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The Village Green Preservation Society

By Piers Thompson
 
 
Why would you change the name of Finch’s? Along with The Blue Posts, it is one of the original brand names in pubs. With outposts in Chelsea, Portobello, Notting Hill Gate and Soho, it stood for both tradition and a funky bohemianism. Many a wide-eyed caper has been hatched amongst the dark wood and smoked glass.
 
It seems ironic that while eager gastropub-reneurs are working every angle to create value out of little pub chains, long standing mini-brands with oodles of authentic heritage and goodwill, like Finch’s, are abandoned. So Finch’s on Portobello Road, with its whiff of Keith Moon and Julie Christie, becomes The Duke of Wellington, just another pub on the Young’s estate. I mean, they don’t even make their beer in London anymore.
 

HH Finch was actually an Irishman called Lynch, an old fashioned gent in tweeds and a Range Rover with personalised number plate. He strode around St Johns Church at the top of the hill, as if in a low intensity rage that the racecourse had disappeared. He was in his very own micro-climate, which hinted at racing at Towcester in the Autumn. He had accumulated a small chain of pubs that included two or three boozers that had attained an iconic psychogeography as pivotal locations in A Seminal Scene. 
 

I have to admit that my first loyalty is to Finch’s on Fulham Road. It was my local from the age of 15 although my mother tried to put me off by painting a picture of the clientele as Irish Republicans in turtleneck jumpers, berets and shades. If I wasn’t already hooked on the seedy glamour described by Iris Murdoch in Under The Net, the existential terrorists clinched it. 
 
The alumni included Laurie Lee, Brendan Behan and Dylan Thomas. Marianne Faithfull was still a regular. It 
was a place that would have welcomed M. Camus’ 

L’Etranger. It remains my local every other Saturday, before strolling down to the game at Stamford Bridge. It is where I wet my daughter’s head with the postman from the local sorting office. Hugh Grant used to be in the darts team: Matthew Freud a regular and welcome visitor.
 
Once Young & Co bought the chain, they set about destroying every last vestige of character. 
In serial refurbs, they bit by bit tore out the beautifully carved wood and elegantly smoked glass, until they finally reduced it to a big room with some sofas in it. It resembles those big 
coaching inns that the brewery owns on corners in Tooting and Mitcham, but with no redeeming features. So the days of Suggs, Johnny Vaughan, Johnny Lee Miller, Phil Daniels, Damon Albarn and the Seans Lock and Pertwee meeting to have a moan before the game are sadly over. You can’t even get a light and bitter there anymore.
 
The Finch’s lettering has been taken down and they call it Kings Arms. I can claim to have been there when the N fell out of the sign and hit Emily MacCaskie on the head. I took her over the road to the hospital (not the only date that ended in that particular A&E, I’m afraid).
 
 
Finch’s in Portobello was less literary louche and more rock n roll. According to Frendz in the early 70s, it was ‘where your cooler, more nervous, refined or trendy dealer goes to relax over a jar or two of plump barmaid.’ Michael Moorcock puts Jimi Hendrix in there. Nick Kent has Sylvain Sylvain dealing dope there. Keith Moon was often there, sometimes in the company of Viv Stanshall. So was John Bindon, and Goat and Charlie from the Windsor Chapter of Hells Angels.
 

Its position on the corner with Elgin Crescent has always given it an edge, and it has always featured on the scene, through punk, rave and trustafari. Some of the mythology is confused because the Earl Of Lonsdale up the road was a Finch’s before it became a Henekeys. That was a more regular haunt of Julie Christie’s.
 

So now I call it The Village Green, because you can sit over a lunchtime pint, and meet your entire address book or buy one of Ed Cain’s splendid Christmas trees or grab a pie from The Grocer. Won’t be long before Facebook buys the pub.
 
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