Arrested development

The Warreners Arms pub was never a very high-class establishment.

Standing on the site of former rabbit warrens, created and managed for food and sport at the behest of Richard Gilbert, Lord of the Manor of Norton, the former Warreners Arms public house came into existence at Warren House farm around 1850. A Public House was opened in part of the farmhouse, with farmer William Woodhouse  as the first licensee.  William died about three years later and his grave can till be found in the churchyard at St. James’s church in Brownhills. In 1877 the farm was bought by local brewer and philanthropist William Roberts, who employed one Levi Seedhouse as manager, in whose family the pub rmained for some 50 years. At some time during the early part of the last century, the farmhouse was demolished and the pub building we know today was constructed to replace it. It’s hard to date precisely but I’d tenure it was a product of the 1930’s.

When the Warreners Arms was still a pub, by Jamie Brook
When the Warreners Arms was still a pub, by Jamie Brook

The Warreners closed in 1999, and after a troubled, controversial planning saga, it was converted at no small cost into a MacDonald’s burger bar. The first application, to demolish the building completely and erect a modern drive-though facility was rejected out of hand by the planning committee, and a compromise was reached to preserve the original building and some of the pub character it posessed.

Oddly, although the restaurant always seemed to be busy, it closed suddenly in 2004. MacDonald’s removed any trace of their branding on the building, and left it to rot, unloved, a state in which it has remained ever since closure. Speculation as to why the outlet closed has been rife in the town for years, but there’s been nothing concrete from the company on why the enterprise failed – it has to be said that at the time, Macdonalds was going through an unfashionable phase commercially and they may have considered closure preferable to sustained poor sales. Writing off the cost of altering the former pub must have been quite a financial hit. There is certainly no evidence of an employee caught abusing the salad, despite many and varied rumours to the contrary…

The following pictures are my Panoramio record of the Warreners in recent times; the first was taken in 2007, and attracted some comment – some of it interestingly admonitory in tone, in a style that seems vaguely familiar. It’s still one of the most popular pictures in my Panoramio gallery. The second two pictures were taken earlier this year. All three link through to larger versions if you click on them.

It has been generally believed in Brownhills for years that the building is listed and of historical significance. It isn’t listed, as a can be seen by perusing the list of such structures held by Walsall Council (.pdf file, Adobe reader required) as to historical significance – it was an early 20th century pub, just like several others on this side of Walsall. It’s certainly a landmark, and for many, holds memories. For decades the Warreners Arms has been an imposing edifice in terracotta red brick with decorative window arches and faux-timber plaster panels at the gables. A study of the walls at street level will reveal some old – very old – names, scratched into the soft bricks. There used to be an old-style street sign, bearing the legend ‘Ogley Rd’ upon it, mounted high on the wall overlooking the junction, however that has long since been lost, probably stolen.

The short-lived Macdonald's era, from the now defunct Webster's history site
The short-lived Macdonald's era, from the now defunct Webster's history site

I have to admit, I don’t understand the desire to keep the Warreners – or MacWarreners as it colloquially became known. It is such an ugly building, with so little architectural merit that I fail to understand the desire to see it restored as part of a future development. In the case of this site, it’s my belief that the planning process and local councillors have become hamstrung on this point and as a consequence, we’re likely to be lumbered with this derelict, crumbling structure for some time to come. There are intriguing planning parallels here to the sad case of the former St John’s School in Walsall Wood, with the opposite outcome, a story I’ll deal with in another post.

If we look at the planning history of The Warreners Arms post MacDonald’s, we can see that in April 2004, a planning application was submitted (04/0809/FL/E6) to demolish the building completely and erect a petrol filling station with a car wash. Opposition locally was so great, as I recall, that that the application was eventually withdrawn without going before a planning committee. I wonder how many of those so opposed then would have been so fervent had they realised that the building would be derelict for at least another five years?

Two years later, an application was lodged to convert the former pub into 38 ‘affordable’ flats (read social housing). The developers had clearly realised that they had to retain the existing building to gain any kind of permission, and so submitted plan 06/0766/FL/E3, which proposed to build blocks adjoining the existing structure, like this:

warreners1

An interesting economic case for the development was submitted along with the application, and can be downloaded here as a .pdf file. The application was refused on a number of grounds, many of which are summarised in the documentation for the subsequent application, 07/1535/FL/E11, submitted in July 2007. In the ‘Additional Information’ document (.pdf file), the reasons for rejection of the previous application are dissected and addressed. Although rather dry in nature, it’s instructive to anyone who wants to know how planning works. The modified plan detailed this structure, for 58 dwellings:

warreners2warreners3I’m not sure why the Ogley Road elevation is drawn at such an pronounced angle – we’ve never been known as Hovis country…

Personally, I think it’s awful. It takes all the horrid, false bits of the original building and replicates them sympathetically across a new structure, whilst still managing to dwarf it from the Ogley Road aspect. The application, however, ticked all the required boxes and was approved. I just don’t understand why building 20 more flats makes it more acceptable.

The story doesn’t end there; in 2007, the property market wobbled and everyone got cold feet. The old watering hole remained untouched, as it has done to this day. Three more applications have been fielded, none of which bode well for future development on the site. As if in grim desperation, 08/1604/FL was lodged in October 2008, asking for temporary permission for three years to use the car park of the Warreners as a hand car wash – although this was approved, a car wash has never operated on the site. [Edited 29th August 2009: I’m wrong about this: following a comment by reader Lisa, it appears a short-lived carwash did operate on the car park for a few weeks this summer.] A later application a month later, 08/1606/FL to use the site as a car lot was refused. This was re-submitted in June 2009, and is still awaiting a decision.

Somewhat incongruously, the car sales application was picked up by the Express & Star, who hailed it as some kind of new dawn. The article includes the customary E&S inaccuracy – the hand car wash never started, as the commentor notes [Edited 29th August 2009: I’m wrong about this, see above]. The hand-wringing from Councillor Barbara Cassidy about the flats application is particularly amusing – perhaps if the local councillors and planners hadn’t been so intent on preserving a decaying, unwanted building and forcing its adaptation to a purpose for which it is clearly unsuited, then we’d probably have a smart, useful development there now. As it is, we look set to be stuck with the decaying hulk for another three years – are nine years of dereliction an appropriate price to pay to retain such an unremarkable building? I think not.

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25 Comments

  • Once again Bob, I have to disagree with you on one point: I really like the building.

    I’ts interesting about it being rebuilt: that rings true, as I found an old picture of the Warreners (it may have been in the same book as The Pier), and the building looked the same size-ish, but was otherwise very different, and I was trying to match it to the present building, which I’d always imagined was turn of the century.

    Anyway- the Mcdonalds thing. It *was* always busy, so I’ve never understood that either, and there are other McDonalds in old pub buildings- there’s one in South Birmingham somewhere.

    Regarding the flats- Just what we don’t need- more anonymous ‘apartments’. It is an interesting parallel with the school in Walsall Wood, with a similar development, but I think that we’ll be stuck with both buildings in a similar state for some years to come.

     
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  • Hi Stymaster

    I believe there is a photo of the original Warreners about. I’ll see if I can find it.

    It’d be dull if we all liked the same stuff. I guess I wasn’t particularly clear, really; I don’t like the Warreners but that’s a side issue. I just think that exhortations to save it because it’s historically significant are specious; it’s not, it’s just a well-known landmark. The best function for it would be as a pub – a lost cause, sadly, and I think to try to convert it to dwellings is daft.

    St. John’s in Walsall Wood *is* historically significant, but that hasn’t been saved. This is the topsy-turvy world of local planning…

    Best wishes

    Bob

     
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    • lisa

      Actually Bob, the car wash was in operation, for about 3 weeks. I spent quite a few afternoons watching the little chap over there wash a car then tidy the grounds. They were never very busy, but the place was open for business. There was only one bloke there, but he was a hard worker. There’s been no-one near the place for the last 2 weeks.

      I really like the old Warreners building. It’s not beautiful, but it’s been there all my life and I’m fond of it and proud to say so. I don’t care if they put up flats or use again as a fast food place as long as its used, and the building stays up. And I can find plenty more people who feel the same way.

      But it wouldn’t do for us all to like the same things.

       
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      • Hi Lisa, thanks for your contribution.

        I never noticed the car wash had happened, so thanks for that. I saw the sign, but thought that was pointing to one up the Lichfield Road. I notice someone has cut back the overgrown shrubbery in the car park recently. Shame they left it to decay where they cut it… it looks even worse now.

        I’ve no objection if a valid use can be found for the Warreners, but I’m not optimistic. If the car lot happens we’ve got maybe another 3 years of the building decaying, forming a grim gateway to the town. I wouldn’t be bothered if it was a takeaway again, I just think the plans for the apartments are hideous.

        It was such a desire to use unsuitable buildings for inappropriate purposes that gave us the Parkview Centre. Whilst I wouldn’t advocate demolition of the former town hall, what they’ve done to it is just vandalism.

        I just don’t think that years of dereliction is worth enduring to maintain a sentimental attachment to an unremarkable building.

        I know lots of people don’t agree with me. That’s great, this is about debate, after all.

        Cheers

        Bob

         
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  • I’m not keen on what was done to the town hall either, but is that better than letting it rot, or mysteriously catch fire? That’s a genuine question BTW.

     
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    • Hi Stymaster…

      I don’t understand why it has to be a choice in that way. Obviously, I’d like to have preserved the Town Hall, but I’m sure some use could have been found for it that was more appropriate that the one that was found, which combined bastardisation of the appearance with an utterly dysfunctional design.

      Walsall Council itself has loads of satellite offices scattered about the Borough, as do WHG. They’ve just converted a perfectly decent, modern day centre at Street’s Corner into offices. Just think, we could have had the offices in the old town hall *and* a day centre. I suspect that’s too much like sense for our leaders to bear…

      In short, I’m sure that with imagination and a little commercial prowess some use could have been found for the building without having to apply soviet-bloc architectural ‘enhancements’ to it. What we have now is a poorly designed facility, in the wrong place. All because romantic notions of the Town Hall persisted, so there was never any alternative.

      I know what you’re getting at, but there is a third way: actually doing something intelligent. We’re continually presented with lazy options by WMBC, who take the easiest route on on anything they can. Look at the Chuckery youth centre saga or Shelfield Library.

      Bob

       
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  • In short, I’m sure that with imagination and a little commercial prowess some use could have been found for the building without having to apply soviet-bloc architectural ‘enhancements’ to it.

    Probably, yes. But this is Walsall.

    I know what you’re getting at, but there is a third way: actually doing something intelligent. We’re continually presented with lazy options by WMBC, who take the easiest route on on anything they can.

    Hmm. Just have a look what happened over the border in Wolverhampton.. That building was in a terrible state, and did get set on fire too. Just goes to show that new uses can be found and old buildings re-used well if people try, and the new extensions don’t have to be totally at odds with the old fabric.

     
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    • Hi Stymaster

      ‘This is Walsall’ has been used as an excuse (not by you, but you know what I mean) just like ‘It’s Birmingham, innit?’ for years. One of the reasons I’m ranting into this particular darkness so obsessively is that we’re worth better than this, we deserve decent architecture, decent facilities and decent urban planning. Hell, we’re paying enough for it. It’s just that the system is run by monkeys who think we’re all as stupid, apathetic and gullible as they are.

      The systems can be changed. We could start resisting the easy option for starters. They need to know that we do actually care.

      There are countless examples of old buildings getting new leases of life – as you say the Molineux Hotel is a good example, The Imperial in Walsall another. They can be done sensitively, it just takes care and money. What we had with the Parkview centre was an awful solution, arrived at to satisfy a vocal minority who had wistful, dewy-eyed sentiments about the former Brownhills UDC.

      I’d like to have seen both the Warreners and Town Hall afforded such sensitivity – the George and Dragon in Clayhanger shows what can be done with an old pub, for instance. If we can’t do that, by all means bulldoze it rather than bolting on hideous carboard and bogpaper rabbit hutches. The Town Hall could have fulfilled other functions, and we could have had a decent facility in the centre of town, like they’ve got in Aldridge and are just about to get in Pelsall.

      Best wishes

      Bob

       
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  • Cllr Barbara Cassidy

    Not really into blogging as too busy working in the real world of Brownhills with its myriad problems but felt I did have to respond to the rather stupid remark made about me by, as far as I know, someone who doesn’t know me and has set themselves up, as so many do, as an on-line expert on their chosen subject. Fair enough if people want to debate issues via the faceless vehicle of the web – I prefer to talk about issues in a more open environment. Oh, by the way I just happened upon this blog by chance. For the record I had nothing to do with the outcome of the planning appl for flats. I am not on the devel control committee but that does not stop me from having a view about how the High St should look. I can assure you that there are many residents who did not want the facade of the existing builkding to go and I agreed with them. Wonder if you’ve ever thought of actually speaking to a councillor ? there are 3 of us, one of whom does represent the ward on the planning committee – cllr Dave Turner

     
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    • Hello, Barbara, I was wondering when you’d break cover.

      In a wordy, lengthy response you say very little about the Warreners itself. It’s still derelict and an eyesore. It’s the very lack of creative thinking and planning dogma that has resulted in this situation, and the council has just condemned the site to another three years of dereliction by granting the car lot. That, in my and other observers eyes, is woeful. I, and others who feel strongly about it, have a right to comment about that. Just like you did.

      The rest of your intemperate bluster is thinly veiled snipes about me and bloggers in general, a few of whom are Walsall Councillors like yourself. You make several erroneous assumptions. You assume we don’t know each other, that I’ve had no contact with councillors, that I’m not involved in the community like you and that because I only live here and have a voice that I think I’m an ‘online expert’. One thing this experience has taught me is that if you think you know something, there’s always somebody out there that knows more. I’m learning more about this community every time I post.

      Indeed, you may have happened upon this blog ‘by chance’, but it has a good readership, and were you to peruse it more extensively you’d actually find comment both in support and in opposition to you and your fellow councillors, on a whole range of issues. Speech is free and you’re welcome to comment or contribute at any time you like. Since Walsall Council is beginning to understand the web, embrace the online community and engage in new media, I’d tenure that you’d do better dropping the defensive stance and joining in.

      Any Brownhills comment is welcome here. I love Brownhills, it’s my home and I want it to improve like everyone else – but I’m not going to hold my tongue for fear of offending the delicate souls who represent us.

      Bob

       
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  • Hi Barbara

    I don’t consider the web faceless- I’m using an alias here, but anyone even a bit web-savvy can find who I am in real life. I can’t speak for anyone else on that front : One of the side effects of publicising your thoughts and opinions on the web is it can attract a few nutters. I don’t think you can get more open than the web- everyone can read this- if you hold a meeting, only those present can be party to it. You should try it 🙂

    I can’t speak for councillors up the road in Brownhills, but I have met several of my councillors face-to-face as well as contacting them by email and paper mail, and the only one who has ever provided anything useful was Mike Flower.

     
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  • I’ll echo that. Mike is a good chap. Sad to see his withdrawal from the online community.

    Bob

     
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  • Cllr Barbara Cassidy

    Hi Bob, Bemused to hear you think I’ve “broken cover” – I’m always available by e mail – 2 addresses, ‘phone – 2 numbers, home and mobile, face-to-face at surgeries, numerous meetings in the community and at The Town Hall and at home where any number of people feel comfortable in coming to see me. Don’t really know how I can be described as covered. Just for the record, I think blogging is fine for those who want to it’s just that I don’t. Sorry I can’t agree with all of the people all of the time !

     
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  • The Plastic Hippo

    Having never knowingly drunk beer or more lately eaten Mac Bunny burgers at the Warreners, I confess little interest in the facade – licenced or not – and await the inevitable mysterious fire.

    However, the involvement of a Councillor, no less, on the this crack-pot internet nerd fest is most welcome.

    Looking back at the post of August 28, I thought I recognised a familiar face in the lovely image of the pub football team. A lean, mean, dashing inside forward sitting on the front row by the name of Tom Ansell. Could this be our very own former mayor and current transport supremo? If it is, and he was old enough to play for the pub, that makes him at least 89. Not bad for an old chap.

    Second thoughts – it might be his dad. Then again, it might be his son.

     
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