The Fitzgerald family has been running the Canterbury Arms, the long-standing Victorian pub nestled behind the Rec, for over 20 years. The Brixton Bugle caught up with the Fitzgeralds to find out what it’s like behind the bar.
“My dad is the longest running landlord in Brixton,” Michelle, daughter of Brian, tells me proudly, “it’s a community pub that has catered for the same people for 20 years.” As well as a drinking pub, The Canterbury Arms was a key location for the London punk scene of the 1980s. The UK Subs played at the pub, and “the noise was awful,” remembers Michelle. They now have regular club nights in the Function Room at the back, and it’s soon to be the 10th anniversary of their resident night, ‘How Does It Feel To Be Loved?’.
It’s sad to think that in a year’s time, the pub will likely be no more: a recent planning application submitted to the council seeks to demolish the building and build a nine-story block of flats in its place. The proposal, submitted by May Developments, signals the end of an era and the news was a major shock to the Fitzgeralds. “We were really taken aback. To most people it’s just a pub, but to us it’s a family home too. It’s upsetting.” Michelle tells me that when the pub closes, her parents will retire and move out of Brixton, where they can no longer afford to live.
They’ll miss the pub, and the family of regulars that have stuck with them over the years. “You see people grow up here,” says Michelle, “we’ve had people’s christenings here, then their weddings, and their family’s funerals too.” From behind the bar, Brian and Michelle watch their customers’ “trials and tribulations”. Brian remembers that the pub wasn’t always just a place to drink, but also served an important purpose in the community: “People used to come to the pub to get advice, to look for plumbers, to look for carpenters, to look for work, to borrow money, to deal in everything.”
Today’s Brixton is a place with fewer pubs and more bars, a place catering for a younger professional clientele who have more money to spend. “It’s good for the area,” insists Michelle, but it’s certainly different to the Brixton that the Fitzgeralds moved into. “Nearly every other pub guvnor was Irish when we moved here.” Brixton had a large Irish population in the past, and the Canterbury Arms was and is a focal point of the local Irish community, holding the biggest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the area.
Make sure you get down there this March for a last bit of proper St. Pats craic!
This article is part of a feature on Brixton’s pub landlords.