Frankie and Leslie behind the bar. Photos by Tim George, courtesy of
Eating & drinkingLocalOut & About

After running The Eleanor Arms for sixteen and a half years, owners Frankie and Lesley say goodbye 

The Eleanor Arms in Bow has been serving punters for 150 years, but retiring landlord Frankie Colclough grew the pub into a venerated, shining gem of what a true East End pub is all about.

If you were to conjure the image of a classic Cockney boozer in your mind, your thoughts would probably settle on somewhere like The Eleanor Arms. With its dark wood bar, crooked stools and homely redbrick fireplace, this historic pub is an East End institution to its core. 

The Eleanor might have been selling beer on Old Ford Road since 1879, but for the past sixteen and a half years it’s been run under Frankie Colclough’s vigilant stewardship. Alongside his wife Lesley, the couple presided over a traditional pub of grit and genuine heart – a glowing haven of community on the outskirts of leafy Victoria Park.

From the moment you step foot in the Eleanor, it feels uncannily familiar. That might be because of its no-thrills, charming interior, transporting visitors back in time to an era before the polished gastropub took over London’s drinking scene. It’s not dissimilar to the pub in Kingsman.

In the Eleanor, it’s as if the tide of history stood still. Red carpets, aged leather sofas and a vintage cigarette smoke extractor greet your eyes at the door, making the room thick with nostalgia.

The walls are covered with eclectic artworks, collected over the years by Frankie and Lesley. From a rare Van Gogh print to a Malcolm McLaren album cover and a photograph of Machu Picchu which they visited twenty years ago, each frame offers a fragmentary snapshot of the couple’s life spent together. 

You might think being in an empty pub would feel ghostly and unnatural. But even when vacant, the Eleanor is alive with memory. Well-worn because it’s been well-loved, every crevice is imprinted by the generations who’ve sought comfort in its midst.

As a landlord, Frankie has gone beyond the call of duty. He’s the quizmaster of the pub’s notoriously difficult monthly quiz night, which has raised over £30,000 over the years for St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney. He’s also resident DJ when the Eleanor transforms into a dancefloor for ‘The Minestrone of Sound’, held every Friday and Saturday. Stacks of CDs pile behind the bar, a homage to the years Frankie spent working in record shops before starting in pubs.

After the best part of two decades spent managing the pub and living upstairs, Frankie and Lesley are handing in the keys and entering much-earned retirement. ‘It’s sad, but at least we’re going in a nice way,’ Frankie says. ‘There’s people who leave pubs and just sneak out the back door. We snuck nowhere, we told people about a year ago that retirement was coming.’

This way, the couple has been able to say goodbye to its swathes of regulars, some of whom have travelled back to London from the North of England to wish farewell to the pair before they settle in the Gower Peninsula in Wales.

Rest assured, the Eleanor isn’t going anywhere – it’s been sold to new owners who’ll bring the Victorian pub into a new era, but Frankie and Lesley’s departure from the East End feels symbolic of a greater loss. Their retirement is weighing heavy on a neighbourhood that’s seen countless of its staple boozers bulldozed into residential blocks.

For Frankie, it’s not just about the loss of traditional Cockney boozers, but a greater stripping away of East End culture. ‘You see it on Roman Road, just look at the cafes. One time, it was working-class cafes, and now it’s avocado. It’s a sad change because they’ve taken the working-class out of the streets.’

On how his regulars are responding to the Eleanor’s upcoming shift in ownership, Frankie said:

‘Some of them are fretting. It’s their pub as well. The thing about a pub – the relationship between you and your customers – the pub is the whole of the thing. It’s not that me and Lesley are the pub, they make the pub as well.’

The Eleanor is the regular meeting place for people from all walks of life, from the Bow Geezers Club and the St Paul’s Bible group to city professionals and Danish travellers. ‘Over the years, they’ve all learned who each other are, more so than a lot of pubs,’ Frankie tells me. He often sparks up a conversation between solo visitors who enter the boozer as strangers, but leave as friends.

‘One bunch are thinking of getting a WhatsApp group, so they can all stay in touch, but things like that fizzle out after a while, or your phone pings too many times in a group, and then what do you do?’ he says with a chuckle.

In the first half of 2023, more than 380 pubs were demolished or converted for other uses across England and Wales. The figures are particularly grave for our borough: between 2001 and 2018, 36% of pubs in Tower Hamlets closed.

But the plain statistics don’t communicate what’s at stake when a bustling pub becomes boarded up. There’s an incalculable cost for the regulars, who lose a vital link to a social network that might be life-sustaining. ‘It’s a tragedy, the actual loss of community,’ Frankie says.

Despite the pain of leaving, Frankie isn’t worried about the Eleanor’s survival. ‘If my customers have their way, they’ll be in touch with me,’ he says assured, knowing his regulars will act as the pub’s custodians in his absence, as they always have.

When it comes to accolades, the Eleanor seems to have won them all. It was just recently recognised as ‘one of the best and most welcoming pubs in East London’ by the East London & City Campaign for Real Ale 2024 (CAMRA) and was named London Pub of the Year by The Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood (SPBW) in 2014.

As well as drinking in the Eleanor, you can also read about it. From the London Pub Explorer’s recent book celebrating East End pubs to the Good Beer Guide and London Pub Walks, there are endless pages of literature waxing lyrical about the timeless spirit of the boozer.

Such success wouldn’t be possible without the heartfelt devotion of its owners, to the pub and each other. ‘We’re just a team, it’s the two of us. If one of us goes down, the other one picks the other one up,’ Frankie says.

That they run the Eleanor as a couple while living above the pub might be the key to its endurance. The pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis posed an existential threat to countless hospitality venues, but Frankie and Lesley have continued to see business thrive. 

As Frankie says, they run the boozer in the ‘traditional style’ by having their ‘life invested in the pub’. By living just upstairs from the bar, the couple’s bedroom floor echoes with the sounds of punters laughing and drinking till the early hours of the morning. Compartmentalisation is impossible, they can’t just ‘lock up and go home’, and crucially, they don’t want to.

When asked about the pub’s continual survival despite pandemic woes, Frankie credits the unique loyalty of his regulars. ‘We worked hard, we kept in touch with all our customers, and they stuck by us. They froze in the garden when you could only sit outside,’ he remembers.

But building such close relationships with his regulars brings its challenges. ‘The hardest is losing customers through death, and that happens. And the sweetest is seeing the young couples, and they tell you they’re pregnant, and now they’re nearly old enough to come in and drink,’ he smiles.

From hosting flamenco nights and ‘Shakespeare in the beer garden’ to annual Eurovision-themed buffets, Frankie and Lesley have dedicated their all to making the Eleanor a vibrant hub of music, culture and community. But Frankie, who’s 66 in a few weeks, admits he’s worn out. ‘If I was 20 years younger, I wouldn’t be going anywhere,’ he says.

It’s the end of an era, but Frankie and Lesley aren’t gone yet. The couple will continue running the Eleanor until the new owners are ready to exchange keys, so there’s still time to say goodbye over one last Guinness if you haven’t already.

After almost seventeen years serving customers on Old Ford Road, Frankie has a simple message to his regulars. ‘Thank you.’

Under the Old Ford Jazz Club sign, Frankie and Leslie say goodbye to The Eleanor Arms pub.
Frankie and Lesley behind the bar at The Eleanor Arms. Photos by Tim George, courtesy of
Landlords Frankie and Leslie standing outside The Eleanor Arms, shortly before retiring.
Frankie and Lesley outside The Eleanor Arms on Old Ford Road. Photos by Tim George, courtesy of

If you enjoyed this article, you might like our interview with Ray Gipson – Bow’s top Geezer

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2 thoughts on “After running The Eleanor Arms for sixteen and a half years, owners Frankie and Lesley say goodbye 

  • They shall be both be very much missed around Old Ford. Wishing them all the best!

  • Lovely piece about a rare community gem. Thank you!


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