Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The White Bear With A Sore Head


The White Bear With a Sore Head  

--> The Burroughs Conservation Area, at the historic heart of Hendon, is being threatened once again by developers who have purchased the former White Bear Pub on the corner of The Burroughs and Brampton Grove with the sole intention of demolishing it and replacing it with modern flats.  They might be very close to succeeding in spite of protests by local residents who fought off their first attempts.  
The White Bear stands at the end of a terrace of Grade II Listed Georgian cottages once owned by All Souls College, Oxford. There has been a pub on this site since Tudor times.  Impressively, in the short stretch of The Burroughs from Hendon Way to the Fire station there are 16 listed buildings, mainly Georgian. Additional Victorian homes in The Burroughs and Burroughs Gardens were given a higher level of protection by the Council in January of this year.  During certain times of day, The Burroughs and Brampton Grove experience very heavy traffic and a high demand for parking, but in the evening and at night, it returns to being what it was in the beginning, a quiet hamlet. With a large number of its buildings dating back almost 300 years, preserved and protected for us and for future generations, it is a unique, historic part of Barnet.
Mention of the White Bear appears in 18th century diaries of the famous. It was the site of local farmers' fairs and its blue plaque marks the site of the local law courts of the Lord of the Manor.  Documents have recently been discovered that testify to a Rouse family, owners of land behind the pub, who were financed by Charles Dickens when they purchased property in The Burroughs and land behind the Alms Houses further along the road in the 19th century.  And there is so much more documented history about the old pub.
History is important for our understanding of where we have come from and where we wish to go. It is our public memory and without it we would suffer public amnesia; no understanding of our collective past.  The Burroughs is on our watch and it is our duty to look after it because once it's gone, it is gone forever.
The current White Bear is young by comparison to its neighbours though many buildings of its age are now listed. It is 81 years old, built in 1932 in the age of art deco and Metro-land. It is of similar age both to the 1930s art deco Brampton Court that stands on the facing corner of Brampton Grove and to the late 1920s art deco Quadrant Court on the corner of The Burroughs and Hendon Way at the other end of the Conservation Area. In fact all three corners on that side of the road have corresponding buildings of a similar age, including The White Bear. 
The style of The White Bear is mock Tudor, emulating the age of the original Tudor pub. It has yellow stone mullioned widows and walls and stained-glass coats of arms set into its leaded windows. The upper walls are black and white mottle-and-daub effect with a stone central panel. It also boasts a fine, prominent old decorative brick chimney. The building is well positioned proportionally on the site, set back from the road. The proposed brand new flats covering a much larger area of the site would be completely out of place and distort the character of the The Burroughs. 
Perhaps on another corner in a different area preservation of this mock-Tudor pub might not be as significant, though Professor Andrew Ballantyne, who has written extensively on the value of mock Tudor buildings and their place in the heart of the British people, would disagree.  But the location of The White Bear in a protected, conservation area and its relationship with two similarly aged buildings on the other corners, in unique  surroundings make it, as the Council put it in their recent Character Appraisal of the area (16 November 2012): "a positive contribution to the character and appearance of the Conservation Area".  
But we must also think in practical terms. Life must go on and at the moment the White Bear has a very sore head. It is not entirely "vacant", as the Council describes it, because there are people who sleep on the upper floors of the building and in a caravan parked behind the building hidden behind high wooden gates.  But the pub area on the ground floor is stripped bare. Future use of the existing building does not seem to have been in the plans of the owners. From the beginning of their ownership residents have been told triumphantly by those tearing the inside out of the premises that the building was going to be torn down.  But if the integrity of the Conservation Area is to be retained we cannot let this happen. The White Bear must be brought back into the community and into the hands of those who view the site as more than a development opportunity for purely financial gain.
I hope the Council will do what it has done in the past and decide against the demolition of the White Bear. After all, what is the purpose of a conservation area if it does not conserve its character which is expressed through its buildings. 
I also hope the communal use of the White Bear will be restored, for example, as a pub, cafe, eating place, arts centre. Or perhaps the developers might be invited to consider submitting plans for converting the existing building into residences. I believe that there are interested parties who wish to bring the White Bear back to life in some of my suggested reincarnations. May they be forthcoming with a cure for the White Bear's sore head and for the people of Hendon.

(a) leave a comment for the Council on line here or
(b) email graham.robinson@barnet.gov.uk at Barnet's planning department by 28 March quoting the reference Acolaid Case H/02331/12

(c) sign the petition   

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