I had an idle interweb search yesterday, as I am inclined to do. The subject of my search was pubs that have been on the list at some point to see what has become of them.
I started with the Prince of Wales which was a lovely, if somewhat decrepit, building. The Prince was a good size property with parking, gardens and some seven bedrooms. Opposite a royal residence it was held on the remainder of an 800 year lease from the crown estate at a passing rent of £25 paid every 6 months. I rather fancied a cheque book full of stubs marked ‘HRH’ and imagine telling HMRC that you were short because you “had to pay Liz”. There were a lot of issues with the building when I viewed although the potential was clear to see.
An inquisitive finger went right through a ground floor window frame. I was also advised that one particular box seat is never removed because they receive electric shocks from it. This was a real community pub, in a less than flourishing community. When I visited with my son we really struggled to leave having made friends with customers and staff alike. One key feature that amused me was the bust stop opposite. When the school bus dropped off the children would peer in the window and some, finding their parents at the bar, would enter to collect sweet shop money! A lack of trading figures and a significant need for investment meant that my offer did not grab the attention of the PubCo disposal team and I parked it for later review. Shortly after I saw that it had sold and this was the first search to see what had become of it. The premises were purchased by a leisure group whose name is identical to one that seems intent on land banking in my beloved Sandown, not sure if they are one and the same.
The building has been refreshed and the kitchen re commissioned which shows a real investment. On top of this the accommodation has been refurbished into letting rooms each named after a royal child. The old girl looks great and it is clear that real investment has been made, I hope that this is a real future investment and not a ploy to disguise land banking. I wonder if they use the provision in their licence, by royal prerogative, that they may trade throughout the night when fishing competitions are being judged?
Turning to the next pub, the one that demonstrated the dream could be had, I had an immediate hit. The premises are back on the market for a figure that shows my previous offer to be acceptable. The Bonny, you may recall, had issues with parking which, in an area with restricted parking made the site untenable for a single operator. This is a another beautiful building a grade 2 listed former masonic hotel with, as I recall, 8 bedrooms.
When I first looked at this property I fell in love and thankfully the original owner was selling land to the rear. Apparently he had separated the plot when he sold with the intention of building on the tiny plot to the rear. I had draft plans for a small garage and parking for two cars outlined and a solicitor engaged for the conveyance. It is always difficult to purchase two plots separately when they are tied to the end plan but I figured that in the worse case I had to out the land at a later date. I think there was some conversation between the two vendors, the vendor of the land worked in the pub on Sundays, because ‘out of the blue’ I was gazumped on the land.
Some painful negotiations resulted in me offering a best and final against both packages, to be split however the vendors agreed. This presents a legal challenge in conveyancing but I agreed to fund that side of matters. It was a tough and emotive negotiation on both sides but you have to stick to your business plan and stop your heart writing cheques. The vendor chose to take the pub off the market, by this time we were mid summer season, based on the business doing well. I have seen what passes as the books and the business was far from healthy, I suspect that more family support was offered. This is what happens when emotion overtakes business, the summer is a tease that draws you into throwing more of your life and your cash at a failed dream.
Given my current situation I had no choice but to subdue my immediate urge to make an anonymous offer. I know of a parking solution fairly local that would ease the situation if not totally resolve it. I did look at the updated pictures on the agents site and they confirmed that additional family have moved in. They also showed that the trading side is still is eclectic and confused as before. I sat on my hands yesterday, I know that I cannot make a move just now. But this is a slow and difficult market, who is to say that fate has not just started the prologue to the next chapter of my story?
I know that in an odd way this has lifted a dark mood today. Try as I might the journey has been consumed with an undertone of cellar limitations, letting room conversions and bar reorganisation. Above all this is how I know I will achieve my goal, when something consumes you this much it is only a matter of time.
I remember calling Andrew from a local pub to discuss the Bonny and he remarked that I had found my pub. I remember the warmth of the building and I remember feeling at home there. Who is to say whether it us that choose the venue or the venue that chooses us. . . .