The Carlton Tavern is a historic building located in the London Borough of Kilburn, which was built in the 1920s. The brick-built tavern was the only one on the entire street to luckily survive the massive air raids on the city during World War II. In 2015, shocking news circulated through the British media: the almost century-old Carlton Tavern had been demolished! The illegal demolition sparked widespread outrage. The whole affair ended with the property owner being ordered to reconstruct the building “to the state it was in immediately prior to demolition”.
The Carlton Tavern was built for Charrington Brewery between 1920 and 1921, and stood on the site of another pub which was destroyed by a German bomb during a May 1918 raid. The building was famous for its unaltered original interiors and period furnishings, as well as its faience tiled facade. The pub was a unique and original testament to the old buildings of the area, which had disappeared from the hail of aerial bombs and fires. Shortly after it was made public that Historic England had recommended that the building be placed under Grade II listed conservation protection due to its historic and architectural value, it was unexpectedly demolished on 8 April 2015. The new owner of the building, Tel Aviv-based developer CLTX Limited, planned to build a several-storey residential block on the site of the former tavern.
The pub in 2013, before demolition. Photo by Ewan Munro from London, UK, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The developer’s unlawful actions have sparked protests from residents and widespread outrage. One Westminster City Council councillor called the developer’s actions “an unlawful destruction of Westminster’s heritage”, while another said: “Westminster is the heart of the West End, not the Wild West”. Just a month after the controversial demolition, on 5 May 2015 the city council issued an unprecedented order for the building to be reconstructed “to the condition it was in immediately prior to demolition – brick by brick”, within 18 months. Fortunately, the UK government’s public body, Historic England, carried out an inventory of the pub on the occasion of the work carried out to protect the conservation of the monument. In addition to photographic documentation, insightful and accurate sketches were made of the interior layout, furnishings, decor, the appearance of the faience tiles and other original details, so that a full knowledge of the architecture of the demolished building was available.
Carlton Cavern after demolition and after reconstruction. Photo by Martin Hearn, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons and Stephen McKay / The Carlton Tavern, Maida Vale
At the same time, officials prevented the developer from being able to sell the plot before the reconstruction was completed. The developer appealed both the refusal to grant planning permission for the block and the order to reconstruct the tavern. The matter went to the Planning Inspectorate, which rejected both of the developer’s appeals, while extending the time given for reconstruction to 24 months. In October 2016, it was reported that a meeting had taken place between the developer and the City Council to discuss the reconstruction of the landmark. Construction work began in March 2017. In October, however, the developer submitted another application, this time for the possibility of changing the design so that the rebuilt tavern could accommodate three flats. This application was also rejected. By April 2019, most of the building was already standing, but it still remained unfinished for months. In an attempt to urge the developer on, Westminster City Council threatened him with further legal action. Eventually, the reconstructed building opened on 12 April 2021, one hundred years after the tavern began construction.
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