Historic pub continues to evade closure

Pic: Ewan Munro

Pic: Ewan Munro

A 600-year-old Stepney pub and iconic music venue has been given a new lifeline, thanks in part to a humble stairway – the latest twist in an eight-year dispute over planning permission.

The George Tavern, of Commercial Road, has been involved in a planning row with property developers Swan Housing since 2008 over the proposal of a six-flat development to be built on the site of the adjacent Stepney’s Nightclub – now derelict.

The “totally unique and enchanting” Grade-II listed venue’s case was heard in the Court of Appeals yesterday after a 2014 ruling found there was no conflict between the pub and the proposed developments.

The pub stands alone three floors tall, and the resulting 360 degrees of light have also made it a popular venue for location photoshoots and films.

Whilst the issue of noise was most pressing in court, it was found that a previous inspection failed to address this as a second source of revenue. The court heard that the new development would block light coming into the pub’s “beautiful” stairway, which was “featured in every photoshoot and film.”

Representing pub owner and artist Pauline Forster, 67, Annabel Graham-Paul said: “It was a serious omission not to deal with the location business.

“Revenue from the location business pays for the pub’s mortgage, upkeep and restoration,” she said.

Richard Brown, speaking for Swan Housing, said: “The effects are negligible…this is a subsidiary part of a subsidiary issue.”

Left to right, Dario Vigoritto (friend), Pauline Forster (owner), Everest Wilson (Pauline's son/sound engineer) Pic: Joanna Turner

Left to right, Dario Vigoritto (friend), Pauline Forster (owner), Everest Wilson (Pauline’s son/sound engineer) Pic: Joanna Turner

In a story that has become commonplace in east London, the court also heard that just one noise complaint could seriously jeopardise the pub’s 3am music license, which is its bread and butter.

Despite serious noise levels coming from the pub – which has been used as a live music venue since Forster bought it at auction in 2002 – inspectors found noise levels to be acceptable for a residential development.

This was thrown into question when Graham-Paul raised the issue of open windows, and balconies which would be located “directly above the beer garden.”

Lords Justice Laws, Justice McFarlane and Justice Christopher Clarke presided over the case. They reserved their decision for the time being.

The George Tavern has been frequented by celebrities and hosted many world famous bands such as Pete Doherty and Nick Cave. A previous planning application by Swan in 2008 saw a huge outcry, including the creation of the famous “Save the George Tavern” t-shirts worn by Kate Moss and Amy Winehouse amongst others. Several supporters wearing the t-shirts were present at the hearing.

Steeped in history, it was allegedly referenced by Chaucer, Dickens and Samuel Pepys but its date of construction is unknown,

James Ketchel, founder of charity Music Heritage UK, said: “The George Tavern is a crucial grassroots music venue and cultural hub giving a stage to countless up and coming bands, and is a vital asset to the local community.

“Pauline Forster has opened up her pub and venue to musicians, artists, actors, poets and performers for over 10 years, while resorting the Grade-II listed building to its former glory. For all of this to be threatened for the sake of a handful of “luxury” flats is a crying shame.”

“Music Heritage UK is proud to be supporting her campaign to keep live music and performance at the George, in what is, let’s be frank, a cultural desert.”

The next event in the campaign to raise awareness and secure the venue’s future is the “Save the George Tavern” festival, taking place from June 24 to 27.


  1. India Cummins June 10, 2016
  2. Pauline Forster July 1, 2016

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