Historic pub turns new page

by Enjoli Liston

From barrow boys to brokers, sausage-makers to solicitors: 120 loyal punters of one of Southwark’s oldest pubs have been photographed for a commemorative book to mark its impending closure. 

Over 750 people came to The Wheatsheaf pub opposite Borough Market on Wednesday night, to celebrate the book’s launch – and to raise their glasses in fond farewell as the boozer will soon be bulldozed to make way for a Network Rail expansion project. 

wheatsheafextpub-11The pub has attracted a wide range of customers over the years since it’s so close to the city and right next to the capital’s famous food market. It’s this diversity that local photographer and Wheatsheaf regular John Ross wanted to capture and celebrate in the book titled RIP The Wheatsheaf – Portrait of a Pub’, which manager Danny Campbell called the “perfect tribute” to its spirit. 

All of the book’s contributors were locals of Borough Market, but the local bond isn’t confined to the pages of this book: all of the estimated £10,000 proceeds from sales of the book will go to Southwark children’s charity Kids Company. Renowned jazz saxophonist Benn Clatworthy, a long time patron himself, was even flown all the way from Los Angeles to play at the goodbye bash. 

As part of Network Rail’s £5.5 billion Thameslink project and an area regeneration scheme, a viaduct will be built straight through the 230-year-old pub’s second floor. Despite the plans sparking a public enquiry, planning permission was granted and major building work will continue until 2011. 

A media spokesperson for Network Rail defended the line, saying it would “offer commuters a much better service.” But Barry Newbury, another of the book’s stars, takes the train and said: “I really don’t care about waiting an extra five minutes for a train. I’d much rather have this place [The Wheatsheaf].” 

It’s not just The Wheatsheaf that will suffer from the project though. Mr. Ross, whose studio is also just opposite the market, said: “This place is beautiful, stunning. Yet, by next year Network Rail will have carved straight through it. I’m very saddened and disappointed by it.” 

Sadness probably should have been rife as drinkers bade farewell to one of their favourite alcoholic landmarks, but that wouldn’t be in keeping with character of the pub, said Tony the landlord. “We want to go out with a bang, not a whimper,” he said. 

And that The Wheatsheaf certainly did.

(Photo credit: Isabella Panattoni)

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