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Bucket list Bow: the ‘Minestrone of Sound’ at the Eleanor Arms

Old-school bangers, pickled eggs and a pool table: Saturday night at Bow’s unsuspecting music venue serving beer on Old Ford for 150 years.

Despite the growing number of gourmet bistro pubs and late-night bars opening in East London, our area is still home to its fair share of proper East End boozers. 

A favourite among locals is the Eleanor Arms on Old Ford Road, which has been selling beer on the outskirts of Victoria Park for nearly 150 years. 

For the last 16 years, the pub has been under Frankie Colclough’s stewardship, who serves as landlord, DJ and quizmaster at the Eleanor Arms. 

When Colclough and his wife bought the pub there were four tables, four pictures on the walls, and barstools welded together by someone who’d apparently had one too many.

Today, the pub’s dark wooden furniture and red carpet make a homely setting. The bar separates two main spaces: on one side a jumble of tables and stools huddle around a red brick fireplace, and on the other worn leather sofas surround the pool table. 

On Friday and Saturday nights, this convivial space transforms into a dance floor, with Colclough acting as DJ for ‘The Minestrone of Sound.’  

Post-2010 music is off the table, but otherwise, the range is enormous. Hundreds of CDs are piled behind the bar, a living monument to Colclough’s past working in record shops.

Apart from the obligatory scampi fries, pork scratchings and pickled eggs found in all proper East End pubs, the Eleanor doesn’t serve hot food. 

So if you work up an appetite dancing to Colclough’s top tracks, we’d recommend popping next door to Chipping Wharf. Colclough is happy to turn a blind eye to patrons bringing chips into the pub, but there is a strict no-fish policy: the smell can stick in the pub and put people off their ales. 

And if your head isn’t too sore after Saturday night’s festivities, on Sundays at  8 pm The Eleanor Arms transforms into the Old Ford Jazz Club. 

Performances blend into jam sessions and, against the odds, the acoustics are marvellous. A sought-after spot on London’s jazz circuit, The Eleanor Arms has grown into one of Bow’s most unsuspecting music venues. 

In spite of the Eleanor’s long history of selling beer on Old Ford Road since 1879, details of its past have become blurry over time. 

Just up the road from the Eleanor, opposite Victoria Park’s Gunmakers’ Gate, there is a blue plaque informing passersby of an important site of Suffragette history

It states that from 1869 to 1915, a pub called The Gunmaker’s Arms stood in that empty space which was transformed by Sylvia Pankhurst from a pub to a clinic and creche known as ‘The Mother’s Arms.’

Yet according to Colclough, there is no photographic evidence to say that the pub was on the corner where the plaque is today. As he maintains, the Eleanor is where the old Mother’s Arms used to be, though the building itself was rebuilt after the war. 

As for Eleanor? Colclough suspects she’s Eleanor of Castile, the first wife of Edward I, though why her arms are so important remains a mystery. Perhaps after a few rounds of ale at the ‘Minestrone of Sound’ a theory will become clear. 

For some fairer-weather pubs in the local area, find our list of Victoria Park’s best boozers

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