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.

This entry was posted in Business, Environment, Housing, Planning, Street by street. Bookmark the permalink.

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

  1. simon coan says:

    Wow what a fantastic article. I am so pleased that these iconic buildings will have a future and that they have been sympathetically treated by the owners and planners.

    Like

  2. Jonathan Evans-Jones says:

    Thank you for this really interesting article and update on the cluster around the junction of Wandsworth Rd and North St. Amazing to learn of the artesian well under the old brewery being used for brewing the beer.

    Like

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