Keeping the song alive

©Geoff Wilkinson©Geoff Wilkinson

After a brief closure last month, The Nightingale pub remains open for business. Now, chairman of the Wanstead Society Scott Wilding is leading a campaign to make the venue an Asset of Community Value.

As a regular in The Nightingale pub I, along with many, many others, were deeply saddened to hear that landlord Noel McMahon was unwell and had decided to close the pub at the end of September. He first opened the doors of The Nightingale as landlord in 1987, when I was still at Wanstead Church School!

So many people hoped this nightingale had not sung her last, and that Noel would get well soon. And thankfully, the pub reopened last week, and Noel continues his recovery.

Many, many people have fond memories of one of east London's last traditional pubs, which has stood on the site, in its current form, since 1851. It's no secret that traditional pubs are in decline all over the UK. But this little gem has been keeping locals watered for over 150 years and Noel, with his Irish roots, added a distinctive Celtic flavour to the venue, with Irish music every Wednesday night. Noel put the pub and us locals at the heart of his business, winning Redbridge in Bloom on numerous occasions, running charity fundraisers and donating to local causes.

The Nightingale's first known landlord was James Wyatt from Dorset, who had five children living over the pub, so the family theme has clearly run throughout its history. When the old Georgian houses that surrounded Nightingale Square were knocked down in the 1960s, the pub was under threat of also being removed, but somehow survived. It is the only building from the Victorian era to remain in Nightingale Square and was granted Grade II listed status, which offers some protection. This pub has also survived two world wars, seen six monarchs, 23 prime ministers and has been at the heart of the community since it opened.

Neal and Mary Grace of Addison Road, regulars since the 1980s, said: "It was with a heavy heart that Mary and I heard about the closing of The Nightingale. A great deal of our courtship was carried out there. The final part of my stag night was held in The Nightingale back in 1993."

There is, however, a future for The Nightingale, and we all wish Noel the very best of luck. However, this site could one day be a prime target for developers and that's why I'd like to make it an Asset of Community Value (ACV). This means if the site were ever under threat – and at the time of writing it isn't – the community would have the right to bid for it and run it, before anyone else. There is a precedent here. The Cricketers in Woodford Green has ACV protection, and many residents in Wanstead have already put their names to a petition to help begin this process. It may seem premature to go for ACV status, but this should be seen as a proactive response rather than a reactive one.

We have already lost so many traditional businesses in Wanstead, along with many architectural beauties, so it's better to try and protect what we have left before its too late.

Let's raise a glass (or two) to Noel, his family and to the future of The Nightingale.

The Nightingale pub is located at 51 Nightingale Lane, Wanstead, E11 2EY. For more information, call 020 8530 4540

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