Arthur Woodham, the 91-year-old owner of Arthur’s Café on Kingsland Road in Hackney, has died. The blog Spitalfields Life reports that he passed away over the weekend, after turning 91 on Christmas Day.
Woodham first started working in his father — Arthur senior’s café — further down Kingsland Road, opposite the Geffrye Museum, in 1938, just before the start of the Second World War. He was 14, and had just left school.
In an interview with Woodham in May 2011, Spitalfields Life told the café owner’s story: “At first, when the war came, I didn’t want to go into the shop but I have no regrets. I was about fifteen when war broke out, and I worked in the cafe all through the war. They dropped a bomb on the shelter across the road at the Geffrye Museum and my father kept open all night to make everyone a cup of tea.”
After the war, in 1948 when Woodham was 21, his family opened the site that to this day remains Arthur’s Café. He’d worked there ever since. “I like it, this is my life. You’ve got to like it to keep in it,” he said.
“I run my cafe the old fashioned way, we don’t do frozen stuff, it’s all fresh,” he added in the 2011 interview. “I get up around 12.30/1am but people won’t believe you if you tell them that. I cook my own ham and cut all my chips by hand. My grandson gets in at 5.15am and we open at 7am, serving breakfast until 11.30am. No toast after 11.30am and no chips before midday. At 11.30am we clean up and put serviettes and glasses on the tables, and I go upstairs and put on a clean coat. We have a different class of people for lunch.”
It is thought that James Woodham, Arthur’s grandson, will take over the café. In 2011, he said: “My grandfather is an actor and this is his stage where he performs best.”
The Gentle Author, who writes Spitalfields Life told Eater London: “I was introduced by the Pellicci [of E Pellicci on Bethnal Green Road] family. Here’s hoping Arthur’s will continue. I am your loyal servant.”
The food critic, Marina O’Loughlin — fan of Arthur’s and proponent of the “use ‘em or lose ‘em” adage, aimed to preserve the relics of the industry — reviewed the café in The Guardian in 2016. She wrote: “Everything that’s served at Arthur’s is proper... [It] has never closed, not even when bombs rained all around. Every weekday on the dot of 7am, the doors open and the faithful flood in. There’s a young chap behind the counter in shorts, nimbly assembling sandwiches from loaves of pillowy white bread or enormous brown rolls, all from Raab’s bakery on Essex Road. This is the “grandson”, James. His concentration, his almost choreographed speed of assembly, his good humour: they all lead me to suspect that Arthur’s may well be continuing to delight for at least another couple of generations. This makes me very happy.”
The café is open today. And it has just stopped serving toast.
- So Long, Arthur Of Arthur’s Cafe [Spitalfields Life]