Peckham’s historic Montague Arms calls time
Campaigners say that pubs in rented buildings have little protection from being redeveloped.
Peckham’s Montague Arms has closed its doors amid fears its days as a live music venue are numbered.
In January staff at the pub on Queens Road, Peckham, were told the pub’s owner had to sell up after a rise in rent to its freeholders.
With little notice, managers Ester Van Kempen and Dean McMullen were forced to let go all the pub’s eight bar staff, cancel a fully booked six month gig schedule, and tell club night promoters the venue would no longer be available.
A Change.org petition set up by club promoter James Howard two weeks ago, imploring the new owners to keep the venue as a live music venue, has received almost 8,000 signatures.
But so far there has been no response from new proprietor Chapman & Winney Ltd.
Ms Van Kempen said she had heard unconfirmed reports from people who saw building work take place that the historic pub’s stage had already been dismantled.
Ms Van Kempen told the News: “It is just frustrating. They haven’t thought about the community.
“In the UK 35% of small live music venues have closed and now we have lost another. A gentrified gastro pub is not what we need.”
The pair are also unsure whether the new pub will offer them and their staff jobs, and feel stuck in limbo.
The pub has already risen from the ashes once before. Since 1967 the pub had gained a cult following under the tenure of owner Peter Hoyle and managers Stan and Bet Powell.
The family boozer was as famous for the cult bands it attracted as it was for the quirky, macabre décor – including human skeletons.
The NME had interviewed Nick Cave and Shane McGowan in the pub, which regularly topped lists like the Rough Pub Guide Book, and was once described by The Sun as one of the nation’s ‘strangest, and best, boozers’.
In 2012, after its owners died, The Montague Arms opened under the management of Noel Gale, owner of Oval’s The Brown Derby.
The pub’s new incarnation became a bastion for the gay, lesbian, transgender and self-proclaimed queer community, holding a monthly club night called Passionate Necking.
Organiser Natalie Healey, who started the monthly night three years ago with Alex Collinson, said: “We absolutely loved our regular crowd and we’re so grateful for the friendly people who would turn up every month covered in glitter and ready to dance the night away.
“The Montague Arms allowed people to take over the place for the night – regardless of whether that was to put on gigs, club nights, or comedy shows – and make it their own space. It was unpretentious and allowed anyone to put on their event without charging ridiculous fees. Closing LGBTQ spaces limits the number of places people in this community can go to feel safe and comfortable and enjoy themselves, which sadly just isn’t always possible in mainstream venues.
“The Montague Arms didn’t tolerate homophobia and transphobia and it was a Good Night Out venue. This meant it was dedicated to dealing with, tackling and preventing harassment of all kinds. It really made a difference knowing that the venue’s management and staff would take it seriously if something happened on the night to make you uncomfortable.”
Beverley Whitrick, Strategic Director for the Music Venue Trust, said the charity supported the campaign to save the pub as a music venue but warned that there was little they could do without the backing of its new owners.
“In a task force review in 2015 and 2016, the Montague Arms was highlighted as one of the grassroots music venues in London and identified as worthy of protection,” she said.
“It’s tragic but not much we can do at this point.
“The Greater London Authority has been hugely supportive and they understand all these issues, which is why Sadiq Khan has appointed Amy Lamé as the ‘night czar’.
“Sadly, music pubs have no protection because almost all of them operate in rented buildings. We wrote to the new owners in January saying we would very much like to talk to them about the importance of the pub as a music venue, but as yet we have not heard back.
“This is another case that highlights the challenge we face protecting our civic and cultural assets.
“We will continue to discuss developments with the Mayor’s office.”