Heritage: The Clifton in St John’s Wood gets new lease of life

It will be a relief to many that a watering hole in St John’s Wood dating back more than 200 years will stand to serve another pint on May 2.

The Clifton in Clifton Hill is being given a new lease of life by Hampstead born brothers Ben and Ed Robson who are steering the pub while minding its rich historical importance to many in the area.

Ben said: “We looked into the pub before we got the lease. It pub dates back to 1820 – 1850 on a council demographic map and there are two versions of its history. It’s wasn’t a pub originally, it was a house which someone applied for an inn keeper licence.

“I’ve also been told it used to be an old hunting lodge which became an inn – maybe it’s a little bit of both.”

Christine Cowdray of the St John’s Wood Society said: “The Clifton pub was built in 1846 on a 99 year lease granted to Mr Thomas Barnett.”

“The Clifton was initially a hunting lodge until the merchant owner obtained an ale license and it became a pub.”

In Bertie: A Life of Edward V11 Professor Jane Ridley explains the area was popular with wealthy men who would bring their mistresses.

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Christine added: “Edward V11 conducted his affair with actress Lillie Langtry at the Clifton after they met at a Mayfair dinner party in 1877.

“As royalty was not permitted to frequent pubs, the King had the pub’s name changed to The Clifton Hotel and it has remained so ever since although locally it is referred to simply as The Clifton.”

In St John’s Memories, a website dedicated to the history of the area, Louise Brodie, tells of her interviews with residents of Clifton Hill.

Of Allen Lydon, who moved from Ireland to Kilburn with his family in the 1950’s she said: “Allen remembers the Clifton pub, where all generations were welcome. There were many characters who met there, artists, musicians, manual labourers, gays, eccentrics.

“They closed at 2pm and again at 11pm, so you knew when to find people there. Many people, such as construction workers, got paid in the pub on a Friday night. Allen feels that there is less atmosphere with pubs open all day now.”

The atmosphere did change, and not in the most positive of ways.

In 2002 local residents set up the Clifton Hill and Springfield Road Residents Association to counter the rise in crime and antisocial behaviour in the area which they largely attributed to the pub.

The Clifton Hotel was bought by a foreign investor in December 2013 and closed without warning just days before Christmas – which led to a showdown between rival camps. Those that wanted a pub and those that didn’t.

Campaigners came out in force to protect the pub, which was listed as an Asset of Community Value in 2015, while local residents battled for peace and quiet.

Last March objectors to a new licence wrote to Westminster saying: “The local residents breathed a sigh of relief when the previous premises (The Clifton) finally shut its doors for good in December 2013.

Prior to the closure, there had been regular occurrences of crime and disorder with abusive language from revelers[sic], urination and vomiting in the street and residents’ cars being vandalised. There have also been occasions where single women, walking alone at night, have felt threatened by the abusive and disorderly conduct of patrons.”

Last summer the Robson brothers bought the lease for 20 years bringing with them a wealth of experience and bags of ideas from managing the Horseshoe Pub in Hampstead together.

They are retaining original features such as fireplaces and wood panelling that are synonymous with this traditional pub and serving up hearty meals.

St John’s Wood historical watering hole saved.

For more information go to the cliftonnw8.com