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Kentish Drovers Mural

Restoration of the mural

The Old Kent Road is one of Britain’s oldest roads. It was originally part of an ancient Celtic trackway, paved by the Romans and used by the Anglo-Saxons who named it Wæcelinga Stræt (Watling Street). Since then it has been the primary route between London and the Kent coast. It was a route for pilgrims in the Middle Ages, as portrayed in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and used by soldiers returning from the Battle of Agincourt. Cattle drovers walked cattle into London via this route from farms in Kent to the cattle markets in London, principally Smithfield. As they neared London, the drovers would rest the livestock and let them graze for days, sometimes weeks, to fatten them up after a long slow journey when most of the animals would have lost weight and therefore some of their market value. Place names reflect this history – the nearby street Drovers Place was originally fields hired out to passing drovers, and other pubs include the Old Dun Cow.

In the late 18th century this was a gentrified rural area. The arrival of the Grand Surrey Canal c 1810, and the railway and Metropolitan Gasworks c 1830, instigated new amenities for the work force. The pub was built as The Kentish Drovers in 1840.

The tiled mural runs the length of the second storey on the corner and along the return: a hand painted scene on external terracotta faience. The manufacturers’ mark stamped on the mural is that used between 1880-1900 by Doulton’s of Lambeth. The signature is largely lost through surface degradation but reads ‘Alice D… DEL’. ‘DEL’ is a Latin abbreviation for ‘drawn’, possibly the artist who drew the design though not necessarily the factory painter. It represents an imaginary moment on the Old Kent Road, with a pub where drovers are taking refreshment.

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