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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