Narrow Boat Pub, Ladbroke Grove

Last week, I featured a pub in Belgravia that is still there. For today’s post, I am in Ladbroke Grove to visit the site of a lost pub. This is the Narrow Boat on Ladbroke Grove, adjacent to the bridge over the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal.

This was the Narrow Boat pub in 1986:

Narrow Boat Pub

The pub has disappeared, bridge rebuilt, and the Narrow Boat has been replaced by a block of flats:

Narrow Boat Pub

My father took the 1986 photo, and I have no idea whether including the passing cars in the frame was intentional or accidental. Chauffeur driven cars, and I do not recognise the man sitting in the rear of the car on the right.

If the passing cars were accidently included in the frame, this was the days of film, so taking another when there was a risk of more traffic in the view was often an inefficient use of film. Very different to today when you can take as many digital photos as needed to get the right view.

The Narrow Boat was located on the north east corner of the bridge taking Ladbroke Grove over the Paddington arm of the Grand Union Canal. I have highlighted the location with the red circle in the following map (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Ladbroke Grove

An area I have not written about before (there are so many still to do). The large area of green space to the left of the pub is Kensal Green Cemetary, which is well worth a visit.

The Narrow Boat was a relatively recent name for the pub. It had originally been called the Victoria. The name changed in 1977 when the Chiswick brewer’s Fuller, Smith and Turner took over the pub. A news report of the change in ownership records that the name change was in keeping with the pub’s proximity to the Portobello Docks, and the narrow boats that carried goods along the canal. The new landlords of the pub were also new to the pub trade. Wally Sharpe had been a London cab-driver for eleven years and Irene Sharpe had been a civil servant.

They had plans to completly refurbish the pub, and for a beer garden and the build of a landing stage on the canal for passing canal traffic.

Judging from the exterior of the pub just nine years later, I am not sure how many of these plans came through to completion. I suspect that Wally and Irene were just ahead of their time, and a pub with gardens facing onto the Grand Union Canal could now be rather profitable, especially as the area is not particularly well served with pubs.

I cannot find the exact date when the pub opened. There are newspaper references to the Victoria pub in the 1890s. In the late 19th century this was on the edges of built London with still many fields to the north and west. Kensal Green Cemetary had opened in 1833, making use of the amount of open space available in the area.

The Paddington arm of the Grand Union Canal opened in 1801 to provide a link between Paddington Basin and the main Grand Union Canal which connected with Birmingham and much of the rest of the country’s canal network.

The Victoria may not therefore have been opened much earlier than the 1890s, unless it was built to serve those passing on the canal.

In the late 1970s, the Marylebone Mercury had a regular beer column and on the 14th September 1979, one of the improvements to London pubs was the fitting of hand pumps in Fullers pubs, with fifty so far being upgraded to return to more traditional ways of serving beer. The Narrow Boat was included in the list of pubs in which the author of the column would enjoy a pint.

in the same year, the beer column commented that the Narrow Boat pub had been included in the Campaign for Real Ale’s 1979 edition of the Good Beer Guide.

Earlier mentions of the pub include a report in 1912 into the drowning of an eight year old boy who had been fishing in the canal. Joseph Church, the landlord at the time was one of those trying to rescue the boy and was called as a witness at the inquest.

In 1902, the Kilburn Times reported on the trial of a drinker in the Victoria who was charged with disorderly conduct and assaulting a Police Constable. In a strange turn of events, the drinker was found innocent after evidence presented, including from the pub’s landlord, proved that the Police Constable had intimidated and assaulted the drinker. The Police Constable was reported.

Apart from that, the Victoria / Narrow Boat appears to have passed a reasonably quite life servicing the locals, workers on the canal, and those from the gas works opposite.

The following photo is looking to the west, from the bridge that carries Ladbroke Grove over the canal.

Grand Union Canal

Parts of Kensal Green cemetary can just be seen on the right, and the large building in the distance on the left is a Sainsbury’s store. The area on the left was once occupied by a large gas works.

The view over the opposite side of the Ladbroke Grove bridge, looking towards the east.

Grand Union Canal

There has been, and still is much development in the area. This is St John’s Terrace which originally ran from Harrow Road to the rear of the Narrow Boat. The building that has replaced the pub can be seen at the end of the street.

Ladbroke Grove

On the corner of St John’s Terrace and Harrow Road is the closed premises of the Tyre and Wheel Company, which has been closed for some time, and I assume is waiting for demolition and probably the build of new flats.

Ladbroke Grove

Walking back south along Ladbroke Grove, over the bridge and turning into Kensal Road is the boarded up remains of another pub. This was the late 19th century Western Arms.

Ladbroke Grove

The Western Arms originally had a large single storey ground floor bar running to the right of the three storey block, however this looks to have been recently demolished,

The pub was called the Playhouse during its last years as a pub, finally becoming a cocktail bar / performance venue. The old pub occupies a reasonably large corner plot so could easily suffer the same fate at the Narrow Boat, however as the three storey block has so far been left standing there is some hope that this will be retained, and the building retains a similar function to that performed during its time as a pub.

Ladbroke Grove

A short walk along Kensal Road offers other buildings of interest. This is “The Gramophone Works”:

Ladbroke Grove

The name comes from the building being the home of Saga Records Ltd during the 1960s and 70s.

The site was purchased in 1960 by Marcel Rodd, who purchased Saga Records the following year.

Saga Records was one of the first companies to reduce the cost of records, to try and break up control of the market by the major music companies. The majority of their music publishing appears to have been classical records, however they also included jazz and West End shows in their catalogue. In 1966 on their Saga EROS label they released the soundtrack to West Side Story by the original English cast.

A short distance further along Kensal Road is another closed pub. Again, from the 19th century and with the wonderful original name of “Lads of the Village”.

Ladbroke Grove

The pub features in a number of interesting news reports. The earliest I can find dates from 1864, so I suspect the pub dates from the 1850s, or very early 1860s. The headline in the 1864 article gives an indication of trouble, and the fact that this area was then a very new development:

“Riot at Kensal New Town – Mr Alfred Price, the landlord of the ‘Lads of the Village’ beershop, Kensal New Town, said: Yesterday morning I left my house a little after six o’clock. I closed the house, barricaded and locked the tap-room door which opens into the street. I bolted the bar door, and went out by the front door, which closed with a spring lock.

I returned between six and seven o’clock the same morning, after taking a walk. I found the tap-room door broken open, and all these men there. Shay was behind the bar acting as landlord. I had porter and ale on the engine, and he was drawing from it. I saw eight pots of beer filled and a half-gallon can, also full, on the counter. The others were partaking of the beer, and giving it away as well to parties outside and others inside.

I said ‘How dare you force into my premises and give away my beer’ Shay merely laughed. They continued drawing the beer and drinking it, in spite of me. I saw Foley and Gadstone shortly afterwards, and they partook of the beer. I went for the police at eight o’clock, and returned with a constable. There were about 40 gallons of beer and ale on draught at the time. I find the barrels are drained and the bung of another barrel had been taken out and the contents were wasted”.

Foley was jailed for three months for assaulting a policeman, and the judge ordered a police inspector to investigate further.

The name of the pub was frequently abbreviated to just The Village, however not that long ago changed name to Frames, although it did not last long with the new name, closing in 2016, and no indication of when current work will complete, and what the old pub will eventually become.

Returning back up Kensal Road to the location of the Narrow Boat pub and looking across the bridge is a rather unusual structure:

Ladbroke Grove

This is an old water tower that was originally built in the 1930s to hold 5,000 gallons of water ready to use if parts of the adjacent gas works caught fire.

The water tower was converted for designer Tom Dixon by the architectural practice SUSD Architects. Building work was completed in 2012, with additional floors added to the water tower to provide a kitchen, two reception rooms, two bathrooms and two bedrooms.

There were originally plans to extend accommodation down to ground level, hiding the four concrete legs, however these plans do not seem to have made any further progress since the initial conversion.

Ladbroke Grove

The building is in a strange location. There must be good views over the surrounding area as there is nothing of similiar or greater height to block the view.

Access is via the temporary looking scaffold stairs to the side of the tower.

A walk round to the side of the Sainsbury’s car park provides another view of the tower:

Ladbroke Grove

No idea if anyone is living in the converted water tower at the moment, but it would be a rather interesting place to stay, and look out over the canal, and the streets of Ladbroke Grove, Kensal Green and Kilburn.

All the locations covered in this post are within a five minute walk of the Ladbroke Grove bridge over the Grand Union Canal. In that short distance, there were once three pubs. One, the Narrow Boat has completely disappeared, and the future does not look good for the remaining two empty buildings.

I have many more 1980s London pubs to visit, some remaining, some lost, however I will break these up after two weeks of pubs and return to these again in the coming months – and hopefully when we can go inside.

21 thoughts on “Narrow Boat Pub, Ladbroke Grove

  1. Peter Browning

    Fullers and youngs beers my favorites thinking of my 1st pint of either at 7-45am after reading this blog.
    There seem to be a frenzy of knocking down buildings and throwing up flat which will be no where the value of what people paid for them when they come to sell ,
    Some only a few years old are very tatty indeed.

      1. Mick Beaman

        Social hoysing Gavin. When those were built the grant regime effectively capped build costs. The far nicer flats over the canoeing centre across the road were not similairly afflicted. (I was involved in funding them).

  2. Rob W

    Another fascinating post. I remember the pub very well when I lived In the area in the 80s and 90s . In 1984 there was also a short-lived jazz club opposite it at Portobello Dock called The Basin, run by Richard Branson. Virgin Records were across the canal in a building on Harrow Road. One of Branson’s failures maybe! It didn’t last long.

  3. Margot

    So much rich history now all boarded up for demolition 🙁 but it is so good to have the stories and pictures remain thru you and your Father. Thank you

  4. Marky

    Very interesting thanks for sharing…I believe in kensal green cemetry a famous world war 2 special operations executive spy is buried. Thanks for posting

  5. John Staerck

    Not sure about the water tower. Odd conversion! Odd location! I don’t think that it would be my first
    choice! to call home. It would be an absolute nightmare getting the furniture up all those stairs? Little wonder it’s still unoccupied. Dream home or nightmare folly? Nonetheless, enjoyed the post, as always.
    Many thanks.

  6. Joan Grant

    The area has a lot of pubs, some still operating some closed. There are/were half a dozen within 400 yards of The Narrow Boat. All hark back to the area’s working class roots in the Victorian period.

  7. Mick Beaman

    Many a happy hour spent in the Narrow Boat around 40 years ago. Later, running a local regeneration programme, I had a hand in funding the renovation of the Dissenters Chapel’ on the Cemetery together with the canal side canoeing centre across the road. I believe that the strange tower residence is still Tom Dixon’s home. We didn’t have a clue what to do with it so were pleased to see it converted with private finance! The ‘Village lads’ pub further down the road was popularly known as the Village Idiot. In Victorian times the area to the South of Kensal Road used to be occupied by laundries and there was a large Irish population. Efforts to calm tensions between the locals and the lads from the nearby Queens Park Estate were partly responsible for the creation of what became Queens Park Rangers Football Club. A bit further along the road, the private Cobden Club used to include Kate Moss, Rifat Ozbek, Malcolm McLaren and Emily Lloyd among its members.

  8. Tom

    Very interesting post, and I love photo-bombing mourner in your dad’s picture. Strange to see Sainsbury’s without the gasholders behind, you missed their demolition by just a couple of weeks. I have mixed feelings about the water tower – in a sense I was glad to see it preserved at the time but the plans that have been granted permission since are so divorced from its original industrial purpose as to be little more than a land-grab if they go ahead.

  9. Trevor Haynes

    Another fascinating piece about London’s social history. Keep ’em coming!
    You said “The Paddington arm of the Grand Union Canal … provide[s] a link between the Regent’s Canal and the main Grand Union Canal … The two canals joined at Little Venice.” Just for clarity, while the Regent’s Canal does join the Grand Union at Little Venice, the Paddington Arm runs from Little Venice to terminate just east of Paddington – north of the junction between South Wharf Road and Praed Street, NW1.

  10. Charles Morgan

    The Water Tower could be turned into a rocket with abit of imagination. Put the area on the map in terms of space exploration. Just right for Londoners wanting to travel to the Moon and back and have a relaxing pint or two in one of the few remaining local pubs after their trip. Pity architects are allowed to build blocks of flats nowadays which look like shipping containers, the new brutalism.

  11. Geof Branch

    The Narrow Boat was a lovely pub and I spent many happy hours there. It had two drawbacks: it served Fullers ESB which was a very strong beer but slipped down the throat very easily; and it had perhaps the steepest stairs I have encountered down to the toilets. Tricky!

  12. Rod Worth

    Went to the Narrow Boat quite a few times in the late 80’s. As an Aussie traveller working at Hot and Cold Inc. (13-15 Golborne Road, Ladbroke Grove), and living in Kensal Green, to save money I often walked home. Most days I walked through the Cemetery and passed the Narrow Boat. Sometimes the lure of ‘the boat’ would be too much. I would stop in or my colleagues would pop in for a pint or two as well.

    Had some excellent times there.

    ESB – fully concur with Geoff above.!


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