Charlie Brown's Funeral

Charlie Brown's was undoubtedly the most famous pub in the East End. The Railway Tavern was the pubs official name, but nobody ever used it; it was universally known, simply as Charlie Brown's. The pub lay in the shadow of the railway bridge on the corner of Garford Street in Limehouse close to the gates of the West India Dock.

Used by large numbers of Seamen and Dockers the pub was a museum of curiosities gathered from all parts of the world, brought by seaman sailing to and from the docks of East London. The majority of items in the collection were from the Far East and Polynesia. Charlie was a keen bargainer but he had a reputation for making a fair offer for any worthwhile item not already in his collection

Charlie was by all accounts a flamboyant character and was landlord from 1893 until 1932, a larger than life individual who liked to think of himself as the Squire of the Manor of West India Dock Road. A keep-fit fanatic with a broken nose he was quite capable of assisting his bouncers if they were hard pressed. Unusually, one would think for an East End publican he kept a stable of horses and liked to ride out along the West and East India Dock Roads in smartly cut riding gear. He took great care over his personal appearance and was a man to attract many admiring glances. Everyone in Poplar knew him.

Charlie died in June 1932 at the age of 72 and his funeral was a tremendous East End occasion and will surely have a place in its recorded social history for generations to come. The East London Advertiser of June 11th, reported that Limehouse has rarely seen funeral scenes such as those which marked the laying to rest of Mr.Charles Brown, the famous Limehouse publican Mr.Charles Brown who was often called the uncrowned king of Limehouse.

On the day of the funeral hundreds of persons waited for hours before the cortege started on its last journey. The nearby church of St.Peter. Garford Street was crowded for the funeral service and many people who followed the mourners into church could not find seats. The Mayor of Poplar and other civic representatives, together with members of the Ancient Order of Druids wearing the sashes of their order were among those present.

Outside in the streets hawkers were selling "In Memoriam" cards of the late publican. Long before half- past two great crowds had gathered in the vicinity of the Railway Tavern and all the approaches were lined by thousands of people. The East London Observer reported that, " K Division supplied a large force of police, but their duties were light, as the crowds were orderly and respectful. All the neighbouring premises showed signs of mourning in one way or another. Seldom is such a general manifestation of respect and regard shown.

The pavements along the mile and a half route to Bow Cemetery were, it is reported, lined by persons six deep, immense numbers being gathered at the junction of West India Dock Road and Burdett Road. Three coaches filled with flowers followed the hearse and there were 140 floral tributes, there were three mourning coaches and many private cars. The cortege took twenty minutes to pass the Eastern Hotel. In the cemetery the path to the grave was lined by hundreds more people and the police had difficulty in making room for the cortege.

The regard with which Charlie Brown was held in East London is testified to be a Tribute paid to him by the Stipendiary Magistrate at the Thames Police Court who at the beginning of business on the Monday following the funeral said that he thought it was only fitting that he should refer to the very great loss that the neighbourhood and the world in general had sustained through the much regretted death of Mr.Charles Brown, the well-known Limehouse publican, who was known all over the world as Charlie Brown....the neighbourhood has lost a very great benefactor...sympathy will be expressed with his relatives from all classes of people, both at home and abroad.

Some accounts of the funeral of Charlie Brown refer to his lying in state in the pub surrounded by his curiosities and the floral tributes, the family denied that such a thing had happened.

After the death of Charlie Brown, two rival factions disputed who should be the rightful heir to the Charlie Brown legend, was it his son Charlie Junior who was the landlord of the Blue Posts the pub directly opposite or his son-in-law the husband of Ethel, Charlies daughter who continued at the Railway Arms. At one time both pubs displayed a notice claiming to be "Charlie Browns"! The curiosities were shared between son and daughter and displayed at both pubs. Due to the ill health of Ethel, the Railway Tavern closed in 1936. Charlie Junior moved to the Roundabout pub in Woodford in 1938 and that effectively brought an end to a Limehouse era during which this remarkable publican, Charlie Brown, was a dominant character. The Railway Tavern was demolished in 1989 to allow for the building of an elevated line for the new Dockland Light Railway.

I went to Poplar as a young soldier in December 1939 and was billeted within a few yards of both The Railway Tavern and The Blue Posts , but I had heard of Charlie Brown long before I arrived in East London.

Arthur Royall
August 1999.

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