The Twin Towers of Catford

The closure of Catford Stadium robbed us of the irony of a dog track in cat town. Sadly, by 2003, the bottom had fallen out of the market for watching emaciated hounds in tiny jackets chasing electric animals round and round at enticing odds.

Now, all I ask for Catford is that our future enemies spare its present giants of joy, the Blythe Hill Tavern and the Catford Constitutional Club, from any destruction they may deem necessary, even if we’ve shat on their strawberries with unmanned drone bottoms.

Catford Constitutional Club

If they must smash Catford again, as others have in the past, surely there is no call to take its two temples of intemperance. Take Tesco, if you must. We can always find milk and oven chips. But these two boozeries are as irreplaceable as something that’s impossible to replace, like a heart, or brain, or bar stool.

Already the Catford Centre cat (see main image) is under threat, like there could be any better representation of the area than a giant fibreglass moggie being shat on by pigeons, in a place famous for dogs.

So with the loss of the greyhounds, a nervous giant cat and the South Circular Road ramming itself through the arse of the place, it would be unfair, if not cruel, to ever take away the two establishments that provide such splendid succour to the fun-seekers of SE6.

Blythe Hill Tavern

Blythe Hill Tavern
Blythe golf bar

I feel like such a fool for having driven past the BHT so many times without noticing an oasis of civilisation until it was recommended by a reader (thanks, Niamh!). It has three rooms, each dedicated to gentle Irish pleasures. One tends towards golf, one to horse racing and the other nods towards literature – and all are dedicated to booze. It goes without saying that it serves a fine Guinness, but it’s also been named SPBW London Pub of the Year for the fourth year running. With its affable staff and regulars, it feels a bit like home, or would if your address was Number One, Heaven.

There’s a large garden at the back, with good cover for the wet weather smoker and a nice playground, should you fancy mounting a climbing frame or taking refreshment while presiding over your kid’s wonder years. There’s no wifi either, so there’s less chance of you forgetting them.

On Thursday nights the Blythe hosts an Irish music night (which is much better than it sounds), attracting some fine Irish musicians and a boisterous crowd of revellers.

Catford Constitutional Club

Catford Constitutional Club
Very constitutional

For a place that’s not supposed to have much going for it, Catford is doing very well in the Places I Must Have A Pint In Before I Die stakes. The Antic Collective, those angels of pub invention, took over the awful Copperfield and turned it into the awesome Catford Bridge Tavern. When they were forced to move on they opened the CCC, wisely changing the name from the Catford Conservative Club to avoid being empty.

The bar staff are imbued with such a depth of beer knowledge that you almost feel like you’re talking to a medical professional. Thankfully, these doctors don’t ask how many units you take on board in a week. Whatever I tell my doctor, I get:

‘You need to halve that.’

To which I think: ‘I just have.’

The bar doctor prescribed a superbly-kept Brass Castle Sunshine and I began to feel better immediately.

The food is in the pub tradition, except that it is excellent. The CCC hosts film, comedy and vinyl nights, so like the Blythe is a part of a community that’s trying to have a good time, all the time. Our constituency, in fact.

Catford Stadium

Catford Dogs went without warning one night, like an incontinent uncle. It had been a South London institution for over 70 years when the Greyhound Racing Association announced its immediate closure, the morning after a meet. There was no chance for a bumper crowd to say goodbye, which given that dwindling attendance was the stated reason, could be described as fucking silly, if not a little heartless to those who loved it.

Catford Stadium

In truth, the stadium, once London’s most atmospheric dog track, had been left to rot while other, more lucrative, tracks were redeveloped. Going to the dogs is something many of us do once or twice in a lifetime, like arriving early for work, or sleeping with twins. The regulars were too small a group to sustain it and could hardly compete with the goldmine of 589 homes that should be completed there in 2017.

Legends such as Tallulah Bankhead, Lennox Lewis and Half-life had all performed a lap of honour there. Admittedly Half-life was nonplussed to be asked to present a trophy and even more so to be introduced as ‘Bridget’, something he hadn’t considered when blagging his way in posing as the local MP. Naturally, he had the last laugh, winning 50 nicker after feeding the favourite a cheeseburger.

Green

If we accept that Ladywell Fields is in Ladywell, then Mountsfield Park is Catford’s top spot for views, smokes and the contemplation of philosophical roundabouts. Apart from being a fine park, it used to house The Mount a giant football stadium (50,000 capacity) which a local publican had built at vast expense. Unfortunately the team that played there (apart from Charlton Athletic for one season) was a small local amateur side, Catford South End FC and the enterprise went under. To lose one stadium may be regarded as unfortunate; but to lose two must be some kind of record.

The loss of green spaces is decried under the South Circular in Catford, by the graffiti of the mysterious ‘Lewisham Natureman’, whose simple but beautiful white stags adorn hard-to-get-to urban locations in the area, giving pause and pleasure to those that find them.

White stag at Catford
Stag under the South Circular

Buildings

While it’s sad the Grade II listed Eros House replaced the Lewisham Hippodrome, it is at least a more successful example of Brutalist architecture than Catford Shopping Centre. Hopes that it would become the ‘Barbican of the South’ are unlikely to reach fruition unless the Barbican mends its ways and installs a Tesco and bargain shoe shop.

Catford’s other listed building, the Broadway Theatre, is a rather lovely Art Deco number, even if I can’t be tempted inside, not even by the lure of Amanda Holden’s psychic. The successful efforts of the Constitutional Club and pop up restaurant Catford Canteen to bring more creativity into the centre show there’s an appetite in the area for more than the obvious, though.

What’s to moan about?

TfL’s idea to reroute the South Circular, removing the god-awful Catford gyratory, still has no timetable or funding, mostly because it’s going to be hard. I wish I could take the same approach to paying my Council Tax.

The council aren’t being idle in trying to implement The Catford Plan to regenerate the town centre, but the biggest hurdle, the road that is choking the place, remains a blight. Unfortunately going east and west across South London is a bastard by road and a mo’fo’ by train. We could do with a Crossrail for South London and for drivers of otherwise empty vehicles to have a word with themselves.

Update: October 2015

It’s been less than a year since we went to Catford and in that time, one pub almost burnt down, another is being threatened with demolition and a third has closed and been reopened in a new guise. It’s enough to turn you to drink, if you can figure out where to go.

The Catford Bridge Tavern went up in flames in March and six months later it still looks fucked. The owners, Solitaire Ltd, say they still intend reopening it as a pub but it’s going to take a while, so having enough good Catford pubs for a crawl remains a dream.

Despite our specific request that the Catford Constitutional Club be omitted from any action by bastards of the future, this atmospheric temple of good booze and food could find itself flattened in Lewisham Council’s regeneration of the Catford Centre. There’s a petition to get them to extend the lease beyond October 2016, otherwise this fabulous reinvention will be lost and something a bit shit will be built in its place.

The Council deserve some credit though for getting behind the creation of 10,000sq feet of studio space for emerging artists, as it bids for Catford to become the next Peckham.

The Catford Ram closed down after problems with its licence following a drugs raid. You used to be able to get gear as well as jerk chicken in there, which sounded like a fine reason to keep it open to me. It’s re-opened as The Black Cat, a cheap and cheerful Young’s pub in which Absolute Radio 70s rules the airwaves.

The Blythe Hill Tavern goes from strength to strength though, adding SE London CAMRA Pub of the Year and Cider Pub of the Year to its many honours. Quite right too.

Half-life called me ‘lumpen proletariat’ for not knowing that Karl Marx once frequented the Black Horse and Harrow and that the Sapporo Ichiban on Catford Broadway was the best Japanese restaurant in South-east London. But he was less talkative when I asked him about his investment in Le Bourgeois, a Catford ‘sex bistro‘ in which customers combined fine dining with sexy times. Unfortunately it had to close down in 2013 after neighbours complained about fighting, drugs and sex parties, ‘like they were my fucking parents.’

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  • PVP

    Good article, a few things to add:
    – Old CBT has been taken over by Camden Bars should be reopened next year, the Goose is being refurbished (not sure if I should be holding my breath. Catford will be able to sustain a pub crawl soon!
    – There was a very famous cycling track (hence the recent Catford Hill Climb), alas long gone;
    – TfL apparently reported back to the council in September on the gyratory so hopefully something will happen soon. Until then the Catford Plan is on hold.
    Above all Catford is in the press quite a bit recently. In no particular order toddler being drop kicked in nandos, local lad being released for a stabbing in the Med, and someone run over on the A205. Eat that gentrification.

  • desertercouk

    The new owners of the CBT are Solitaire Ltd, who are proposing reopening the pub, and developing flats. Not sure how that’s going to work… http://www.catfordtavern.com/

  • Ben

    Solitaire Ltd have a good repertoire of pubs across London; who knows whether the flats are intended as guest rooms on a temporary basis, or for staff, since the adjacent new build Catford Green flats by Barratts will be unaffordable to the Tavern employees and the majority of working class residents.

    Is the Catford Regeneration Plan on hold?

    I don’t think so: the fact that Solitaire Ltd have taken over the Catford Bridge Tavern, and Lewisham Council have been instrumental in forcing Tescos’ to relinquish their grip, has speeded up the process; simultaneously, the development of the old Dog Stadium was fast-tracked alongside Barratts’ to enable legislation to meet the demands of a quota of new homes in London by 2018 or some date in the future. Buying up the Millford Towers and regenerating the Broadway has already happened; alongside the strange and undeclared changes at Eros House. We have seen evidence of regeneration by using up the brown field sites: the Rising Sun pub has been redeveloped into flats; Costa has replaced the Blockbusters. In this respect, the council have pushed for properties to become occupied.

    Thinking about the South Circular Road, and the problems it introduces across Wandsworth; Clapham; Balham, Battersea, which are all segmented by the South Circular Road, Lewisham Council needs to become more innovative in the face of the failure to move the South Circular Road southbound towards Downham or elsewhere. We have a massive car park behind the council offices, which is barely used, and mostly used by civil servants. If Lewisham Council wish to be truly innovative, they could free up this car parking space for non-Lewisham borough registered vehicles to use free of charge to stop for an hour or two, to take a break on their snail’s pace snaking through the South Circular Road congestion. Then, the local restaurants, cafes and shops might rake the benefits of regeneration from a clientele who would otherwise never stop in Catford, let alone mention Catford, except to slate it along the lines of the dead Spike Milligan who famously dissed Catford and sunk its reputation for decades (yes it’s all Spike’s fault lol).

  • Helen Neal

    lewisham youth theatre are creating ‘Catford Tales’ a verbatim theatre performance for Catfords community. Full details http://www.lewishamyouththestre.com. They are in the research stage at the moment so if you have any photos, memories or want to take part get in touch. The performance is planned to perform in and around Catford in July 2015.

  • John

    The Catford Constitutional aside, the council needs to pull its finger out and start regenerating – they’ve been sitting on their hands for 5 years now. Have you walked through Catford centre recently? It resembles the village of the damned! Bulldoze the lot and move forwards.

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