Charlton pubwatch: White Swan closes and staff move to the Bugle Horn

The White Swan on Thursday afternoon
The tale of Charlton village’s two pubs has taken another twist, as the staff running the White Swan appear to have decamped to the Bugle Horn, which lost its new management this week after their own bosses declined to pay £30,000 for new cellar equipment.

Concrete barriers appeared outside the Swan this morning and this afternoon a team were moving beer barrels down the Village to the Bugle.

A manager on the scene denied rumours that the Swan was being squatted.

The Swan was recently bought by property firm Mendoza, which specialises in developing flats above pubs. It is currently on the market for £35,000 a year.

Charlton’s Bugle Horn pub revamp ends after £30,000 cellar bill

Bugle Horn

Plans to revive Charlton Village’s Bugle Horn pub have ground to a halt after the leaseholders declined to pay a £30,000 to repair vital equipment in its cellar.

The pub, which has been put up for sale by Punch Taverns, has been run on a short-term lease for the past six weeks after the departure of its long-serving past management.

New manager Stephen Ruffle had been redecorating the pub’s interior and had embarked on a plan to broaden the old boozer’s appeal.

But the firm that’s leasing the pub has baulked at paying £30,000 to repair ale coolers in the cellar, fearing the the cost would not be recouped over the current lease’s short term.

Today (Tuesday) was due to be the last day under Stephen’s management – plunging the pub’s future back into uncertainty. However, the pub was locked and closed this afternoon, with a cleaner at work inside.

Punch is hoping to sell the pub, a Grade II listed building, for £1.5 million – a hefty price tag for a building that’s going to need substantial work to make it fit for the future.

Like its neighbour the White Swan, the pub was last month declared an Asset of Community Value, meaning any sale would have to be paused for six months to allow community groups time to bid. However, it would take a phenomenal effort for such a bid to raise that sum of money.

White Swan

Despite the Swan’s designation as an ACV, that pub is also in troubled times, after it was sold to developer Mendoza Ltd by Punch Taverns.

Rents have been increased and that pub is also on the market – minus the rooms upstairs – for £35,000 per year.

One thing that could boost the fortunes of both pubs would be for Greenwich Council to place an Article 4 direction on them, preventing any change of use. But despite this being raised repeatedly, this hasn’t been forthcoming.

Nine months to prove a new-look Bugle Horn can work. Charlton, can we save this historic pub?

The Bugle Horn: Come on in, the Harvey's Best Bitter is lovely

The Bugle Horn has new management determined to turn Charlton’s most famous old boozer around – but they don’t have long to prove themselves. With owners Punch Taverns already planning a sale, will the Charlton community rally round to save the pub?

The Charlton Champion sent a drinking party into the pub last night, and we’re pleased to report the changes have already begun. The England flags have gone, while the TV screens have been switched off – no more Sky Sports News on 24/7. Whisper it quietly – there’s a decent jukebox in there, and it’s currently free. And what’s even more welcome – the bar staff actually say hello to you when you come in.

Let’s be frank. The old Bugle wasn’t the most welcoming of places. We wish the old management well, but they made it clear that they saw themselves as managing decline. Strangers didn’t exactly get the warmest of welcomes either – one night after a Charlton home match, a couple of us watched as a customer was bawled out for the crime of asking for a pint of Coke. “We don’t serve Coke in pints here!” (He got his pint in the end.)

The old Bugle wasn’t a place you could take your pals. When we planned the old Charlton Champion meet-ups, it was with some embarrassment that we realised we honestly couldn’t use the two pubs in the village because they were so unwelcoming.

But all that’s changing. Forget the past. It’s safe to drink in the Bugle again.

Wasted space: This car park could become a farmers' market

New manager Stephen Ruffle’s come in with a brief to sharpen up the old pub’s act. He’s already done a good job of The Honor Oak in Forest Hill – a fine pub with a wide range of customers. Now he wants to see if he can do the same in Charlton.

But there isn’t long. The Charlton Champion has discovered that estate agents have been in, with Punch Taverns wanting to get the Bugle off its books. Effectively, there’s about nine months to turn the place around. If the Bugle is to stay as a pub, it needs support. So it needs you to drink in there.

To lure you inside, the kitchen’s getting a desperately-needed revamp. Once that’s done, the pub’s promising reasonably-priced, quality food.

Stephen’s also got plans for a quiz night, an open mic night and live music too. A pool table’s coming in – and the women’s darts team are coming back. Even better, he’s looking at using the car park at the back of the pub – an enormous wasted space – for a farmer’s market.

The Bugle’s got heaps of potential, and Stephen’s open to ideas – so pop in and say hello to him or Louis, who’s taking care of things day-today there.

If you’re one of those people who have grumbled about the lack of decent pubs in Charlton – well, now’s your chance to help create one. If buyers see a thriving pub, they’re more likely to keep it that way.

We’ll be doing our bit by having a Charlton Champion meet-up there soon – watch for the date. But in the meantime, if you’ve got a thirst on, you don’t have to schlep to Greenwich or Blackheath any more – it’s time to rediscover the Bugle.

You can follow the Bugle Horn on Twitter (@TheBugleHornPub) or on Facebook.

UPDATE, 16 June: The Bugle Horn is now on the market for £1.5 millon.

Fancy running Charlton’s Bugle Horn pub?

The Bugle Horn - © Chris Whippet and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
The Bugle Horn – © Chris Whippet and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

After all the kerfuffle over the White Swan, Charlton village’s oldest pub, the Bugle Horn, is looking for new management – the current bosses are stepping down next month.

A beautiful building in a decent location – you could be onto a winner. Although you’d have to work with Punch Taverns, which owns the place.

And the listing doesn’t really go out to sell its potential…

“An authentic village pub in the heart of south-east london. Set in a part of the capital with a genuinely ‘villagey’ feel, the Bugle Horn is a favourite with fans of Charlton Athletic. The pub was formed from three 18th century cottages were melded to make a public house, but it has a much more contemporary feeling today thanks to fresh paintwork and signage – the colours hint at the allegiances of the pub…”

A pub that’s only going to get customers for 25 days a year, then?

“The incoming operator will be looking to establish a more balanced ‘rhythm of the week’ that will attract families, after-work drinkers and occasion diners to sample the pub’s wares, in terms of food as well as ale.”

That’s more like it.

“There’s a function room which could be promoted to better effect, in conjunction with the commercial kitchen, and the 15-space car park is a real boon in a part of town where parking can be at a premium.”

I can think of better things to do with the car park than have cars. Host a market?

“However, the new angle for the Bugle Horn should be an appeal that goes beyond sport: there is the opportunity to drive a food-led push, so an operator with experience within catering will see ways in which to turn their ideas into reality. Charlton is a pretty part of London with a real village feel to it – there is a heated lido and sports centre for fun and fitness and the housing is varied and affordable – for now. The area is undergoing an explosion in popularity which is attracting more affluent folks to the area – and as that continues, they’ll be pleased to find a spot to eat, as food outlets are thin on the ground in Charlton Village. Transport-wise, you can be at London Bridge Station in less than 20 minutes.”

With the White Swan poised for new ownership, and the Bugle looking for new management, are we about to see big changes for our local pubs? Or will things stay no more imaginative than karaoke and football on Sky? Your thoughts on what the Bugle could offer would be appreciated.

Charlton’s White Swan campaign winds down – is the pub now safe?

White Swan, Charlton, 12 December 2013/ Nikki Coates
The campaign to save Charlton Village’s White Swan is winding down after it emerged the venue is likely to stay in use as a pub after it is sold to new owners.

The pub’s future has been in question for some time after protracted efforts by its owner, Punch Taverns, to sell the building.

It was declared an asset of community value last March. Punch confirmed its intention to sell the building in October, triggering a six-month period for community groups to register their interest.

The Save The White Swan group was formed to investigate ways of buying the pub – a tough ask with the pub on the market for £950,000. But it has decided to wind down its operations after being assured the Swan will be kept in use after its sale. The buyer is believed to be a pub company, but the sale cannot go through until after the asset of community value moratorium ends on 23 March.

“We decided that we couldn’t in good faith go ahead with a campaign asking people to stump up hundreds and thousands of pounds if the White Swan wasn’t actually, for now, at risk,” the campaign’s Paul Chapman wrote on its website.

“The money we needed to raise was always going to be a record-breaking sum, at a time when everyone is feeling the pinch financially… and the near-certainty of the Swan remaining a pub made it impossible.”

Charlton’s pub-watchers will now need to stay vigilant and keep an eye on what happens next with the Swan, and hope that the interest generated in the pub – sparked by a Facebook group calling for Woolwich Equitable owner Antic to take over – will convince a new owner to give it a much-needed revamp.

Similarly, the future of the village’s oldest pub, the Bugle Horn, will also need watching. The Bugle – which is also owned by Punch Taverns – does not have the same ACV protection as the Swan, while its management has been unhappy about the attention focused on its neighbour.

It’s worth pointing out that Greenwich Council could do a lot to secure the future of both venues by putting Article 4 directions on them, preventing a change of use. That’s a tactic which eventually worked in Catford, when Lewisham Council stopped the Catford Bridge Tavern from becoming a supermarket. New owners are hoping to reopen it later this year.

While a lot remains uncertain, the campaign group certainly deserves a pat on the back for keeping the issue in the public eye and picking up the baton from the Charlton Society‘s original decision to try to protect the pub. Greenwich Council’s deputy leader John Fahy also deserves thanks for using his contacts to bring interested parties together.

The campaign group also deserves credit for battling on, despite the stress caused by a former manager of the pub’s attempt to start a rival campaign, which solicited for donations to his own private account (something the official campaign wasn’t doing).

Hopefully they won’t be forced to reconvene to try to save another pub – but who knows?