euston, was undertaken in c1939. He was a designer of some note, his public houses – mainly located in or just outside of London – regularly being featured in architectural journals of the time. Sewell’s pubs were generally designed in a simple form influenced by Neo-Georgian, Arts and Crafts and Moderne design, though he was also comfortable working in the Neo-Tudor style. A number of pubs by Sewell have been listed, including the Railway Hotel, Barnet (1930-31), the Ivy House, Southwark (c1936), the Royal George, Camden (1939-40) and the Golden Heart, Tower Hamlets (1936), all at Grade II.

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The Royal Oak being used as The Blind Beggar in Legend, 2015.

It is likely that the ground floor of the Royal Oak would originally have been divided into at least four separate bar rooms; partitions have since been removed to create an open plan. An early photograph of the pub shows that the corner entrance led into the saloon bar; this is named on a hanging sign that was originally located adjacent to the doorway, as well as on the door’s etched glass. Beyond this, to the north-west, was what was probably a saloon dining room. The saloon bar was divided by the centrally placed off sales compartment from what was almost certainly a public bar, entered through the single doorway on the right of the pub’s main façade. To the rear of this is likely to have been a games or dining room. A central servery was accessible from each of these spaces, and to the centre of the bar was likely to have been a publican’s office, the walls of which would have created a bar back and obscured lines of sight across the bar between the separate rooms. It appears that there was a kitchen located – as remains the case today – in the single-storey projection to the rear. The ground floor windows, formerly containing etched glass, have been replaced, though the etched glass in one pair of doors survives.

Present DayEdit

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Interior, 2015.

Along with the Birdcage at 80 Columbia Road, the Royal Oak has a close association with the famous Colombia Road Flower Market and operates as an ‘early pub’, serving traders and customers of the market from nine o’clock on Sunday mornings. There has been a street market on Columbia Road since the C19, and it gradually evolved as a flower market, moving from Saturday to Sunday as the area’s Jewish population increased. By 1900 it was one of the largest flower markets in London, and in the post-war period it grew in popularity and fame, and by the 1980s was of international repute. The high rate of survival of the Royal Oak, the Victorian housing along Columbia Road and the adjoining Ezra Street, with its cobbled surface, have led to the Royal Oak being featured in a series of films set in wartime or 1950s London, as well as more recent British gangster films, most notably ‘The Krays’ (1990) and Guy Ritchie’s ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ (1998). The pub featured heavily in ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’, a BBC television series which ran for six seasons between 1993 and 1999. It also features in scenes for Brian Helgeland’s crime thriller ‘Legend’, another dramatisation of the lives of Ronald and Reginald Kray. The scene in The Krays where the twins have an altercation with the Maltese was filmed at The Royal Oak.

The pub, however, is located not far from another pub with a strong association with the Krays. The Blind Beggar pub on Whitechapel Road is the site where, in 1966, Ronnie Kray killed George Cornell, shooting Cornell in the head with a 9mm Mauser.

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