The History of the Morden Tavern

A pub fit for heroes

Dale L. Ingram (M.Sc)

This fine 1933 pub in the vernacular revival style by architect Sir Harry Redfern FRIBA for Truman Hanbury and Buxton’s Black Eagle Brewery has endured the vicissitudes of many suburban pubs since the inter-war heyday of pub building. Stripped and altered unsympathetically in 1962 and in 1974, it lost key parts of the wonderful historic interiors that Redfern and his contemporaries like Sidney Clark at Charrington’s, were famous for.

When built, it had four large and decorative marble fireplaces, oak panelling, oak plank floors and specially designed lighting, bar and bar back, all now sadly lost. The loss of these decorative finishes and fittings, much to our chagrin, made an appeal against the Secretary of State’s refusal to 'list' the pub in September 2010, however illustrious the architect, impossible.

Listing, despite common perception, does not ‘preserve a building in aspic’ forever; it merely applies controls over changes that affect the things that make it special – mostly the physical materials it is made of, but often too its setting, or surroundings. What survives of ‘the Tav’ is the external walls, windows and roof,internal joinery on the ground floor and original early fittings and fixtures upstairs, such as fine blue and white tiles, enamel baths and Art Deco sinks in the bathrooms. Its plan form, of several public rooms grouped around a central bar area is fundamental to its design.. A really key part of its survival though is its setting- in a very large garden on a corner plot at a crossroads and on a social housing estate. These aspects of the site are most significant.

The Morden Tavern’s special qualities lie in two key features. The first is that it is a notable design by a versatile and highly regarded inter-war architect knighted for his contribution to architecture. More than that, he was particularly a specialist in pubs for interwar social housing estates, of which St Helier is the second largest by the London County Council (LCC)’s ‘Homes for Heroes’ initiative replacing inner London slums demolished as unfit for habitation during and after the First World War.

The second is that the Morden Tavern is the last surviving one of four specially-designed Refreshment Houses devised quite specifically for a purely domestic, residential setting and all by Redfern. Their intended purpose was to be a social focus essential to the happiness and well-being of the thousands of disparate residents newly arrived from inner-city slums and were thus removed from their previous social networks.

The 1930s ‘improved’ pub was no working-class beer house. These were a suburban phenomenon, specifically designed to be suitable for residential areas and for the needs of families. They were expected to make their living. The Morden Tavern was targeted to make the majority of its revenues  from the cooking and serving of meals. In addition, there were often dance halls, billiards rooms, children’s play rooms and external garden spaces similarly subdivided for eating, drinking and playing. Rooms could be hired for parties and events, and catering provided for a wide variety of community occasions from weddings to wakes, engagement parties to electioneering.

The Morden Tavern’s survival is down to the fact that for 77 successful years it was the focus of social activity in the St Helier community. Performing the role for which it was originally intended by the LCC and Sir Harry, the Tav is a local landmark, a rallying point, a place of relaxation, of refuge, of celebration, commiseration and commemoration.

Let's keep it that way.

(C) 2011 ConservationWorks (UK) Ltd. No portion of this work may be reproduced or circulated in any form without the author's consent in writing. No use may be made of this work by any party seeking planning consent in respect of the subject building or its site or any other building or site under any circumstances'
Dale Ingram MSc CHE Director ConservationWorks (UK) Ltd. (Mrs)

This page was added by Cheryl Bailey on 04/06/2011.

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