There was a whole load of wassailing going on in Carshalton at the weekend. KEN TOWL went along to find out what the fuss was all about.
Photos: SIMON BENTLEY
I find myself speaking to a man who appears to be wearing a gold lamé dress.
He is not a contestant on Ru Paul’s Drag Race but, rather, the landlord of The Hope in Carshalton. His name is Rodger Molyneux, and I have met him before.
Then, he was dressed in a less remarkable outfit at a meeting at Croydon Town Hall to provide his experience and advice about the Asset of Community Value status of The Glamorgan in Addiscombe. Now, Molyneux is celebrating 10 years of successfully reviving a Carshalton institution and, dressed as “The Infant Sun”, his part as one of the Jack Frost Wassailers, celebrating the new year and the successful revival of the planet.
All of this only happened because of a drunken conversation a decade ago…
Early in 2010, a bunch of drinkers in The Hope were commiserating with each other over the impending closure of yet another pub. This time, it was their own local.
As the beer flowed, they resolved to buy the pub themselves.
They acquired the leasehold and then, in 2015, the freehold. Now, in 2020, the 46 shareholders of The Hope are about to celebrate a decade of success.
Under the expert and sympathetic management of Molyneux, the pub has gone from strength to strength, winning CAMRA’s Greater London Pub of the Year Award in 2012, 2013, 2016, 2017 and 2019.
Before The Hope, in its current guise, was born, George Orwell described his ideal London pub, The Moon on the Water. It would have, among other attributes, “draught stout, open fires, cheap meals, a garden, motherly barmaids and no radio,” and be “only two minutes from a bus stop, but it is on a side-street, and drunks and rowdies never seem to find their way”.
It is a model which The Hope goes a long way to matching.
The beer is ever-changing (they stage real ale festivals over weekends most months of the year), apart from the perennial Windsor & Eton’s Knight of the Garter, a light refreshing session beer. There is always an impressive choice available on draught, usually seven ales, three ciders and a couple of exotic-looking lagers. And a lot of bottled ale, too, of course.
The pub itself appears to be well-loved by the owners, the friendly and efficient staff and the clientele, regulars and visitors alike. The shareholders’ commitment to the pub is evinced in the work they have done extending and improving the building and the beer garden and decking out the back.
At 9pm, the Jack Frost Wassailers appear at the pub, having no doubt wassailed their way around town. They put on a little play, a strange, vaguely pagan celebration of the new year. More strangely still, some of the regulars begin to throw Brussels sprouts at the performers. Undeterred, they struggle on.
I ask one of their assailants why she is doing this and, cryptically, she says, “It started with the mummers and we have been doing it ever since.” There is probably a parallel universe somewhere where that means something.
It seems that there’s always “something” on at The Hope, and not just the expected darts leagues, cribbage nights or pub quiz.
There is a “cheese and cider event” all day on Saturday, January 25 which, if you need an excuse, is as good as any. You may not always find a man in a gold lamé dress in The Hope (indeed, you may not always want to), but you will always find good beer and cider and that elusive and, dare I say it, golden quality atmosphere.
Towards the end of his article (which appeared in the Evening Standard on February 9, 1946), Orwell confessed that “as the discerning and disillusioned reader will probably have guessed already, there is no such place as the Moon Under Water”.
He should not have despaired. There is always The Hope.
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