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.
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.
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:
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.
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.