This week ‘London Shoes’ didn’t have to travel too far to reach its subject matter location – just a short 15mins train journey from my home base to East Ham–London E12.
The topic in question represents Part 4 of the London Shoes series entitled “London’s-Lost Music Venues” and takes a look at a place that I was fully aware when growing up nearby, and a venue that I actually frequented a couple of times myself in my early 20’s.
The venue itself has been closed for quite a while now, but its legacy will forever be etched in rock music history – it’s the legendary “Ruskin Arms” pub in High Street North-East Ham-E12.
The Ruskin Arms pub situated on the corner of Ruskin Avenue and High Street North, first opened its doors way back in 1899, at a time when East Ham was actually situated in what was the ‘County Borough of East Ham’ before it became a London borough – at that time it was considered quite an affluent and posh area with a high density of residential and commercial properties.
Structurally, this magnificent 3 storey building displayed all the architectural features of the pubs that were built during the late Victorian period – with timber frames, large oriel designed windows and plenty of small gables.
The Ruskin Arms soon became one of the east end’s most popular boozers, and its design and position made it a noticeable landmark in the East Ham area.
As the decades progressed through the 20th century, the pub was acquired by the large ‘Bass Charrington’ brewery chain.
But it is in terms of ‘music’ that the Ruskin Arms wrote itself into the history books.
In early 1965 two local aspiring teenage musicians by the names of Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane had a chance encounter with an older local lad by the name of Jimmy Winston.
Marriott & Lane mentioned to Winston that they were in the process of forming a ‘band’ with their mate Kenny Jones – and Jimmy Winston just happened to mention that he too was in a band that actually had a regular residency at a local pub – the Ruskin Arms in High Street North-East Ham.
In fact, Jimmy Winston’s family actually owned the Ruskin Arms at that time – and so it was convenient and easy for Jimmy’s band to perform gigs at the pub.
Steve Marriott was already familiar with the Ruskin Arms as his Dad ran a fish stall directly opposite the pub.
Seeing an opportunity to secure a venue for their newly formed band, Marriott & Lane ventured down to the Ruskin Arms to check out Jimmy Winston and his band performing on the pub’s stage – and apparently, as legend has it, by the end of that evening Steve Marriott ended up on stage accompanying the band on harmonica.
Following that nights events, Steve Marriott & Ronnie Lane asked Jimmy Winston if he would like to play keyboards in the new band that they had formed with their drummer mate Kenny Jones.
Although Winston was a few years older than Marriott, Lane & Jones – his appointment to their band came in very handy, as Winston’s brother owned a van, which could be used by the band to transport their equipment from gig to gig – also, they could use the Ruskin to rehearse in, and also do a few gigs in there whilst cutting their teeth.
And that is how the now legendary iconic ‘Small Faces’ were born.
The Small Faces used the top floor of the Ruskin Arms as their rehearsal base – and in their very early days, played many of their gigs down in the Ruskin Arms bar, slowly building up a large and continually growing audience and fan base.
The Small Faces rise to fame was very swift, particularly when the legendary promoter ‘Don Arden’ (e.g. Sharon Osborne’s dad) became their manager.
Sadly, as the bands reputation and popularity grew, Jimmy Winston’s position in the band was soon in jeopardy, and by the end of their first year in existence, Don Arden had recruited the more accomplished ‘Ian (Mac) McLagan’ to replace Winston as keyboardist for the Small Faces.
The rest, as they say, is history.
The Small Faces were (and still are in many respects) considered one of the legendary forerunners of the ‘Mod’ movement and genre of music – and of course, Ronnie Lane – Kenny Jones & Ian McLagan went on to join Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood to form the brilliant ‘Faces’ who were extremely successful all over the world.
Following the demise of the Small Faces and the Faces, the Ruskin Arms still clung on to its music heritage – because in the late 90’s the pub started to host annual Small Faces Conventions – which were really popular and well attended by ex-Mods from all over the country.
However, the Small Faces were not to be the only band to put the Ruskin Arms on the music map – because move on a decade to the late 70’s, another iconic band to be, cut its musical teeth down at the old Ruskin Arms.
In the mid 1970’s a local lad by the name of Steve Harris formed a heavy/hard rock band – that he named after a medieval torture device – and that band is the now globally renowned “Iron Maiden” who to date, have released over 40 albums, 12 of which have been ‘live’ recordings – an output that also includes EP’s, singles, bootlegs, compilations, box-sets and music videos.
Back in 1975 Iron Maiden had secured a residency at the Cart & Horses pub in Stratford–London E15 and were building up a big reputation for their brand of heavy metal music.
By 1978 Iron Maiden had made their debut at the Ruskin Arms – and throughout the immediate following years they made many appearances down at the Ruskin, drawing in punters from far and wide.
Throughout the 1970’s & 80’s the Ruskin Arms was run by former champion boxer ‘Joe Lucy’.
East ender Joe Lucy held the British Lightweight championship belt between the years 1953 to 1955 & again in 1956 to 1957.
Now – this is where I personally have a sort of tenuous link to the Joe Lucy (and the Ruskin Arms), because back in the early 1950’s, my dear old late dad Bill, claimed that he did his National Service at the same Royal West Kent Regiment’s barracks in Folkestone, as boxer Joe Lucy.
My old dad was a good story teller, and he claims that when he newly arrived at his barracks, he was showed to his billet and introduced to his fellow billet residents.
The story goes (as relayed to me many times by my old man) that his new billet colleagues set my dad a sort of initiation task, and that task was to ‘have a word’ with the bloke down the end of the hut, and tell him to turn his bloody radio down or off, as the constant noise was getting on everyone’s nerves. So – being an obedient chap, and wanting to impress his new fellow soldier colleagues, my dad wandered down to this guy’s area of the billet and asked him in no uncertain terms to turn his radio off – to which this fella calmly squared up to my dad and lamped him one on his ‘boat’ knocking my dear old dad out sparko – and of course, that person just happened to be the one and only Joe Lucy!!!
Now – I don’t know how true that tale is, but I have no reason to disbelieve me old dad, and so I felt that this little diversionary tale was worthy of inclusion in this article – albeit a very tenuous link.
Turning back to Iron Maiden and its association with the Ruskin Arms – the pub soon became one of London’s go-to places to hear ‘live’ metal music and throughout the late 70’s and throughout the 1980’s, bands from all over the country would play the ‘Ruskin’ drawing in punters from all over the place – putting the venue well & truly on the music history map.
However, as time progressed, so did music tastes and fashions, and by the late 1990’s the popularity of ‘live’ metal down at the Ruskin Arms started to fade, and the pub started to diversify its ‘live’ entertainment more toward stand-up comedy.
Sadly the Ruskin Arms closed down completely as a pub in 2008.
There were attempts to revitalise the building by turning it into a hotel and high-end eatery, but to be fair, the surrounding area wasn’t really the ideal place for such project – and so that venture was short lived.
However, this impressive local landmark pub building is still in situ today, but is now sadly all boarded up and abandoned, and looks a sorry state.
Now – followers of ‘Shoes’ will know that I usually end a blog visit by taking in a ‘cheeky’ beer at a pub near to the subject matter – however, with the Covid19 pandemic situation still lingering about, I didn’t really fancy entering into any unknown East Ham pub.
However, having spent time photographing the Ruskin Arms, I thought that I would walk just a little further down High Street North to check out the site of what was once the East Ham branch of Barclays Bank, located on the corner of Sibley Road and High St North – a place where I worked as a Personal Loans Officer for a couple of years in the mid 1980’s – a role I thoroughly enjoyed and a branch that holds happy memories for me.
The bank building dates back to 1909. The Bank branch actually closed some years ago, at which time the premises was converted into a pub with the great name of ‘The Overdraft Tavern’. Sadly the pub is now closed too, and from what I could see, the premises now appears to be some sort of spiritual healing business – but, just like the old Ruskin Arms, at least this structurally unique old building is still standing and not redeveloped into flats.
So – that completes the ‘Ruskin Arms’ blog – an old closed down pub building in today’s world, but with a fantastic heritage, that makes it a bit special as one of London’s “Lost Music Venue’s”.
Hope you enjoyed this piece.
See below the full gallery of photographs accompanying the Ruskin Arms blog