Iconic London pub faces the bulldozers

By Ellie Bothwell

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags London

The Hand & Racquet in Leicester Square (Photography: Ewan Munro)
The Hand & Racquet in Leicester Square (Photography: Ewan Munro)
An iconic London pub, favoured by the late comedians Tommy Cooper, Tony Hancock and Sid James, is facing demolition after Westminster Council approved redevelopment plans for a hotel and cinema complex.

Property developers Radisson Edwardian will demolish six buildings in the conservation area of Leicester Square — including the Hand & Racquet pub, which dates back to 1865, and the Odeon West End cinema — replacing them with a 10-storey block comprising a 360-bedroom hotel, spa and a two-screen cinema.

Campaign groups the Victorian Society, Twentieth Century Society, English Heritage and the Theatres Trust had written to the council strongly objecting to the plan, stating that the pub — which has been closed for the past four years — is the “oldest and most charming” of the Victorian buildings in the area under threat.

However, the council said large parts of the site lie empty or are in need of restoration and the development will create more than 400 jobs.


A plaque, now removed from the pub, recorded some of the famous names that drank at the Whitcomb Street site.

It stated: “The upstairs became a mecca for comedy. Artists such as Tony Hancock, Sid James and Tommy Cooper were often seen quaffing ale.

“Tommy Cooper, when the bar was split into two bars, would use his height to peer through the windows to see if anyone he knew was in the bar, as he always tried to avoid buying other people drinks. The problem was everyone would see the Fez and follow him in.”

'Detrimental' loss

John Cryne, chairman of the Campaign for Real Ale’s north London branch, said: “We were hopeful that the pub would come back to life and an operator would make a success of it.

“We’re very disappointed that such a striking physical building in a conservation area has been allowed to disappear. Its loss will be detrimental to the area.

“As well as its physical presence, it was part of the historic and cultural fabric of London, used by artists and comedians who would perform in the local theatres.

“These are the sorts of pubs that are a crucial attraction to London and the UK.”

Related topics Property law

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