On a residential street to the north of Canary Wharf can be found a big wooden pole, with a white horse on top.

As I am sure some of you already guessed, it’s from an old pub that used to be at this location, unsurprisingly called The White Horse.

There had been a White Horse pub on this corner of Poplar High Street since at least 1690, and while today this is mainly a residential area, it was once a thriving High Street with no less than 17 pubs along it.

Archaeology research in 2002 found indications of malt thrashing dating back to medieval times, so the location has likely had a brewing history ever since the first building was erected here.

The pub however gained notoriety in the 1740s for being run by Mr & Mrs How, were in fact two ladies.

The story has been retold many times as it’s quite famous, but the gist of it is that Mary East decided, aged 16 that she was to live her life as a man, and with an unnamed family friend as her wife. They kept a number of taverns, before ending up running the White Horse in 1745.

Mrs How sadly died and her husband was now uncovered as a woman by an attempted blackmailer. To their credit, the local community rallied to the unconventional man and helped arrest the blackmailer, and the reason we know is that the blackmailer was put on trial.

At the trial, and for the rest of her life, Mary East lived as a woman, and died in 1780.

Whether she was gay or just unconventional is unknown.

The pub was rebuilt in the 18th century, and later brought by Truman’s Brewery in 1921. The pub was damaged during WW2, and was a lucky survivor as most of the houses around it were badly hit.

Some post-war rebuilding took place, and the pub seemed to survive this, although a photo taken in 1936 seems to show the building next to the pub as demolished and the pub seems to have later taken over that plot of land as well.

However, in 2003 it was demolished to be replaced with a rather less appealing block of flats. A pubs-to-flats conversion would have been much nicer, but alas not to be.

The pub sign though, that secured a preservation order and is still there today. Older photos show the wooden nameplate was still in situ a few years ago, but that’s since vanished.

A note. I used to live nearby this, and the road is still one I walked down in pre-pandemic times fairly regularly.

Yet, in probably 300 walks past, and maybe as many cycles past, I never noticed the white horse on a pole in the middle of the pavement.

I’ve walked right past it, under it indeed, and considering my tendency to look at everything other than what’s right in front of me, I may even have bashed my nose on that pole.

So it’s quite a shock to spy a marker called White Horse on a map, and thinking there’s no pub there investigated and found a horse on a pole. How the heck did I miss that?

It’s a reminder that London never ceases to throw up surprises, even when they’re right in front of us.

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One comment
  1. Babs Wilson says:

    Delightful post Ian.

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