Lost pubs of Chelsea

There has been an alarming trend over the last 20 years which has left some “wealthy” communities without a local pub.  Not every pub in Chelsea that has been lost gets a mention here but there have been enough recently to be a cause for concern.

The frontage of The Markham Arms – now a bank struggling for business was once a thriving pub on the King’s Road.  It’s one of many pub sites that have claimed in the Chelsea past to have had celebrity drinkers – The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton etc.

Even the more famous “Chelsea Drugstore” was originally a pub – and is now a McDonalds!

Many pubs are listed building so you would think they would be preserved.  But listed status only preserves the building and not really it’s use. In our crawls over the last 11 years we have seen a few really good pubs disappear.

But it isn’t so much the central postcodes affected because here the footfall is strong with a concentration of tourists, office workers or students – it is the fringes and outside of London where the problem facing communities losing pubs is well documented.

I asked our group of worn-down heeled drinkers if they could think of any notable pub closures that we have been to on our crawls. Not many was the response.  The one that springs to mind was the Red Lion in Mayfair, then there was the Sekforde Arms and recently the Bree Louise will go because of HS2; why surprisingly few others?


It’s not quite what it seems, closures are still commonplace but this is a pattern very unlikely to be repeated in the rest of the country as we reveal below.  We have already mentioned that the gastropub has a unique place in urban London since the Zone 1 pub is less likely to have room for a separate restaurant.  Pubs can go gastro, at least in this instance the cask ale shares it’s home with the kitchen.  The Kings Arms and Sekforde Arms shown below were both located in heavily residential – or increasingly gentrified – areas of Zone 1.


Pub trends over the years

Most London pubs date back a few centuries centuries although their interiors tend to be late Victorian. Concentration of pub ownership in the last century was initially a small number of free houses competing with huge pub outlets tied to big brewers with a limited selection of their own beers. Much campaigning was fought to break this up and in 1989 the MMC produced a report on the beer supply chain. The main recommendation was that the big breweries were monopolising the supply. Breaking this vertical meant that pubs owned by breweries was “not in the public interest”. Instead they became owned by pub companies who could choose which beer they could sell.  Well not exactly –  due to economic subsidies – this takes us slightly off the scent.  The point is really that pub cos were little more than management firms looking for profit.

When the brewery owned pubs they were interested in beer, the pub company could start to look at other lines of income and if it could make a guaranteed income from other operations it would be tempted.

Other business use

Pub buildings can generate more revenue as a bank or car park then it simply changed its business use without anything other than very localised consultation

In the place of small community pubs there was another convenient corner shop or estate agent, according to local demand, and this is the case throughout the country.  In Chelsea the problem is even more severe where real estate values also high that the temptation is to convert the pub to residential.  Even restaurants can go.

For London the big brewers that have moved away, for example Young’s now in Bedford not Wandsworth, have been replaced by a plethora of new microbreweries in to London to fill that void where the demand for ale is still rampant. Central London outlets therefore have a real chance but the temptation to sell out for housing in Chelsea has decimated the pub scene within this part of zone one.  It’s hard to find a decent boozer. let alone a decent cask ale in these parts.


Going, going, gone – The Moore Arms, now residential


Pubs on the high street have been easy pickings with a change of commercial use warranting very few objections since the residential properties in the immediate area were never sunstantial.  In residential areas the decision to convert a pub to residential use would be welcomed and rarely opposed, simply because the local residents had probably complained about the pub, even if their occupancy was more recent, always the case, if a pub had been there for over 100 years!  Wouldn’t the new owners have known there was this possibility?  Had they not visited the property at these busy times before deciding to buy?

Objecting to a pub because you are next to it ignores the fact that the wider community benefits from such a facility.  Groups like he Chelsea society for presentation have woken up to the fact that losing a pub impacts a lot of people. In this part of inner Chelsea the Australian and The Shuckburgh went in the same year, and the Moore Arms was only a few years earlier. The area is now much quieter and more residential with very little trace left of what the area was like a decade ago.



The Shuckburgh Arms is now a cafe with a different name of course, ignoring the fact that the Shuckburgh family owned much of the land in the area over 100 years earlier. Heritage lost.


The Australian took its name from a cricketing tradition between nations before even The Oval existed. Now there is no trace since the block of flats to the left engulfed it in a continuous building.

Preserving society?

Preservation societies had concentrated on listed buildings and ancient monuments and not actually what keeps society going the way it is – failing to preserve everyday culture by preserving the use of buildings not just its outward appearance.  More recently the value these buildings have to the community has been recognised and with it some councils will respect the designation “Asset of Community Value”

By the time the Cross Keys came up for its redevelopment application a few years ago the Society stepped in and insisted that the pub elements be retained. This is now the case at The Queens Arms and it still lies dormant – nearly two centuries of drinking was brought to an end recently followed by an application to convert into residence.

In the past pub closures were due to unpopularity and the licence would be recycled (in a way) by applying for a licence in another commercial property in the area.  But in Chelsea the pubs have simply been lost and there is no going back.  Both the Phene Arms, where George Best used to drink, and the Cross Keys have been saved as pubs by the community. With the Queens Head there is still more to do because it still has to be commercially viable. New landlords servicing new debts on property speculation have played their part in this.

See the famous faces used in the Phene Arms campaign https://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/battle-for-the-boozer-hugh-grant-joins-fight-to-save-the-phene-arms-8225851.html

And again famous names were used in the fight to save the Cross Keys


Many more are listed here – LINK TO SITE LISTING LOST PUBS

If it’s true that 25% of all cask ales in Britain were drunk within the M25, Chelsea is definitely going against that trend. In central London the conversions with the highest margin have been for residential (e.g. Red Lion, Waverton Street).

Now the threat is partial residential conversion (e.g. Queens Arms) and back to gastro only (so many examples, some excellent restorations, some not so), we wait and see what will happen to the Sekforde Arms.

So where are the pubs in Chelsea nowadays?  Check out the pubs in the southern part of Chelsea, towards the river i.e. “Old” Chelsea here.  And the more modern part of Chelsea laid out in the 19th century after the opening up of the King’s Road here.

All is not lost

Finally there is light at the end of the barrel. In fact the rules have changed and if a pub wants to change into any other commercial usage. This protects even the high street and hopefully this alarming trend will be degenerated.  The Government has now made it more difficult to change the use of a building as a pub to another designation….

“Asset of Community Value” (which restricts the permitted development rights which the owner would otherwise have).

From 23 May 2017 planning permission will be required for a pub (a class A4 use) to be used as a shop (a Class A1 use), an estate agent or other financial or professional use (a Class  A2 use) or as a restaurant/cafe (a Class A3 use.) Permission will not be required for mixed pub/ restaurant use.


What can you do if you see this in your area?

Spending time in your community pub is always the best thing you can do but failing that CAMRA organises campaigns to save pubs from closure

CAMRA reckon 29 pubs a week are being lost across the UK. If you feel you local boozer to be an Asset of Community Value (ACV) this prior protects pubs from demolition or cconversion to other uses without planning permission. Pubs with ACV status are given planning protection.

With 800 pubs currently nominated, the initiative aims to raise the profile of ACVs to the pub-going public and increase the number with the status to 3,000 by the end of 2016 – an ambitious target, but one which CAMRA say is essential if England’s pubs are to be properly protected.

CAMRA is working with local community groups to nominate pubs as ACVs.   For more information about the ACV campaign, please visit www.camra.org.uk/list-your-local

Pubs of Zone 1 are not under the same pressures as the rest of the country in general, but for precious community pubs in residential areas of Zone 1 it’s far, far worse.

For residential Chelsea there is no going back, these pubs are lost forever. Time will tell if the new guidelines make a difference in areas under these extreme pressures.


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