Despite being renamed ‘The Royal Charter’, it continued to be known by all as ‘The Three Fishes.’ The pub was originally a gathering place for Forces during the 50’s, eventually becoming infamous for its underage drinkers, hippies, Martin’s
booming speakers and edgy imports, but most significantly as the unofficial marijuana dispensary of Kingston through the 60’s and 70’s, right up to its convenient demolishment in 1986. Not far away, in Hampton Wick, stood a boarded up house that once produced most of London’s LSD that would filter through there, and also much of the world’s before being raided under Operation Julie in the 70’s. Later, Howard Marks would saturate the 80’s market with pressed hashish blocks being cut and quartered in bedsits on cheap bronze scales, using small change as weights. Meanwhile aging hippies on buses lived as a reminder of how you may end up if you dabble in heroin as the Stranglers strummed. back then, strung out addicts and jokers left over from Lou Reed’s heyday lived in the occasional squat, and on in a few hippy buses hidden between the pub and Richmond park, damaged and crazy.
As Kingston’s future was envisioned by the civic planners of the 80’s, it appeared to me to be a response to the excitable street presence that broke out in response to local businesses bordering up their windows expecting a repeat of Brixton, the diverse youth cultures of 1979 in Kingston centre, and regular street mayhem with Mods on the tail end of Quadrophenia being shown at Odeon 7, Punks, and Skinheads haunting the local Wimpy and chip shop opposite the station as they spilled out of pubs and picked fights with each other. This would be a full make over, a clean up, and reinvention of Kingston from the bottom up.
The closures of what seemed to me to be all the pubs and clubs in the city centre that I considered my own, stealthily replaced with riverside cocktail restaurants, and wine bars to sound of Boy George and Duran Duran, I felt as if I was being pushed out of my home town. The real hubs of the established Kingstonians and emergent youth, The Seven Saxons, The Dolphin, The Crown, The Jesters, and numerous others lost to history, even the Kaleidoscope bowed to make way for a gentrified, and pedestrianized Kingston-Upon-Thames. Only the calm saloons, and the haunts of the local constabulary, and firm, such as the Apple Market and the Druid, remained as pubs to survive the 80’s in central Kingston as it grew into a new age, open air shopping mall with The Bentalls Centre as its hub. The ambitious road revamp, and huge Bentalls remodel, not only seemed to push the cars out of the city centre, but it also felt as if someone else’s vision were shutting down all the watering holes perceived as subversive and troublesome, among which the Three Fishes was top of the list.
Often raided by the police, sometimes comically as their young recruits posed unconvincingly in Kaftans and wigs as scouts, while the burley Irish landlord Tom stood glaring outside the gents as a signal that the police were present and a threat not to be stupid, hard rock and Pink Floyd pumping out of the stack of giant speakers over sticky carpets. Meanwhile Road Rats and a few veteran Hells Angels who held a menacing hold and check over the drug trade, were safe across the road in the South Western, their bikes rowed up outside the Three Fishes.
By the mid 80’s The Three Fishers was no more, rubble at the feet of future Kingston. A new wave of snakebite drinking stoners, UB40 holders and fans, rude boys, skins and young Falkland vets became fellow refugees from their strangely octagonal, Seven Saxons once that was also demolished, adding to what felt like a youth clean up and rejection from the city centre. The police in Kingston, and particularly the SPG, really did target us youth, and anyone of color at that time of which there probably only one, a kid called Dwight who had a penchant for hitting people with an extendable umbrella. The Southampton then evolved to fill the gap as the new alternative den pumping music across Surbiton Station before it’s own closure, milder aging hippies having retreated to The Royal Oak, or The Greyhound.
Looking back, 1979 was a pivotal point in both music, popular culture, and the new Kingston. Our grandparents already lamenting the loss of the theaters, bingo halls, and pubs they knew from their own past. Kingston evolved – reinvented, aptly following its roots as a market town into what is effectively now a huge open air shopping mall with an option to buy a copy of Big Issue from someone I probably drank with once. That is how it appeared to me last I came home.
Today, I can return and not find one familiar face, barely a touch stone from my past. Priced out of the property market, I cannot afford to live where I was born, and in someways Kingston is unrecognizable to me. I liken it to the final scene in the original ‘Planet of the Apes’, when walking along the beach, he drops to his knees on seeing a half buried Statue of Liberty, realizing that he has been home all the time. That is how I feel returning to Kingston, having lived overseas since before the changes, when I see the James Walker clock that still hangs above the now pedestrianized street as a reminder, just ahead of what was once the entrance to The Silver Cafe, a mere facade of the original Bentalls only remaining around the corner overlooking a huge underpass that feels so shockingly out of place in my mind. I felt like dropping to my knees and crying. What have they done to my past? What was once a consolidated local community is now a commercial hub in my eyes. No school friends nor family remain for me to find, displaced by property prices and a virtual social realignment. Rich Northerners moved in, the poor moved out.
‘Everyone a capitalist through property ownership’ was Thatcher’s mantra of the day, as all council houses were sold off, not to be replaced. I don’t think my parents realized that the outcome of their property investment would contribute to a loss of ability to remain in our community as an extended family. The loss of identity that would trickle down to their own grandchildren leaves me still feeling displaced and without heritage. Even today, the money our parents abstractly made on the rising property values, will simply cover their own retirement and nursing homes at best. There were no kick backs, my generation merely having to realize that if we had missed out on home ownership before then, we would not be able to afford rent.
I can’t help seeing the demolishing of Three Fishes as a metaphor that in someways encapsulates the changes that unfolded across Kingston thereafter. This was the initial blow, the first to fall, before widespread deconstruction and complete traffic flow reinvention characterized the journey to reinvent post war Kingston, eventually displacing anyone not already on the property ladder. I have tried to return home several times only to find it impossible on a teacher’s salary, even a flat on the foreboding Cambridge Estate would feel like a luxury now. I found far more security and opportunity for my own family overseas as a perpetual expat and displaced Kingstonian. I have lived overseas ever since my last pint in the Three Fishes. Many of the faces I remember are now expats.
If you look closely, up on Kingston Hill, I think you can still see the high tide mark of a local populace that has since receded and given way to market forces and commercialism as a definition of a new community. When my grandmother died as our last surviving family foothold there, she no longer recognized the place in which she anxiously nurtured her family through WW2. She felt quietly cheated by society and Thatcher despite her humble compliance as a citizen, one who had already lost all the men from her own family to trenches, conscription, and sickness, stoic until the end. My family presence in Kingston now only occupies a few urns in cheap plots that themselves will eventually be dug up and resold.
Although I would love to fly home, sit and gaze at the river Thames, ‘lazing on a Sunday afternoon’ as Martin would encourage us to do as last orders rang out on a Sunday lunchtime, the end of a Three Fishes session that had lasted since Friday night, I do feel a loss recalling the essence of the the place I once called home.