Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Bring back the White Hart SE14

Sad to see the White Hart in New Cross Gate closed and empty. Leaseholders Patrick and Joseph Ryan, whose efforts had reinvigorated this iconic pub over the last few years, shut up shop for good on New Year's Eve. They have concluded that the pub will no longer be viable for them as a result of plans to convert the rooms above the pub into flats.

The building is owned by the Wellington Pub Company and their planning application to convert the upper storeys was turned down by Lewisham Council in August 2019 after more than 3,000 signed a petition. A major reason for the refusal was that with flats above it was unlikely that the pub's late night licence and music would be able to continue, a key element in making it a viable business.

The owner/developer appealed against the decision and in October 2020 the Planning Inspectorate overruled Lewisham Council and granted planning permission. The Inspectorate accepted that the changes would mean an end to amplified music at any time, and with only 'live acoustic music (excluding non-handheld percussion)'  allowed, and then only before 11 pm. But they argued that it would be possible for a pub to continue. 

The current building, which is Grade II listed, dates back to around 1870 but there was an earlier building on site with a pub operating there from the 1850s if not earlier.  The pub must be one of the most photographed buildings in New Cross over its long history, occupying as it does a commanding location at junction of two ancient trackways - the road from Dover to London (now New Cross Road) and the road coming off this to head towards Peckham and ultimately Westminster (now Queens Road, but known as Peckham Lane until later in the 19th century). When the pub first opened it was next to the tollgate that gave New Cross Gate it's name.

The original pub next to tollgate in around 1865. Note the Allsopp brewery signage on pub, and the 'Bromley Races' sign on tollgate shelter.

1847: an application for a victualling house licence for the White Hart was refused following opposition from other local pubs including The Five Bells. A licence wasn't issued until 1857 but plainly the White Hart already existed in the 1840s if not as a licensed pub perhaps more as a coaching inn where people could stop off on their way into London.

1855 - The Hatcham Society meets at the White Horse - nearly 170 years later its successor, the Hatcham Conservation Society were campaigning to save the pub

The pub went through a bit of low ebb in the noughties, including a short lived attempt to turn it into a strip joint that prompted protests by Goldsmiths feminists and others. Lately it's been great, I loved the very high quality Irish music sessions and Sunday Roasts but alas no more.

The bigger picture here is that no matter what community value a pub like the White Hart may have, to giant pub companies who own the buildings they are just a line on a spreadsheet of property investments. The Wellington Pub Company owns more than 700 pubs and is owned in turn by the Reuben brothers, one of the country's wealthiest families (joint number 2 on the Sunday Times rich list). They were criticised earlier in the pandemic for their rent policies and must now be sitting on may empty properties, including locally both The White Hart and the former Rose of Lee/Dirty South on Lee High Road. We need to make sure that Covid-19 doesn't become an excuse for closing pubs permanently - we still need them, whether they are economically viable in future will depend on lots of factors, not least how much rent the landlords charge the people running them.

(At this end of New Cross not only is the White Hart closed, but the nearby Montague Arms just over the SE15 border has been empty for a while and a planning application has been put in to demolish it)

The heritage statement produced as part of the planning application has some interesting building detail, though flawed as commissioned by developers.


Lizzy said...

Sad. Very sad. It was such a fine cosy pub with great staff and yummy food. It’s incomprehensible. I have not enough words to describe my disappointment.

Anonymous said...

very sad indeed, please reopen the white hart and we will rally friends to come over!! With all the family and students in New cross and Telegraph hill, we need a nice pub like that in the community!

Anonymous said...

Please reopen it, we need the White Hart Pub/food temple in our community!