Who wants to ride Charlton’s White Swan into the future?

White Swan, Charlton, 12 December 2013/ Nikki Coates

Let’s be honest, now, the White Swan’s been an ugly duckling of a pub for a long while now. An attempted revamp in 2010 never quite caught on.

For all the attempts to drag it up by its bootstraps, a couple of female friends of mine got grief one summer’s night for the crime of… ordering pints. I’ve not been back since, but I’m told the following manager’s attempt to turn it into a poker hangout didn’t have ace results either.

It was shut for a while, but reopened shortly before Christmas with a new manager in charge while owners Punch Taverns hunt for someone to take it on long-term, albeit at a steep rent of £43,000/ year.

“A rare chance to step into a community pub, located in the heart of Charlton village. The White Swan is a family-friendly establishment that is ideal for hosting events and entertainment. A large patio garden to the rear combined with a commercial kitchen means there is ample opportunity to develop the food trade, particularly in good weather.”

There seems to be a bit of interest in taking on the Swan this time, though – but whether the potential pub bosses have the same ideas as Punch is a curious question. The manager who led the 2010 revamp fancies trying to finish the job, another group fancies trying to recreate the live music success of the Pelton Arms in Greenwich, while there’s also talk of a local brewery showing some interest (small breweries have helped the community buy Nunhead’s Ivy House under new legislation, while the East Wickham Brewery has taken on the long-forgotten Old Loyal Britons in Thames Street, Greenwich).

And then there’s this petition and Facebook page from Kathryn McDowell, who wants to see the Antic group take the pub over. Antic has a fine track record in taking on dowdy pubs and making them shine – particularly the Ravensbourne Arms (ex-George and Dragon) in Lewisham and the now-shut Catford Bridge Tavern (ex-Copperfield), which has been replaced by the Catford Constitutional Club, in a long-shut Conservative club. It’s an interesting company, but has taken nearly a year to do anything with a planned pub in Woolwich’s Equitable House, evidence of a full diary of planned refurbs.

Worth noting, though, that there’s 125 “likes” on Kathryn’s Facebook page – probably more than have ever been in the Swan on a non-matchday for some time.

Do you drink in Charlton and have a preferred pub? Or do you just head straight out of SE7 towards Greenwich or Blackheath if you fancy a tipple? Share your thoughts on Charlton’s pubs – and what do you think can be done to keep the Swan afloat?

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21 Responses to Who wants to ride Charlton’s White Swan into the future?

  1. Chris says:

    Punch own the Bugle Horn as well.

    Know a local landlord was asked to take it over but declined after checking it out.

  2. Mary says:

    I met a woman friend for a drink in there over a year ago and we were treated like exotic specimens….which was unnerving as well as flattering. But it was very empty. It’s a shame that we don’t seem to have a “going out” culture in Charlton: we all nip to Greenwich or Blackheath. We do need some kind of community activity to bring us together over here. You’re doing well with the Charlton Champion so far….just not sure what else to suggest!

  3. Darryl says:

    Interesting you mention the Bugle Horn, Chris – that’s got a role to play, too.

    I heard a recent story that the Bugle wanted to have a seafood stand in the car park, but it was refused by Greenwich Council after a councillor apparently claimed it “wouldn’t be in keeping” with the area. Yet the Bugle’s car park could be the key to helping change Charlton village – it’s barely used as a car park any more, so why can’t it have food stalls on weekend mornings?

    Mary – sad to hear it hasn’t really changed. Sometimes a pub can’t change until you’ve barred half the old customers.

    As for community activity in general – I’ve got high hopes for 2014. We can turn this ship around :-)

  4. Neil Clasper says:

    I’m often pessimistic about the prospects of getting a decent pub (by which, of course, I mean the sort of pub I like…) locally – it’s obviously a tough gig running a pub these days. and the rents that Punch etc charge clearly don’t help – but I look at The Lord Northbrook in Lee and think something similar must be possible in SE7.

    Here’s hoping.

  5. Susie G says:

    We loved the attempted revamp but never managed to go in there without being bothered by drunks. Some were good natured, some less so. It really needs a whole culture change!

  6. clogsilk says:

    The Lord Northbrook got rid of its old clientele by raising the prices of its beer so they couldn’t afford it. Pop into the Edmund Halley and you’ll find them there…

    As for Antic, I think they’re overcommitted as it is, having just opened the Constitutional as well as the Baring Hall hotel… The latter took over a year to open from acquisition. I also hear rumours of some dubious tactics.

    A community pub like the Ivy House would be ace.

  7. Johanna Webster says:

    Just look too at the Station Hotel at Hither green….its buzzing like the Northbrook!!

  8. Tracy says:

    My parents were owners of the White Swan from Jan 1996 until December 2001, They sold up due to a tragedy within the family, We ran a spotlessly clean ( we actually won competitions run by the brewery) friendly pub. We would not allow any undesirables into the pub, and had a staff uniform, which everyone that came into the pub, commented on and said that it looked very professional and smart. We had regular entertainment at weekends, with mid week quizes or pool competitions. However, I do agree that when we left the pub, it started to go downhill, as it wasn’t being managed properly, causing the remaining regulars, to find elsewhere to drink. It is a terrible shame how things have worked out, but I hope that whoever takes over, can get maybe try and get the pub back to warm. friendly environment.

  9. Paul says:

    White Swan should be one of the nicest pubs in Charlton because it has a lot going for it in terms of location and a very nice beer garden but the only times I have been it recently it has been either empty or has had the sort of crowd that makes you wander down the street to the Bugle Horn. Differences in the Swan and the Bugle are that the Bugle has established a solid crowd down through the years, it seems, and when you’re there you do sense you are in a community. Like the Rose of Denmark or the Anchor & Hope which are just that little bit further away from the village. Unfortunately when I first came to Charlton the Swan was often seen as more on a par with the old Valley pub towards Victoria Way rather than any of the other three. And that’s a pity.
    But you only have to look at The Fox on Shooter’s Hill or under Shooter’s Hill, to see what can happen in a few years. That used to be a rowdy place but once Hungry Horse revamped it and the owners got rid of the rowdy crowd it became one of the best family pubs in the area. I have family members and wife’s family come from Kent and over in Lewisham for lunches and dinners there. The place was booked out fully on Christmas day past. A few years ago I’d never have imagined contemplating going there for Christmas Day. So things can change pretty quickly. And the Fox doesn’t charge the earth for meals and drink. It just seems to have very successfully turned itself into a family pub, even when the football’s on.
    So there’s hope for the Swan. And that would be good for the Bugle Horn too because it might get people going out in Charlton village and going on those pub crawls you can do in Blackheath and Greenwich. I often wonder why at 5-7pm every day Charlton station is full of young professionals but you rarely see them out in the pubs. I suppose it’s because they go to Blackheath or if they work in the city they are part of an after work drinking culture that is very central London based.
    Hopefully though things will get better in Charlton village. A Pelton Arms type pub would be good as would one linked to a local brewery – maybe both Meantime in Greenwich and Hop Stuff in Woolwich – so we have a pub that plagiarises the term ‘a local pub for local people’ but in a positive way.

    • Paula says:

      The fox under the hill was under new management from recent years and ur right it is no longer a druggies and youngsters pub but I was in there on Christmas Eve for most of the night and it was dead compare to other pubs on Xmas Eve , and they had disco on too so it should have been rammed

  10. Chris says:

    The White Swan shares many of the problems of The Eagle in Red Lion Lane which has now closed for the last time and is being converted into flats.

    This is fast turnover of managements who can’t cope with the high rents and only locals who can use it and a poor reputation as a result.

    I work in Farringdon Road near another Eagle. This was really the first gastro pub in London and breweries still take their managers there to see how it’s done.

    Food is probably the key to future. This doesn’t need to be hard to produce. Good value basic food would be OK.

    A change of brewer could be a big help. Perhaps even a micro brewery.

  11. Paula says:

    Charlton village is way to small these days for 2 pubs, I say the bugle horn wins everytime compare to the swan !!

  12. Julie says:

    We were interested in taking over the White Swan – my partner met with Punch who are planning to make the upstairs into 5 letting rooms which they envisage running with builders staying there weekdays and tourists at the weekend. This however has pushed the ingoing costs sky high…the new tenant would need to find a very large deposit to cover all the new fixtures and fittings in the rooms. None of these additional costs were advertised sadly so we basically wasted our time. A huge layout is needed upfront which is putting off smaller investors like me, who don’t want to see chains taking over everything.

  13. Sven Ellis says:

    Would I like to be able to walk to a decent pub? Yes. Do I think I’d go there often enough to help sustain it? Probably not. I went several times in 2010 and it’s a lovely building. But it’s up a hill at the wrong end of Charlton on a street that’s a village in name only, and people will always be drawn to Greenwich and Blackheath. Maybe the British Oak could work. In terms of location and offer, something like the original Chu and Cho looks much more the sort of thing SE7 might sustain. Sorry.

  14. Nikki says:

    Aw, there are no ‘wrong ends’ of Charlton, it’s all fabulous, nor is it ‘up a hill’ for all of us. The British Oak seems out of the way to me, because I live very close to the Village.

    The White Swan is that very rare pub that’s brilliant on a match day, particularly at the beginning and end of the season when you can sit out in the beer garden, and not so great the rest of the time. After a game – even if Charlton have lost – it’s generally friendly and busy. I haven’t had anyone abuse me directly in there, but I have had people talking about me within my earshot, casting aspersions on my ‘type’.

    It seems to me that people are currently drawn to Greenwich and Blackheath because there’s no provision in Charlton that’s acceptable to a wider amount of people as much as the other way about. Part of the problem is that there’s an assumption that there’s no audience for a different type of pub because the pubs that are there at the moment are not popular – we peer through the windows, we see three people sat around the bar, and we come to the conclusion that there just aren’t enough pub-goers around here. At the same time, the fate of the White Swan is a really popular topic for gossip with neighbours – it seems to me there are people who want somewhere to meet friends locally, but we’ll never know until it’s ready for us.

    Or unless of course we do something about it…

  15. Paul C says:

    Interesting discussion. I think there is definately an appetite for a pub in the Village along the lines of the Lord Northbrook. The popularity of this blog, the success of the ‘Hands off my Lido’ campaign and the surge of interest in the Charlton Society – to name a few examples – suggest to me that there is a growing number of people in the area who would happily drink locally but are currently not being catered for.

    However, given the prohibitive upfront costs being demanded by Punch, I cannot see anyone being prepared to take the risk. It’s a massive pub and to make (enough) money they would have to attract a completely new crowd, and in large numbers. I am sure that’s possible but it would take time that most investors would not have. Which makes me wonder if maybe there is a stepping-stone solution that would prove the demand for a Charlton ‘Northbrook’ type pub without the crippling upfront cost. Basically, a pop-up pub.

    I don’t really get the whole pop-up thing, but from what I can tell it basically means ‘short-term let, often in unlikely venues’. Is that right? Anyway, if there was a venue in Charlton (preferably the Village but possibly Charlton Church Lane, that became vacant and could be turned into a micro-pub (translation: small pub) for 2-3 months then – provided it was popular and created some buzz – maybe that would be the catalyst for an Antic-type company to come in and make something of the Swan? Alright, that’s a lot of ‘maybes’ and ‘ifs’ but it’s just crazy enough to work.

    The problems would be finding the cash for even a short term lease, licensing issues (I assume it is not easy for Joe Bloggs to become a short-term landlord) and finding a suitable venue. Does anyone have any relevant experience of this sort of thing?

    Maybe the premises wouldn’t even have to be vacant, could be an existing premise that wasn’t used in the evenings? Charlton Reptiles by day… The Lizard Lounge by night…

  16. The Talking Terrier says:

    I would urge everybody to join the facebook group that is discussing the White Swan and to try to take part in the turn up and have a drink events.

    Bring a Great British Pub to Charlton
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/1440974652782873/

    If this initiative gets off the ground, the White Swan is exactly the sort of pub it will be looking for.
    http://www.peoplespubpartnership.org/

  17. John says:

    Any chance that the discussion and events can be made visible without signing into facebook? Some people (shock, horror) don’t have or want FB accounts …

  18. The Talking Terrier says:

    Next time a ‘let’s all go the the pub and socialise’ event takes place I will post it here.

  19. Sven Ellis says:

    If anyone playing Fantasy Boozer hasn’t read the details of Punch’s offer, it’s at http://www.punchtaverns.com/property_images/4395/caldes_pdf_4395.pdf. Writing a cheque for £20k to Punch in their current predicament would be brave.

  20. Pingback: Sign up and help protect Charlton’s White Swan pub | The Charlton Champion

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