Passion versus profit - protecting unique spaces

Blog — 19 Sep 2023

The news that the India Club has closed after 60 years is another nail in the coffin of authentic London. There are sadly very few of these independent, quirky, and eccentric places left in the city, Gordons Wine Bar, Bradleys Spanish Bar, and Ye Olde Mitre spring to mind.

The club (It is not a membership club) was located on the Strand, just across the road from the Indian High Commission and it became a meeting place for visiting Indian politicians' dignitaries, and latterly a much-loved independent restaurant and bar. Located through an anonymous door on The Strand and up a narrow flight of stairs it was not obvious and therefore attracted a loyal and regular clientele, especially with Kings College and the LSE as neighbours.

The India Club

Simpsons Tavern is another uniquely London establishment in the heart of the atmospheric lanes off Leadenhall Street. One of London’s Chophouses (1757) serving old school English food in no fuss timber booths. Sadly, the landlord has forced this unique bit of old London to close too, there is a campaign to re-open it, but unfortunately, as with the India Club, shows of popular support and online campaigns are often not enough to save these venues when landlords see them as development opportunities.

Simpsons Tavern, Ball Court, 38½ Cornhill, London

The problem hit the headlines recently with The Crooked House pub near Dudley, although this has rather more sinister and criminal overtones. It is a pub I visited many years ago which became a landmark in the Black Country, it still served its community until its recent closure. An attempt at listing was turned down and within weeks it mysteriously caught fire and was demolished. An act of cultural vandalism.

The erosion of character and the emergence of a homogenous global city seems irreversible. As architects we all benefit from the development of our towns and cities, and good architects have a sense of responsibility, balancing the commercial needs of the client with the community that the building sits within. As a practice, we are fortunate that our clients do get that, but there are many, often smaller “developers” and landlords who have no sense of social responsibility and no respect for the heritage of the buildings they own, Piloti in Private Eye has fought this corner for many years.

A boutique hotel will replace the India Club, and will no doubt pay significantly more rent, but it will not enrich or add anything back to the city. These sort of venues are easy pickings for landlords who can leverage the rent and clear a decent profit.

It is difficult to find solutions, but planning and protected uses must be in the mix. The problem is exacerbated by the cost of maintaining listed or historic buildings, the requirement to upgrade energy performance, fire protection and accessibility only adds more burdens on the building owner. Furthermore , much of our heritage is at risk from redundancy of use, churches, department stores and cinemas for example. Watch how many churches will mysteriously catch fire in the coming years.

I suppose it comes down to political will, and the over-stretched resources of local government which seems to prefer to prioritise taxpayers’ money on politically eye catching and self-serving schemes and projects rather than preserving the heritage and cultural history of the community assets that make our towns and cities liveable.

Le Caprice

However, in amongst this gloom, there is a rare piece of good news. Our old friend and client Jeremy King has negotiated the lease back for Le Caprice, a cherished London icon that he started with Chris Corbin in the 1980’s and featured an interior by Eva Jiricna. We look forward to booking a table soon.