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Not Brentford

A Tale of Two Pubs: Memories of Brentford in the 1940s

Authors: Peter Reeve and Jean McMillan (nee Reeve)

Peter & Jean’s father Edward John Reeve ran two well-known Brentford pubs on the eastern side of the town: the Bull and the Barge Aground. The family lived at both pubs during the war.

Our father ran the Bull (350 High Street) originally, from 1933. It was owned by the Chiswick Brewery, Fuller, Smith & Turner and had its own stables attached: two coalmen and the greengrocer kept their horses there.

The publican at the Barge Aground (362 High Street) scarpered when the bombing started in WW2 – the Germans were aiming for the Gas Works nearby. The brewery asked our father to take over the Barge Aground which he did: our mum ran this one.


Air Raids!

Jean adds ‘the air raid bombing was horrendous. The brewery also owned a cottage next to the Barge Aground, 361 High Street, the Beard family lived there. The husband was in the Navy and Mrs Beard was out one evening, leaving seven children at home. The bombing started and so we went into our back garden and managed to get the children over the garden wall and into our place for safety.’

Jean remembers another air raid. ‘The Barge Aground had three cellars, one for beer, one for spirits and one for coal. After the bombing started one of the cellars was shored up with joists and we brought our beds down here: Mum, Dad, Peter, my sister, the barmaid and our great dane dog.’

‘ I remember we heard a whistling sound and Dad said ‘This one’s for us” and mum pulled me off my bunk on to her bed.’

‘After the explosion I remember seeing a flake of whitewash which had come off the wall and was slowly twirling down. We heard a hissing sound which could have been gas or water so got out through the front of the pub, walking over the rubble (the pub had lost its front wall). Mum took us to North Road to stay whilst Dad went to check if the Bull was OK.’

The boxer

In the 1930s in the Bull was a gymnasium for boxers to train and one man, Teddy Larkham , was tipped to be a good boxer. However the war came and he went away to fight. We heard he was injured and thought ‘Oh well, he’ll come home to recover and will be able to pick up his boxing again’. But when he arrived home we found he had been blinded and would no longer be able to fight.

Nelson Larkham lived at 324 High Street, just to the east of Ealing Road, in 1940; could this be Teddy or his father?


Round and about

Across the road from the Barge Aground was the wall to the Gas Works and by the side of the Barge Aground (to the right as you look at it) was a cobbled alley which led to the back, with big double gates at the end into a field owned by the Gas Works.

Further west, beyond Beard’s cottage at 361 was another Gas Works building, then on Distillery Road corner, or a little way up Distillery Road, was J Dorey & Sons, a builders merchant who sold mostly timber. His premises ran through into Pottery Road behind the High Street shops and he had a first storey opening to load goods from Pottery Road.

Between Pottery Road and Distillery Road on the High Street was a barbers – Martins (352 High Street), and a dairy (353 High Street) and a couple of other shops.

Past the Bull at 350 was another Gas Works place and a paper cum sweet shop.

Mrs Pinks ran an eel and pie shop just past Ealing Road.

Going east from the Barge Aground was North Road, St George’s Church (Peter remembers being woken up by the church bells) and the Water Works. Towards Kew Bridge I remember two or three houses which I think had steps up to them. In one was Mr Young, the cats’ meat man (403 High Street). He sold horse meat, not fit for human consumption. He went around Brentford on his bike, posting long wooden skewers, each with 10-12 pieces of meat, 2”-3” square, through the letter boxes of his customers.

Peter was apprenticed to printers on Albany Place and remembers Rattenbury’s pawn shop on the corner of Albany Place (288 & 289 High Street) with bow windows. ‘I was fascinated by the way they printed pledges there: they had a set of four pens which allowed them to write out four copies of receipts at once’.

He also remembers the bakers Simmons on the corner of Albany Place (290 High Street) and across the road Young & Martens hardware shop (52 High Street). Another good hardware shop was Howards (298-300 High Street).


Other pubs

As children of publicans other local pubs were remembered: The Royal Tar (3 High Street) and The Plough, Wagon & Horses, Star & Garter and State Express at the eastern end of town near Kew Bridge. The Watermans Arms on Ferry Lane, near the Half Acre, the Feathers (232 High Street), on the corner of St Paul’s Road and the White Horse in the Market Place, behind the Magistrates Court building.

Filming and floods

Peter also remembers filming taking place in Brentford, it being near Ealing and Twickenham film studios: “Spare a Copper” featuring George Formby was filmed by Ealing Studios in the Distillery Road / Pottery Road area and released in 1941. In 1957 “Hell Drivers” starring Stanley Baker was released, this was filmed on the High Street near the Gas Works.

Flooding: Peter remembers The Ham in New Brentford was flooded every year and he remembers the cellars of the Barge Aground being flooded.

Ghost and grit

Richard Stibbons wrote in the Mechanical Music Digest Archives:

Back in the early sixties I was Assistant Curator of the Brentford Piano Museum. Next door to the famous Church was an abandoned Victorian riverside pub, "The Barge Aground." The pub had been empty for some time having had a succession of tenant landlords, all of whom had been chased out by a famous ghost. The spirit in residence was so well known someone even wrote a book about it, "Twinkletoes.".... Full article

Jean refutes this 'The Barge Aground didn't have a ghost. Landlords left because life was hard at the end of the war. Not a lot of money to spend. I would love to meet "Twinkletoes" and put him right!'.

So - maybe no ghost - however Jean adds a sadder story: 'Round about 1946 a man jumped off the gasometer and ended up in the churchyard (of St George's church). Suicide.'

Finally from Jean, she remembers one unwelcome effect of having the Gas Works just across the road more irritating than any ghostly presence: any surfaces in the pub were covered by little bits of black grit, however often you cleaned. Jean remembers that, despite this, people used to be walked around the Gas Works if they had respiratory problems.


The two pubs, the Bull and Barge Aground, have both gone, the Barge Aground was demolished in the 1960s.


Published July 2010