Category: pubs

Lewisham’s Ravensbourne Arms is closing – but why did nobody spot the warning signs?

Ravensbourne Arms

Going, going gone: The Ravensbourne Arms closes the day before Hallowe’en

Frustrated of Charlton writes… The annoying thing about writing a website like this isn’t the stories you can unearth, it’s the stories you don’t have time to unearth. With south-east London’s local press being asset-stripped, there are loads of local stories that simply aren’t seeing the light of day. I could happily spend all day doing this stuff, but nobody’s willing to pay for this kind of stuff any more.

You could see this on Wednesday night if you nipped into Greenwich Council’s regular full meeting, or if you watch it online. As ever, it was a festival of defensiveness. Angry residents raised the privatisation of musculoskeletal services at Greenwich GP surgeries (and got qualified support from councillors); a fishy-looking deal to lease the Hervey Road playing field in Kidbrooke to Blackheath rugby club (and were ignored); and Greenwich using Savills estate agents to assess 20% of its housing stock (it insists council housing isn’t under threat).

These are stories not being covered elsewhere. People have kindly been in contact with me about all these things – but operating on my own, I simply don’t have the resources to follow them up.

Thankfully, the Mercury’s sole reporter/news editor Mandy Little was in the gallery too, so hopefully some of these will get an airing. But she can’t always get down there, and there are just too many stories for one person to cover.

Over at the News Shopper, they’re moving to a system where one person effectively produces the whole paper – lovely if you want a press release to go into the paper without touching the sides, bad for actual journalism. No wonder why the journalists have been on strike again.

This means one of the checks and balances of civic society has effectively disappeared. And when they’re all caught napping, you can get a horrible surprise. So it was this week, with bad news across the borough boundary.

Last orders at the Ravensbourne

A quiet Friday afternoon in the Ravensbourne Arms

A quiet Friday afternoon in the Ravensbourne Arms

It’s emerged via social media that Lewisham’s Ravensbourne Arms pub is closing on Sunday.

It’s only been open five years, having been transformed from the grim Coach and Horses by pub outfit Antic. It’s a terrific boozer and a favourite of mine. So please indulge me here.

It also hosted the first meeting of the short-lived Lewisham branch of the National Union of Journalists, where I gave a talk about this website and the dire state of local journalism in SE London. Sadly, what remains of local journalism missed the warning signs about the Ravensbourne. They weren’t the only ones.

Antic isn’t commenting on the closure beyond a short statement thanking customers and confirming a move to new premises in the old Market Tavern/Quaggy Duck site further up Lewisham High Street.

But it’s widely believed the pub has been sold. The freeholder of the pub is, according to the Land Registry, Tavernius Limited, which is one of a network of companies with connections to other firms named after pubs trading under the Antic London brand, such as Westow House at Crystal Palace and the East Dulwich Tavern.

Companies House records for Tavernius indicate a mortgage on the Ravensbourne Arms was paid off on Wednesday, meaning a sale may have take place that hasn’t made it to the Land Registry yet. The Land Registry data also shows some property transfers around the site too.

Antic applied for flats – and got them

Ravensbourne Arms planning notice

Lewisham Council granted planning permission for flats above the Ravensbourne Arms as well as development of surrounding land twice, in 2014 and August 2015. The 2014 application saw two homes built behind the pub last year. (Unfortunately, Lewisham’s planning search function is down at the time of writing, so I can’t double-check what was in the 2014 application.)

The applications don’t mention the pub itself, but this should have rung alarm bells. Housing above pubs can be a way of securing the future of a venue (the new Catford Bridge Tavern will have flats above it). But such developments are also a very good way for developers to shut down the pub itself – these are cases that demand vigilance.

The applicant was given as “Antic London”. There is no company of this name registered at Companies House in the UK, nor in Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man. (An earlier company, Antic Limited, went into administration in 2013, with its operations being taken over by a new company called Gregarious Limited, which is linked to the group of firms mentioned earlier.)

But Antic has always been as much about property as (some very good) pubs – and this was a process that the public were alerted to.

To find planning applications, you have to search through the weekly lists. (This is something From The Murky Depths excels at for big developments.) It’s not actually that big a deal, but you do need to track down the lists. You’ll usually find them on a council website or in a local paper (in Lewisham, I think it’s the South London Press; in Greenwich, it’s currently the Mercury following Greenwich Time’s demise).

There was also a notice tucked away in the Ravensbourne window early in 2015. I actually saw it, took a picture, and made a note to myself to investigate – something I’m kicking myself hard for not doing.

So this process seems to have sailed through without local press – which used to check this stuff as a matter of course – local bloggers, local societies or the likes of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) noticing. But one other check seems to have failed.

Why was it decided behind closed doors?

Opening time: The Ravensbourne Arms when it started trading in May 2011

Opening time: The Ravensbourne Arms when it started trading in May 2011

Most planning applications are determined by officers. Local councillors don’t always need to sit around deciding whether you can have a kitchen extension. But if a certain number of your neighbours object, or if a local councillor thinks it should go before committee, then it will do just that.

Both 2014 and 2015 applications – despite them relating to a prominent local business – were not. They were decided by officers behind closed doors.

I’m not as familiar with Lewisham planning processes as Greenwich, but at first sight, it seems that the three councillors that represent Lewisham Central ward missed a trick here, as putting the applications before a committee would have enabled more alarm bells to ring.

This is a shame, because Lewisham has actually done some great work in putting protection of pubs into its planning framework (Greenwich’s Core Strategy also mentions the importance of pubs, although the protections aren’t as strong.)

What happens next?

Market Tavern, Lewisham

The Market Tavern pictured in February 2015: Antic are planning to reopen this site as E&H Handley

I don’t know. We do know that Antic is redeveloping the long-shut Market Tavern further up Lewisham High Street (under the name “E&H Hadley”), so that may be the company’s long-term priority. I understand that it’s hoped the staff will move up the high street to the new pub when it opens next year. It may well be that the sale of one outlet is funding the other.

But the new venue will be further away from the Hither Green and Ladywell areas, as well as the Lewisham Hospital staff that have come to treat the Ravensbourne as their local.

I’d hope that people rally to save the Ravensbourne Arms, although this could be a long, drawn-out battle – among Lewisham’s trump cards is a local planning rule stating that a pub must be proved to be unviable by having been on the market for at least three years with no takers. (Thanks to Rushey Green councillor James-J Walsh for tweeting this.)

This will be an interesting test for Lewisham’s pub protection policies, and I’m sure events will now be watched closely.

An Antic statement says: “It is with sadness that we announce our leaving the Ravensbourne Arms this Sunday in advance of opening at our new home, EH Hadley, in central Lewisham in 2017.

“We thank all of our customers for their support and very much look forward to being of service again soon.”

Down the road in Catford, Antic has secured a lease extension (from Lewisham Council) on another successful pub, the Catford Constitutional Club, and is holding a party on the 12th. News that it is closing the Ravensbourne may just dampen the celebrations for many locals.

There’s a moral to this story – if you see a planning notice on the front of your local pub, for heaven’s sake, read it and look it up. You might just be the one that helps keep it open.

Huey Morgan’s surprise gig at Greenwich’s Pelton Arms

Huey Morgan at the Pelton Arms, 7 June 2013

Fun Lovin’ Criminals frontman Huey Morgan turned up at the Pelton Arms in Greenwich on Friday night for a short set to raise money for Help For Heroes.

Here’s a short clip…

But how did it happen? Landlord Geoff Keen simply asked him on Twitter.

Pelton Arms

Huey took him up on the offer, resulting in him opening for former Inspiral Carpets singer Tom Hingley, raising £700 for charity. Magic.

Has Woolwich finally got a decent pub?

Looks like good news if you like decent pubs and live near Woolwich – The Woolwich, the hostelry that successful pub firm Antic had planned to open in the old Woolwich Equitable headquarters, appears to have been given a licence.

It appears as licence LN/000006775 in the essential reading that is the Greenwich Council Licensing Register, although I can’t find any sign of a meeting to give it approval since the council refused permission in September last year. (That might just be me being a bit rubbish, though.)

Fingers crossed, it’s all true and there’ll finally be somewhere to go that won’t involve being ignored by the staff before being charged a fortune (hello Dial Arch) or being shouted at by the terminally smashed (everywhere else). If the council’s changed its mind, good on it.

Antic, which is also looking to open up in Deptford High Street’s old Job Centre, also runs the Royal Albert in New Cross, the Ravensbourne Arms in Lewisham, and saw its Catford Bridge Tavern saved from closure before Christmas after Lewisham Council stepped in to list the building.

(Thanks to Katja for the tip-off.)

Could Woolwich’s Star shine again?

North London pub landlord Mike Smith has a message for you. He posted this comment on an old post at the weekend, but it struck a chord with me so I thought I’d give it a bit more prominence. Here’s what he has to say.

I’m interested in restoring The Star pub into a community pub for Woolwich. I have a pub in North London [The Three Compasses in Hornsey] and I want to do the same for Woolwich, which Is where I come from (I now live in Lewisham). I understand the property is owned by the New Wine Church and that they have plans to develop the property into residential apartments. Does anyone have any tips on where I might start regarding getting things going? Cheers, Mike

I used to drink in The Star in the early 1990s. Some pals drank in there, so I drank with them. It was friendlier than its tacky interior would suggest – I’ve struggled and failed to remember the name of the couple that ran it at the time – and did the whole loud music thing before the Earl of Chatham down the road took it on a few years later. As one of the nearest pubs to Woolwich barracks, a few squaddies used to drink there too.

But those were the last days of The Star, and it shut about 15 years ago, and has been decaying ever since – an ad for Labatt’s Canadian Lager betraying the era when pints were last pulled there.

I’ve no idea who owns the land now, but New Wine does have some big property holdings in the area. I suspect Mike is a brave man wanting to take that on, but yes, Woolwich is short of a decent pub or two. Especially since the rioters burned down The Great Harry, and the Director-General was knocked down for the new Greenwich Council HQ. Although Rose’s, off Hare Street, is a little gem.

So, can you help Mike? Could The Star ever shine again?

A plea from the pub-goers of Greenwich (or maybe just me)

Dear Antic Ltd,

I see from a trip to Lewisham that you’re opening a new pub there soon, the Ravensbourne Arms. Good idea – the old place, the Coach and Horses, looked like a right old pit. I’m sure it’ll be a roaring success, like Jam Circus in Brockley, the Royal Albert in New Cross, and your other pubs across south London and beyond.

But we in Greenwich can only look on in envy. Our pubs are largely crap. Between the Greenwich Union and Richard I in the west and the Pelton Arms and Plume of Feathers in the east, central Greenwich is almost bereft of decent boozers. Yes, there’s the wonderful Old Brewery, but the popularity of that shows just how dire the competition is. And there’s almost nowhere good left in SE10 to watch football.

You know Greenwich exists, because you’ve bought some old brewing kit from Meantime. So, please, come and save us from the crap chain pubs, bland and badly-managed boozers, and tourist traps that Greenwich has to endure. In return, we’ll come and drink your beer, eat your food, play your board games and win your quiz nights. And we’ll rave on about you to last orders and beyond, and bring all our friends down.

Imagine how good, say, the Kings Arms would be with you in charge, eh? Or the rotten old Coach and Horses, which contained just two punters and a barman almost rocking with boredom when I walked past the other night. So, please, consider our plea. Come and buy a Greenwich pub. You won’t regret it.

The pub-goers of Greenwich.

PS. You might want to try the Old Brewery‘s 9% Imperial Golden Ale, based on a Lovibonds recipe. It certainly has an effect…

Will London 2012 take Courage?

“Remember a pint of Best? Courage do…”

Take Courage
(Photo from Flickr user paulsimpson1976.)

Oh look, it’s a knocking story about next year’s Olympics. Apparently, because the rights to serve beer in London 2012’s venues have not been awarded to Chiswick brewers Fullers, drinking at the games will feel less “British”. Fullers, of course, do the very tasty London Pride and are the last of the big traditional London breweries, so naturally they’ll want to get a bit of publicity ahead of 2012.

The rights have gone to Heineken UK – not altogether a bad thing because their flagship brand actually tastes alright, and not like pish. (Not everyone agrees, of course.) But “less British”? Really?

One of Heineken’s brands is Courage – inherited from the old Scottish Courage firm, and now co-owned with Wells & Youngs. Courage is one of the real old London beer names – founded in Bermondsey in 1787. In the 1950s it merged with the long-gone Barclay Perkins firm, who were based behind the Anchor pub on Bankside. If you travel by train through London Bridge, you’ll have seen the sign above, a remnant of that old brewery on Redcross Way, Southwark.

As late as the 1980s, “TAKE COURAGE” signs were ubiquitous on London pubs, glowing into the night. There’s still a few knocking around now. The Amersham Arms in New Cross paid tribute to this heritage when it was revamped a few years ago by calling its upstairs art gallery Take Courage.

Courage faded from view in the late 1990s, although Courage Best was relaunched a few years back when Wells & Youngs took a share in the name. You can still find a pint of Directors if you look hard enough.

So if there’s to be an ale served at London 2012… shouldn’t it be Courage? Heineken have pouring rights at The Valley, and when Charlton fans demanded an ale instead of the flat Fosters they knock out there, Courage Best was provided – and sold out. Never mind Fullers, the beer of rugby-shirted west London types – a real London Olympics should have a real London brew, surely?

Cue some 30-year-old Chas and Dave ads… (might be an omen for Spurs getting the stadium, too…)

(Of course, since most of the venues are in east London, you could argue that the Olympics should serve what used to be Brick Lane’s finest, Truman’s. But that’s another story…)

Inc Group boss backs Greenwich Market development

I’m a bit surprised this hasn’t had more attention – Inc Group boss Frank Dowling, whose company has a strangehold on eating and drinking in Greenwich Market, has publicly backed controversial plans to build a boutique hotel in the market.

I guess it’s a bit “dog bites man”, but considering Frank rarely speaks on the record, this does at least confirm plenty of long-held suspicions.

He made the comments in an interview with the Greenwich Podcast. He told presenter Nick Baker:

“I’m very much in favour of it. Greenwich Hospital are good poeple – as a landlord, sometimes decisions aren’t easy. In the market redevelopment, that’s a corrigated plastic roof. That’s conduct unbecoming of a world heritage site. Greenwich needs 2,000 hotel rooms – the Ibis is horrible, the Novotel not much better.

“This is a Unesco world heritage site – we’re in a different type of status, and you don’t have any overnight accomodation in Greenwich. You don’t. There’s no way that Greenwich will ever became a Cambridge, an Oxford, a York, a Bath – a good market town without some good places where people can stay. You can’t see Greenwich in one day – there is a better experience if you can stay overnight in Greenwich.”

He continued:

“We need to keep on moving. This anti-progressive bloc that’s… – there’s a small amount of people with a big voice. You do get a local bloc, especially west Greenwich, and you have 20 or 30 people who have the voice of thousands. And that’s dangerous.”

He also revealed plans to turn Inc’s offices on Nelson Road into a 20-room boutique hotel in time for the Olympics, and reaffirmed his ambition to build a 150-room hotel on the site of the Trident Hall in Park Row, next to the Trafalgar Tavern.

It’s interesting listening, and if you ever spend some time in Greenwich or fret about the future of the place it’s a must-listen. For my money, I think part of what winds people up about Inc Group is its lack of respect for what came before it – it’s all very well banging on about a “world heritage site”, but if you’re going to convert a much-loved old pub into a fish and chip shop via spells as a gay bar and tiki bar, then there’s no point in complaining about an “anti-progressive bloc”.

Some of Inc’s woes are inherited – the reputation for poor service comes from the Trafalgar Tavern’s previous management, for example.

But you can fix what’s been broken – when the management of Greenwich’s leading gay pub the Gloucester decided to turn it into a mainstream pub, it killed the place stone dead. When Inc took it on, it became the Greenwich Park Bar and Grill. It’s just had another name change… maybe it’s now time to revive the Gloucester, now the gay crowd has moved to the Rose & Crown and a generation has moved on?

Nah, it’s now the Greenwich Tavern. Just in case anyone had stepped out of Greenwich Park and believed they had arrived in Bromley. (About as clever as renaming a pub The Prince of Greenwich.) Now, do you see why people worry about the likes of Inc Group turning Greenwich into a crappy tourist trap?