Why the Bull and Gate may not reopen for 12 months

In an open letter, Patrick Dardis, a board director at Young’s pubs, explains why their new acquisition has been lying dormant since it closed last May

Patrick Dardis: "There is a misguided belief amongst some that we are removing the special Victorian features of this pub."
Patrick Dardis: “There is a misguided belief amongst some that we are removing the special Victorian features of this pub.” Pic: Stephen Emms

One of London’s finest boozers, the Bull and Gate in Kentish Town is a prime example of how near a pub can come to closure. It has been shut for nearly a year, while we’ve worked very closely with both the planning and conservation departments to ensure we protect as many of the original features as possible. In fact, we’ve even agreed to undo some of the more recent modernisation changes that were made prior to our ownership.

Yet there is a misguided belief amongst some that we are removing the special Victorian features of this pub. Nothing, I repeat nothing, could be further from the truth. We are proposing to spend nearly £1.5 million to save this pub from closure. We’ve also responded positively to the planners and conservation requests to do some additional work at significant cost to us and we are very pleased to support their ideas.

So I want to underline to Kentishtowner readers that the Bull and Gate is safe with us. Young’s is a London pub company that has operated since 1831; and we own some of the most iconic pubs in the capital. We’re investing heavily in these old drinking palaces to ensure we keep them open. It’s our business.

With the Bull and Gate, we have been working alongside local heritage planners in order to ensure the significant investment we are making is done in a way which safeguards its authentic Victorian charm.


“The Bull & Gate is safe with us”: Patrick Dardis

Unfortunately, despite all the positive comments we had from the council and, after nearly a year of working together to deliver a plan that was acceptable to both planning and conservation, we received confirmation on Monday (February 3) that due to a few local objections, it will now need to go to full committee. It would have helped if we were given that guidance nearly a year ago.

The end result? This pub will now remain closed for possibly another 12 months. Indeed, if planning is not granted, it may well be yet another north London pub that bites the dust. What a shame that would be.

We’ve all read of the many recent stories of pubs shutting all over London. Currently there are several pubs under the threat in the borough of Camden alone.

On too many occasions the same people protesting against closure can be the same as those causing so many pubs to close. Resistance to any change proposed in unviable pubs often leads to owners considering alternative use.

So yes, “no change” will sometimes result in pub closures. There are already enough challenges to the great British institution, “the pub”.

We cannot continue to resist change and at the same time demand through vociferous campaigns to keep a pub open. And far too often, the people that are the most vocal do not even frequent the place in question.

So to conclude, the work we’re planning will be carried out in a sympathetic manner and with the goal of retaining as many of the original features as possible, making the Bull and Gate one of north London’s most iconic pubs once again. We look forward to welcoming customers through its rejuvenated doors as soon as it is back up and running.

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What do the plans entail?

The existing bar will remain, as will all the original features, including the wall, ceiling features and décor. The over bar, the bit that holds glasses directly above the bar, is from the 1970s (or even 80s) and will go. Don’t confuse that with the back bar, which is original and will stay.

The back room on the venue's closing night:  now in a
The back room on the venue’s closing night: now in a “shocking” state

Elsewhere the plan is just to decorate existing features. The current loos will become additional bar space, with all important features retained. A new ladies’ is moving to existing office space that was behind the bar, where no historical or important features exist.

The main works will be refurbishing the virtually derelict back room: that was the music venue and any features that may have existed were removed many years ago. It’s in a shocking state, dirty and dark. This will be an extension of the pub, serving British food.

The gent’s is moving upstairs into what was originally one room, with good features that many years ago were knocked about and turned into two separate living rooms. We are merely turning it back into one room – and retaining every bit of anything that is of interest or original.

So what do you think about Young’s plans?

  • Show Comments

  • Martin

    This all sounds eminently reasonable, but it would be useful to hear what the outstanding objections are. Personally I could murder a pint of Young’s, so they had better be good.

  • Matthew

    An alternative viewpoint – directly contradicting claims made in the above article, can be found here: http://www.camdennewjournal.com/news/2014/jan/new-owners-face-planning-fight-over-move-rip-out-historic-features-inside-bull-and-gat

    Including the counterclaim:

    Kentish Town Neighbourhood Forum chairwoman Caroline Hill, who proposed English Heritage should list the site in 2005, said Young’s claimed that many features they want to dispose of, including solid oak partitions, an “overbar” feature and decorated windows, were not original – but English Heritage thoroughly res­earched the interior when they gave it a listed status and say they are original.

    “It is a splendid pub and had wonderful features inside,” said Ms Hill. “I cannot understand how Camden is permitting a beautiful, listed Grade II-pub interior to be dese­crated in this way, all for the sake of yet another gastropub. In these plans all the stained glass will be removed, all the oak dividers will go and, worst of all, the beautiful overbar will disappear. Their view is they want to modernise it, and we do not have anything against gastropubs. But they could do this with a few minor changes.”

    I accuse no-one but *someone* is bending the truth here.

  • Pat K

    Typical – the place will rot because a handful of locals don’t want to lose something no one can agree on as really being original.
    I’ve had dealings with Heritage and anything in situ be it 70s plasterboard partitioning or beautiful ornate Georgian ironwork is considered ‘original’ and is therefore protected….madness.
    I favour development and change so as to keep a pub on the site, so what if the bar looks different and we lose the back room to a restaurant…that’s better than poxy flats.
    My beloved Pineapple was saved from being a hostel because the right type of attitude towards the development of a great pub was adopted by the then army of locals who truly wanted a pub to remain…look at what a success that’s been.

  • Tim

    This is a pile of rubbish. The pub wasn’t at threat of closure before Youngs bought it. If Youngs had bought it and continued to run it as it had been run before, with a successful music venue, then few would have been complaining.
    The only risk to the B&G is surely because of Youngs cack-handed, misguided business plan in the first place. They don’t want it to close because then they’ll totally lose their investment. But the whole shoddy affair is a total mess. That Youngs have managed it so badly they’ve now got to announce another 12 months of the pub being shut is basically an insult to the community.

  • Dean

    Complete bollocks by a vested interest determined to add yet another bland ‘gastro’ pub to the area.

  • Fred

    “And far too often, the people that are the most vocal do not even frequent the place in question. ”

    He’s quite right, at least one residents’ associations, in a letter written to its members, went to the lengths of explaining that “The Bull & Gate is the pub at the top of the High Street, a bit north of the tube station.”, which (apart from possibly leading people to think they were referring to the Assembly House) would seem to indicate that this particular association doesn’t think that its members ever went there.

    All the news about the pub’s closure concentrated on the loss of another music venue, not on the possible loss of its “beautiful original Victorian interior”. Frankly, I used to go there to listen to some bloody good music in a scuzzy back room, only venturing into the bar to buy another drink and certainly not to wonder at its interior design.

    Now people like the KTRA are using the public funds they were awarded to put forward crazed schemes like turning the junction between KT, Highgate and Fortess Roads into a virtual pedestrian precinct and to opposing any licensing extensions requested throughout the borough as a matter of course.

    It’s a pity that the music venue shut, but nobody was prepared to put their money where their mouth was, buy and run it. As an alternative between flats and a pub selling good beer, I far prefer the latter and you can’t expect anyone to run a pub in the 21st century purely on the basis of a 19th century design.

  • Christy Lawrance

    I spent a lot of time in the Bull & Gate in the late 1980s. The bar area was “open plan” in 1988. I remember the wooden dividers being added and the pub done up later – I believe Pat and Margaret Lynskey were able to do some improvements after they bought the freehold. I don’t know if the dividers were architectural salvage or new (I was interested in bands and beer). Pubs being done up with original features from other pubs wasn’t unusual; when the Old Farmhouse (corner of Holmes Road) became Dolly Fossett’s at around the same time, the new owners covered the wall behind the bar with a glorious wall of Victoriana – all mirrors, lights and ornate woodwork – taken from a pub that had been closed down.

    In any case, a shame to lose a music venue where I had such a wonderful time. But better it stays a pub – once pubs become flats, they’re gone for good.

  • Bill

    Didn’t the owners want to sell it back in 07/08 before the market crashed? I seem to remember it stayed open then because they couldn’t sell it. That was certainly the case with the venue part, which was closed for a bit. I will miss the venue, but in fairness to youngs its just an oblong room with no historic fixtures.

  • Paul Shearsmith

    Great what Kentish Town really needs is a new Gastro Pub!!!!!

  • Paul Shearsmith

    Young’s do have previous. Their proposals to gastro up the Duke’s head in Putney involved removing beautiful etched glass internal dividing screens. I obtained a listing for the interior from English Heritage.

  • Caroline Hill

    Caroline Hill, chair of Kentish Town Neighbourhood Forum and Kentish Town Road Action responds to Patrick Dardis, board director of Young’s pubs:

    • The entire interior and exterior of the Bull & Gate has been listed Grade II by English Heritage. It’s not up to Young’s to pick and choose which bits they consider original for commercial reasons.

    • Young’s states they have spent £1.5 million to save the pub from closure. It didn’t need saving – it was open and active until Young’s closed it to turn it into a gastropub.

    • It is Young’s decision that the pub remains closed whilst planning permissions are being considered. It could operate perfectly well as a pub now, as it did until recently. The Bull & Gate is an iconic pub now and doesn’t need Young’s to make it so.

    • Patrick Dardis says “the Bull & Gate is safe with us” but Young’s changed the interior of the listed Spread Eagle pub in Camden Parkway without planning permission, so their record isn’t great.