Limehouse's Old Ship faces uncertain future

By Beth Allcock on February 27, 2013 9:34 AM |


"Once pubs go, they never re-open, that's the big problem," says licensee John Fell, whose Limehouse tavern, The Old Ship, could soon face the same fate.

Just a stone's throw away from the 19th century building, The Queen's Head in Flamborough Street offers little in the way of reassurance.

Both east London pubs are familiar watering holes, both are owned by Tower Hamlets Borough Council and both are on the market.

John, who boasts a 25-year history in the pub industry, claims that after spending £30,000 to renovate the thriving Old Ship, it was put up for sale earlier this month by the council without his knowledge - something the authority denies.

"Pubs are dying," said the 58-year-old, who faces losing his home and his business. "Our regulars don't want to see The Old Ship turned into a block of flats or retail outlets, they want to see it as it is. The pub is essential for the community.

"You have got Canary Wharf with its fabricated bars but this is a proper pub. It's a little gem, and you just don't see pubs like this any more."

John's predicament reflects a worrying trend that has enveloped the East End pub scene. Figures from trade consultant CGA Strategy reveal that during the past five years, 113 pubs have been wiped off the east London map.

That's nearly 10 per cent of all pubs with a postcode east of the capital.

And Dale Ingram, London's pub adviser for the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), said such closures "rip the heart out of the community".

Currently coordinating a joint campaign to save The Old Ship, The Queen's Head and the nearby Blue Anchor, she said: "Tower Hamlets does appear to be particularly hard-hit. This is something we do need to be keeping an eye on.

"Public houses hold a unique position in British social and cultural life. It's closing a fantastic place for all sorts of different people from all walks of life."

A spokeswoman for Tower Hamlets Borough Council said the authority was not closing the pubs, but selling the long leasehold interests to generate "much-needed capital receipts" to pump into its priorities, including affordable housing provision.

She said local planning polices protected the loss of pubs "where they meet an identified local need".

She said: "The council regularly reviews the assets within its commercial property portfolio with a view to identifying opportunities to dispose of properties that are not held for a specific service use.

"Properties, such as the three pubs, do not form part of larger council land or asset holdings in and around the pubs and are not held for strategic longer term objectives."


Barnes Street said:

The pub should go! It's loud and causes a nuisance to the neighbours with loud punters leaving on the weekend!

Andre E1 said:

It's a great place full of history. It's a shame if it closes .
London needs to keep places like this.