This Historic London Pub Was Illegally Demolished—6 Years Later It's About to Reopen

The developers who tore down the Carlton Tavern just days before it was going to receive protected status were ordered to rebuild the local "brick by brick."

protest outside the Carlton Tavern
Dozens of local residents and regulars gather outside the much loved, partially demolished Carlton Tavern in Maida Vale to protest against its sudden, illegal demolition by property developers, April 26th 2015. Photo: Paul Davey / Alamy Stock Photo

Almost six years ago, Patsy Lord, the then-manager of the Carlton Tavern in London's Maida Vale neighborhood left the pub on Easter Monday afternoon because its then-owners said they needed to take an inventory. Two days later, she went back to work only to find a pile of bricks and broken glass where the building used to be.

The Carlton Tavern was the only building on the street that wasn't destroyed during the Blitz in World War II, and had been on the verge of receiving protected Grade II status from English Heritage. But an overzealous property developer—whose application to turn the Carlton into luxury apartments had already been denied—demolished the entire thing instead.

"It was a shock. I have never seen anything like it in my entire life," Westminster City Councillor Rita Begum told ITV. "I went past just the other day and there were people drinking inside the pub—there was no warning whatsoever. They were going to confirm it as a listed building on Wednesday. I think the developers found out it was going to be a listed building and that's why they destroyed it. The whole community is in shock. How can they do this without approval?"

The short answer: They shouldn't have, but they did it anyway. In May 2015, the Westminster City Council issued an "unprecedented" order to CLTX Ltd, requiring the Tel Aviv-based developer to "recreate in facsimile the building as it stood immediately prior to its demolition." And the Council wasn't going to accept a half-hearted attempt at bringing the Carlton back either: they ordered CLTX to build it back, brick-by-brick.

And now after six years of uncertainty and the unyielding efforts of local organizers, the Carlton Tavern has announced that it will be reopening on April 12, the first day that pubs and restaurants in England will be allowed to serve customers seated outdoors. "People said it was impossible," Polly Robertson, one of the leaders of the Rebuild the Carlton Tavern campaign, told The Guardian. "Many people said, 'Polly, it's not worth it, nothing's going to happen.' And I just thought, no—I'm not going to let it lie."

When the council ordered a near-identical rebuild they weren't kidding, and English Heritage was crucial to ensuring that Carlton 2.0 would look nearly identical to its predecessor. "[English Heritage] took a plaster cast of every tile, they took pictures and documented everything," Robertson said. "And to be fair to [CTLX], they have done amazing work. It looks fantastic."

It didn't have to be this way—and honestly, it shouldn't have been. According to a 2015 statement from Westminster City Council, the demolition "required the council's prior approval" and "no such approval was sought or obtained." And although approving it for Grade II status still involved some additional paperwork, signatures, and assorted rubber stamps, English Heritage had already taken notice of the building's historic importance. "The site was remarkably well-preserved externally and internally," a spokesperson told Architects' Journal at the time. "It displayed the hierarchy of rooms in their fixtures, fittings and decorative treatment and retained all its external signage. Few pubs were built at this date and fewer survive unaltered."

Tom Rees, one of the new leaseholders, told The Guardian that the banister for the stairway, the fireplace, and part of the bar itself were able to be rescued from the rubble and put back in their rightful places in the new bar. "The pub tells its story from the half-broken fixtures that we've got," he said. "You can see bits of broken wood—it's not all perfect, which we really love because it gives character and charm to the building."

The "Rebuild the Carlton Tavern" Facebook group was launched just days after the original pub was torn down and has shared pics of the public protests that followed its demolition, notes from Council meetings and updates of the slow process of bringing it back, brick by brick. Hopefully, they'll post dozens of photos of the reopening that the locals have been waiting so long for. "Big thank you for all the support along the journey. My job now has been [completed]," Robertson wrote earlier this month. "Over to you ...the community."

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