The horror shows playing out on many high streets and idyllic country village roads make for scary reading, as viable pubs are being torn from their communities to make way for private dwellings
– Residential Evil –
Ok, the pub in the 1981 horror pic, An American Werewolf in London, was a facade-only residential location, meaning no arms need flail on discovering the lack of a Slaughtered Lamb pub sign swinging out front – a fictitious pub made up by melding this Welsh residential dwelling, found up a narrow steep single-lane incline of Crickadarn, just off the A470 – with the interior of a Surrey pub, The Black Swan of Ockham, some 175 miles south, in which Lila Kaye acted as landlady, serving customers, Brian Glover, Davis Schofield and Rik Mayall.
It’s a fair stray from today’s scene indeed, where you can now order pan-fried mackerel fillets, served with butternut squash blinis, and apple and gooseberry chutney for under eight quid from the ‘salads, starters & light bites’ pub food menu.
It clearly demonstrates that this Surrey pub has done everything known to man and beast to whitewash John Landis’ freeze-frame of what the word pub paints in the mind: the darts; the drinking; the communal union – something that sadly many other pre-drinkers-only pubs have fallen foul of in more recent times… with or without movie credits to their name.
In some folk’s books going gastro is as much a horror scene as a pub going fully under – with once remarkable landmarks of booze now given over in their entirety to food – concluding in enough of these crumbled custodians of drink and debate on which to dedicate a full edition of this journal, despairingly documenting their cycles from the society-supporting cradle to the grizzly grave of grilled halloumi.
Some pubs, for better or worse, haven’t a cat’s chance of being fancied up with deconstructed deserts, even if they so wanted… The Duke of Albany, south of the Thames on Monsoon Street, among them. Immortalised in the British horror-comedy, Shaun of the Dead, this very pub’s exterior stood in for the fictional Winchester – with the interior being mocked-up and filmed at Ealing Studios.
Four years on from filming though and this worse-for-wear public house saw its windows finally boarded up, and was later witness to the dreaded For Sale sign. The Millwall property was eventually converted into seven one and two-bed apartments, of which one was being advertised at the time of researching this article: a £245,000 open-plan, two double bedroom first-floor flat, with gas central heating and, of course, high ceilings and unique period architecture. The one-time beer cellar since converted into the lower ground floor for three of the apartments, each with private patio gardens…
Opinions were quite rightly divided between film fans, as to the outcome of this pub. Whereas some privately condemned co-directors Pegg and Edgar for not using a smidge of their £20-million worldwide box office takings to continue The Duke of Albany’s life as a public house – others critically condemned the building as a whole, and were therefore more than happy to let this particular pub slide in favour of the planners.
Another Millwall haven, since reinstated as residential accommodation, is the Royal Archer of New Cross’s Egmont Street. This once grubby pub is now home to seven one and two-bed flats – one recently re-selling for £162,000.
SE14 should be hardnosed by now to the death of its public conveniences, with the Dew Drop Inn on Cliffton Hill sentenced to a life of residential a while back, as was The Arrows, situated on Pomeroy Street. Completely wiped from the memory of New Cross though is The Fox & Hounds, once stationed at 58 Besson Street, before being demolished. Perhaps a better fate than that of The Admiral Duncan on New Cross Road, which now operates as a Costcutter – a shameful change of circumstances that mirror that of both The Hatcham Arms and The Crown & Anchor, on 94 and 43 New Cross Road respectively; one a Dominos pizza outlet, the other a Chinese restaurant.
It seems an unmerciful act, to subject a licensed building to a life of half-price Muller Corners, 50p Maryland Snapjacks and 12 cans of Tetley’s Smoothflow for £7.99. But it happens. And possibly, and I do mean only possibly, more tolerable when it’s along a single street still home to an army of some 20 or more pubs, in the far wider city proximity of an estimated 7000 pubs.
Compare this to a village in the country, which has but one – itself threatened by the swinging axe of the property developers.
How many public bars are now private living rooms, kitchens or bathrooms is perhaps a statistical stone best left unturned, with our attention possibly best spent focussed on preservation rather than pouring over past anomalies.
Chaining yourself to the railings of your beloved bar is one take, as is collectively rallying together fellow residents to boycott the planners and pitching government officials, which has been a successful tact as CAMRA officials will tell you. But I think we’re missing a trick here; perhaps profiting therefore on what we pub clientele have been doing best for many centuries… telling tales of ghoulish goings on.
As proved by a national survey, nearly 40 per cent of homebuyers confirmed that they’d walk away from a potential purchase if mention were made of a haunting malevolence.
If promotion of the paranormal really is a true deterrent then why are we not exploiting our endangered pubs’ greatest asset, the undead?
You’d therefore never see the last orders called at The Golden Fleece of York, with the stalwart support of Geoff Monroe, a Canadian airman who threw himself out the window of room four whilst staying at this pub in 1945 – still to this day seen in full uniform, standing over guests of this room – his icy touch having woken them from their sleep.
CAMRA and the like could soon then play second fiddle to Yvette Fielding and her team of ghost hunters, proving the unexpected pub saviour of Great Britain – battling the planners with proof of the paranormal. It’s either this or resorting to the bed sheet over the head and the clanking of pots against pans.
But as this terrifying tactic doesn’t affect 60 percent of British homebuyers, something more radical needs to be enforced… and I think I have an answer...
Perhaps for every pub sold for residential ruin in a major city, such as London, a percentage of the gross earnings should be invested in maintaining an ailing outer-city alehouse, where the loss of this lone community pub could not be absorbed by the many more left standing, as the case may be in many a big city?
Adopting the same ethical structure of the World Wildlife Fund, perhaps, the project could oversee the pot-percentages and cherry-pick the outer-sanctum pubs of rural aspect which would then be sufficiently subsidised, including the inns and taverns that sometimes limp on some evenings with three regulars and the sale of as many halves.
The people who then move into the converted apartments, or three-storey town houses would then receive a monthly pack of printed matter, including information fact sheets and fridge-friendly magnetic photos of the actual pub and its locals they sponsor with the rent or mortgage of their posh City purchases – a bit like sponsoring a snow leopard or a panda. Pen palls could be born from this policy if nothing else.
Both policies – both the work of the dead, whether once of the flesh or still of the brick – work; though I do admit probably require a bit of dusting down and reshaping to actually become the all-encompassing answer to the prayers of our precariously parched pubs.
The only question then remaining: when a pub near you faces the common threat of uncertain redevelopment, who do you first call… that man from CAMRA, or that lady off the Telly?