What Happens When One’s Eye Drifts From The Ball…

Photo: Philip Moore

Sad news, folks.

I only passed this sad old pub – ex-Swan, ex White Swan, ex-Millers, soon to be ex-anything – the other day thinking to myself, ‘I must see what’s happening with this.’

I was beaten to it by Philip, who tells me we’re about to lose it. Very, very imminently – i.e. the demolition gang are in there right now.

This lovely, if somewhat dilapidated example of late Victorian/Edwardian pub architecture was flagged up as important for preservation in a 2009 Heritage report for the Mayor of London’s office. And indeed, a Deptford Creek Conservation Area came into force – but only on the Lewisham side of the Ravensbourne, leaving the Swan(and the waterworks) unprotected.

We often say, when lamenting the dreadful loss of historic buildings in the 1960s and 70s ‘That would never happen these days’. We are so bloomin’ wrong. Philistines exist in every age, and philistine developers seem to get an especially macabre joy from demolishing beautiful buildings.

This one is to be razed to the ground for shops. That lovely Wedgewood-style roundel of the Swan, the stunning red brickwork, all to be ground into the dust for some soulless project that almost certainly won’t see out the century’s teens.

Cluttons got planning permission for demolition back in July 2011, and since then Philip believes the site has been sold on twice. The latest soulless Philistines are Galliford Try. Check out their website for the kind of architectural merit we can expect to see along Greenwich High Road in the future.

Philip says “I wish there was an ‘emergency heritage alarm’ you could hit!”

I agree.  There’s not much hope for doing anything about this one now, though Philip says “I have written to everyone except my MP (will do that now)”. Good luck with that one, Philip, if your MP is Nick Raynsford, Enemy of Heritage. A man whose well-documented and self-confessed loyalties to the construction industry come, if past form is to be taken as present, a long way before any kind of duty to his constituents, his surroundings or even, one might hazard to guess, his conscience.

In some respects I sort of blame myself for not banging on about it more at the time. I knew it was in a precarious position, but in my innocence, I assumed that the worst could happen to such a valuable piece of heritage would be turning it into dreary flats – that we wouldn’t actually lose the fabric of the building. I never cease to wonder at my own naivety.

But I also blame the council planning department, so quick to jump on any private resident who might want to put a double-glazed sash window in their period property but quite happy to sign off the demolition of an historic pub that has, just two years previously, been recommended for conservation. It could have been a Section 106 – for community use or – heavens – actually used as a pub when the new development went up. But no. It’s all to be flattened – within days.

The Swan is to be consigned to memories, then forgotten entirely in a day and age when we claim to give a damn about our architectural past. And perhaps us heritage lovers are partly to blame. But what is a part-time Phantom with no actual power whatsoever to do against such a deluge of ignorance? The sheer volume of historic buildings being lost just now in this construction boom is dizzying, daunting and depressing.

the attachments to this post:

Photo: Philip Moore
The soon to be ex-swan

16 Comments to “What Happens When One’s Eye Drifts From The Ball…”

  1. Richard says:

    This is right near our old place, and I always wondered what the fate of it was.

    So sad to see it go, it was the last frontier of this style before the road traipsed off into new build tedium towards Deptford Bridge.

    Such an amazing looking building.

  2. Jon says:

    Sad indeed, but the writing has been on the wall for some time now. Greenwich council at its finest…

    What does surprise me, however, is that Galliford Try (or whoever) don’t see the value in preserving these buildings. I mean in a pure financial sense (realistically, the only thing that will persuade a developer).

    If we accept that preservation or alternative use wasn’t financialy viable (and we do have to be realistic – if it didn’t work as a pub 10 years ago it isn’t going to now), sympathetic converstion is the best option. Buyers will always pay a premium to live in a converted old piece of the town rather than an anonymous new build. GT could have made MORE money by retaining it but it didn’t fit their template so they’ll knock it down.

    Sadly it’s just a complete lack of imagine that leads to losses on both sides.

  3. Jon says:


  4. Phil Moore says:

    An update – demolition work has not yet started, but the work methods have been submitted and are due for decision next week.

    If you want to see what will replace the old pub, you can find an image of the new building below. More “modern lego” I’m afraid.


    I respectfully disagree with Jon about this pub not being viable. The far end of West Greenwich has been doing rather well as people have settled in Deptford Bridge, and could easily support a nice pub.

    At any rate, it deserves to be preserved sympathetically, even if redeveloped as housing.

    You can help – please do write to Greenwich West Councillors Maureen O’Mara, and Matthew Pennycook, imploring them to take action.


    Also, our local Mayor, Mayor Angela Cornforth:


    In a similar case in Hackney, the Mayor took emergency measures to extend a Conservation zone to include a pub due for demolition. I see no reason why the Ashburnham zone (which starts some 10ft away) couldn’t be extended in this manner.

    Thank you all!

  5. Jack Cross says:

    This is the pub about which the Dire Straits’ song “Sultans Of Swing” was written.
    With the amount of the development coming close to conclusion in the area, it defies belief that this couldn’t have been resurrected as a totally viable pub. (The argument that if this wasn’t a viable pub 10 yrs ago, it couldn’t be a viable pub now s absurd, given how much the area has changed/is changing)

  6. Jah Wibble says:

    I know a bit about the pub.

    Back in the mid 90′s when it was still open, I was asked to DJ in there in an attempt to get a younger crowd in. (The Scream’s Auctioneer had just opened and had nicked their regulars).
    It didn’t work because there was no money for promotion and the place was quite run down.
    Fast forward to mid noughties and a group of errrr…… concerned locals (squatters) had moved in but then got kicked out on safety grounds. An entire supporting wall was about to go, I had been in there and can vouch to how dangerous it was, the place was about to collapse.
    The supporting wall was the reason no-one would take over the property as it would just cost too much money to sort out.

    It is pretty sad to see it go, would have been a great pub to oppose the hole that it the North Pole.

    Jack Cross:
    Is that true about the Dire Straights song? Be great if it was!
    I’ve always wondered where exactly they were talking about, but MK has said on TV interviews that it was somewhere New Cross-which wouldn’t really make sense

    “You get a shiver in the park, it’s raining in the park but meantime”

  7. Jah Wibble says:

    **“You get a shiver in the dark, it’s raining in the park but meantime”

  8. Jack Cross says:

    You get a shiver in the dark, it’s raining in the park but meantime”

    Exactly – the Greenwich reference is obvious.
    Dire Straits lived on the Crossfields estate before they got famous, and my wife knew Chris Knopfler.
    The only thing is that there was another pub also called the Swan next to the Magistrates’ Court, so there’s a slight grey area as to which of them it was, but my wife always says it was the one on the High Rd, nest to the waterworks.

  9. Alex Grant says:

    I agree that this demolition is regrettable. It seems as if planning permission for the redevelopment of this part of Greenwich High Road was granted some time ago, and it is worth finding out what objections were raised to the proposed demolition and how these were responded to. Assuming planning permission was granted, the only way to save the building now would be a judicial review or to apply for its spot listing by English Heritage.

    The Phantom’s reference to Nick Raynsford is not only mendacious but also completely daft: MPs do not decide what does or not does not get planning permission in their constituency, as most of your readers will know. Planning decisions are taken by the local authority but can be called in by the Mayor Boris Johnson or Secretary of State Eric Pickles. It is not true that the council (or Greenwich and Woolwich’s MP) ignores concerns about pub buildings being proposed for demolition; in 2007 the council’s Planning Board (which I chaired at the time) insisted that the Lord Hood pub was retained in the Bardsley Lane redevelopment, work on which has just started.

  10. Alex, I agree that, on his own Nick Raynsford has no actual decision making powers. My comment refers to his attitude. I will never forgive him for the way he reacted to the first set of proposals Greenwich Hospital Trust had for the covered market – ill-judged, insensitive and without reference to heritage, usage or the local community. It was a bad plan – as GHT now agree – they have changed the proposals to something much, much better. But at the time, when the entirety of Greenwich council refused planning permission, Nick Raynsford took the side of the Hospital and, presumably, the Building Federation, and angrily encouraged them to apply to Eric Pickles, who granted permission for this dreadful development.

    Happily the old guard at GHT have moved on and the new brooms have realised they have an asset in the market that isn’t merely monetary. The new designs are good – but we do not have our MP to thank for that.

  11. Adam says:

    Have emailed Pennycook in a vain hope.

  12. Save the Swan says:

    We have begun mobilising a campaign to save the building, but we need help.

    Please contact us on the following email address to get involved:


    Alex, thank you for your comments and for your good work saving the Lord Hood.

    It would be symptomatic of the failings of the planning system if there was ‘nothing that could be done’ at this stage.

    That a short-sighted decision made 3 years ago cannot be challenged today is precisely why residents do not feel that the planning system is operated with their interests at heart.

    Let’s try to change things.

  13. Paul says:

    Alex, I appreciate your intervention, and I must add that I’ve been hugely impressed by your work on the planning committee.

    Re Nick Raynsford, your defence doesn’t hold. He supported the destruction of the covered market, and also intervened to ensure there would not even be a downsized market in the university building, believing that having one, token market, ie the Clock Tower, is enough for Greenwich. He actively encouraged Greenwich Hospital Estates to appeal against the council planning committee for the covered market redevelopment, and those of us who love the market will never forgive him.

    Greenwich has developed a reputation for keeping poor care of the older buildings that do so much to draw visitors, and the horrible, bland spectacle of the High Road shows why.

  14. Jah wibble says:

    Jack Cross- consider me now educated on that song.

  15. Save the Swan says:

    Dear all,

    A further update. The council are currently in the process of reviewing the “plans to demolish” and need to make a decision this week.

    Please therefore write to object to the plans to demolish, by contacting development controller:


    Explain that you object to application ref 14/0919/SD and oppose demolition because of the building’s architectural heritage.

    You should provide your address so they can see you are a local.

    We have received so many messages wishing us well – thank you to everyone for helping!

    Save The Swan

  16. We now have a website:

    We will be posting updates, but we heard today that demolition has not started, so it’s not too late to act!