A Greyhound Public House has stood at the entrance to Sydenham Town since 1719 and it is Sydenham’s oldest pub. The current building dates from 1874 and contained some fine original fittings, including glorious ceramic tiled wall panels which survived in the former hotel entrance, together with a stained glass roof, a mosaic floor and the carved wooden screen stating “The Greyhound Hotel” above what was the reception area.
A recent listed building application to English Heritage was turned down. Of the tiled lobby English Heritage state: “Surviving intact, the tiled drinking corridor might have been of sufficient interest to counterbalance the absence of original features elsewhere… however, the owners have begun to demolish the most significant element of the building”.
The Greyhound is a ‘stand alone’ building with a large car park, part of which was sold to developers about three years ago. Two planning applications for blocks of flats were submitted to Lewisham, but were not of a good enough design quality for an important town centre site.
In late March members of the Society met with the developers, the Milford Group, who advised that they had purchased the whole site and stated that they wanted to demolish the pub and build 70 flats on the site. They said they were prepared to dismantle the tiled room and give it to a tile museum. Despite protests they said that the pub had no ‘planning’ protection and they could do what they liked. Fortunately, planning officers at Lewisham turned down these first proposals before they got to public consultation stage.
Members attending the Society’s Annual General Meeting on 27 March gave the Executive Committee unanimous support for any campaign to save the Greyhound from demolition. Local councillors indicated that they, too, were in favour of retaining the building.
The Sydenham Society had to consider urgently what it could do to preserve this pub, a major part of the area’s heritage, and a strategy was developed.
A Conservation Area proposal for the Cobbs Corner area was already being worked up in order to augment the ideas being developed by the Council and Transport for London to improve the pedestrian environment of Sydenham Road and this was submitted to Lewisham in mid July.The planning officers were also alerted to the ’tiled room’ and, having inspected this, they asked the developers to retain the pub within their plans for the site.The developers refused to consider this.
On 30 July, Milford gave staff at the Greyhound two weeks notice that the pub was closing down. On August 9, members of the Society met the developers for a third time and this time Councillor Chris Best was present. At this meeting the developers again refused to give an undertaking not to demolish until planning permission was in place. After this meeting the Society’s full campaign strategy was employed and several local residents, not members, came forward to offer assistance.
The local press were alerted and were sympathetic to the cause. A Sydenham Society petition was launched in the Kirkdale Bookshop opposite the Greyhound and before long several other retailers in Sydenham Road asked to be able to collect signatures, too. The Society’s Autumn newsletter deadline was held back to let members know of the campaign.The petition (still open, and part of the Sydenham Society’s objection to any future application for demolition) collected over 1500 signatures in its first month.
Others joined our campaign. A local PR consultant alerted BBC London South-east and ITV London News, and a local resident, a member of CAMRA, requested English Heritage to consider ‘spot listing’ the Greyhound.
Three days before the pub closed both BBC and ITV local news came to Sydenham to highlight the closure of the Greyhound – the ninth pub locally to suffer this fate in six months at the hands of property developers. The fact that there was a big CAMRA gathering at Earl’s Court helped serve the cause! BBC covered the story at lunchtime and in their 6.30pm news and ITV in their 6.00pm news. Radio London and other local stations also carried the story.
Milford’s continued repetition to the press of their intentions to demolish the building assisted the campaign. It was agreed that the press should be encouraged to keep the story running as it was felt that the Milford Group would not want to carry out their demolition threats in the full glare of the media. For three weeks following the Greyhound’s closure the South London Press, the Mercury and the News Shopper carried articles and letters supporting the retention of the Greyhound.
On 5 September Lewisham Council formally considered our proposal for Conservation Area status based on the area around Cobbs Corner and to the great surprise (and delight) of the Sydenham Society agreed with our proposals. The Greyhound also received formal listing by the Council as being a building of architectural and historic interest. This was reported on ITV London News, the local press and on local radio.
The story is not over. No one knows what will happen next or what Milford will do with the site. The Sydenham Society’s Greyhound group of campaigners is ready to continue the fight…