After more than 100 years, Leytonstone Social Club wants to cast off its ‘hidden gem’ status
By Victoria Munro
While Leytonstone Social Club is technically in the same family as the snooty members clubs of central London, the two could not be more distant cousins.
Founded in the aftermath of WWI as a club for former soldiers and their families, the doors of the Harvey Road building are open to anyone nowadays, including dogs and children.
As a case in point, on the day the Echo visited last month, a large portion of the bar was taken over by a playpen for manager Sharon Crowe’s youngest grandchild – or the “next generation of bar staff”, as one regular joked.
The club’s more than 230 members, who pay £20-40 a year for discounted drinks and a number of other perks, are “very close-knit”, according to Sharon’s daughter Shannon, although she adds: “It’s not hard to be part of that knit.”
Sharon told the Echo: “When people join, it’s like they’re coming into a family, not just somewhere they can get a drink and watch a bit of entertainment. It’s a group where people care about each other.
“Normally in a pub you don’t learn people’s names, you just learn what they drink, but it’s different here.”
A number of regulars boast their own nicknames, such as Kevin 257 – so-called because he used to drive the 257 bus – and a man named Dave, known as “Hedgehog” because he drunkenly fell asleep in a graveyard and woke up to a nursery of hedgehogs beside him.
Shannon added: “Sometimes, if you go into a pub, there will be someone acting a bit weird but that doesn’t happen here. We never need security on the door on Fridays or Saturdays.
“I think it’s because it feels like a family here and that makes people respect the space. It’s like someone has come round to drink in your front room – they wouldn’t disrespect your house so they don’t disrespect the pub.”
The club was founded in 1921, although a search of the borough’s local history archives has revealed little about the men that set it up, other than the fact the space was used for boxing tournaments.
It was originally called the Ex-Servicemen’s Club but changed its name in 2021 to seem less exclusive, although Sharon notes they are still “faithful to tradition” and collect donations constantly for veterans’ charity Home For Heroes.
She said: “A lot of people don’t seem to know we are here and we hope to show people that we want to be a part of the community. When I took over [eight years ago] I wanted to make it a busy place, where everybody had something for them.
“There’s not a lot of live music around here so I wanted us to be on the map as somewhere that promotes it. It also means new people will come in and experience the club.”
True to her word, the club has a packed calendar, hosting a blues jam every Monday, jazz nights on Tuesdays, gigs ranging “from country and western to punk rock” on Wednesday, live entertainment every Friday and Sunday and even more.
Sharon added: “You don’t have to be a member to come in and see what it’s like. We just ask that people become a member if they come in three or more times in a month.
“We’re on Facebook and Instagram trying to target the younger crowd because pub culture seems to be dying out. That’s why we host events to get people coming in.
“Like everywhere, we are struggling but we are hoping we will be here for another one hundred years. The members have been very good, they jolly us along.”
Find out more about Leytonstone Social Club and how to become a member here.