Pub news – May 2024

Here are the details of the Wetherspoon’s (JDW) pubs mentioned in the Trade News column. The uniquely named Asparagus in Battersea has been sold to the Portobello Pub Company. It reopened immediately after the sale on 17 March and the initial beer range was quite impressive. The pub will however be closing for a substantial refurbishment. It takes its name from the main crop once grown in the area.

Good news! JDW have reversed their decision to sell the Grade II-listed Rochester Castle in Stoke Newington (N16 0NY). There has been a pub on the site since 1702 and the current building dates from 1893. Dating from the era of the ‘gin palace’, it is exuberantly decorated and features glazed tiling with arabesque-enriched pilasters and mirrors, figurative panels depicting the Seasons and, to the rear, a top-lit extension. It has been a JDW pub since 1982 and has currently been in their estate the longest. 1,359 locals signed a petition against its closure and Colin Coyne, the chairman of CAMRA’s North London branch, commented, “This is great news. The Rochester Castle is a much loved community pub in an area that is not well known for cask beer pubs. This change of mind by Wetherspoon’s is really welcome”.

JDW have secured planning permission to convert the former Market Hall site at Fulham Broadway into a pub. The Market Hall was itself a conversion from the original booking hall of the Underground station. It is a return to the area for JDW, having closed the Oyster Rooms (Lloyds) in 2022. This was located in the new station building and shopping mall. The cost of converting the Grade II-listed site into a pub is estimated at £2.5 million. Its original features, including the ticket booths and signs, will be retained. If JDW are looking for a name, might I suggest the Walham Green, which was the station’s original name or, for the Ian Dury fans among us, the Ticket Man.

JDW acquired the Grape and Grain, originally part of the Royal Crystal Palace Hotel, in Crystal Palace as long ago as 2014 and closed it for redevelopment once the existing tenant’s lease expired in November 2017. Planning permission was obtained in May 2019 but work never started and it subsequently lapsed. In August last year the site was put up for sale but then, in April, JDW told a local news website that they would, after all, be developing the site into a pub. The site does however look to be in a poor state.

It seems that the fad for converting pubs into single large dwellings has not gone away. The latest case is the Albion in Lauriston Road, Homerton, in the Victoria Park Conservation Area. This very distinctive locally listed pub, dating from 1833, has been closed since 2015 when its long term operator passed away. It recently changed hands and planning permission is now being sought to convert it into a three bedroom house. CAMRA’s East London & City branch asked their members to object to the change of use. The closing date was 22 May. Further news to follow.

Fuller’s have completed the refurbishment of the Astronomer in Middlesex Street. The bar has been moved to the back of the pub to allow for more seating. The downstairs space, formerly the Hubble Bar, has been renamed the Rocket Room and now has its own bar. There is a new menu; it is no longer an Ale & Pie outlet.

The Hero of Maida, once the Truscott Arms of fond memory, has been reopened by the Public House Group, with the name shortened to the Hero. The pub has been refurbished and it now features a grill room, a cocktail bar and a top-floor events area.

McMullen’s of Hertford, who describe themselves as ‘an unindebted cash purchaser’, have acquired two more pubs in London. The first is the Lock Tavern in Camden Town, which was purchased from the administrators of the East London Pub Company. McMullen’s say that it will continue to be ‘an eclectic Camden pub, with historic roots and an exciting local vibe’. It does not currently sell cask ale so let us hope that McMullen’s will change that. The second is the Duke of York in Fitzrovia. I reported in the previous edition that planning permission had been granted for the residential development of the upper floors. It is not yet known whether the project will continue. This brings McMullen’s estate in London to ten and there are reported to be three more under negotiation.

The Lock Tavern

On 4 April, Fuller’s reopened the Old Pack Horse in Chiswick after a refurbishment. The local MP, Ruth Cadbury, did the honours. The pub, which dates from 1910, is the work of the renowned Thomas Nowell Parr and is Grade II-listed. It rates one star on CAMRA’s register of historic pub interiors. Its original three room layout can be identified from the room names etched into the windows. Images of pack horses are featured in stained glass in the public and saloon bar upper windows. The pub will continue to serve Thai food and a new monthly ‘open mic’ night has been added to the existing entertainment programme of music on Friday and Saturday nights and monthly drag bingo and comedy sessions.

I am pleased, somewhat belatedly, to report that the Peacock in Stepney has reopened following the completion of work to convert the upper floors into five residential units. It is reported that one cask beer is available. The splendid peacock mosaic on the exterior wall has been retained. There were once five pubs in Aylward Street, of which the Peacock is the last.

The Peacock (taken in 2022)

It sounds like a pub that had been turned into a nightclub but the Pompadours was the original name of this pub in Harold Hill, Essex (RM3 8YL). When it was built in 1956, to the design of Samuel Arthur Yeo, owners Ind Coope asked local people to name the pub. They chose the Pompadours, which was the nickname of the 56th regiment of foot (the Essex Regiment) and the opening ceremony was performed by three members of the regiment who had seen active service in North Africa, Burma, France, Germany and Korea. The pub was a late addition to the London County Council’s Harold Hill estate. Sadly, it closed in 2016 and was subject to vandalism and fly-tipping. It was demolished for redevelopment in February, courtesy of Certificate of Lawfulness from Havering Council.

More evidence that local plans can work. Lewisham Council have refused plans to turn the Ravensbourne Arms on Lewisham High Street into flats. In particular, the Council said that the developers, Ravensbourne Arms Ltd, had not submitted sufficient evidence that they had marketed the pub to all possible buyers. There were 35 objections to the plan, including one from CAMRA’s South East London branch. The pub, originally known as the George & Dragon, dates from 1934 and is on Lewisham’s local heritage list. It was acquired by Antic in 2011 but they sold it in 2016, after plans for the flats conversion were approved. Lewisham Council planning officers also told the developer that the cost of soundproofing the pub should not be counted as proof that it was unviable because that had been part of the previous permission to turn the upper floors into flats. The developers have the right of appeal.

There was, incidentally, also a Ravensbourne Arms in Coldbath Street but that closed around 1998 and was converted to residential use in 2002.

Our cover photo for this edition is the newly refurbished Union Tavern in Westbourne Park, considered by some to be the best canalside pub in London. It now has a bar and a dining area on the ground floor, a function space in the lower ground floor and a garden overlooking the water with an array of seating. The garden is available for use all year round thanks to a new, colourful awning which will provide shelter in the colder months. The food offering will be small plates and bar snacks as well as pub classics. With thanks to Fuller’s for the photo.

Readers may recall that, one night last August, there were fires at two closed pubs in Croydon, the Windmill and the Drum & Monkey. On 23 April there was another fire at the Windmill. Five people working there had to evacuate but no-one was injured. Although the cause of both of the August fires were initially regarded as ‘suspicious’ by the authorities, the investigations did not find any evidence of arson. A planning application was submitted to Croydon Council on 23 October 2023 for the demolition of the Windmill and its replacement by a six floor block including 23 flats and a replacement pub or restaurant. This was refused on 19 January. There were a number of reasons given but the first was ‘The proposed development would result in the loss of a public house and the re-provision of 90 sqm metre Sui Generis/Class E (b) use would not result in a comparative replacement. In addition, the applicant has failed to provide any marketing evidence to justify such a loss. The proposed development would therefore conflict with Policies HC7 of the London Plan 2021 and Policy DM21 of the Croydon Local Plan 2018.’

In the middle of April, the Grade II-listed York & Albany close to Regents Park, was taken over by squatters. The lease of the Georgian former coaching inn, designed by John Nash, is currently held by the chef Gordon Ramsay, and also includes a ‘boutique’ hotel and a pizzeria. It closed in March and was on the market, reportedly for £13 million. The squatters, who called themselves the Camden Art Café, said that they intended opening a soup kitchen for the homeless. Being commercial premises, squatting there was not, in itself, a criminal offence. No time was wasted in obtaining a possession order, which needed to be from the High Court because of the site’s high rateable value. What happened then was confusing but by 22 April bailiffs had secured the premises and the site is, no doubt, now very well guarded. It is understood that negotiations were in progress with a new operator, so let us hope that the site can be brought back into use in the near future.

Taken in 2019