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The Swallowed Anker, Wapping

Taken from the 1980 CAMRA guide to London pubs.

The Swallowed Anker has everything that one could want from a dockland sailor's tavern. Note the unusual sign depicting a sailor of the Napoleonic era. On one side he drinks straight from a barrel or "anker"; on the other he dangles an anchor and chain down his throat. The notice over the door reads: "Pres. Killick, which I'm licenced to retail ales, wines and spirits, ain't I". The public bar is like the forecastle of a sailing frigate, the walls being panelled with reclaimed ship's timbers, polished to a deep shine and highlighted by gleaming brass fittings.

No carbon dioxide cylinders have ever darkened the cellar of this pub. Though a free house they only serve beers from the independent Shelmerston brewery. The most popular beer is "Old Seth" (original gravity 1042) a beautifully conditioned hoppy bitter with a nutty aftertaste. A popular trick when a "yuppie" enters the pub is to suggest a pint of "Surprise 32". This beer is not, as might be thought, brewed to an original gravity of 1032. In fact the original gravity is a staggering 1070. When asked Prescribed Killick, the owner of the pub, said "Which that's the surprise." The name comes from the 32lb carronades of the frigate HMS Surprise which Mr Killick described as "your right smashers". Local doctors recommend "Slime Draught" porter for anaemia. Shelmerston also supply a superb range of wines and spirits at the lowest prices I have seen for many years. Shelmerston has a very good relationship with their French suppliers, and a fleet of coasting ships to import and to transport their products around the coast.

When asked about his unusual name Mr Killick said that his father was called Pressed, and his grandfather Presented. For several generations similar names have been used "to save repainting the sign". I don't know if the name of the original Killick has been preserved.

I asked a visitor, a small-scale vine grower from the south of France visiting London on business, what brought him so far from the usual tourist trail. "I always come here when I am in London to listen to the sea stories. However I consider question and answer to be an unsatisfactory form of discourse so please visit the skittle alley and leave me alone?"

Though the stories being told around the bar were indeed excellent I took his advice. The skittles were all painted as historical naval officers. One particularly battered pin was labelled "Admiral Harte". I asked a player why the alley made so much noise. He tossed me a ball, nearly breaking my wrist. "4lb iron roundshot. Great for shot rolling." He pointed to some strange pieces of ironwork. "Chain and bar shot. We only use them for important league matches.

I would have stayed all day but at that moment Mr Killick blew for time with a bosun's call. I left the pub, happy that so much of our naval and brewing heritage is safely preserved here.

Postscript 1986:
The Swallowed Anker has gone. The area has been redeveloped and this priceless part of our national heritage has gone the way of so many other traditional pubs. I understand that Mr Killick has moved to Shelmerston to pursue a new career with the brewery. Perhaps some small tribute to the veracity of the stories told there may be gleaned from the fact that the site of the Swallowed Anker is now occupied by the editorial offices of "The Sun".

© 2003 Martin Watts