London Regional Inventory Pubs in Paintings

On 21 February 2007 a painting was unveiled at the Royal Oak, Tabard Street, SE1. It shows the interior of the pub and was recently purchased for the pub.

The artist is Mick Smee whose main subjects are the interiors of cafes and pubs both at home and abroad. The painting of the Royal Oak is called "Respite at the Royal Oak" and it won third prize in the Singer and Friedlander/Sunday Times Watercolour Competition at the Mall Galleries, London in 2005.

Mick was born in Chelmsford, Essex and studied at Colchester School of Art in the early 1960s. On leaving, he joined Birmingham Repertory Theatre as Scenic Artist and Designer and then, from 1967, he joined the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. During his time there he had his first London exhibition in 1968 at B. H. Corner Gallery. Later he joined the design department at Thames TV but continued to paint and exhibit.

In 1974 he left Thames TV and became freelance, working on films and commissioned works. It was at this time that he moved to Tolleshunt D'Arcy with his young family. In 1978 Mick returned to his old art school in Colchester as a lecturer in drawing and painting.

In 1996 Mick left full-time teaching but continued to teach part-time on the BA Hons Fine Art Degree course. He was invited to show at the Maldon Millennium Exhibition and also designed the stained-glass Millennium Window in St. Nicholas's Church, Tolleshunt D'Arcy. Since July 2004 Mick has been painting full-time and continues to exhibit his paintings in both solo and joint exhibitions.

Pub interior paintings by Mick Smee

It transpires that several of Mick's other paintings are of pub interiors which are on CAMRA's London Regional Inventory so let us revisit them through Mick's eyes.

Mick Smee's Barley Mow

First up is the Barley Mow, Dorset Street, Marylebone, W1 which is particularly poignant now as this National Inventory pub is closed. The painting shows the interior of the pub at an usually quiet time of day with one of the famous drinking boxes at one end. The picture also shows the whole of the bar counter and one pane of cut and etched glass. The composition is beautifully lit showing both the sunlight coming through the front doors and windows and the lamps over the servery. The Inventory description of the pub mentions that it is divided into three separate areas and two unique drinking boxes. It also has good panelling.

Mick Smee's Island Queen

The picture of the Island Queen, Noel Road, Islington, N1 shown here conveys excellently the sense of height in this pub and makes the servery the centre of attention. Mick has actually painted another picture of the pub as well called "Morning Light in the Island Queen". The Inventory description notes the traces of an inner porch on the left-hand side, the cast-iron columns, the full-height timber and glass screens and the etched and cut glass signed 'R. Morris & Son, 239 Kennington Road. SE'.

Mick Smee's French House

Next we have the French House, Dean Street, Soho, W1. This painting, entitled "Back in the French", is shown from the back room of the pub, looking through to the front and showing wonderfully the reflective glass covering the framed memorabilia (photos, newscuttings, etc.) which adorn the pub. It also shows the fine linear front windows which are typical of the work of the architect, Alfred W. Blomfield. The Inventory description also mentions the low wall panelling in the small, single bar. Mick first frequented the pub in the 60s and the painting was produced in 1987, before the bar alterations - and Gaston Berlemont was still the landlord.

Mick Smee's Dolphin

In Mick's picture of the Dolphin, Mare Street, Hackney, E8 (currently closed but only temporarily) the focus is on the ceiling, the divisions between the areas and the plain bar counter. The atmosphere is one of calm - a refuge from the busy traffic outside. The Inventory description includes the magnificent wall tiling by W. B. Simpson and Sons, including blue and white tiles with pairs of birds and swirling Arabesque patterns and a tile panel depicting the legend of Arion who was saved from drowning by a dolphin.

Mick Smee's Princess Louise

Finally we have the famous National Inventory pub, the Princess Louise, High Holborn, WC1. The painting emphasises the liveliness of the pub's highly decorative interior peopled by elegant customers. The interior of this pub now looks very different from the way it looks in this painting. In January 2008 it reopened after a refurbishment which took many months. Sam Smith's, the owners, have done a splendid job, reinstating divisions to make it look very like it must have done it was first built.

The Inventory description refers to the fact that the pub was remodelled around 1892 by the architect, Arthur Chitty. The description also mentions the wonderful wall tiles by W. B. Simpson and Sons, the sumptuous etched and gilded mirrors signed by R. Morris and Son of Kennington Road, and the magnificent gents' loos.

I hope that the descriptions of these wonderful paintings will encourage you to visit these special pubs.

Contacting Mick Smee

Mick Smee can be contacted on 01621 860240. He says if you're in Essex, visit the bar parlour at his local, the Queen's Head (a Gray and Son public house), Tolleshunt d'Arcy.

Discover heritage pubs

All 156 pubs on the London Regional Inventory are featured in the book London Heritage Pubs: An Inside Story. Historic Pub Interiors in the Capital by Geoff Brandwood and Jane Jephcote. Published in July 2008, it is available from the CAMRA shop or by phone on 01727 867201 - £14.99 or £12.99 for CAMRA members plus £1.50 postage and packing. It is also available in bookshops and on bookselling websites.

Jane Jephcote


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