Row brews over Chesham Arms development

Chesham Arms

Flats planned: the Chesham Arms closed. Photograph: Jessica Smith

Hoardings are up around the Chesham Arms in Mehetabel Road, after the pub was sold for development.

After the pub closed on 4 October, local drinkers and residents were left up in arms. The building was a drinking establishment for almost 150 years, and is as old as the street itself.

Julia Langton-Lockton, 66, has lived on the same road as the pub for the last 35 years. “It was sold so quickly without us realising,” she said.

“We knew the landlord had to move out – he moved out on the Friday and by Monday the owners arrived. We thought they would have waited a bit longer until selling it. Suddenly we heard it had been sold to a property developer.”

According to local resident and Save the Chesham campaigner Martyn Williams, the pub sold for £650,000 when it would have been worth about £350,000 as a pub. He said the previous tenant had put in an offer for the pub, but the owners had turned it down.

At least eight pubs in the immediate area surrounding the Chesham have closed in the last six years. These include The Alma on Barnabas Road, the Brunswick Arms on Well Street, Fitzgerald’s (formerly the Elephant’s Head) and the Lord Cecil on Lower Clapton Road, the White Lion on Wick Road, the George on Glyn Road and the Railway Tavern on Mare Street.

Most recently, the Duke of Wellington on Morning Lane has been turned into a Pringle outlet as part of Hackney Council’s plans for a fashion retail village in the area surrounding the Burberry outlet on Chatham Place.

A letter from a planner representing the new owners, Ozkan Homes, confirmed the pub is earmarked for development into flats. As yet, no planning application has been submitted to Hackney Council.

Community asset

The closure is the latest blow in what locals and the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) see as a worrying trend, with 18 pubs closing across Britain each week.

Mrs Langton-Lockton described the Chesham in its heyday as holding “brilliant” new year parties, providing a space for evening classes and playing host to the Hackney Singers, as well as left-wing intellectuals.

She said: “I bought my house in 1977 and we went in to the Chesham Arms because we didn’t know the area. The owners at the time introduced us to our community.

“My daughter used to work behind the bar and my children used to drink there. It’s been an important place for the community.”

Another local, James Watson, admitted that not everyone on the street wanted it to be a pub and there were some concerns about noise, but most people recognised that the pub was there long before they were.

“Since at least 1866 it has been a working pub. To see it turned into flats – there’s just something wrong,” he said.

The pub is in a local conservation area and campaigners have also applied to list the building under the Localism Act 2011 as an ‘asset of community value’, which would make it the first building in Hackney to be protected under the new legislation.

An online petition is calling on Hackney Council to refuse planning permission for it to be converted to flats, and supporters can keep track of progress through a Twitter account @savethechesham and Facebook page.

Brewing renaissance

The campaigners have countered arguments from the developers that the pub was “not financially viable” by pointing to a number of Hackney pubs that have successfully reopened, as well as the growing trend for craft brewing.

The Cock Tavern on Mare Street and the Clapton Hart by the Lea Bridge roundabout have both successfully reopened following refurbishment and offer a range of real ales from smaller brewers with the Cock Tavern also brewing its own beer.

According to CAMRA, more than twice the number of breweries are now operating in the UK than a decade ago, with 158 new breweries opening for business in the past 12 months.

The London Brewers’ Alliance lists 35 London breweries and microbreweries, 11 of which are in East London and the majority of which have opened in the last few years.

In Hackney Wick, the Crate has recently opened its doors and Truman’s, which was re-established by enthusiasts in 2010, has announced its intention to begin brewing again in East London after the original Truman’s Brewery in Brick Lane closed down 23 years ago.

Locals also point to the nearby fashion retail development as likely to bring new business to the Chesham.

Mrs Langton-Lockton added: “The pub is potentially a gold mine. There is a need for a nice pub in our area. It was a great pub and potentially could be a great pub once again.”