Pubwatch: Herne Hill & Dulwich

I mean, really. All we want is a pint and a bag of nuts. Is that too much to ask? What have we ever done to you, anyway?

Whether it’s developers, incomers, greedy opportunists, charities, corrupt councillors or piss-poor planners, it feels like everyone wants to turn our boozers into billionaire bedsits.

In this first of an occasional series, we tell them to kindly get knotted.

Half Moon, Herne Hill

Back in July we wrote about the mighty Half Moon in Herne Hill and how it had been closed for a year, leaving a gaping booze-chasm in the North Dulwich Triangle, not to mention the continued absence of open mic nights, TV sport, comedy and live music events. What should be the star attraction at Herne Hill was now a huge, forlorn black hole.

The freeholder, Dulwich Estate, which owns 1,500 acres of property, roads, parks and probably air in the area, had entered into discussions with Southwark Council to turn the upper floors into ‘private residential accommodation’. We feared the worst: That the pub would re-open (if at all) as a neutered version of itself, with music and events a no-no due to the luxury incomers upstairs needing peace and quiet in which to hatch quinoa eggs under low-voltage downlighters.

Dulwich Estate, let us take a moment to recall, is, somehow, a charity, with the sole purpose of maximising revenues and distributing net profits to their ‘beneficiaries’. Using well-honed journalistic black arts, I was able to uncover the identities of these beneficiaries – they are listed on the Dulwich Estate website.

They are Alleyn’s School, Dulwich College, James Allen’s Girls’ School, two school foundations (Central Foundation of Schools of London and St Olave’s & St Saviour’s Schools Foundation) and the chapel and almshouses in Dulwich Village.

Accounts for the year to March 31st, 2014, submitted this month, show the net profit of Dulwich Estate activities was in excess of £6 million, which is now available for distribution to the above institutions, with by far the largest proportion to be given to… fee-paying schools. You could say they are taking from the poor and giving to the rich. A bit like Robin Hood, if he’d been a cunt.

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Supermassive black hole, SE24

Dulwich Estate has no obligation to heed the wishes and desires of people who live in the area and indeed, as it is showing with the Half Moon, it will override these interests as and when they conflict with its overarching aim of maintaining the long-term viability of their beneficiaries. In short, if Dulwich Estate can make more money by turning a pub into luxury flats than keeping it as a pub, then it is obliged to consider that as an option. And it doesn’t have to tell us what its plans are, either.

Given the above, then, it came as some surprise when Dulwich Estate this month released a statement regarding the future of the Half Moon.

The Estate recognises the value of this historic building both in terms of visual amenity and as a popular venue for residents and others to meet,’ it blathered.

In order to protect and improve this listed building and to ensure its financial viability in the long-term, initial proposals were drawn up for the conversion of the upper floors into five self-contained flats and a mews house at the rear, retaining the refurbished public house on the ground floor.

However, following pre-application planning advice received from Southwark’s planning department it was suggested that the Estate should look at alternative uses for the upper floors other than for residential accommodation.

Reading between the lines, we get a delicious glimpse of a wasted journey to Meeting Room 4 of Southwark Towers, Tooley Street:

Dulwich Estate: ‘Can we turn the Half Moon into luxury flats?’

Southwark Council: ‘No. Biscuit?’

To use a phrase that could do with an airing, if only to check it’s still there, ‘Hats off to Southwark Council!’

The reasons for Southwark Council’s response are unknown but we hope they share our concern that luxury flats are incompatible with large gatherings of local folk below, drinking, dancing, laughing and generally making a right, good ol’ racket long into the night, as they have done on this spot for more than 100 years.

On the downside, Dulwich Estate’s architects are now drawing up ‘alternative schemes’ and plan to submit a new application next year. ‘The ground floor will remain as a pub,’ ends the statement from the Dulwich Estate, striking an heartening final note, but with an estimated 18-month lead time before any building work would even start, not to mention the fact that the planning application may be delayed or rejected again, it’s hard to see how the Half Moon will be open again before 2017 at the earliest. That means while the Estate pursues its money-grubbing schemes, Herne Hill will have been without its best pub for four years. They are making mugs of us all.

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Sign of things to come, SE21

The Crown & Greyhound, Dulwich Village

In fact, the Half Moon was originally built as an hotel and so it’s ironic that another pub in the area, The Crown & Greyhound (‘The Dog’) in Dulwich Village, has also now rung time in order to be converted into a 20-room boutique hotel.

Thirsty locals will be without another popular boozer – the only one in the Village – while work is on-going. Although there will still apparently be a bar area when the Dog re-opens (reckoned to be ‘winter 2015’, whatever that means) no mention is made of the seating on the forecourt, a popular afternoon sun-trap with locals and visitors alike. In the circumstances, it’s probably safe to assume it will be lost, and be pleasantly surprised if it is not.

The freeholder, by the way, is Dulwich Estate.

The Grove, Lordship Lane

I didn’t set out to pick on Dulwich Estate in this post and, as I said in a piece on Lordship Lane, it has done much to keep the area special, bless its silken socks, but when it comes to our pubs, it really is making a mess of it.

‘It’s class war,’ said a friend, matter of factly, and try as I might it’s hard to argue against this conclusion. Are they actually trying to discourage the use of pubs, like some modern-day temperance movement? Or cleanse the area of pub-goers?

Another Dulwich Estate property, The Grove Tavern on Lordship Lane, formerly a Harvester and before that a Swinging Sixties bar-restaurant, has now been boarded up and left to rot for two years after a fire in its cellar allegedly forced it to close.

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Dulwich Estate discusses when the The Grove might re-open

It sits in a spot (Between Sydenham Hill Wood and Dulwich Park) where it could be enjoyed by countless ramblers, families and dog-walkers, not to mention Tile Giant refugees, and some time ago Dulwich Estate assured the Dulwich Society that the pub would re-open. Needless to say, it has remained firmly shuttered ever since and possible good intentions replaced by deafening silence on the matter.

As the Dulwich Society has noted, ‘With the pub comes a very large car park and garden and [it] is of course in a prime residential development location’.

The heart sinks. Please, not more shit flats.

Assuming the lease stipulates the premises should be a pub, if Dulwich Estate is unable to compel the current tenants to re-open it, then it should boot them out for breaching its terms and find another tenant.

The Fox on The Hill, Denmark Hill

Finally, we recently discovered that The Fox on the Hill on Denmark Hill is shortly to undergo a licence review. This is due, we gather, to two isolated incidents of violence and threatening behaviour on the premises.

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Fix on the Hill, SE5

The Fox may not be to everyone’s taste (it’s a Wetherspoon pub and we wrote about the pros and cons of the place) but it is a pub, and it’s always busy. Two positives in a world filled with ISIS, ebola and The X Factor.

It is our contention that the way to deal with trouble in pubs is to punish the perpetrators, not the community that the pub serves. Hopefully Southwark will work with the licencee to ensure customer safety rather than close the place down and force us all to drink from paper bags in the park, again.

And so we say again, in the name of all that is just and decent, in the name of ‘community’, in the name of getting accidentally arse-holed on a rainy Tuesday, please leave our pubs be.

[Update, January 2015: The licence challenge on the Fox on the Hill was unsuccessful and it will remain trading, although the gardens and terraces are now to be cleared by 10pm.]

UPDATE from Dulwich Estate, October 2015

Under the headline ‘A Modern Day Temperance Movement?’ – which sounds familiar (see above) – The Dulwich Estate has released a statement regarding the future of its three currently closed pubs, summarised below:

The Crown and Greyhound

The redevelopment of ‘the Dog’ into a boutique hotel (with bar and restaurant on the ground floor) has been delayed after the curtilage listed skittle alley and coach house ‘collapsed’. According to Dulwich Estate, the delay is due to the structural repair of these buildings being refused by Southwark Council.

Southwark did indeed refuse the application, because, as they state, the proposal submitted by the Estate (in April, 2015) would have resulted in ‘the unacceptable loss of historic fabric and plan form resulting in unsympathetic alterations that would cause substantial harm to the heritage interest of the listed building’.

In short, the Estate’s plans for repairing the buildings that collapsed were unsuitable and ‘unacceptable’. This, to our untrained ears, sounds like a delay caused as much by the Dulwich Estate, as by Southwark Council.

Dulwich Estate has since re-submitted plans (in August 2015) for the repair of the building which, as of last week, Southwark have now accepted. Work may now re-commence but of course, what was supposed to be completed by the end of 2015 now, predictably, won’t be.

The Half Moon

The Half Moon is also to be redeveloped as an hotel, retaining the bar areas but offering ‘enhanced dining facilities’ (no thanks). Ominously, no mention is made of live music or other events, and with hotel accommodation planned for the upper floors, it’s safe to assume this means that the Moon as a famous music venue will be lost forever.

‘It is hoped,’ writes Dulwich Estate, ‘that the refurbishment will be complete by summer 2016 (subject to planning consent).’

Prediction: It won’t be.

The Grove Tavern

No punches pulled here: The Dulwich Estate wants to develop the site into residential and commercial units. It promises consultation on the matter, so watch this space.

UPDATE March 2017

The Half Moon has now re-opened. No live music, no live sport, but it’s back. See our post on it here.

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Further reading:
An interview with Robert Harrison, landlord of The Half Moon, 2006-2013, on the Herne Hill Society website.

Image credit: Skeletons by Okinwa Soba used under this CC licence

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