Tailoring Timeless Tranquility

Shafting the historic watering holes (and the neighbours) in Fitzrovia’s pub heartland

View of the front of The Wheatsheaf pubwith its mock tudor facade.
The Wheatsheaf pub, 25 Rathbone Place. Photo: Angela Lovely.

The sleazy bohemians that tramped around the many drinking dens clustered in Charlotte Street, Rathbone Place and Rathbone Street in the thirties and forties will be spinning in their graves if they could read the two planning applications currently under consideration by Camden and Westminster councils.

Not content to hive off the upstairs function room and manager’s flat in exchange for three sealed air conditioned flats at The Wheatsheaf on Rathbone Place, landowner Shaftesbury Capital now wants to do the same to the Duke of York at Rathbone Street.

Richard Osley reported on the 20 April in the Camden New Journal that the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) had objected to the plans submitted to Camden Council by Shaftesbury in October last year.

Joanne Scott of Camra commented that the “pub and function room are a valuable community resource” and the proposed development would mean the loss of the upstairs room.

I quite agree. I saw a very enjoyable, condensed version of Shakespeare’s Henry the Fifth at the Wheatsheaf, and there are some very interesting cultural groups making good use of it.

A little late to the party, the Charlotte Street Association community group has also objected to Shaftesbury’s plans at 25 Rathbone Place because of the loss of the function room and the likely noise nuisance to existing neighbours from all the air con units rattling away to ventilate the sealed one- and two-bedroom flats that are proposed.

I kid you not. The new private flats over the pub will have mechanical ventilation “to provide a satisfactory alternative to openable windows for ventilation, due to external noise levels”, states the covering letter submitted with the application in anticipation that the new neighbours will complain about the noise from the drinkers downstairs and the extra people milling around outside because there is no longer room enough in the pub!

Those flats will no doubt descend into AirBnB-type short-letting rather than provide the much needed additional permanent homes in Fitzrovia. We have quite enough roller suitcases trundling through the neighbourhood as it is.

The Duke of York Pub, 47 Rathbone Street. Photo: Angela Lovely.

Now Westminster Council is mulling over the nearly identical plans submitted by Shaftesbury this month to convert the upper floors of the Duke of York — affectionately known as the Nonce — at 47 Rathbone Street to create three, one-bedroom flats.

This is all going to end badly.

Not only is Shaftesbury Capital — as they are now known after the merger with Capital and Counties — depriving local people of upstairs meeting rooms and venues for fringe theatre, they are going to push all those drinkers onto the pavement outside.

This is just going to cause more conflict between pub landlords and local residents. There is already a problem of too many people standing outside pubs and blocking the pavement and creating a racket. Something I have written about before.

Running a pub is a full time job which is why pubs usually have a manager’s flat and a room or two for staff who often work long hours taking in and out barrels from cellars in the morning and cleaning the mess up after the punters have gone home.

Getting hospitality staff is now more challenging for a number of reasons. Removing on-site accommodation is just going to make matters worse for those trying to run a pub.

Shaftesbury Capital is just sweating its assets for a fast buck by putting half a dozen flats on the market and intensifying the use of the shrunken pubs on its manor.

No public good will come of this. It’s just about money. They have too much property. Too much power.

It’s high time they behaved more responsibly with all that land they now own in Fitzrovia and across the West End. Don’t shaft the people just because you can.

Update 4 May 2023: Camden Council’s planning department has now granted the application for The Wheatsheaf.

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