Tudor Barn

Well Hall Pleasaunce, Eltham.

What staggers me about this building is that in the good old days of the 16th Century when it was at its peak, this fabulous moated Tudor pile was just the barn. The great house of Well Hall is long gone, and even its successor (both of which I’ll talk about another day) has been dead for 80-odd years. Today, I’m just looking at the barn as a place to scoff tea and cakes.

It wasn’t so long ago you could quaff as well as scoff. The barn and surrounding grounds (lovely in their own right – I’ll get onto them when I talk about the Pleasaunce) were bought by Woolwich Metropolitan Borough Council in 1930 and the barn became first a restaurant, then a pub. To be honest it wasn’t a very good pub – it had a great shell, but the interior was dull and the beer boring. The ambiance was flat and the atmosphere unwelcoming. I got the feeling the guv’nor didn’t really care about the place. Greenwich Council got that feeling too and the place closed down.

After an unsuccessful attempt at a French restaurant – nice idea; was never going to work where it was without the TV clout of some celebrity chef – Greenwich Council have decided to turn it into a tea rooms during the day, and a venue for hire whenever they can get some cash.

I went to check out the teas one Friday afternoon whilst procrastinating. That will probably explain why I was the only person under the age of 80 and without a blue-rinse, though it was definitely well-used. They’ve cleaned it up since its pub days, but to be honest, there’s still not an awful lot of atmosphere about it, given the place’s history, fabric and surroundings. The walls are still painted creamy yellow and the furniture is municipal-cottagey. I can’t quite explain it, but it still does feel a bit – well – civic. The interesting features – like the old fireplace and the stalls – weren’t being used when I was there, and were plied up with spare chairs.

What I will give them, and give them in spades, is the friendliness of the staff. Cheery ladies serving cups of tea (I would have liked a pot – teabags in cups is never something I like to encourage) and huge wodges of very obviously home-baked Victoria Sponge, at really rather decent prices. I like a nice slice of Victoria sponge and this lived up to what it looked like – slightly wonky and slightly too full of jam. Perfect.

This place is so very nearly there. As a tea rooms, it is certainly very ‘nice.’ But in this particular case, I think I would like it to be even ‘nicer.’ I think they could afford to actually push themselves further in the cute-stakes. Normally I’d never suggest anything so naff, but with these particular surroundings, the jolliness of the matrons and the homey-ness of the cakes, I want sugary-sweet pastel cuteness too. Tea in flowery pots, Cath Kidston tablecloths, a whole array of massive cakes on glass stands under glass domes, and ladies in ‘Nippy’ outfits talking like that woman out of Brief Encounter.

I don’t know. Maybe it wouldn’t work. Maybe something as knowing as that would be a bit Tunbridge Wells and this is, after all, Eltham – posh in places, definitely un-posh in others. In the meanwhile, this is a sweet place to take the kids (or Gran) for tea and not break the bank. I haven’t tested it out as a venue for birthday parties, weddings etc. but I can’t imagine it’s too expensive and with a bit of effort it could look great upstairs. You’d probably get a discount with a GreenwichCard too…


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