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A tale of two halves

Do you sometimes get that feeling? The one where you know something is just not quite right, but you can’t put your finger on why. It happened to me last week while wandering the streets.

I was out doing some research on a project I’ve undertaken, to catalogue all the pubs within the City boundaries and cross reference them again a book that I have that does the same, but was published fifty years ago.

I ambled along Bride Lane just off of Fleet Street, when I was met with a pub that for some reason I’d never encountered before, The Crown & Sugarloaf, it had a bland but quite pleasing frontage and looked less than modern. Well it would have been rude not to pop inside wouldn’t it?

Having got a drink I settled in the corner of a smallish oblong bar and had a look around me. It’s a lovely interior, lots of dark wood and a late Victorian feel about it, but something about the layout of the interior unsettled me and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Referring to my 1973 book I couldn’t find an entry for the pub which was slightly bemusing and so in the style of Mr Sherlock Holmes I settled down to try and get to the bottom of the matter, which was definitely a two pint problem. I won’t go through the delving on various websites, I’ll just cut to the chase.

There is no mention of the Crown & Sugarloaf in the 1973 publication. The pub itself has a long history but quite a modern story to tell. The reason that there is no mention of it is because it was at the time part of another pub. The book says, “The first door in Brides Lane, proclaims Pickwick Lounge”, that is the Pickwick Lounge that belongs to The Punch Tavern just around the corner in Fleet Street. If you can Imagine an “L” shaped interior you’ll get the lay of the land.

.At one time the two pubs existed separately one known as the Crown the other as the Sugarloaf. The pubs merged sometime in the early 1800s to be known as the Crown & Sugarloaf, however the freehold of the site remained in two separate parts. This hybrid establishment traded quite happily right up to the 1980s.The freehold of the pub remained split, and by then two thirds of the site had been acquired by the brewing company Bass. The remaining third was owned by a charitable trust. Both parties leased the pub out to Nicholson’s pub company who ran the establishment. The lease from the charitable trust to Nicholson’s ran out and was snaffled by Yorkshire brewers Samuel Smiths. So just to recap the pub is run by Nicholson’s although they only lease two thirds of the pub from Bass, the other third of the pub is leased from the charitable trust by rival brewery Samuel Smiths.

Smith’s then decide that they wish to sell their beers and set up a separate bar in their part of the building only selling their own products. There appears to something of a Mexican standoff and it is Nicholson’s that blink first, deciding it is not worth carrying on and quit the remaining two thirds of the pub that they lease.

Smith’s probably plan to take on the lease for the whole pub, but this is scuppered when Bass take on the two thirds they owned, and this is the point when things get farcical. The unwary visitor was probably bemused to find requests for the competitions brew met by a curt refusal and directions to the other bar. From a customer viewpoint was there a difficulty in purchasing your pint of Bass and then finding their part of the bar busy moving to the Smith’s sector and vice versa? Also, I also wonder if there was an amount of hard sell, “Pint of Bass, are you sure?, Try this nut brown Yorkshire Ale, it’s much nicer”. From a practical perspective it seems a nightmare. The Punch had a barrel drop in Fleet Street, but to get their barrels to their cellar they had to be trundled down a corridor owned by Smith’s, Smith’s however had no barrel drop of their own and have to rely on the good will of Bass to use theirs, so probably there was some kind of working arrangement, but there were certainly problems, as after lengthy discussions over the running of the pub between the two parties the pub was closed in 1997.

Bass build a new barrel drop and cellar access and refurbish their two thirds, building a wall between the two bars. Bass own the rites to the name “Punch Tavern” and so claim it for their portion of the building which reopens around 1999. The Smith’s section remains closed for several years and is finally opened as The Crown & Sugarloaf in 2004, and that is where we find ourselves today.

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