Labour MP defends Orwell’s ‘perfect pub’

By Amelie Maurice-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Down and out in pubs in London: Labour MP defends George Orwell's pub (Getty. whitemay)
Down and out in pubs in London: Labour MP defends George Orwell's pub (Getty. whitemay)

Related tags London Health and safety Legislation

A member for Islington South & Finsbury council has defended George Orwell’s ‘perfect pub’ the Compton Arms, north London, which faced threat of closure after residents complained.

The pub was placed under ‘licence review’,​ after four local households criticised it as a health hazard, public nuisance and poorly run after rubbish piled up outside.

Labour MP Emily Thornberry took to Instagram to show “strong support” for the venue as a historical landmark and vital community hub.

While she said the site’s current licensing conditions must be compiled with, she would not support further restrictions on the conditions of the famous venue.

Thornberry commented: “I know the licensing committee is always at pains to consider its duty to protect the unique nature of Islington for future generations, and I know you recognise the need to support the survival of our historical local pubs, especially given the severe stresses endured by the hospitality industry in recent years.

She said anyone who visited the pub today could see exactly why it was one of the venues that inspired George Orwell’s famous 1946 essay on the ideal pub.

A literary favourite

“Whether it is a quiet afternoon with only a few patrons in attendance, or a busy night when a band is playing at the Union Chapel, there is the same hospitable atmosphere that has always been the pub’s hallmark,” she added.

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.” 

Thornberry continued: “I know I speak for the vast majority of local residents in my constituency when I say we do not want to see any changes imposed on the Compton Arms that would alter its essential character as a pub, affect the historic role it plays in our community, or impact its ability to operate profitably in the current difficult business environment.

“Like all pubs in the area that have made it through the pandemic, only to face the equally crippling effects of the current inflation crisis, they are doing their best to survive in hugely challenging circumstances, and they deserve our utmost support as they do so.”

She said the pub was a beloved Islington institution as it was unashamed of its old-fashioned nature, and its six centuries of history as a local pub.

Historic significance

“It plays an essential part in the unique character of Compton Terrace, and in the rich heritage of our local area. I hope its future will be a long one, and that nothing will be done to put that future in jeopardy,” she concluded.

The Compton Arms owner Nick Stephens had previously said on Facebook that he found the allegations “infuriating and frustrating”.

“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,” he added.

He continued: “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.” 

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