Kentish Drovers Tavern


The Old Kent Road is nothing much to look at. In fact, it has been like that for at least 200 hundred years, maybe more. Nevertheless, there are one or two ‘little gems’ (speaking in terms of history) that are easy to pass by due to most people keeping their eye firmly on the traffic. One of then is a perfectly normal-looking pub that stands on the north side of the road, at 720 Old Kent Road, at the T-junction with Commercial Way. We are talking about the Kentish Drovers Tavern.

We will start with its name. There is only one other pub in London with the same name – a modern pub in Peckham, standing on the north side of Peckham High Street which took its name from an old pub that had stood on the south side of Peckham High Street, a very short distance east of the junction with Rye Lane. The name is a reminder of the days when cattle were driven on main roads leading to London. Drovers were a hardy breed of men who took the cattle from farms many miles from London – in this case from Kent – to the cattle markets in London, principally Smithfield Market on the west side of the City of London.

As they neared London, the drovers would rest the livestock and let them graze for several days, sometimes weeks, to fatten them up after a long slow journey when most of the animals would have lost considerable weight and therefore lost some of their market value. The drovers knew of fields where the animals could rest and be fattened up before being sold at market. A short distance from the pub is a side street known as Drovers Place which originally had been fields, hired out to passing drovers to allow their animals to graze.

Although the old tavern remains standing beside the Old Kent Road, it will be noticed that it is not in good repair. It has not been a pub under the name of Kentish Drovers since probably the 1980s and is now in use as a Thai restaurant. The pub is under the care of English Heritage who seem to do little to look after the building other than moan publicly on the Internet about the shortcomings of the tenants.

The ‘real gem’ is along the top of the front and side walls which join with a curve, forming one long flat surface. On it was painted a long and no doubt very beautiful mural depicting the Old Kent Road with cattle beside it and men on horseback riding along the road. There is a milk-maid and, in the distance, is glimpsed a windmill. The painting is so high up that it is difficult to see all the details, especially as it is continuous across two walls at right-angles to each other. Sadly, the mural has been allowed to deteriorate, with large chunks of paintwork having disappeared. The overall scene, while impressive, is in a very sorry state. As you look at it, you wish you could wave a magic wand and bring the interesting mural back to life once more.

The drovers are not likely to make an appearance any time soon because ‘dead’ meat is now transported to London by lorry or train. This means that the Old Kent Road pub will not reopen in its former glory. With no real will to restore the mural, it will gradually deteriorate until there will come a time when it will be almost impossible to see any of its lovingly created details.

There is a larger image (in pdf format) showing the mural in detail. Because it is almost impossible to photograph the whole mural as one continuous picture, it has been reproduced in two long sections. You can download the file to your computer by clicking on the link below.

T_Kentish Drovers_500_14pc_corner-curl

Click here to Download.


Comment – 50th Blog

Today sees the publication of the 50th post on this Know Your London Website. A big thank you to those of you who are ‘following’ these blogs for your continued support.


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10 Responses to Kentish Drovers Tavern

  1. Yes, that is very true. Because it is natural for pubs to close when the demand in a local area falls, I don’t have a problem with that. What I am sad about is that the building is already listed but nobody wants to pick up the bill to keep it in a good state of repair. The mural is unique in London and it should be restored.


  2. John Lion says:

    My great great grandfather used to own, tenant the Kentish Drovers at the turn of the century and according to our oral history another 4 pubs in the Old Kent Rd as well! I have pictures from the 1970’s of the mural; not great but better than I have found on the Internet. Would these be of any interest? Yours John Lion


  3. Ed Nolan says:

    Hi Adrian.

    Just a note to say how much I enjoyed your posting on the Kentish Drovers Tavern. Two years ago I actually came across and purchased a beautifully painted sign complete with a carved milking bovine (15” X 11”) in upstate New York. The piece is approximately 36” X 29” overall with a curved top. “The Kentish Drovers Tavern” is painted across the top curve and “Traditional Old English Stouts” along the bottom. The painting is first rate, indeed. In reading your description of the building’s former glory, it certainly seems plausible that it could have hung there at one point.

    The antiques dealer said that it was part of an estate that was being broken up, and that the owners were regular travelers to the UK. Other than that, I don’t know anything about it’s origin. Yes, it’s a bit beaten up with cracks here and there, but a visual and folk art gem nonetheless. We use it as a decorative piece in front of a fireplace.

    If you have any interest in seeing a few pictures of it, just let me know and I’ll forward to you under a separate email.

    Best wishes.



  4. Mark Brady says:

    Just to make a slight correction. The Kentish Drovers in Peckham is actually opposite where the original stood and if you know what you are looking at you can still see the old one.


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