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.
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.
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:
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:
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.