The White Horse was on the corner of Theberton Street and Liverpool Road. As a sixteen year old it was illegal for me to drink alcohol. My older brother aged twenty-one used to sneak me in the pub on a Saturday lunchtime to play ‘bar billiards’. Usually I was served a pint (or two) of bitter. It’s strange to think of Islington as a tough inner-city area as it’s now gentrified. The White Horse was an Irish pub, or as we called it a ‘Paddy pub.’ The fights were legendary as were the smashed windows. I would often see the results of the fights as I walked past on my way to school. Islington is gentrified and so, inevitably, there’s been a name change; to the repulsive Pig and Butcher. Do the owners really feel their wealthy clientele want to be associated with abattoirs? And they probably know that pigs are sensitive, intelligent animals.
As I became older and started my apprenticeship, I would use the White Horse regularly, popping in for a few pints after work. In the early sixties the public bar was a spit and sawdust type of place with bare wooden floors and wooden tables and chairs. Many postmen were regulars as they came from the sorting office. The snug (lounge bar) was quite opulent with padded cloth seats and lower tables with a carpeted floor. There was a small stage set up in one corner and on Saturday nights various guest bands entertained the customers. The bands were mostly Irish folk singers with a fiddle, a button accordion and a ‘bodhran drum.’ Now and then the accordionist would play a tin whistle. I‘ve spent many wonderful nights in the White Horse. I remember one Saturday night when the guest band had a most remarkable instrument. I had no idea what it was called then but I do now. It was a metal peddle slide string guitar and playing it whilst singing was a beautiful red-headed girl in her mid-twenties. I wanted to ask her out but it wasn’t to be.
Most Saturdays it was announced that “the bucket” would be passed round to donate to The Cause. This was a blatant reference to the IRA. I was quite content to throw in my few shillings just to show my appreciation of the entertainment- it was also prudent given who was also in the pub. Once a stranger said that the money should go to “the Black and Tans.” I assume he was both drunk and stupid making an offensive remark like that in an Irish pub. As the whispers went round the bar the looks he received made it clear he could expect a beating unless he was extremely lucky. I don’t know if anything did happen to him but he never showed his face in the pub again.
By my mid-twenties I and a very good friend of mine got to know one of the regular barmen quite well, he was huge muscular man. My mate Dave asked him about how much time and money it cost him to develop such muscles. Like many teenagers we’d clubbed our money together and bought the Charles Atlas course when we were 16. Neither of us did the exercises for more than a few months and we never developed bulging muscles. Dave was told by the barman, “If you’re interested in body development we should go to his gym for a typical work out with weights and other gym equipment.” We agreed to go the following Wednesday. When asked if we had if we had brought along the kit of vest shorts and footwear, we both shook our heads and were told we could only observe the others until we had kit. All the participants were huge men and Dave and I only stayed to watch for an hour or so. We never returned to the gym again.