A Brief History of The Yorkshire Grey

Many of you reading this may be wondering why we're doing a history of what is now a McDonalds and a roundabout. While we would really love to talk about the roundabout, and it may feature on a future poll to decide what is South London's best roundabout, we are going to talk about the building's past as a pub. Located between Eltham and Lee on the Eltham Road (part of the majestic South Circular), the Yorkshire Grey was, for a long period, one of the more infamous pubs in all of South East London.

Our research suggests that the Yorkshire Grey was constructed around the same time as the Middle Park Estate in the late 1920s on the land that previously made up Middle Park Farm. It would appear that from the time it was opened to the time it was closed, it was known as the Yorkshire Grey, and was probably there before construction of the Horn Park Estate began in 1936. The legendary comedian Spike Milligan, who grew up in South London, recounts in his war memoir Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall the role that the Yorkshire Grey played in his conscription into the armed forces:

“It was now three months since my call-up. To celebrate I hid under the bed dressed as Florence Nightingale. Next morning I received a card asking me to attend a medical at the Yorkshire Grey, Eltham.”

There are other accounts that confirm that the Yorkshire Grey was a location used for conducting medicals for new recruits, but in the years after the war, things were slightly different it seems. The large hall that is spoken of in the conscription accounts was used for all kinds of events during the 80s - most notably music gigs, and unlicensed boxing. While local bands like Squeeze were known to have played there in the late 80s, after they had achieved mainstream success, it is as a venue for unlicensed boxing that the pub is probably most famous. On 15th April 1986 it played host to one of the most talked-about moments in the history of unlicensed boxing - a bout between Lenny 'The Guv'nor' McLean and one Brian 'Mad Gypsy' Bradshaw. In the build-up to the fight, first-time promoter Reggie Parker, whose office was above the World of Leather showroom in Eltham, had posters put up across South London and London that advertised it as 'The Street Fight of the Year'.

 Lenny McLean

Lenny McLean

By this point, Lenny McLean had established himself as one of the most known fighters after winning bouts against big names like Roy Shaw, but had been retired for about six years, while Bradshaw was undefeated in six fights. Such was the press for the fight, that camera crews turned up to film it. The bout between Bradshaw and McLean topped a three-bout show that featured names like Rocky Kelly and Gary Heart, and individuals like former fighter Harry Starbuck (originally from Charlton) were also in attendance, along with 500 fans who had paid £15 each for entry. McLean won within 10 seconds having been headbutted by Bradshaw as the pair met in the middle before the fight. Now, we're not going to link the footage of the fight directly, nor are we going to embed it in the page - all we're going to say is that if you really want to, you can find it quite easily on YouTube. The aforementioned cameras are the reason as to why the footage exists, and the existence of the footage is why the fight is so notorious - it somewhat proved the potential brutality of unlicensed boxing and was featured on both BBC and ITV News At Ten. Lenny McLean would achieve later fame for playing the role of 'Barry The Baptist' in Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998). The pubs rather curious and extreme existence only got more extreme in the early 90s however.

 Before the fight.

Before the fight.

In the early 90s, Eltham and the surrounding areas towards Kent became strongly linked to the activities of far-right groups such as Blood and Honour and Combat 18. In 1992, the Yorkshire Grey made it into the news again after it hosted a skinhead band called Skrewdriver. In the lead up to the concert, there were mass brawls between fascist skinheads and anti-fascist protestors at Waterloo station, and the story made national news. The Yorkshire Grey closed soon after in 1994 amidst suggestions that the police finally decided that the unlicensed fighting that apparently continued to go on in the pub had to be brought to an end. It became a McDonalds a short time after.

 As it is now

As it is now

By many accounts the Yorkshire Grey was a popular haunt for locals in the post-war period, however, it is nearly impossible to get away from the more difficult aspects of its past. While the Yorkshire Grey wasn't a pub for a particularly long time when compared to establishments like The Brockley Jack, it did manage to develop something of a significant reputation. What makes this reputation curious in the modern era is how at odds to its current state it is. If no one was to talk about what the Yorkshire Grey was it would be forever remembered as two of the most boring things going - a roundabout and a McDonalds. What happened at the Yorkshire Grey, though not to a lot of people's taste, reflects how locals of the area thought, what they were interested in, and what was deemed acceptable at the time. Areas have identities, and the Yorkshire Grey did, to some extent, reflect that - now it reflects absolutely nothing particular about the area. It's important to remember that these places existed, regardless of your opinion of what happened there, as they are the best indicators as to where an area has come from, and how it has changed.

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