Durnford Street Reprieve

You know I really thought the sweet little banana warehouse in Durnford Street was a gonner. We fought a good fight and the ghastly market plans were dropped (though no sign yet of that new roof, I note…) but when the florists was moved out of the little Edwardian building, I honestly thought Greenwich Hospital would pull it down as threatened (after carefully ‘preserving through record,’ of course.)

But Franklin tells me that the property portfolio manager at Greenwich Hospital, spoke at the Greenwich Society AGM last night and revealed the banana warehouse on Durnford Street is going to be retained and restored – although they are going to build new ‘modern’ retail units behind it.

Okay, I’ll buy that. I’m okay with compromise. I just hope they do it sympathetically and try to keep a few indies around. I’m told Peyton & Byrne are opening a new cafe – I guess at least we’re getting the posh chains these days…

Maybe we could have some stores that aren’t cafes, bog-standard boutiques or multinationals?

But hey. That’s for another day. Franklin’s made my day telling me that little warehouse is being kept. Just for nostalgia, here it is a couple of years ago, looking magnificent:

the attachments to this post:

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durnford 1 low

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durnford 2

12 Comments to “Durnford Street Reprieve”

  1. Maeve OKane says:

    I heard that Bills is opening in Greenwich somewhere….I though that warehouse looked like the kind of place they would be in, but perhaps not. Unfortunately a n other boring chain these days, we need something like The Orchard in Brockley in Greenwich, a funky local independent that does good food in a cool environment.

  2. Paul says:

    Yay! That is really good news.

    Well done, Phant, for fighting the good fight.

  3. Jack Cross says:

    Oh, so the story that these buildings were falling-down dangerous to the extent that surveyors wouldn’t even set foot in them (which was published and told to my face by employees of both the Council and the consulting architects) turns out not to be entirely true then! I’m shocked!

  4. Jack Cross says:

    I should say, of course, that personally I am so delighted that these buildings have been saved that I don’t particularly care who eventually occupies them.
    One thing is, though – they (like the other units round the Market) are probably too small for the chains; something the Hospital Trust doesn’t seem to have taken into account in its greed.

  5. Franklin says:

    Actually, Jack, I think there’s been a real change at the Hospital since the new Director, Hugh Player, arrived a year or so ago. And Gillie Bexson, the new-ish Property Portfolio Manager who addressed the Greenwich Society on Wednesday, is taking a very different strategic approach to the Hospital’s property portfolio – looking at long-term conservation, refurbishment and modernisation, and trying to breathe a bit more life into the Island site.

    For example, they are taking back leases as they are given up (mostly through shopholders retiring), converting the upper floors back to residential rather than their current use primarily as storage space for the shops and restauants, and then letting out only the ground floors for shops/restaurants. This means that more people will actually be living in the town centre and Island site, and the upstairs windows won’t be filled with cardboard boxes any longer.

    This has already happened at the old Bar du Musee, now Jamie’s Italian, where the flats above the shop will soon be completed. I think it’s also happened next door, at the old Mambo Latino, which is soon going to be reopening as a steak restaurant run by the people who own Buenos Aires.

    Perhaps the best illustration of the new management’s approach is what they’re doing to the two post-war infill houses on South Street, just to the left of Turnpin Alley – they’ve already demolished these two (unattractive) houses and are going to two new ones to match the originals, which were destroyed in the Blitz. At the ground floor will be a single retail unit, and two flats above.

    On the banana warehouse, Gillie Bexson did say that it was in a pretty parlous state – “more accros propping it up than I have ever seen in 30 years as a surveyor” – but that they wanted to preserve and if possible enhance the feel of Durnford Street.

    Another interesting proposal that they are considering is bringing the courtyard to the north of Durnford Street – I forget its name now – into market use, and shifting all of the food stalls into that area, with proper seating areas and landscaping. This would provide more non-food stall space in the main market and also open up the entrance onto College Approach, which does get jammed with people queueing and standing around eating.

    So, I was pretty impressed. Hugh Player and Gillie Bexson are managing the Hospital’s estate pretty much exactly as I would do – preserving and conserving while trying to enhance the environment without threatening the look and feel of the place.

  6. Neil Rhind says:

    All this sounds like good news. I do hope that a future step (soon) will be the removal of the ghastly Burton “Tailor-of-Taste” fa├žade at the south west corner of Nelson Street. If it can be demolished (along with the hideous caff fittings and display) the corner can be rebuilt in the same style as the rest of Joseph Kay’s inspired design for Greenwich Town centre that he made in 1829-1830.

  7. This sounds like fantastic news. I am very excited to hear that GH have changed their tune.

    Sorry, though, Neil, I disagree with you about Burtons Corner. I once went to a talk of yours where you talked about some buildings acquiring a patina of age (I think you were referring to the flats and shops just south of the railway in Blackheath and you didn’t like those either!) and I think that actually Burtons has acquired that patina. I love the curved glass, the mosaic and most of all, the elephants on top. I don’t care for the cafe inside at all – it’s horrid food, tastelessly presented and makes the building look cheap – but that is literally window dressing. The building for me has earned its place architecturally. It’s got a late-deco charm that although not really in the spirit of Joseph Kay’s original plan, somehow has become a part of Greenwich that the two buildings that used to house Bullfrogs and the furniture shop, that Franklin is talking about, never did.

    I would argue there is merit in the Burtons elephants – actual thought went into the design. The other two buildings are just post-war infill.

    What would life be without debate, eh…


  8. RogerW says:

    Good news as regards the banana warehouse, and – in terms of ‘Burton’s corner’ – I’d have to say that I’m with TGP when it comes to the elephants.

    I know it’s O/T (and that it probably wouldn’t be hard for me to get my own answers if I made the effort), but are you able to say if anything has been happening as regards the gravestones that got broken up in error?

  9. That’s all gone very quiet. I actually don’t know. Franklin, any ideas?

  10. Mr H says:

    Franklin – I always like/enjoy reading your posts!
    However, I would disagree with your views regarding the management of the Greenwich Hospital Estate.
    I know that many of the independents are being pushed out – they are jacking up the rents (in some cases doubled!!!!) forcing the tenents to leave as trading in Greenwich is becoming extremely difficult (Rates and parking charges are silly, and footfall is decreasing in some cases).

    The problem with converting the upper floors to appartments is that the ground floor allocation to retail may not be big enough (take in to account stockroom, changing rooms, kitchen, small office etc), and GH will charge top money, so only the big chains can afford the units.

    They are definitely trying to lure the chains (Costa & Jamie’s have since come in). GH are using the rents they pay as the excuse to raise the existing rents.

    Shiva is moving from Church Street to the site where the Emporium use to be just to release themselves from GH’s grasp as one of the reason’s.
    There are deals that include confidentiality clauses being done with some of the other independents so challenging the rent increase becomes more difficult!

    Sure the independents in Greenwich need to step up, but be careful what you all wish for, as we (Greenwich Town centre) will become another copycat town, losing the independents to the multiples!

  11. Franklin says:

    Phant, RogerW -

    I haven’t heard anything recently about what’s happening with the gravestones in/from St Alfege’s Park. The last I heard was the announced plans to make some sort of memorial mosaic from the fragments, but I doubt this is going to happen.

    I do know that the Friends group remains disbanded and the Council has done nothing to set up a new group or rehabilitate the old group.

    In the meantime, safety in the park has deteriorated significantly, with large groups of aggressive drinkers and their dogs threatening park users and passers-through.

    The wardens seem to have disappeared, the toilets have been locked up and the absence of the Friends – who used to provide a regular ‘presence’ in the park – has made it possible for this anti-social behaviour to take root.


    For what it’s worth, I’m with TGP and RogerW on the Burton’s building. I’m rather fond of it, and just wish it had better tenants who made more of its curving window fronts.

    Mr H,

    I really don’t know anything about, and so can’t comment on, what the Hospital is doing regarding rent rises. Gillie Bexson didn’t talk about rents, although she did clearly say that the Hospital, as a charity, has to make the most of its property portfolio – so I don’t think they’re going downmarket. On the contrary, they clearly want more upmarket tenants, there’s no doubt about that – and having now googled Peyton & Byrne, I expect we’ll be getting more of that type (posh chains).

    She did, on the other hand, speak about her desire to have more of a mix of shops that locals would actually use – she specifically mentioned that she’d like to see a cobblers there, for example, and asked us what other kinds of shops we would patronise on a regular basis.

    On the issue of the ground floors being large enough, their plan (as I understand it) is to expand the ground floors, sometimes by knocking two shops together (as with the infill houses on South Street), sometimes by building into the courtyards at the back (as she explained they were trying to do with the old Soteri’s Ristorante on the corner of King William Walk and Nelson Rd, and for which they had just been refused planning permission).

    Jamie’s Italian has certainly arrived since the new team took over at the Hospital, and I was a bit alarmed/disappointed that Gillie Bexson pointed to that as the kind of ‘independent’ they were looking to attract. I would never go to a Jamie’s Italian as I don’t like gimmicky theme chains, however trendy or upmarket. Better than it being Inc, I guess, but still not to my liking.

    But I *think* the Costa was there before the new team arrived, and Gillie Bexson did at least express a clear preference to have ‘independent’ and locally-owned and -operated shops and restaurants over big national brands. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what they actually deliver. As G Soc Chairman Richard Baglin concluded, she gave us a lot of commitments that we can use to hold them accountable.

    Finally – and sorry for going on for so long – one issue that I didn’t know and which, frankly, surprised me is that her map of the Hospital’s estate clearly showed that the Hospital owns the pier. Which means that they’re (institutionally at least) responsible for the new pier buildings, and presumably the landlords for the delightful Frankie & Benny’s, Nando’s and Zizzi’s.

    Of course, the new pier buildings were built and the tenants in place before Hugh Player and Gillie Bexson arrived a year ago. But perhaps we could try to persuade them of the benefits of ‘alternative’ tenants…

  12. RogerW says:

    Many thanks for the update, Franklin