At The Duke Of Wellington
The Duke of Wellington, 1939 – courtesy of The National Brewery Centre, Burton on Trent
Just round the corner from The Gun that shut forever last week is The Duke of Wellington, which is currently under threat of closure and may also vanish from our streets shortly if the campaign to save it is not successful. Contributing Photographer Colin O’Brien, my frequent companion in visiting public houses, came along with me when I paid a lunchtime call recently.
I have always admired The Duke of Wellington swaggering on the corner of Brune and Toynbee St, flaunting its eccentrically-pitched roof and tall chimney stack in the style of a Tudor cottage like a swanky hat and complementing the terrace of shops opposite, each with a dwelling or workshop above and resembling a long tithe barn.
Colin & I were happy to leave the clamour of the street and enter the peace of the barroom, where a highly concentrated game of darts was in progress. Nick Harris, who has run the pub with licensee Vinny Mulhern in recent years, greeted us and explained that eighty per cent of the customers were darts players. “We’ve got so many teams, there are matches every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday,” he admitted to me, “I first came here as a member of a team to play in a match.”
There has been a pub on this site since at least the eighteen-fifties yet, as with many others across the East End, London and the Nation, its days may now be numbered. Recent law permits alteration in use of pubs without the necessity of planning permission, generating an unprecedented number of closures, as pubs that are economically-viable and valued community meeting places are snapped up by predatory developers, eager to shut them down and convert the buildings to other uses that will deliver a quick profit.
Vinny Mulhern’s problem is Mendoza Limited who bought the freehold of his pub for fifteen million pounds. As owners, they have the right to prescribe the list of suppliers that he, as tenant, can buy from. As a consequence, Vinny has to pay £265 a barrel where he paid £130 previously. Meanwhile, he has discovered Mendoza Limited have acquired a string of twenty-seven pubs for ‘conversion,’ employing questionable tactics to further their purpose.
“They’re saying we’ve been buying from unapproved suppliers and they’ve sent in a stocktaker,” Nick revealed. For months now, I learned, Vinny has had his weekly rent returned the day after he has paid it. “I think they are getting ready to send the bailiffs in to change our locks for not paying the rent,” Nick confessed to me, turning emotional, “They don’t care – they don’t realise how much it offends good honest people who are just trying to make a living.”
Before Christmas, Mendoza Limited put in a planning application to gut the pub, demolish part of the building and pack in as many pokey flats as possible, building upon the pub garden and adjoining land. You only have until the end of this week to object.
Vinny Mulhern, Publican
Nick Harris & Vinny Mulhern
Photographs copyright © Colin O’Brien
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