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The Greyhound public house campaign

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…

Sydenham Road environment improvements

The first indication of how the environment and safety of Sydenham Road can be improved was described to a packed room on 20 September at the Sydenham Community Regeneration Partnership (SCRP) meeting, chaired by Cllr Chris Best.

Ian Plowright, Lewisham’s Project Manager, explained the draft designs for improving the junctions along the road from above Cobbs Corner to Mayow Road. It is anticipated that a roundabout will remain, although it will be re-designed and re-sited. The crossings at Cobbs Corner will remain where they are and a much wider ‘Puffin’ crossing, with pedestrian phased lights, will replace the existing zebra crossing on the railway bridge.

The ‘sheep-pen’ type crossings above Newlands Park and also at the Mayow Road crossroads will be removed. New light-controlled pedestrian crossings will be introduced at Sydenham Road /Newlands Park to allow for a pedestrian phase across this dangerous junction, and the bus stop will be relocated to allow for more space for traffic at this junction.

However, disappointingly, no additional bus stops further up Sydenham Road are included in the draft plan as had been hoped for at the public consultation.

At Sydenham Road/Mayow Road new crossings will also allow pedestrians to cross in one ‘go’.

The full set of draft plans, which should include the de-cluttering of our pavements, will be published during November when a further round of consultation will commence.

Ian Plowright will provide additional information at the next on 6 December as part of the public consultation process.

An important landmark

Gavin Stamp explains why he thinks The Greyhound must survive as a pub.

The Greyhound Public House at Sydenham may not be listable as a building of architectural or historical importance by the national standards maintained by English Heritage but it is certainly of architectural and historical significance at a local level and undoubtedly of great importance as a landmark. Buildings can be of immense topographical significance while being of no architectural distinction, and places like Sydenham need conspicuous centres, or nodes, to articulate the continuous built up area.

This part of Sydenham, Cobbs Corner, is such a centre, formed by the junction of Kirkdale and Westwood Hill and by the presence of the railway station. It is marked by the dome of the Cobb’s Corner building but given a sense of openness, of place – like a small-scale village green – by the Greyhound and its forecourt.
This will be lost if the pub is replaced by a block of flats coming right up to the road. The character of Cobb’s Corner will be further undermined by the fact that such a block will be private whereas the Greyhound, by its nature, is to a degree a public building and the space in front a public space.

The demolition of the Greyhound would spoil the character of this part of Sydenham and represent the significant loss of an important landmark. Surely it would be possible to build on the unnecessarily large car-park to the side and rear while keeping the Greyhound itself as a public house.

The Greyhound must not die!

This view has remained almost unchanged for over a century. The fate of the Greyhound is uncertain. In early August we heard that the Milford Group, the new owners and developers, intended to close the pub on August 12 and had asked the staff to vacate the premises by August 13. A subsequent meeting took place on site between planning and conservation officers from Lewisham with Milford Group who made it clear that it was still their intention to demolish the pub, retention was not a viable option, and they refused to discuss the possibility of retaining the building despite the fact that Barter Inns, the lessees, were keen to continue in business. It would appear that the only reason that Milford want to close down and board up the pub is to pressurise Lewisham into accepting their plans.

Much activity has been going on locally to save the Greyhound. An application for a Conservation Area centred on Cobbs Corner with the Greyhound at its heart, has been compiled and presented to Lewisham and is under active consideration. If successful, it would provide future protection for the pub as the owners would have to apply for “conservation area consent” before they would be allowed to demolish the building.

An application for the “spot listing” of the building has been put forward to English Heritage. A local resident, who is active in CAMRA and with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the pubs of south-east London, has written to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport applying for listing status. He has only recently seen the Greyhound’s tiled room; on being shown it by the landlady he commented: “That lobby with the tiling really is spectacular. It is far more than just a bit of decorative tiling on a couple of walls. It is a fully integrated lobby with skylight (with coloured leaded glass inserts), the name of the pub carved in relief overhead, black and white mosaic tiling on the floor, and full height walls of tiling on either side, all forming a superbly ostentatious and brightly colourful entrance hall, certainly one of the grandest pub entrances I have ever seen. It deserves to be kept fully intact, not dismantled and shipped off to a museum.”

While the fate of the Greyhound hangs in the balance, throughout London and the south-east pubs are being boarded up and converted for other uses at an alarming rate. This trend has been particularly dramatic in Lewisham where more than 40% of pubs have been lost in less than 20 years, with seven, including the Greyhound, going in just six months: the Duke (Wells Park Road), the Man of Kent (Sydenham Road), the Rutland Arms (Catford Hill), the Place House Tavern (Catford Road), the Green Man (Bromley Road) and the Tiger’s Head (Bromley Road). Meanwhile the wonderfully flamboyant Victorian pub the Fox & Hounds on Kirkdale is currently closed and its future is also uncertain.

Alarmed at this galloping spiral of closures, former councillor and journalist Liam Curran has started a campaign to try to reverse this decline and is calling on Ken Livingstone to intervene to prevent the loss of well-loved landmarks.

The fight to save the Greyhound is far from over. Please play your part by visiting the Kirkdale Bookshop and signing our petition. We believe that the pub and its street frontage is a vital architectural element in Sydenham’s townscape, and its refurbishment and retention as a family pub is a key element in the ongoing regeneration of the Cobbs Corner area.
Annabel McLaren
Chair, Conservation and Planning Committee