A new start for the old Royal British Legion on Lavender Hill

The Royal British Legion at 173 Lavender Hill was a long established club, one of an extensive network of social clubs – the Legion Clubs – throughout the country. In its day, it was a popular one, known for Christmas tree sales to benefit the Legion on the forecourt.

But towards the end, so many members passed away not enough money was being taken to pay the bills to keep the club running, and it closed just before Christmas 2017. The premises belonged to the Royal British legion and were rented to the local club, and they eventually repossessed the property.

It’s fair to say that the last few years had been quite hard for the club, and despite heroic efforts to keep it afloat, maintenance of the building rather understandably fell down the list and by the end it was in a pretty poor state. The Royal British legion, having reclaimed the club after the rent stopped being paid, found themselves with a three storey-plus-basement building in a very run down condition, needing a comprehensive refurbishment. The photos above and below (drawn from the design and access statement for the redevelopment) show the condition of the interior of the building before works started.

Buildings are always more valuable with planning permission than without it, so the Legion wisely applied for planning permission to convert the building in to three flats (one one-bed, and two two-bed – including a roof extension and an extension at the back of the building) and a ‘community venue’ on the ground floor; which they were granted in June 2019.

The images above and to the right are from the design & access statement in the planning application – showing he building with an extra storey and a new shopfront more in keeping with its neighbours (because the mostly-brick facade of the Legion Club never really fitted in!).

The Royal British Legion then put it up for auction with a guide price of £800,000 – £825,000. There was considerable interest – and the whole building ended up being sold for £1,155,000!

And the new owner then started the building works earlier this year. The stonework has been repaired and repainted, the extensions have been built, the windows have been replaced, and the interior has had the comprehensive refit that was long overdue. In the end three two-bed flats were built on the upper levels (one of which has a relatively generous terrace), all of which were fitted out to a decent standard, and offered on a partly-furnished basis at a whisker under £2000 pcm. The developers clearly pitched this about right, as two of the flats (only listed a week ago and not available until November) have already been let!

There’s no doubt that this is a pretty significant improvement overall – even if it’s a bit disappointing that the ground floor is quite different to the original planning proposals, and doesn’t have the elegance that could have been delivered with a more traditionally-styled shopfront. It’s not clear if the basement has ended up as part of the shop unit as was originally envisaged, or as a separate flat.

So while it’s a shame that the Legion Club, the building now has a more secure future and the investment it had been needing for a while. And it’s not all over for the Legion Clubs either, as although this definitely marks the end for the Battersea & South Wandsworth club – whose sign remains in place until the ground floor finds a tenant – the Clapham branch is still running on Victoria Rise, at the other end of Lavender Hill.

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In pictures: Lavender Hill Fish & Chips is opening a sister business next door

Lavender Hill Fish & Chips has had a good run. After taking over a shop that had swung around different takeaway options for years, and never quite managed to stick at any of them, they arrived, gave the unit a comprehensive upgrade, and immediately pulled in the crowds. They opened at the beginning of the pandemic (we wrote about their opening at the time), never the easiest time to start a new business.

Being the only fish & chips shop actually on Lavender Hill, the odds were nonetheless fairly good – but it’s clear that providing a fresh and high quality fish & chips, with good service, is what made the difference. It’s not unusual to see people who’ve come from as far afield as Clapham North and South in the queue.

They always had a slightly chaotic neighbour, in the form of Tennessee Fried Chicken. A chicken shop from the old school, one of South London’s many not-quite-KFCs! When their neighbour did in the end close, the owner decided to take on the lease next door – and open another Lavender Hill business. Not fish and chips this time, but fried chicken and German doner kebabs; it’ll be called Coop.

Cue quite a lot of building works to upgrade the entire unit (which hadn’t seen any real investment for years)). This included creating a full height window on to the street to match what is next door, resurfacing the exterior to remove the tatty old white tiles, improving the power supply, opening it up to create an indoor seating area, and of course installing a brand new grill kitchen and extraction system. It’s not quite finished but when we visited it was all very close to completion.

As official opening day approaches, we have to say it’s looking good – and it’s a major change to what went before. It’s also a real vote of confidence in this end of Lavender Hill. And if their obvious success at making a quality fish & chip restaurant is anything to go by, we suspect they’ll do a quality effort here too, and will draw the crowds.

Coop, at 21 Lavender Hill, SW11 5RW. Opening soon.

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No Boring Beer is now open on Lavender Hill

A few weeks ago we reported that a new beer and wine shop, and tap room, was opening in the former Children of the Mekong charity shop at the eastern end of Lavender Hill. This was a welcome return to having an independent beer shop, following the loss of We Brought Beer on St Johns Hill (which was reportedly due to lease difficulties). And after a short delay (due to a delivery issue with the fridges) they are now fully open, and gradually building up a large stock of unusual beers and wines, with a strong emphasis on smaller and local breweries.

No Boring Beer are a small business created by beer enthusiasts Nikita and Roman; they already run two shops in south London – one in an arch in the square next to Deptford station, and one on Tower Bridge Road. Their beer tastes are clearly adventurous – with over 200 beers from local breweries and a large seasonal beer assortment. They’re not just selling bottled & canned beer either, with rotating draught lines in all three shops.

The whole shop has had a refit, with steel framed shelving throughout and a whole new electrical system to power all the fridges. One side is dedicated to ambient ales and wines, and the other to a large assortment of canned ales, lagers and ciders. A selection of beers on tap is on offer to refill growlers (reusable beer bottles). On the shelves opposite there’s a small selection of wine, but this is just to get things going with a lot more on the way, as well as detailed descriptions of the wines.

The basement level – accessed via a spiral staircase at the back if the shop – is currently not in use, but will later be developed as a tasting room (which is why No Boring Beer is a fully licensed premises, rather than just an off licence).

Beers on tap are sold using Keykegs, a rather clever approach to the traditional beer barrel that we’d not seen before, where an inner flexible liner made of an aluminium foil laminate within a solid PET keg keeps the beer separated from the gases used to push it out, and extends shelf life.

The fridges themselves are starting to fill with a pretty eclectic mix of ales, lagers and ciders. When we visited they was already a pretty wide mix on offer, but we understand that this is just the beginning, and there is a great deal more stock on the way to add to the range.

It’s worth noting that we have an ever expanding number of small local breweries, including established players Mondo and Sambrooks, and joined by the Distortion Brewing Company near Wandsworth Road station, Belleville Brewing Co at Wandsworth Common, and the very smart Battersea Brewery in the power station complex. And that’s far from the only Battersea alcoholic beverage business, with the likes of the Blackbook winery and the Doghouse Distillery both hidden away among the railways near Queenstown Road. We may run a future article on these!

So it’s a warm welcome to No Boring Beer, at 22 Lavender Hill Sw11, and who (at the time of writing) are open in the afternoon from Tuesday to Saturday.

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Works update: Arding & Hobbs at Clapham Junction

It’s been a quiet year for Arding & Hobbs. We have reported on the plans to redevelop our local landmark to modern offices, with a new two storey extension on the roof level; and the work now has full planning permission. But since then things have been distinctly quiet on the site with only minor surveying and exploratory work.

That doesn’t mean nothing is happening – we have been keeping an eye on the planning status, and the developers are gradually ploughing through the pre-construction requirements. One is doing a detailed survey of the current exterior of the building: what needs to be repaired and replaced, and where the restoration works can re-use existing material. The image above is taken from a survey that has been done for every window in the building, to see how they can be restored.

Plans have also gone in explaining how repairs will be made to the stonework, including repairing cracks and replacing bits that have become worn or damaged. It turns out that the landmark cupola, made mostly of Bath stone, also has some rather bodged repairs that were at some point done with modern cement, which will be replaced with stone. The brickwork will all be renovated – which in this case means taking out the crumbling mortar by hand and replacing it with new lime mortar, as well as removing patches of hard cement that were added in a slightly misguided previous renovation attempt. This will be based on a survey that was done of the external walls last year, as well as a more detailed look at the state of the brickwork once the necessary scaffolding is in place.

Speaking of scaffolding, a lot of it is going to be needed – and plans have been submitted showing how this will be installed, with an example of the scaffolding layout shown above. We presume at least part of the pavement canopy that runs round the building will be removed before the scaffolding goes up, as it is an awkward thing to scaffold round and (noting that the canopy is not origonal and was installed in the 1960s) it will in any case be removed as part of the renovation works.

The aim is to reuse and repair the original window frames wherever possible, some of which are clearly important to the character of the building. The survey of the current windows has identified what needs to be done to them to get them all back in business.

All in all – not a major update, but it’s good to see that work is slowly progressing. Developers W.Real Estate, who spend just under £50m buying the freehold of the building back when it was still trading as a Debenhams store, secured £55m in loan funding at the end of August from property fund manager BentallGreenOak to progress the redevelopment.

Our previous article includes many artists’ impressions from the planning process – but as a quick reminder we can expect to see a two-storey modern addition tot he roof, pictured below.

The interior will have shops on the ground floor and basement (with T K Maxx, who have a long lease, retaining their first floor section), and the rest converted to a large and modern office space. No news yet on occupiers, but from what we have seen in other nearby developments demand for higher-end office space is proving pretty robust (with the power station having let pretty much everything available, and several smaller new projects in Nine Elms and the inner suburbs also doing well) – and being opposite one of the best connected railway stations in the UK always helps – so the signs are good for fairly swift progress. More will be known once contracts for the works are let, though current reports suggest a target completion in late 2022.

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Exhibition and play on John Archer, the first Black Mayor in London – this Friday at Battersea Arts Centre

We’ve previously written in some detail about the impressive life story of John Archer – Mayor of Battersea back in 1013, Britain’s first Black mayor, and someone with an interesting and unusual life story. And this Friday sees the opening of Black History Month at the Battersea Arts Centre, where he was Mayor – which will be marked with an exhibition, a short play and Q&A on The Story of John Archer. Tickets, at £6, are available here.

If you can’t make it, Sean Creighton‘s well-worth-watching illustrated talk on John (which is from last year’s Black History Month) is still available on Youtube below, or at this link.

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A new tower on Battersea Park Road – with 213 flats!

Plans are being developed for a new 18-storey tower at the end of Culvert Road (the road running from the Shaftesbury Estate through the dodgy tunnel towards Battersea Park). This isn’t entirely surprising, as plans were approved a few years ago for a tower on much the same site. But there’s a big difference: the previous development, called The View, had 39 flats, with 16,000 square feet of offices on the first three floors. The new proposal has a few extra storeys (going from 14 to 18) – but the number of flats has absolutely exploded, from 39 to over 200!

The reason they can do this is that this is yet another ‘co-living’ development – adding to a good few that are being planned in the York Road & Nine Elms area. They essentially build absolutely tiny flats that are little more than small ensuite bedrooms, but provide relatively generous shared facilities like gyms, workspaces, cafes and the like elsewhere in the building. These co-living developments are a recent trend and while they can be quite controversial, we feel they’re not necessarily a bad thing – there’s definitely a market out there for students and people new to London who are happy to live in a more communal way in what is essentially a long-stay hotel room, and who aren’t looking for a large traditional flat. It fills a bit of a gap in the market between student residences and shared houses, and allows those staying in London briefly or just starting out to avoid the nightmare that is the cheaper end of our private rental sector. In a similar way to hotel developments, the residents of these developments do tend to be out and about far more than average (as you might be if you had a tiny flat!) which does bring some helpful life and activity to local businesses and high streets.

That said – these plans don’t really look like particularly good news, mainly because what’s being planned (illustrated with the artists’ impression above – detailed plans are not yet available) looks like a much cheaper and lower-quality build than what had previously been proposed (the old plans are shown below).

Whereas the previous plans – approved back in 2017 – gave every flat plenty of generous windows and a decent sized balcony, the only outside space in the new development is a set of roof terraces. The building (already tall for the area) is likely to be a fair bit taller than the previously agreed plans, with an extra four storeys – bringing its height close to that of the 22-storey Castlemaine tower next door. It’s not an especially well connected area in transport terms, and the building doesn’t seem to include any provision for car parking, not even for disabled spaces (the previous development included 17 parking spaces in the basement – which now looks to be used for other purposes).

And generally speaking the overall appearance of the building has taken a bit of a nosedive – from relatively smart building that, while not exactly typical of its neighbours, at least was likely to be good to live in (another photo of the previous plans above), to a rather cheap looking tower with small windows and a load of blank panelling.

The only advantage of the plans is that they may finally see the saga of Harris Academy’s new sports hall reach a conclusion. The previous development was part of a complicated “Section 106” planning deal that saw the Harris Academy exchange the land (which used to be the school caretaker’s house and garden) for the development of a new sports hall on the other side of the school. The signed Section 106 legal agreement that enabled works to start on the foundations obliges any developer of the tower to construct the sports hall, and only when the sports hall is complete is a land transfer arrangement that allows the developers to sell the new flats for occupation. Construction work started several years ago but the works then ground to a halt on both sites when the developer of The View went in to administration, with just the foundations finished – and the site was put up for sale by estate agents Knight Frank as a development opportunity. This left a very unsatisfactory situation, with a giant construction hoarding gradually mouldering away while blocking the pavement at the end of Culvert Road (shown in our photo above, and the street view of the barely-started sports hall below), and the school having lost a large part of its land in exchange for little more than two shabby sets of increasingly overgrown foundation works. The new developers says they will complete the sports hall within six months of any planning consent.

A short online pre-consultation was run on behalf of the developers here, though as ever with these online consultation exercises it didn’t include much detail on the new plans. Thanks also to Councillor Simon Hogg, whose ward includes the proposed tower, for spotting these proposals.

Ultimately the principle of a tower on the site has already been agreed in the previous proposals, so there almost certainly will be a tower of some sort built here. Precisely what sort of tower gets built will come down to whether the new tower with its cheaper design, increased height and huge number of tiny flats is acceptable for the location. We suspect the design of the building is likely to need a fair bit more work if what we have seen so far is anything to go by. A new Section 106 agreement will also be needed, as the new development brings far more flats to the site, and also no longer includes the eight affordable flats that were planned to be built in the 2017 development. This is bound to be a controversial development! Being north of the railway it’s a bit out of our usual area of coverage but given he sheer size of the development it may still be of interest, so we’ll keep you posted.

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Changes at the Holy Trinity Church on the Common

It’s not every day you see building works on a church, especially one as prominent as the Holy Trinity, which sits in Clapham Common. But works are indeed afoot, with a view to modernising the facilities and dealing with some of the issues caused by the current design.

It’s quite a complicated building from a planning perspective: it’s located on Metropolitan Open Land, which is treated a bit like Green Belt for land within London and means they can’t freely build all over it. The Church argues that this development won’t damage the openness of the land, and this is probably a reasonable argument given the extensions are pretty small. It’s also Grade II* listed, which brings its own set of planning complexity – although active churches also have some rather handy exemptions from the planning process, that mean they don’t need to get listed building consent for the proposed works.

The most prominent part of the project from the exterior will see the portico at the front entrance enclosed. This is partly to create a bit more usable space, but mostly to deal with long running issues caused by encampments in the portico, which reportedly started out relatively harmlessly but quickly escalated to sustained antisocial behaviour with threatening behaviour towards the Church staff and visitors. The planning application includes a lengthy and detailed report of the large number of incidents over the last year or so –

“A group of professional beggars took occupation of the portico nearly every night for a period lasting over a year… during which time staff had to, every morning, deal with aggressive behaviour, fouling, littering and graffiti. This appears to have only stopped because of the gates now being locked…. One incident involved a drug dealer chasing and verbally threatening a staff member when they were in the car leaving the church after work, and another involved a council employee threatened with a knife.”

The portico entrance to Holy Trinity Clapham

The planning application also notes that “during the Covid pandemic, we had times when many people on the Common used the church (including the portico), as their urinal, and worse. On one day there were more than 20 people all using the church as a urinal at the same time”. They supplied the photo below, to illustrate the scale of the peeing issue at the more secluded eastern side of the church!

Numerous men peeing on the side of the church

The plans for the portico have proved the most controversial part of the project, as initially the plans would have seen the portico demolished, rebuilt, and extended forwards, which changes the overall proportion and appearance of the church quite significantly. The plans, initially submitted in February, were revised in May and July to keep the portico much the same size as it is, but still to close off the entrances with glass. There’s clearly still some risk that glazing this all in will make it look more like a conservatory and remove the depth of the building that the portico gives. The plans say this will be done with a low-reflective glass, and such materials do exist (being occasionally used for high end showrooms) – but unless the glazing is done to an exceptionally high standard (and high cost) it’s inevitable that the shape and look of the building may end up a bit worse off.

The rest fo the works are essentially a package of small extensions and alterations to make the church a more flexible building and open it up to wider set of uses. The major ‘new build’ element here is an extension to the north vestry; as well as extending the former south chapel with the walls of the new extension are shown in a reddish brown on the proposed floorplan below. These are essentially the two parts of the church that stick out at the sides, which will now stick out a bit further! The works will adapt these to be more useful to a modern church and provide slightly better facilities; the extensions are already a bit more modern than the rest of the church and the extensions are to be in a pretty similar style to what is already there.

The plans will see a small section of the current under-floor space excavated and developed as a usable basement. The church currently has an unusual basement, essentially a series of narrow arched vaults and passageways, with a couple of larger crawl spaces at the south east corner of the building (shown below), and it’s these that are to be dug out and made accessible for the first time as two meeting rooms.

Changes are also planned for the interior – in particular moving the pulpit, and removing the pews. This has proved controversial, and it’s a frequent debate in the church world: on the one hand, pews are part of the core fabric of a church, and removing them fundamentally changes the original interior. On the other hand, they do very much limit the use of the building to activities involving linear rows of seating, which arguably limits what a church can do at times other than a classic Church service. Following concerns, including from the Clapham Society, the plans were changed to keep the pews within the northern upper gallery.

There are also plans for an upgrade to the landscaping around the church, in particular to the eastern side which is currently just a rather muddy area of grass, as shown below.

By and large these plans seem a sensible way of updating the building to work as a modern and flexible church space, without damaging its heritage and general landmark status. The plans have not yet received planning approval from Lambeth Council (this is application number 21/00447/FUL in the Lambeth planning database for those with an interest in seeing the full details), though the various changes made to the portico plans in particular suggest that some of the concerns raised in the planning process are being discussed and addressed behind the scenes, which is usually a sign that the plans are on the way to being agreed.

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Lavender Hill retail roundup – September 2021

A cluster of new businesses are on the way at the eastern end of Lavender Hill, which currently houses the street’s only cluster of empty shops. First up is the old Union Street Yoga, who were doing well until the pandemic and who are still in business on an online-only basis – but have, with some regret, had to hand the keys back after they weren’t able to agree a new lease on the premises. It’s currently being refurbished, and we understand that it is set to be a gym called Iron Bodyfit. That’s about all we know at the moment, though there are dozens of Iron Bodyfit gyms in France which may be related.

A few doors down the old BPM kitchen & bathroom showroom has reopened as Lavender Heating & Plumbing Supplies. Who, of course, know the area well – as this is a relocation from just around the corner on Queenstown Road. LHP are long-established local traders, having been here well over a decade (indeed, at one stage they ran two shops on Queenstown Road), with the plumbing in many of the houses round here having started its life there. This move will see them gain a larger and more practical shop, compared to their previous shop, which was picturesque but also a bit awkward to use as a plumbing store, being an unusual shape and split over two levels. The new location is also an easier location for vans to pull in next to the shop for larger purchases, and it’s conveniently close to Decor Express who sell a pretty complementary range of building and decorating materials. The showroom part of the new shop is still being finalised, but the distinctive copper light as well as the cast iron floor tiles have made it over from the old shop to the new. Meanwhile the old shop is up for lease.

There’s then a slight mystery at the former William Hill betting shop. Lots of work going on internally which looks to be to a good standard – but we don’t know who it is for (or if it;s being done speculatively by the landlord). If you do know let us know and we’ll update this!

The old Tennessee Fried Chicken is nearing the end of its refit to become a kebab shop that will operate as an extension of the adjacent Lavender Hill Fish and Chips. The fish and chip shop has been very successful, drawing customers from as far afield as Clapham North, and it’s good to see this vote of confidence in growing the business; if it’s run to the same standards it should do well.

As we wrote a few weeks ago, the Children of the Mekong shop is being converted to become No Boring Beer, whose sign is now up as they approach the grand opening.

There’s no news on the premises at 5 Lavender Hill (formerly the Cedars) or the barber shop at 7 Lavender Hill next door, though in both cases major renovation works on the buildings are essentially complete so we wouldn’t be surprised to see these ‘To Let’ in the near future.

As we reported back in February, Clapham Cycle were opening on Lavender Hill near the main post office, and are now fully up and running and doing a good trade in bike repairs & servicing, as well as selling accessories. There was a bit of comment at the time about them being another business confusing Clapham & Battersea – but in this case the names makes sense as they are run by a long established local cycle club called Clapham Cycle.

And finally, as we also reported in June, poor Donna Margherita had a kitchen fire that damaged the premises. They’re still closed at the moment, but with works well underway we’re looking forward to them being back in business again. As the country gets back to normal, we’re cautiously optimistic that the difficult past year and a half will fade, and that these new businesses (as well as the many shops & restaurants who bravely opened mid-pandemic) will see the benefit of it.

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A new start for this rather sad cluster of empty buildings on Wandsworth Road?

The junction of Wandsworth Road, North Street and Silverthorne Road has seen happier days. Dilapidated buildings, broken windows, peeling paint, and an air of abandonment, suggest the world has moved on from this little bit of our neighbourhood- in marked contrast with the investment seen in Clapham Old Town further south, or our main focus Lavender Hill to the west. The Plough, Lost Society, the Artesian Well, the dozen or so properties on North Street Mews, and the corner shop that used to be Silverthorne Cars, have all been empty for years. Fortunately at least some of the buildings may now have a brighter future, and this article take a look at the plans underway to bring some of these buildings back in to use.

As we understood it at the time, the businesses that used to trade from three of the buildings – the Artesian Well, Lost Society, and Mist on Rocks – were quite closely related to each other, but got tangled up in a series of licensing disputes with nearby residents, on the grounds of noise and disturbance from the crowds of sometimes hundreds of people they attracted on weekends. When the owner of Artesian Well, facing ever more restrictive licensing conditions, threw in the towel, all three closed in quite quick succession – putting a sudden end to the artier-than-average nightlife cluster in this obscure corner of Clapham. The Silverthorne Cars minicab office opposite the Artesian Well relied to some extent on their custom and didn’t survive for long after that either, and while that building briefly reopened as a beauty salon, it soon also succumbed to emptiness. Meanwhile North Street Mews was the subject of a campaign to save the dozen or so small businesses who used to be based there – but the landlord at the time won out in the end by just waiting until the break clauses in the leases, and the whole lot is now empty and gradually decaying.

So – what happens next to all these empty buildings? We’ve taken a look at how these buildings all came to be empty at the same time, and what might be their future.

The former Plough Inn (which ran as a pub for decades before converting to the Mist on Rocks cocktail bar) is probably the one with the clearest future plans – but it’s worth a short detour to look at the somewhat unusual past of this pub, which is pictured below in its prime in the early 1960s.

One of the interesting things about this pub is that it wasn’t built as a pub, but as three houses, that just happened to be next door to a brewery. The right hand one was converted to a very small pub some stage after the brewery was built, presumably on the grounds that it made sense to have a pub next to the brewery! Early in the last century it expanded to include the other two houses as well. The tiled ‘pub style’ front facade (and more extensions) were added by Young’s in the 1930s: the plan below dates back to 1935, and shows how the pub was reorganised and extended.

Youngs haven’t run a brewery here for decades, but they did run a pub on the site up to 2012, when they sold it – it then ran as the Mist on Rocks bar until 2016. It was eventually sold to a property company called Marston Properties. And Marston know the building, which is Grade II listed, well – as they already own and operate the Plough Brewery next door, which they converted to office space in the late 1960s, some time after brewing operations stopped in 1923.

Marston are a fairly local company (based in south Fulham, near Wandsworth bridge) with a more thoughtful take on their developments than many, and their blog – which is worth a read – tells a little more of the history of the brewery (the right hand building in our photo below), as well as their experience in developing it. The Clapham Society also explore the history of the site in some detail. The brewery was built in 1801, originally called Clapham Brewery. It did quite well for most of its lifetime as a brewery, and at some stage was renamed The Plough Brewery by brewer Thomas Woodward (whose ‘TW’ initials are still visible on the gate and railings). However breweries were growing and consolidating around the country and the Plough was gradually overtaken by events; actual brewing is thought to have stopped in the mid-1920s, with the building becoming a storage site for the brewery’s operations elsewhere.

By the time Marston bought it from Courage Brewery in 1968 it had seen better days and was pretty much derelict – their photo above (where the ‘For Sale’ sign is visible) has the look of a building that has been at work for many years! Marston converted it to office space, but kept many of its interesting features including the two artesian wells that provided the water to make the beer, as well as a large steel-and-applewood wheel that was part of the original pump (displayed in the entrance archway). Most of the building was let to a single tenant (Medicus Group) for the first 30 years, at which point Marston gave the site a major refurbishment – again carefully respecting the heritage of the building – to create a complex of smaller offices and workshops, and let it to a mix of smaller design, fashion and technology businesses.

From Marston’s perspective, as a developer used to dealing with heritage buildings in the area, taking over the Plough clearly makes sense as an addition to their successful neighbouring Brewery venture. They started renovation work in late 2020, and report that as they have gradually peeled back the many layers of pub paraphernalia they have found a scattering of original Georgian fixtures and fittings (cupboard doors, boarding, wide floorboards) which will be kept. They are also resisting the temptation to add a modern raised roof, in the interest of keeping the appearance as close to the original as possible.

When it is complete the upstairs will be come two decent-sized flats to let (a one-bed and a three-bed with a roof terrace). The plan is to restore the tiled pub frontage and keep the former pub in use as a coffee shop, partly serving the serviced office development Marston already run in the former brewery next door, with a small area for collaborative working. This will see relatively little change to the overall layout (whose plans are shown below), but a long-bricked-up link through to the brewery will be reopened. The basement will house cycle facilities and workshop areas.

Meanwhile on the opposite side of the road, the Artesian Well and Lost Society are also looking pretty run down, having being squatted several times after the venues closed. They are currently protected by live-in ‘guardians’, but with no work yet underway to get them back in to use.

But things have been fairly busy behind the scenes at these two buildings, after they were bought by a local developer, who is… yes, our old friends Marston Properties again, who with four large buildings now own a pretty substantial part of this street corner! They secured planning permission last year to make some relatively minor changes to the Artesian Well building, with a view to having a new gastropub at the ground floor, and flats on the upper floors. The artists’ impression of what it will look like is shown below (which, to be frank, is about what it looks like now but tidied up a bit!) –

The name of the former bar, ‘The Artesian Well’, is of course also directly related to the artesian wells in the old brewery opposite, and the property has been a pub of one form or another for most of its existence. The interior has now been stripped back to the bare bones as our photo shows below.

The planning extract below shows the planned layout for the new pub, as well as the neighboring building that used to be Lost Society.

It’s immediately apparent that Lost Society isn’t remaining as a bar, but will instead be converting to an entirely residential use, creating 9 flats in all spread between the two buildings, with the entrance to all the flats being in what used to be Lost Society’s garden area. Maybe more surprising, in a conservation area, is that the Lost Society building is set to be completely demolished, and replaced with a new one that looks similar. The planning application reports that the years of rather limited maintenance haven’t been kind to the building (whose front wall is rather noticeably cracked), and it is in a rather poor state that makes its conversion to anything like modern building standards not cost effective. But it;s a shame to lose this particularly old building with a long history, maybe going all the way back to the 16th century when it was a barn on the Clapham Manor estate and would have been on an isolated hilltop.

The new building (pictured below) will look distinctly similar to the old one (above) but – being new – allows rather more practical layouts for some of the flats.

There’ll also be a small new building between the two, shown in the aerial view below, which accommodates some flats as well as the access stairwell to the upper level of both buildings.

Generally speaking this looks like a thoughtful and careful treatment of this site – and Marston’s decent work on the brewery opposite generally bodes well for the development. They have previously restored and let a pub (in Fulham) and the densely populated yet relatively pub-deprived location suggests they shouldn’t have too much trouble letting this new pub.

Another property whose future is a little uncertain is North Street Mews, which is immediately south of Lost Society and the Artesian Well – and whose entrance is the archway in the photo above. This was for many years another warren of 21 small workshops and offices, let to quite an assortment of mostly creative local businesses – some of whose names can still be seen above the entrance; a bit like a smaller version of the Battersea Business Centre on Lavender Hill.

The property consists of 18,000 square feet of relatively unmodified space – and we understand it was previously the subject of a long battle between landlord and tenants, where the landlords sought to redevelop the sites, and the tenants – fearing they wouldn’t be part of the plans, campaigned to cling on. Assael Architects were comissioned to prepare plans for redevelopment – reporting that their “proposals for this backland light industrial site provide flexible commercial spaces for creative industries and small start-up businesses, centred around a landscaped courtyard and linked together by overhead bridges.” Several planning applications for combinations of more modern offices and flats were rejected as the ‘Save North Street Mews‘ campaign continued, but in the end the all the leases – whose break points stretched up to 2017 – were ended. The whole site was then put up for sale for offers over £5m.

The property now seems to be empty – the internal courtyard is certainly getting a bit overgrown. But the previously rather tatty front of the building has had a complete repaint and cleanup earlier this year, and all 21 units are again available to lease, for rents between £11,000 and £81,000 a year depending on size – with the note that “The units will be refurbished to a specification to be agreed.” It seems someone has taken the site over and is planning to bring it back to some sort of life, but that they are not planning the sort of wholesale knockdown-and-rebuild that had previously been mooted. There are planning proposals in to convert a bit more of the space to residential, to create two flats – but most of it seems set to remain as offices and workshops for at least the foreseeable future.

The last of our empty property cluster is the old Silverthorne Cars site at 691 Wandsworth Road. It’s essentially a larger-than-average terrace house, converted to include a shop on the ground floor and two flats above, and with a similarly larger-than-average back garden along North Street. The design of these three-storey North-London-style terraces (whose front doors – unusually for Clapham – aren’t in pairs – making them a lot more expensive to build as every house has a separate chimney stack and all the back extensions are free standing rather than leaning against each other in pairs) is a little unusual for the area, but clearly by the same builder as the isolated terrace on nearby Rush Hill Road.

The shop was occupied by Silverthorne Radio Cars (“A cab Anytime Anyplace Anywhere”) as a minicab office for ages, and then very briefly as a beauty salon, before falling vacant. Since then there have been a whole series of planning applications at the site, trying to fit largeish numbers of first flats then houses in the large back garden (which was, at one stage, a parking lot for the minicab firm who occupied the small shop).

A first planning application for four new three-storey houses in the former back garden was refused in 2014 (mainly due to over development). Having seen the rejected application it’s not surprising, they almost completely filled the site with four terraced houses and were (in our view) a real overdevelopment of the site, allowing no gardens and running much closer to the street than neighbouring properties. It would also have run uncomfortably close to the back of the existing terrace along Wandsworth Road, removing most of the afternoon sun from the neighbouring buildings and the back gardens.

Following this rejection, the back garden was initially put up for sale, separately to the shop, as a development site’, with the guide price of around £800,000. The site didn’t have any planning permission at that stage, but the sellers said they had been given ‘indications’ that a smaller unobtrusive scheme would have a better chance of success. Some time later, a new planning application was indeed submitted which was more carefully considered, for a development that would add just two houses in the back garden, essentially the half of the site further from Wandsworth Road. The proposals are shown in the picture above.

Although just two houses were being built there would still be four new properties, as each ‘house’ would have one flat in the basement and ground floor, and another on the first and second storey. A communal garden would go between these new buildings and the existing building facing Wandsworth Road. This more realistic proposal was approved. The entire site then went on sale for around £1.3m, which included the freehold of the existing building (which includes two flats that were sold on long leases back in 1992), the shop (which includes a basement), plus the back garden (with the planning now in place for four flats) .

The site was recently cleared of a mass of buddleia (and the building didn’t actually seem to be secured when we last visited) but there’s no other sign of work. At the time of writing the site is ‘under offer’ so we can presumably expect to see some further activity in the back garden in the fairly near future.

This brings our review of the Wandsworth Road junction to a close. It’s a pretty mixed picture overall, with a couple of dozen long established businesses going under along the way, redevelopment plans getting a bit overheated, and above all of buildings that should be part of the community mouldering away and going to waste. We were surprised to see just how active Marston are in this little cluster, and it’s worth saying that they generally come out of this as the good guys, going in with an eye on conserving and restoring what they can after everyone else’s plans have fallen apart and (so far) making good on their promises. On the plus side – there is likely to be a lot more action here in the next few years than the last few, and at least some of the empty buildings look like they are back on track to being homes, offices and businesses.

Posted in Business, Environment, Housing, Planning, Street by street | 2 Comments

Legal challenge to Lambeth on their approach to Clapham Common

Controversy has erupted again on Clapham Common, with a protest this morning at the ‘events service entrance’ – prompted by the prospect of major events starting up on the recently repaired eastern section. The Common has recently emerged from nearly a year of major grass repair work, following events that wrecked the grass surface; whose timing proved especially unfortunate given it took a large segment of the Common out of use at precisely the time when we were all encouraged to mix outdoors and gyms were closed. The theory is that the new grass has a better base and is more hard wearing than what it replaced, and there was indeed a fair bit of earth moving early on to so this ‘once in a generation upgrade’ – but it’s fair to say it was also an unavoidable response after some particularly long events at the site which had left the Common in a muddy mess.

The particular issue today is that Lambeth (who control leasing, management and licensing of the whole of the Common, including the bit that’s in Wandsworth) have signed a five year deal with Festival Republic to host events on the Common – but they haven’t managed to get the Secretary of State’s permission that is needed to run these events. Festival Republic used to be known as Mean Fiddler group, and they run some major events including Reading & Leeds festivals – the Clapham event would run for just under a month. Unfortunately for Lambeth it looks as though they need that permission to satisfy the terms of the contract they’ve signed with Festival Republic, and that they plan to proceed anyway ‘at risk’ and run events from today onwards.

The friends of Clapham Common who were protesting this morning are not at all impressed with such a Cavalier attitude, and are therefore fundraising to mount a challenge to stop events going ahead without proper permission. Their website is here with the details of what’s going on and how to help; they’re seeking donations to raise funds to support a legal challenge.

A key concern of the friends of the Common isn’t so much about the festivals themselves – but that the new grass is still fragile, and that 40,000 festival visitors a day over the August Bank Holiday weekend, plus all the paraphernalia of a big festival lasting almost a month, risks starting the whole cycle again and locking the Common down again until the grass can recover next spring.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with events on the Common – they’re very popular and many have missed them amid the lockdowns. But the way these have run recently has not been a success, with ever longer recovery times and the Common being left in anunacceptably poor state afterwards.

Some events never cause problems. For example Luna Cinema, the first event on the new grass which ran for a few days at the end of July, is a good example pretty harmless and a low-intensity use of the Common: it ran for a few days and was carefully laid out so that once it was finished, the common came back in to use straight away. Similarly Irvin Leisure have run funfairs on the gravel section of the Common for about as long as anyone can remember (including a brave appearance in November last year, in the midst of lockdown chaos, which almost certainly made a loss) – the site is pretty much purpose built for fairs; and Irvin are a well organised and professional firm, they’ve always been good neighbours, leaving the site as they found it. The Friends Fest also successfully used that site & the adjacent gravel pitches without seemingly causing anyone any particular problems.

There probably is a workable middle ground here for the larger events like Winterville & the summer festivals – but it’s likely to need a more engaged approach on the part of Lambeth, and for some proper thought on how events can be managed in a way that doesn’t end up closing vast areas of the Common for weeks and months. It’s a question of how long it is used for, how long the grass is under stress. The risk at the moment is that near term commercial pressures may push Lambeth in to doing things which cause a good deal of damage to the Common (again) – and take it out of use again.

Posted in Environment, Planning, Politics | Leave a comment