Owner of Jack Straw's Castle appeals for a new buyer after 20 years
PUBLISHED: 10:00 14 November 2019
The owner of a Hampstead landmark is casting around for a buyer and Heathside School is still in discussions about moving in, the Ham&High has learned.
The Grade II-listed Jack Straws Castle has not operated as a pub since 2002 and was the subject of a string of abortive planning applications over the past two years.
In November last year the 1960s building was shifted down to a subsidiary, Albany Homes (Jack Straws) Limited, at a stated price of £45,000.
When contacted by the Ham&High, the owner of the Highgate-based firm, Barry Angel, confirmed the company's plans to sell.
He said: "We'd love a commercial user to come and take over. It's in our hearts living locally to keep this landmark building in its full glory.
"It's a fantastic location. Over the years there has been a restaurant and a gym, and it's sad that commercially it has had its hiccups.
"We've got it on the market now but no-one is interested. Anything that's started has fallen through; a lot of people are worried about economic uncertainty and business rates have caused many people to go the other way."
In the last two years Albany Homes has attempted to build two homes in the car park and then to convert the vacant ground floor into flats, but the plans were either not approved by Camden Council or withdrawn.
In February this year Heathside Preparatory School, which is spread across six sites in Hampstead and has more than 500 pupils on roll, applied for a change of use to develop "a best-in-class learning environment for some of our current classes".
The application was met with dozens of objections from residents and stakeholders, who mostly cited traffic concerns.
The school's former parent company Remus White Limited went into liquidation in July but the Ham&High can reveal new owner Dukes Education is still considering trying to move in.
In September headteacher Kate Vintiner met with City of London planners and Mr Angel said he and the owner were in "ongoing discussions".
Aatif Hassan, chairman and founder of Dukes, said: "Our initial plan at Heathside was always to focus on educational quality, compliance and our staff. We have made huge progress in these areas.
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"We are now turning our attention to the buildings, improving the existing portfolio as well as evaluating other possible premises nearby. We cannot comment on individual projects but these are all at very early stages."
Until the turn of the century pub had been based on the land, one of the highest points in London, since 1713, with the likes of Charles Darwin and Karl Marx said to have been regular visitors.
The current structure is a 1962 replica designed by architect Raymond Erith after the original was destroyed by fire.
In 2001 the building was purchased by Albany from Bass Holdings Limited, an arm of the now-defunct Bass brewing company, and was given permission to convert the upstairs into 11 flats.
Architectural heritage group the Twentieth Century Society announced that winter: "The Society opposed in the strongest terms the proposal to convert the listed pub into a mixed-use development. The fittings inside the building are original and nearly everything has survived virtually unchanged."
By the following year the pub had closed and the ground floor was converted into a family-friendly restaurant, then controversially became a gym in 2008.
In 2017 the gym closed and owners were granted permission by Camden Council to turn it into offices. An application that year to build two four-storey homes on the car park was withdrawn after being decried as "visually intrusive" by the City of London.
David Castle, chair of the Heath and Hampstead Society's planning subcommittee, said: "They were right on the edge of the Heath. Camden's Local Plan is very strict about building there.
"The building used to be the centre of the Heath and now it's really quiet. I think a coffee bar would be nice; somewhere you could eat or drink. That's what it was built for."
Hampstead Town councillor Maria Higson was one of the parties who objected to Heathside's application, which is still open.
She said: "The Hampstead Neighbourhood Plan says, and the feeling amongst many residents is, that we don't want any more schools in general.
"It's a really narrow artery leading up to Jack Straw's Castle and there is no room for error there regarding traffic issues. It would just be too much."
For her part, she said, she would like to see the ground floor turned into a flexible space for local businesspeople to hold meetings.
She said: "I'd love a space for entrepreneurs. We have a few cafes and restaurants in Hampstead but my preference would be something designed for adults."