Celebrity’s historic research could save inter-war pub from demolition

By Fred A'Court

- Last updated on GMT

Fast tracked: inter-war pub the Lord Nelson at Cleeve could be saved from demolition by its history
Fast tracked: inter-war pub the Lord Nelson at Cleeve could be saved from demolition by its history

Related tags: Convenience store, England, Bar

A 1930s Somerset pub that has been closed since last year is being considered for Grade II listing following last-minute research by campaigners and the parish council that could save it from demolition.

Ian Fergusson, a weather forecaster for West Country TV station Points West, who is leading the campaign, said he has unearthed historic information of national importance concerning the Lord Nelson pub at Cleeve.

The threat of demolition means that the heritage body will fast track its decision on whether to list the pub.

Local celebrity Fergusson said he will reveal what the new findings are once the submission period to Historic England closes.

Strong case against demolition 

He said: “We can't talk about it yet but I can assure you that it is an extraordinary story that we are about to reveal and that we have managed to stand up through key witnesses and documents.

“It’s our belief that what we’ve uncovered in the last six days is so critical that it puts together an extremely strong case for the building to be preserved.”

Grade II listing will prevent its demolition and replacement by a new build convenience store, and petrol forecourt.

Developer surprised by Grade II application 

Developer Jon Tout, who bought the pub from Greene King last December, has agreed to consider a cafe bar or pub style facility within his new overall design. The application to list the closed pub came as a surprise.

He said he was shocked to find that villagers wanted to keep it as he claimed it was in a poor state.

His spokesperson, Mark Crosby, added: “Until Historic England come out and say what the decision is, then anything else is pure speculation.

“They may turn round and say they want to list the entire building, in which case then Jon would have to review his whole approach.

New build convenience store, pub cafe and a petrol forecourt

“At the moment he is focused entirely on designing a new building encompassing a convenience store, pub cafe and a petrol forecourt.”

Relations between the developer and campaigners were initially cordial, but have gradually deteriorated as the parish council applied for, and got, community asset status and, now, the application for listed status.

With help from Heineken, who hold the pub’s archive, Fergusson has already submitted a 53-page document to Historic England. His latest findings are about to be added.

Although there has been a pub on the site since 1799, the present building only dates from 1936, but he defends its historical significance as one of the first places in the West Country specifically built to cater for inter-war tourists on day trips out of Bristol to places like Weston-super-Mare and the Cheddar Gorge.

Rampacked carpark

“We have photographs showing the car park literally so full of coaches in 1937 and again in the early 50’s that you could not move, it was absolutely rampacked,” he said.

“We’ve had the number plates digitally enhanced and traced, and they came from as far away as Birmingham, Hampshire, Wales - you name it.

“This pub was the equivalent of Gordano Motorway Services on the M5 today.”

Maple-floored skittle alley

Furthermore the pub’s function room is original and the skittle alley with its maple floor a regional rarity, he claims.

Fergusson acknowledged Tout’s efforts to accommodate a pub or bar style element into his proposed development, but slammed the company for failing to take villagers opinions into account.

“At the end of the day if as a filling station, forecourt and shop owner you decide out of the blue that you are going to buy the only pub in a village and propose to smash it to the ground you really should do your due diligence at the time and understand the likely level of opposition.

Distraught villagers

“Our village has been very very distraught at the way this particular site has been allowed to rot in situ with no effort to maintain it and its frontage since last year,” he claimed. “That has caused enormous ill feeling.

“If listing isn’t granted, all the evidence and all the historical work that we’ve put together will still hold weight as material consideration in any planning application,” he added.

Crosby said when Tout walked into the building it has been stripped of all its equipment, assets and so forth and to all intents and purposes had been closed for some while.

Although a cafe bar is an option, Tout has never undertaken a pub-style enterprise before, Crosvby said, so it is going to take him some time to understand why the previous business failed and why the new one might succeed as part of a convenience store and forecourt.

He also wants to move his head office to the site.

Community may offer full asking price for pub

According to Fergusson three Cleeve villagers are now looking very seriously at putting up the full asking price for the pub because so many of its 720 adult residents are desperate to bring it back into community use, and convert it to include some accommodation linked to the expanding nearby Bristol Airport, along with things like a gym, community rooms, and a restaurant.

A previous offer by the community to buy the site from Tout was turned down last February, he claimed.

Historic England said some inter-war pubs are listed. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

There are guidelines for the listing of pubs which take into account considerations such as the original detailing of the building, its original use, the originality of bar and fittings, and so on.

Recommendations on listing are sent to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport for a final decision by the Secretary of State.

In more than 90% of cases, Historic England recommendations are accepted by the Government.

Related topics: Property law

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