George Orwell’s ‘perfect pub’ faces threat of closure

By Amelie Maurice-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

All pubs are equal but some pubs are more equal than others: George Orwell's favourite pub could close after 'health hazard' complaints
All pubs are equal but some pubs are more equal than others: George Orwell's favourite pub could close after 'health hazard' complaints

Related tags London Health and safety

The favourite pub of Animal Farm writer George Orwell could be forced to shut down after residents complained it was a health hazard and public nuisance.

The Compton Arms in Islington, north London, has been placed on “licence review”, with four local households also accusing the pub as poorly run after rubbish piled up outside.  

The Highbury-based pub which has been serving guests since the 1900s was inspiration for a fictional pub called the Moon on the Water described by essayist and novelist Orwell. 

In Orwell’s 1946 essay published in The Evening Standard,​ titled The Moon Under Water’, he described the Compton Arms as the “perfect pub”.  

He believed the ideal public house was a place where it was “always quiet enough to talk”, the staff “know most of their customers by name”, you could always get a good, solid lunch and “drunks and rowdies never seem to find their way there.” 

Frustrating allegations

Pub owner Nick Stephens said: “I can’t begin to tell you how infuriating and frustrating these allegations are.  

“Our managers, Esther and Nikki have gone to extreme lengths for these guys, under duress, and worked their socks off to run the pub considerately and exceptionally – in spite of some more than challenging behaviour from some of the four complainants. 

“The pride these two and the rest of our team take is a joy for us as owners. We are tremendously proud of them, as we are of Belly in our kitchen and of course our loyal customers. 

“Post-Covid periods have seen a lot of pubs go through similar situations. A minority get used to the quiet then decide the pub that’s been there since the 1800’s, that is an asset of community value, is now a nuisance... it makes me want cry. We need your help.” 

If the four households succeeded in shutting the pub down, Stephens said it would no longer be financially viable for the team, nor any other operator to run the historic pub. 

Local support

A spokesperson for Islington Council said: “A review process of the licence for Compton Arms has been invoked by residents, and the case will be heard by an Islington Council licensing sub-committee. This is expected to take place during the week commencing Monday 19 September.  

“As the case is under review, the council is unable to comment any further at this stage.” 

Local residents took to Facebook to rally in support for the famous pub. Samantha Burke said: “Fully behind you! This is absolutely disgusting.” 

Stuart Faulkner posted his draft letter to the council, which read: “We write in support of the licensee and his team at the Compton Arms who run an excellent local community pub and who, in our experience, provide a superb pub experience, whilst remaining cognisant of the residential environment in which it is embedded.” 

He said it would be a “tragedy” if the pub was driven out of business, particularly as so many pubs in the neighbourhood had been lost over the past twenty years. 

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