Falcon Hotel Public House, 2 St Johns Hill, Clapham Junction, Battersea, London SW11

From a Draft Chapter 15 of the Survey of London:

“The Falcon is Battersea’s most prominent hostelry and perhaps the liveliest surviving specimen of the prolific London pub architect H. I. Newton’s designs. Built in 1882–3, it replaced an old inn of the same name.

That name presumably derived from the crest of the St John family. Though it is first found in 1733, it seems likely that it was applied to an inn or farmhouse that had existed well before then at this strategic crossing where the turnpike road passed over the Hydeburn brook, which at some point also took the inn’s name. The Falcon’s isolation made it a useful landmark, often cited in reports of attacks by highwaymen on travellers along the turnpike. A piece of whimsy led to the recording of the old inn’s appearance and setting. Its tenant under the Spencers from the 1780s was one Robert Death. Displayed on a signboard, the name looked comic enough to elicit some verses from Edward Trapp Pilgrim in the European Magazine in 1785 (‘Lines on a publican, named Death’), reprinted in 1801. The amateur artist John Nixon took up the joke, drawing a caricature that was reproduced in the magazine and, perhaps in its original form, displayed in the Falcon for years. It shows ‘Undertakers regaling themselves at Death’s Door Battersea Rise Surry’—no doubt a fictional scenario. The background is sylvan: trees shade the transom-windowed house, while travellers tackle St John’s Hill behind.

The Falcon changed hands three times in 1808–10 following the demise of Death and his widow, passing finally to John Alder, a Clapham victualler. Having acquired the freehold at the Spencer sale in October 1835, Alder extended the Falcon shortly afterwards, rebuilding or refronting it in brick with two canted bays, and converting the adjoining minor buildings on Falcon Lane into four cottages. Alder and his son George then leased the site to a succession of tenants, losing a small portion of the garden in 1863 to the West London Extension Railway. Their last lessee before redevelopment was George Ferris, who in the 1860s extended the frontage northwards with a plain stock-brick wing, and built six more small cottages in the garden, behind the Falcon brook, which shortly afterwards was suppressed into a sewer.

In a deal involving a new publican, John Tavener, and the local builder George Nathaniel Street, the site was reconfigured and the pub rebuilt in 1882–3 on a curving frontage at the corner. At the time a contributor to Notes and Queries contrasted the ‘very picturesque’ and ‘low-pitched’ old tavern recently removed with the ‘gin palace’ that had ‘just opened its palatial doors’.10 Street also bought the Falcon Lane cottages, rebuilding all but the largest as three-storey houses and shops. Before the last cottages could be demolished, one of Street’s new gable walls crashed on to them in a gale, burying the family of John Hemmersley (or Hammersley), ostler at the Falcon, just as he was reading to them ‘a letter that the old man had received from a soldier son in the Indies’. All were pulled out alive.

The pub itself was built to Newton’s designs by R. & H. Pickersgill. It is a robust piece of London pub architecture in the Franco-Italianate
taste, with cement dressings complementing the external brickwork, and a redundant mansard turret perched behind an ornamental gable at the corner. There was at first much pewterer’s work inside. The interior today may reflect alterations of 1896 by Turtle & Appleton, builders. Fluted cast-iron columns with capitals of various patterns open up the space and permit a central bar to serve two ample rooms, the back one having formerly been a billiard room. Florid oakwork is set off by fetching glass panels depicting falcons amid decorative patterns, and later vignettes of the pub at stages in its history. The
Falcon Hotel, as the new establishment was called, flourished under the
Taveners. In 1883–4 Pickersgill added for them a pair of three-storey houses and shops adjoining to the west, possibly also to Newton’s designs, at 4 & 6 St John’s Hill (since demolished). Six more went up in 1901 around the corner at 148–158 Falcon Road, on the site of Ferris’s old cottages. Mrs Tavener, by then widowed, also added a large billiard room at the rear of the pub, which by 1911 could boast a resident staff of a manager, eighteen barmaids and other servants, as well as John Tavener junior. Tavener finally sold the Falcon to the Wenlock Brewery in 1921 for £70,000, as much as £120,000 having reputedly been offered for it previously. Its success was put down squarely to its location: ‘The sources of trade were exceptional owing to its practically unopposed position’. The buildings added around the Falcon, including Mrs Tavener’s billiard room, were demolished in the early 1970s in anticipation of redevelopment, which came in the 1980s.”

From the Historic England entry:

“Late 19th Century. Purpose built hotel at corner of St John’s Hill and Falcon Road. Continuous frontage to both roads. With a total of 9 varied bays wide; 3 storeys plus garret. Red brick with stone enrichments. Ground floor public house facade with stone and granite pilasters. Central entrance on curve of the corner beneath semi-circular fanlight and prominent pediment.

Subsidiary entrances at each end.

Elaborate stone architraves to first and second floor windows. Iron window guards and stone pediments to second floor windows only. Giant pilasters with stylised Corinthian capitals run between first and second floors, supporting heavily bracketed cornice with a panelled brick parapet and stone ball decoration. The 3 entrances are accentuated at roof level by brick gables at each end decorated with stone copings and balls, and in the centre, by a truncated pyramidal roof surrounded by an iron balcony and flagstaff. Prominent chimneys. Internally rich with cut brilliant glass behind the bar display and in partitions between the bars. Leaded lights to the draught lobby, original mirrors and full-storey cast iron columns with stylised Corinthian capitals.”

From pubheritage.Camra.org.uk:

“A splendid, showy pub of 1887, handily placed for Clapham Junction station. The interior is extraordinary and its island servery and very tall back fitting (complete with office in the middle)

has the longest counter in Britain measured at the circumference.

This was originally just over 125ft, exceeding the famous long counter at the Horse Shoe Bar, Glasgow, which weighs in at just over 104ft. A rather tasteless and wider counter top added in 2014 at the rear has extended the circumference even more.

Much of the original arrangements survive. At the corner is a large public bar (originally with partitions) and at the rear a luxuriously panelled room (pity about the garish modern glass in the skylights).

On the left-hand side is a snug enclosed by a glazed screen.

Adjacent is a lobby where the original glass has portrayals of the eponymous falcon and the words ‘private bar’.

The most interesting glass is in the rear room, showing the pub in its humble predecessor states and its grander, present manifestation. You can see funeral corteges stopping off at ‘Death’s Door’, the nickname for the pub when the landlord was a Mr Death!”

“A passage with terrazzo floor and panelled walls including a large Old Bushmill’s whiskey mirror…
…leads to another set of double doors with deep etched and frosted ‘Billiards’ panels” (CAMRA)

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