It’s time to let go…

I suspect this post will meet with some derision or controversy, but I’ve been mulling it over for four or five months now, and the issue has just come to the fore again. A very short article in this week’s Walsall Chronicle pointed out that the fate of the former Warreners Arms pub is now pretty much sealed. Walsall Council have, once again, approved plans to demolish the derelict building and rebuild it as part of a development of 58 flats. Since the article was so brief, it didn’t mention that the ex-pub would be rebuilt as part of the plan.

The application reference for this plan – first submitted in a different form in 2007 – is 07/1535/FL/E11.

Do we really want another eight years of decay like this?

I’ll say this here and now: about bloody time, and I wish those behind the project all the best in their venture. This saga has drawn on for far too long, and as a consequence has left Brownhills with an eyesore. A derelict building, acting as a grim gateway to our town, for eight years.

The Warreners Arms was once a William Roberts alehouse, and I suspect the building standing now was built around 1910, replacing an earlier version (graffiti in the brickwork records a name in 1916, so it’s earlier than I first thought). It functioned as a pub until 1999, when the pub ceased trading. It was subsequently taken over by fast food chain Macdonalds, which closed suddenly in 2004. For the following eight years it has stood derelict, a testament to economic and planning failure. The large car park of the former pub is now home to a legal hand car wash, and the building sits unloved and unoccupied, gently decaying.

One of my earliest posts, ‘Arrested development’ covers the saga pretty well, and I shan’t repeat the history.

It’s important to bear in mind a few facts about this building.

  • It is not, and never has been a listed building. This rumour was spread when the campaign against the petrol station application was ongoing. It was hooey then and still is now.
  • It’s not Victorian.
  • It is not architecturally significant. The style of the building makes it a landmark, but there are many similar buildings extant in the region, and it is fairly typical of the time. Many other examples of this style survive.
  • It is arguably, as a landmark and former pub, socially significant.
  • The pub closed because it was not economically viable.
  • Similarly, so did the burger joint.
  • The building was up for sale for a long time. If there had been any realistic prospect of it returning as a pub, it would have emerged then. It did not.
  • The fabric of the building is now very, very poor. The chimneys and the roof are starting to go.
  • There is very little one could do with this building to use it as anything other than a pub or restaurant.

To these ends, the current proposal, as the Chronicle states, is to demolish the pub. All is not lost, however, as it will be rebuilt, and incorporated into a development of 58 flats. The rebuilt pub will emulate the window arches, doorways, gables and faux timber panels. In essence, the Warreners will remain part of the character of southern Brownhills.

How the rebuilt Warreners Arms might look if a recently re-approved development takes place. Adjoining blocks also to be built. Picture taken from architect’s sketches found on Walsall Council’s planning interactive service. Click for a larger version.

To me, this is a fine solution. I’ve never been particularly fond of the building, but it is a landmark. The intention to preserve it in character is a wonderful thing, and should be applauded. A selection of documents submitted with the plan can be found below, all taken from the planning application page at Walsall Council’s Planning Interactive service. All are PDF files:

Additional Information

Amended Design and Access Statement 22-03-2012

Amended Desk Study Report 22-03-2012

Amended Proposed Site Layout 18-04-12

Amended Street Scenes and Proposed Elevations – Sheet 1 22-03-2012

Amended Street Scenes and Proposed Elevations – Sheet 2 22-03-2012

Site Survey 22-03-2012

I noticed a conversation on Facebook today about this matter, and the tone was overwhelmingly negative; one poster bemoaned that we ‘Didn’t need flats for more immos’ (immigrants: of which Brownhills had a population of just 2.2% in 2001), a statement I found somewhat bizarre. Another blamed the ‘Labour Council in Walsall’, which is also odd as the last Labour council we had sat when this place was still flipping burgers and stinking of grease, and the authority has been Tory for nearly a decade now. Many of the myths about listing and failures to reopen it as a pub abounded and were repeated.

I don’t understand what these people want, if I’m honest. The site as it is now is an eyesore, a grim reminder of our economic ill-health. Nobody is going to come and reopen the place as a pub, there simply isn’t the trade to justify the cost of renovation. We have a stark choice: we either put up with a derelict building, praying for a divine intervention while it crumbles to rubble, or see sense and allow it to die and be reborn.

How the completed development would look. Image from architects drawings loged on Walsall’s planning interative service. Click for a larger version.

To me, this is a no-brainer. We need more housing, to replace all that which was lost. More housing means more footfall on the High Street, and less derelict space. It means a slightly brighter future. I’d like to think that the Brownhills of today would welcome all incomers, no matter what their origin. It’s no longer the 1980s. Brownhills welcomes you(r money).

What I would like to see, if possible, is the one bit of the Warreners Arms that iss genuine history, preserved. I’ve documented some of the names scratched into the brickwork before, and these are real fragments of our past. If people in a position of influence could suggest to the developers that these should be preserved, and somehow incorporated in to the new building, then that would be wonderful.

Of course, part of the bar still survives elsewhere

Instead of just being negative, how about we converge and push for that which really is historic to be preserved?

I can understand the nostalgic indulgence, but really Brownhills, it’s time to let go.

There are a host of Brownhills names here, including Seedhouses and Dorsetts. I wonder if F Kerr had a brother called Euan?

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11 Responses to It’s time to let go…

  1. David Evans says:

    HI Bob
    the plans look good. If the visbility splay from Ogley Road, right, into the High Street can be improved this will be very welcome. The New Brownhills is taking shape in this part of the town…and it looks good !
    Yes, keep those bricks…!!!

  2. Fawlty says:

    I agree Bob. I have many happy memories of the old Landlord Alf Stephenson and his wife Pauline. I knew them both very well from the mid 70s until their deaths in the late nineties. They were old style publicans,( and characters extraordinaire!) who ran the pub as a hostelry like the Warreners should have been run. Much loved by many and sadly missed. But, as the song goes, ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’ and we must move on.

  3. stymaster says:

    I’m torn. I don’t see the building has a future, but I’m very doubtful that the ‘rebuild’ will look any good, so I’d rather thy didn’t bother trying, and just built something tasteful without trying to facsimile the old pub. Here’s an example of what I hate. From a distance, it sort-of apes the old building, but it’s actually hideous close up. Mind, I’m no fan of current architecture anyway. I like my old buildings old 🙂

    Lets keep the bricks though, and feature them somewhere. And maybe pop round to Josh’s grandad’s for a beer.

  4. Andy Dennis says:

    For me the value of old buildings is that they provide an historical narrative. Sometimes you need subtitles, but if you look around (say) Willenhall and ask yourself a few questions you can see how it developed as a market town and then major centre of lockmaking. If the new development of The Warreners prompts someone curious enough to think it might have been a pub and to ask after its name and why it was so named then that someone could still do that. Only time will tell whether it is successful. Turn right at the …?

    However, heretical as I am, I would rather record it and sweep it away in favour of something genuinely new and refreshing. Sadly, like Stymaster, I see little of that about. Between a rock and a hard place, then. Perhaps the retro-rock that might be recognised as once being The Warreners is preferable to the hard place of formulaic blandness predominating commercial architecture? Again, time will tell.

    The old bricks and their gouged graffiti are, of course, unique and might also lead the inquisitive mind to something past and something formative of our present, but out of context they will be mere curiosities and, on their own, they cannot revive a time beyond memory.

    Time to let go, indeed. I don’t mean to seem ungrateful for the effort of the town planners, who doubtless pressed hard for a drop of blood from the housebuilders’ stone, but Brownhills needs a nod to the future, a sense of progression, of momentum. Trouble is: she who gave real hope was sacked to keep your Council Tax down.

  5. warren parry says:

    I hope the plans stay as proposed. i have lived within a stones throw of the place for 46 years and to be quite honest i won’t miss it.
    I hope and prey that they don’t change the plans and build another vomit inducing pastel and wooden palace. The two new sites near the Anchor bridge are ok, but that’s enough of modern architecture thank you!
    Lets have some good old brick and tile buildings, for a change………………………………mmmmmmmm where will i get my car cleaned???

  6. stymaster says:

    I want to see brick and tile too, and not the

    vomit inducing pastel and wooden palace

    Which I hate.

    but not a poor pastiche of the old building.

  7. Peter says:

    Interestingly no real enthusiasm for the building itself, but clearly lots of enthusiasm for what it represented, as far as knocking it down, rebuilding, incorporating it into a new building or whatever I’m not really that fussed, what I suspect will happen is that whatever does replace it will be better than what we have at the moment. Bit like the pastel boxes they’ve stuck up on the other side of the road, I’m not a huge fan of the appearance but it’s better than what was there, progress however small is still progress.

  8. Graeme Fisher says:

    It’s a time-expired building. Nobody wants to use it, it’s of no particular architectural merit, so realistically, it has no use.
    If it can be redeveloped as part of a new scheme then it should be; if it has no true value, it’s still a local landmark and deserves saving in this way.

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