Scaffolding went up around the Swan & Sugarloaf pub in South Croydon last week, the first signs that the local landmark is going to be given an overdue fresh lease of life.
How a re-opened Swan & Sugarloaf might operate has yet to be decided, but it is a matter of some relief locally that the building, the historic centrepiece of the character-full village-like area of South End, is now being worked on and repaired, rather than allowed to rot and decay.
The pub closed for business more than a year ago. During 2011, squatters took over the building for several months, only being evicted after the 8/8 riots, when ugly steel security shutters went up over the windows to deter further incursions.
Contractors moved on to the site last week, with a mission to work on the sad and tired exterior, cleaning the brickwork, re-painting the exterior, clearing the overgrown guttering, overhauling the chimneys, re-roofing, and working on the windows, many of which include some wonderful examples of Victorian stained glass.
The exterior work is to take between eight and 10 weeks, after which further contractors are expected to move in to work on the interior. “As yet, it hasn’t been decided whether to re-open it as a pub or a restaurant,” a source told Inside Croydon.
At a time when a record number of pubs around the country are closing, no longer valued for their role in local society, the long-held fear was that the protected-status building with the prestigious address of “No1 Brighton Road, South Croydon” might end up being sold off, or perhaps suffer an “accidental” catastrophic fire which would necessitate its demolition to make way for yet another character-less block of flats or offices.
Our on-site source assures us, however, that the owners, the Whitgift Foundation, intend to restore the building, both in terms of its bricks and mortar and its ultimate use.
What’s in a name?
The Croydon Council-hosted local history website stresses the importance of the Swan & Sugarloaf site and its present building: “There is a theory that the unusual name of the Swan and Sugarloaf is the result of a misunderstanding of the coat of arms of the Archbishop of Canterbury, which shows a mitre (shaped roughly like a loaf of sugar) and a crosier (shaped like a crook, which could be taken for a swan’s neck).
“An ingenious story – but probably nonsense. An alternative theory is that the sugarloaf was a common sign for grocers, and that if the Swan Inn also sold groceries it would have had two signs, or one which combined the two symbols.”
The site at the junction of the Selsdon and Brighton Roads has had a pub there for close to 200 years. The pub is actually built over the site of a fresh water spring, the original source of the River Waddon.
In the mid-19th century, the Selsdon Road-Brighton Road junction took on new significance, as the site of a toll booth on a turnpike.
By the 1880s, horses for the Croydon trams which terminated at the Swan & Sugarloaf were stabled behind the hotel, and then motor buses used the triangular piece of land as a bus-stand. From 1901, the electric trams continued on further down the Brighton Road to their new depot. But the bus destination board of “South Croydon, Swan & Sugarloaf” was well-established, and would continue to be used on the 109 bus route from Westminster and Blackfriars throughout the 20th century to the present day.
The present building was opened in 1896, having replaced a much less prepossessing, single storey pub. It was built by the Page and Overton Croydon brewery, which was closed down in the 1950s.
How much of the pub’s original Victorian interiors remain or, indeed, might be salvageable is not known. But it is clear from a Croydon Council leaflet from 1996 that the building’s external restoration will need very sensitive handling.
“The Swan and Sugar Loaf was designed to stand out from its background, its preservation is of great importance to the appearance of the surrounding area. Ledbury Terrace is very attractive above fascia level but commercial pressures mean that shops are particularly vulnerable to inappropriate change. Together these buildings and the space between them form a prominent Local Area of Special Character,” was the view of the council in this official report.
“The black and white window frames of the pub appear to be part of the original colour scheme. The pub contains some fine leaded windows.
“Wherever possible original window frames and glass should be preserved and intrusive aluminium or PVCu replacement windows avoided.
“The ground floor of the public house displays rich red brickwork of superb quality, with areas of ornamental bricks and rubbed bricks around the arched windows. The painted
roughcast of the upper floors of the pub was designed to contrast with the brick below.
“The warm red tones of the great tiled roof of the Swan and Sugar Loaf compliment the brick of the ground floor.
“The removal of original roofing materials and their replacement by inferior substitutes seriously damages the appearance of many buildings. Re-roofing, by an experienced contractor, using the existing roofing materials supplemented by reclaimed slates or tiles
should always be considered.
“Chimneys help to define architectural style, they give personality to a building. The fine
chimney stacks and surviving chimney pots of the bank, pub and terrace should be retained.
“The decorative render of the Swan and Sugar Loaf advertises the pub and brewery name and records the date of construction, it is therefore a valuable piece of local history.”
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This pub is one of my earliest memories of my (mostly very happy) sojourn in England 1965-1983. I attended school at Heath Clark Grammar and the Swan and Sugarloaf bus stop preceded my walk up Warham Road on the way to school. It was always an attractive building and I am pleased it is being preserved.
Sadly, Gregory, while the restoration work has been done to a very high standard, it has subsequently emerged that this has all been paid for by Tesco, who want to turn the building into one of its supermarkets, despite local opposition to its inappropriateness.