Tumbledown Features in CAMRA’s News & Ale

I was in the Prince of Wales the other night, chatting with random locals, as you do, when I was handed a copy of the local Surrey/Hants Branch of CAMRA’s News & Ale magazine. The feature that I was supposed to read was about the rise of microbreweries in Ireland but, as I thumbed through the rest of the mag, I spied this little number:

CAMRA's News and Ale - Fight to Save the Tumbledown

Here’s the full transcript:

The Fight to Save the Tumbledown Dick

By Fran Beauchamp

Driving past the landmark heritage building along the main Farnborough Road, Farnborough, Hants, back in October 2012, the Tumbledown Dick Pub was a very sorry sight indeed. A once thriving public house, hotel and live music venue it had been closed by the brewery since 2008 and had been left to fall into semi-dereliction by the leaseholders, Spirit Pub Company, and no action to intervene had been taken by the freeholders, Bride Hall, a wealthy firm of city developers.

This building means a lot to the people of Farnborough, afterall it has been standing since before Farnborough was even built and served as a Coaching Inn and Posting House, from the days of highwaymen and long and dangerous journeys from London to the ports of Southampton and Portsmouth by coach and horses. The Tumbledown Dick was a stopping place of safety for passing travellers and eventually a town sprung up around it. Over the next few hundred years, the building was used by the Army for passing out celebrations, by the gentry as a nice hotel, by the Masons who formed masonic lodges within it and of course by local people. This changed again in the 20th Century when local people used the venue hall on the side of the pub to host live music nights and The Jam played here 13 times in 1975 just before they were signed. Not only The Jam, but also the Buzzcocks, the Vapors and latterly, bands such as A Hundred Reasons and Reuben.

It also hosted a very popular nightclub on Friday nights called Quarantine which was extremely popular and to this day local people talk about how much they miss the pub and venue for the live music and entertainment it once offered the town and has not been replaced. Plus of course the pub had history, it was unique and we were proud to have it in our town on the main road in the town centre. After it was closed, a lot of people lobbied local council to find out what the plans were for it. Spirit Group said they were going to spend £1million on a refurb, well that didn’t materialise and the pub stayed empty and was eventually boarded up and a sad sight it is on a main road location.

So that day in October, having seen new evidence that all the trees had been cut down, some of which were over 300 years old and new perimeter security fencing had been erected, I felt the site looked as if it was being prepared for demolition. I drove home immediately and started a Facebook page ‘Save the Tumbledown Dick Pub & Live Music Venue’. Within a matter of weeks the page had been shared literally hundreds of times by local people and we had thousands of people involved who supported our campaign to Save the Tumbledown. We put people in teams to carry out Heritage Research, put together Business Plans and formed a committee and called ourselves ‘Friends of the Tumbledown Dick’ and set ourselves up as a Community Interest Company with aims to acquire the building and renovate it as a community run pub and hoped to use the new legislation under the Localism Act to help us achieve this. It was at this point we discovered the pub had been sold to McDonald’s by Bride Hall. This was devastating news and after some research and Freedom of Information Requests with the local council, Rushmoor, we discovered that plans were afoot to completely demolish this heritage building and replace it with a large 2 storey box for a huge drive-thru. We were appalled, not least because Farnborough already has a major McDonald’s drive-thru just over a mile up the road and the town is already suffering from obesity problems and has a considerable number of fast food outlets already, including a number directly opposite the Tumbledown, family run businesses that would undoubtedly be forced out of business if this scheme goes ahead.

We reacted immediately and applied for the pub to become an Asset of Community Value (ACV) with Rushmoor Borough Council which has been granted, however this will not necessarily save the building. The sale with McDonald’s is still in place and if their planning permission is granted by the local planning department we will lose this building forever. We lobbied parliament and our MP Sir Gerald Howarth met with McDonald’s, they agreed to keep the façade of the building but the rest would be demolished and rebuilt to suit their scheme for a 2 storey drive-thru but more in keeping with the existing building.

Sir Gerald is content with this as a result, we however are not, we want to keep our pub and we don’t need or want a 2nd drive-thru in a town centre location. We have already had a couple of large public demonstrations outside the pub and now a rally is being organised on Sat 9 March from The Tumbledown up to the McDonald’s in Farnborough Gate. The Tumbledown is in the local paper nearly every week thanks to our campaigning and we have recently been the subject of a BBC documentary for ‘Inside Out’ due to the amazing community involvement. We are also lobbying council to add the building to their Local List of Buildings of Importance as we are at a loss to understand how such an old and important building could have been excluded.

So at the time of writing, we are now awaiting the final plans to be submitted to Rushmoor Borough Council and we are hoping to lobby council directly to listen to our business plan, if they reject the planning, we will get the opportunity to fundraise and bid on the building as a community group, for the benefit of the people of Farnborough. I don’t think many people can say that another huge drive-thru restaurant will benefit anyone other than the profit margins of an international fast food chain and a city developer, the people of Farnborough will be the losers. As daunting an opponent as McDonald’s undoubtedly are, we will not stand by and watch them destroy this heritage and unique pub and music venue without a fight to the last. Nearly 4,000 Rushmoor residents agree!

Cool huh? You can pick up CAMRA Surrey/Hants Borders’ “News & Ale” magazine from any decent real ale pub in the area or download the PDF version here. Thanks again to Paul Cowper of CAMRA SHB.

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