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The George Tavern ready to reopen in the Commercial Road despite early scrape with coronavirus

PUBLISHED: 12:00 25 May 2020

Cheers! ...Pauline Forster ready to serve up the first pint when The George Tavern reopens after the pandemic emergency. Picture: Mike Brooke

Cheers! ...Pauline Forster ready to serve up the first pint when The George Tavern reopens after the pandemic emergency. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

Battling pub landlady Pauline Forster hasn’t been resting her feet during the lockdown while getting ready to reopen Stepney’s historic George Tavern.

Stepney's 'new look' George Tavern in the Commercial Road now painted in Georgian dark brown with its gold leaf fiddly bits retained. Picture: George TavernStepney's 'new look' George Tavern in the Commercial Road now painted in Georgian dark brown with its gold leaf fiddly bits retained. Picture: George Tavern

The “half way house” in the Commercial Road dating back four centuries has been given a lick of paint in traditional Georgian dark brown ready to reopen whenever the government says she can.

Pauline, meanwhile, uses the time giving the place the once-over with a deep cleaner, getting the customer toilets spruced up and launching a crowdfunding campaign to raise £10,000 to keep The George alive and well.

“I’ve been extremely busy during the pandemic,” Pauline tells you. “The old place was due for repainting as it gets a lot of traffic dirt.

“The lockdown was the chance to tidy up the place. Now we’ve started on the toilets, bringing them up nicely. They needed some TLC.”

Pauine on the roof with her NHS tribute flags fluttering in the breeze during the lockdown. Picture: George TavernPauine on the roof with her NHS tribute flags fluttering in the breeze during the lockdown. Picture: George Tavern

Yet the interior remains unchanged, and has been used over the years for filming period shots. The lockdown is a serous loss of filming revenue, so crowdfunding for The George was launched with its £10,000 target.

But there were other problems at the start of the pandemic.

“We had to close down before lockdown when one of my bar staff went down with Covid,” Pauline revealed. “But thankfully he’s recovered.

“I was serving with him behind the bar just two days before and it was a big worry for me. I had to self-isolate.”

The George Tavern back in the day... pub outing in a charabank in the 1920s. Picture: George TavernThe George Tavern back in the day... pub outing in a charabank in the 1920s. Picture: George Tavern

But the feisty 70-year-old got through it and hoisted three NHS tribute flags on the roof praising east London’s frontline nurses, medics and others who have kept vital services going.

She’s also full praise for the council street cleaners now that Tower Hamlets has taken cleansing back “in house” after a decade. The Commercial Road is now cleaner and there’s no uncollected rubbish outside the pub, Pauline notices.

Cleaning up the streets of Stepney was another of her campaigns.

But even that pales into insignificance to the mother-of-all battles she had with developers starting in 2007, the last shot fired in her favour just three years ago at the Appeal Court.

Pub landlady Pauline and how The George in Commercial Road looked before its lick of paint. Picture: Mike BrookePub landlady Pauline and how The George in Commercial Road looked before its lick of paint. Picture: Mike Brooke

Swan Housing wanted to build flats on the site of the old Stepney’s nightclub next to The George — which could have jeopardised her 3am music licence because of “noise nuisance” to any new home owners.

Pauline won the first round when the town hall rejected Swan’s scheme. But the rejection was overturned on appeal to the government’s planning inspectorate.

An undeterred Pauline marshalled top rock and showbiz stars with her “Save The George” campaign that went global and took the fight to the High Court which went “south” on her..

But the Appeal Court finally ruled in Pauline’s favour in 2017 when Swan Housing threw in the towel after the 10-year war of nerves.

But the mum-of-five faced other developers who have been given permission to turn an empty three-storey office block into 40 flats in Jubilee Street at the back of her pub.

Again her 3am music licence would be in danger. But she recently won that scrap by getting deed clauses legally enshrined on any flat sold in the block “so no one can complain of noise as the clauses are there for good”.

The George Tavern is first recorded as a half-way house from 1600, with segments of the original coach house still visible at the rear of the present building which itself dates back to Georgian times.

Many of the original fittings inside remain untouched, making the venue ideal for filming period scenes such as a BBC movie about The Krays and Sir Ian McKellen as Sherlock in Mr Holmes.

But the fighting isn’t over yet. An application could soon be made to Tower Hamlets for a permit to build on the green space on the Exmouth housing estate next to the pub.

That proposal goes back to 2007 when families launched a petition against Swan Housing which, you would expect, got Pauline’s backing.


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