Stroud Civic Society has come out strongly against proposals to demolish the Market Tavern in Union Street and replace it with a bleak plaza exposed to the traffic on both London Road and Cornhill, writes Tim Mars.
“Has someone taken leave of their senses?” expostulated Stroud Civic Society chair, Juliet Shipman. “Not only is the Market Tavern, which the developer is proposing to demolish, in the Central Stroud Town Conservation area, but it is listed as a Local Heritage Asset by Stroud Town Council. It is also immediately opposite a Grade-II listed building, Frome House (now a dentist’s surgery), and close to the attractive redbrick Baptist Church Hall, which is also listed as a local heritage asset.
“This proposal is located in a key part of one of Stroud’s most attractive and interesting streets. Moreover, the Market Tavern plays a key role in one of the most famous views in Stroud, frequently used to advertise its historic charms. From the top of Union Street the visitor can gaze out past the Ale House, the Baptist Church Hall, the columns fronting Cornhill Market and the flank of the Market Tavern to the green slope of Rodborough Hill beyond. Why ruin one of the streets that contributes so much to the character of Stroud’s historic townscape?”
The response to Stroud Town Council’s consultation exercise about the developer’s three options is overwhelmingly negative, both about the quality of the proposed new buildings and the new ‘gateway’ plaza, but above all about the proposal to demolish the existing building in the first place.
‘Why tear down a beautiful period building? Stroud is a small market town and this proposal could be anywhere.’
‘It would be an enormous shame to destroy the characterful building that is clearly “of its place” with these generic shoeboxes.’
‘The existing building is a beautiful structure with a mix of neatly dressed stone and rubble stone walls that have evolved over the years. The sash windows, chimneys and details such as the old-school road sign lend it real character. I really value the current building and would be saddened to see it destroyed and replaced with this pile of boxes.’
‘The existing building should be repaired and restored.’
‘The town’s existing historic architecture forms part of the attraction for visitors. The farmer’s market would be best served by a London Road closure on market days and would be helped by opening up the former pub garden as an open space, facing Union Street, which would then be separated from the road. The existing pub building should be preserved.’
‘Keep it as is, the building is lovely and the density and character of the town centre should be preserved! But renovate it, we need more pubs in the town centre anyway.’
No new building could possibly make up for the loss of this characterful and historic assemblage, so redolent of the history of the town’s development and recent history.
The Local Heritage Asset entry records it as:
‘A late Georgian building, constructed after 1819. Originally the London Road frontage was part of a terrace of four houses extending towards Cornhill. The pub was renamed the Market Tavern in 2012. It had previously been the much loved Pelican Inn, and prior to that the Union Inn. It had the last “Men Only” bar in Stroud until the 1970s.’
The Pelican was a legendary and hugely popular pub, a Stroudie icon and a cultural institution, with the former billiard room at the back hosting a cinema club, a theatre club and a busy programme of live gigs. It is a large pub and boasts the only proper pub garden (as opposed to a terrace or patio) in the centre of town. It is on the ‘golden mile’ between the Waitrose and London Road car parks and the farmers’ market—an attraction which did not exist during its successful incarnation as the Pelican. There is no reason to believe it could not thrive as a pub again, and there have been a number of expressions of interest, but the terms offered by the freeholder are clearly designed to deter would-be licensees and prevent it reopening as a pub in favour of more lucrative development opportunities.
It is understood that Stroud CAMRA, the local branch of the Campaign for Real Ale, is seeking to have the building listed as an Asset of Community Value in an effort to secure its future as a pub.
Even if it were to prove unviable as a pub, the building could easily be repurposed for other retail uses, as have other former pubs in the town.
All three of the developer’s options involve the creation of a bleak and cheerless plaza exposed to the traffic on both London Road and Cornhill while building over the pub’s garden. The garden offers an enclosed and secluded haven away from the traffic and snug up against the Cornhill Market, a much better location for public open space than the proposed ‘gateway’. It could also double up as overflow space for the farmers’ market which has already expanded to colonises Union Street and John Street.
In an era when ‘retrofit first’ is the siren call, thanks to a new understanding of the damaging role of new construction in adding to greenhouse gases, it is unconscionable that a development should be proposed that favours demolition over retention, repair and refurbishment. And where retention, repair and refurbishment is not even offered as an option.