Charlie Brown

Drivers in our capital listening to travel reports may hear a mention of Charlie Brown’s roundabout. It is beneath the North Circular and M11 flyovers, but why is it called Charlie Brown’s roundabout?

The answer goes back to one of the most famous public houses in London’s East End. Charlie Brown’s pub at Limehouse stood at the corner of Garford Street and 114-116 West India Dock Road. It was the haunt of sailors and dock workers. Its official name was the ‘Railway Tavern’, though nobody ever called it that. Wherever they were in the world sailors would say to each other ‘meet you at Charlie Browns’.

Charlie Brown was a flamboyant character. A former boxer and landlord of the pub since 1893, he considered himself Squire of his Manor. The pub reflected his personality by hosting many curiosities from every corner of the globe. As Charlie’s fame spread the collection grew and people started to come from all over London just to see the collection. Following his death, aged 73 in June 1932 Charlie, the ‘uncrowned king of Limehouse’ lay in state in his pub and his funeral procession was one of the biggest the East End had ever seen with 16,000 people gathered at Bow Cemetery. This was only surpassed since by the funeral of Ronnie Kray.

The London and Blackwall railway ran passed the back of the original pub, then in 1989 the Docklands Light Railway Station at Westferry was built and the Commercial Road extended, so the pub was knocked down. Before it’s demolition the original pub had an unmistakeably Irish atmosphere, serving the best Guinness on the Isle of Dogs.

There was some dispute over the rightful heir to Charlie Brown’s treasures. The curios were divided equally between Charlie’s daughter, Ethel, who married Tom Chandler and kept the pub on, and Charlie’s son who was the landlord of the Blue Posts, a pub directly opposite. Both pubs put up signs claiming to be Charlie Browns. This must have caused considerable confusion for the sailors arranging to meet at Charlie’s.

Charlie Junior moved to the roundabout pub (next to Raven Road) in Woodford in 1938. The Limehouse connection was broken but the name lived on.

The roundabout pub was also pulled down in 1972 during the building of the major road intersection. The few remaining curios were said to have passed on the Greyhound Public House, 12 School Lane, Harlow Essex, but sadly no knowledge or trace remained on my visit there.

Outside the roundabout pub was a pole. At the top was a beautifully scaled down model of a fairground carousel complete with finely carved horses resplendent in gilt paint. Who knows what became of this curio?

Gone too, from the opposite side of the roundabout is Charlie Brown’s Transport Cafe ( originally called Ted’s Transport Cafe), which was a famous stop for lorry drivers. The origin of the name `Charlie Brown’s Roundabout’ has more interest than the place today, which is fairly featureless. Its nearest local landmarks are a recently built Tesco Supermarket and the Waterworks Roundabout.