What’s it named after? Lewisham’s old village green was known as Watch House Green. It’s now buried under the high street.
What’s the carpet like?
Ah, Lewisham. Still lively after all these years of being recommended as The Next Big Place. We’ll have to see what effect the new tower blocks by the station will have here, if the disastrous new road system surrounding them doesn’t put buyers – sorry, investors – off.
Lewisham town centre doesn’t have much on offer in the evening these days. The construction of the Docklands Light Railway saw two pubs demolished, while their replacement, the miserable Market Tavern – which opened under the brilliant name “Quaggy Duck”, then dived downhill – didn’t survive the smoking ban. And it’s winter, so there’s no Model Market. The tiny Joiners Arms battles on.
Right now, all the action’s further south, towards the hospital, with the venerable Fox and Firkin (who remembers when it brewed its own beer?) and Antic’s Ravensbourne Arms, which was a welcome revamp of the grotty old Coach and Horses.
But that’s about to change, with some sad news having broken just a few days ago – the Ravensbourne is closing after just five years (be quick – its last night is tonight, 30 October). The picture’s not quite clear, but it appears Antic got planning permission for flats above the pub, then sold it.
What we do know, though is that Antic is planning to move up the high street to reopen the Market Tavern as EH Hadley (named after local landowners) in 2017. What was wrong with the name Quaggy Duck, eh?
For now, your options at the top end of Lewisham High Street are basically The Watch House and McDonald’s. And they’ve a fair amount in common…
On a Sunday afternoon, there are loads of comings and goings at The Watch House. Just like McDeez.
But unlike McDeez, the staff don’t seem able to cope with this. At half-past two, we get served instantly. Half-an-hour later, we get ignored as new visitors arrive around us. The chilly welcome is reinforced by icy air conditioning blasts. This isn’t going well. Maybe there’s a reason for so few people hanging around.
We’re back in traditional Spoons design – dark wood, stained glass windows, too many tables, “MFC” etched into a table, a carpet that looks like it’s seen better days, shelves full of fake books. There’s a side room full of alcoves for diners, or those that like the smell of other people’s food. A griffin sits in the fireplace – no idea what that’s about, and we don’t fancy asking.
On the other side of the pub, a discreet plaque above where the empty glasses go marks the life of an old regular with the lyrics from Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight, an earworm we could do without.
The local history panels celebrate the old mills of Lewisham and Victorian reformist Samuel Smiles – we wonder what this man of thrift would have made of a Sunday in the Spoons. The Watch House’s origins as one of the area’s earliest Wetherspoons (it opened in July 1997) is betrayed by panels commemorating General Gordon, Charlton House and the Thames Barrier – subjects all closer to The Great Harry in Woolwich.
Incongruously, there also photos of other Wetherspoons opened at around the same time – Petts Wood’s Sovereign of the Seas makes us wistful, but the Berkeley in Clifton, Bristol and the Rhinoceros in Rotherham? (Planning a holiday? We checked, they’re still open.)
It’s the Watch House’s customers that are making our afternoon. No, we don’t mean the angry-looking man sitting reading a Wetherspoon News with arms crossed.
Nor do we mean the tracksuited lads playing videos on their phone loudly in the dining area, with a middle-class family in the next alcove trying their best to ignore them. And we also don’t mean the man who bellows “oh fuck off!” when he drops a chip, before retrieving it and placing it back on his plate.
Maybe we mean the football blokes gathering before heading off elsewhere (“West Ham robbers!” yells one at his mate, presumably referring to the previous day’s late winner at the Olympic Stadium). And the elderly man shuffling across the pub with half a stout and a coffee.
Because despite everything, there’s a real south London bonhomie going on here among the customers that are sticking around. An elderly man in a flat cap is having a cheery chat with a middle-aged group about his army days.
“How long do you reckon I’ll live? I’ll be 90 in December!”, he says.
“My wife’s already digging the hole in the garden for me! Right by the potatoes!”, his younger friend says. But there’s something else: “I’ll be 50 on the first day of December, you’ll be 90 on more or less the last day… let’s have a joint party!”
If they have that party, we’d love to come. We might even give The Watch House a second chance for it. Especially now the Ravensbourne Arms has closed…