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The Foresters Arms 16
Photography Sarah Hollamby

Inside one of the oldest adult entertainment pubs in the UK

Southend’s Foresters Arms closed in June to make way for a £50 million development – photographer Sarah Hollamby documented its final weeks

In June 2019, The Foresters Arms in Southend, Essex was forced to close its doors after over a century in business. Swapping drinks and dancers for deluxe apartments and restaurants, one of the UK’s oldest adult entertainment pubs will be replaced by a £50 million seafront development – much to the dismay of loyal locals.

The pub was especially renowned for its ‘pound in the pot’ dances, where girls would go around with a pint glass, dancing for whoever put money in their cup. It was this, as well as the venue’s eclectic music taste, that drew photographer Sarah Hollamby to The Foresters Arms.

“I go to the seaside often,” she tells Dazed, “and stumbled across The Foresters Arms. It reminded me of pubs back home (in Northampton), so we decided to grab a drink there. I remember INXS ‘Need You Tonight’ playing the day I went in, and I instantly fell in love with the place.”

After contacting Roxy, who manages the dancers, to find out if she could document the venue for a photo project, Hollamby found out that The Foresters Arms was set to be demolished. “At first she said no (to photographing the pub) as there was a strict No Photography policy, but then she told me about the pub being closed and how she had a special bond with the place. She had started as a dancer there herself and met her husband Lee who was one of the owners – they’re now married with two beautiful children.”

In the weeks following her conversation with Roxy, Hollamby spent every Friday at The Foresters Arms, documenting the dancers and punters for a month before its closure in June – and demolition in July – last year. 

Her new booklet, released last Friday (February 21) and simply called The Foresters Arms, offers an insight into the pub’s final weeks, and looks like it’s been plucked right out of the 1970s. Drenched in red, the pub is decked out with tartan armchairs, leather benches, and stencil silhouettes of dancers on the walls. In Hollamby’s photos, half naked women dance for punters with wispy hair and v-neck shirts, downing pints, and sometimes eating KFC.

“I had the best time there,” the photographer explains, “everyone was like a family so it made everything extra sad when the doors were finally closed. A lot of the girls know the punters so they feel very comfortable. You usually see the same people more than twice in there – one man turned 60 years old and he’d been going to The Foresters Arms since his 20s!”

The release of Hollamby’s booklet will also be bittersweet for Roxy, who’s been part of the pub for 15 years. “It’s really upsetting to know that it will no longer be there,” she reflects, “but I’m glad Sarah was there to document its last few weeks. Now hopefully it will never be forgotten, and will always remain part of Southend’s history.”

Despite The Echo reporting that the marine plaza development is “cracking on”, Hollamby asserts there’s been no significant news since The Foresters Arms closed. “I’ve been checking up on (the development) and it seems nothing is in place yet,” she tells Dazed, “and I’m unsure whether it’s even going to happen. During this time they’ve demolished The Foresters Arms, a taxi rank, and a chip shop. There was also a lady living upstairs in the Foresters and I’m guessing she didn’t have anywhere secure to live afterwards.”

The photographer continues: “I heard from locals that they’ll probably demolish housing too; the community feels pushed out – especially as inner city London developers are involved.”

Eight months since The Foresters Arms shut its doors, Hollamby’s booklet invites punters to step back into the long-standing establishment. “I’m so happy I got to document it,” the photographer concludes, “because it was a special place and should be remembered.”

You can buy Sarah Hollamby’s The Foresters Arms booklet here