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Former Wanderers HQ lost to developers
(Research, memories and words by Paul Lewis - First published 16th July 2016)
A former headquarters of the Wycombe Wanderers has been lost to developers who will build 21 flats on the site with an estimated market value of £5million. The Nag's Head Public House in London Road, High Wycombe was the HQ of the Wanderers between 1889 and 1897 and was the venue for many significant meeting and social gathering in the early years of the Club as they progressed from a junior to senior club.
The pub would later become a significant live music venue - peaking in popularity during the 1960's and 1970's when it hosted a string of top names from Status Quo to the S*x Pistols; Jethro Tull to the Jam and Hawkwind to Howard Jones. It was condemned to the blight of the property developer in 2012 when, despite the best efforts of local tenants to bring the venue back to its former glory, it was the combination of former mis-management, Pub-Co restrictions and Council red-tape that has seen this long standing community hub and historic building lost to the blandness of bedsit surburbia.
Wanderers first used The Nag's Head as their HQ in 1889 after they had been enticed by the pub's landlord Bill Pearce. Built just five years previous, Pearce had offered the Nag's Head, directly opposite The Rye where Wanderers played, as a place to change and gather before games. According to Ted Rolph's history of the Club published in 1957; "Playing space was limited on the Rye because of the conditions prevailing and there was keen competition to obtain a pitch. An unwritten law prevailed in those days governing the right to a pitch. It was required that the goalpostsshould be put up immediately after the Wycombe Parish Church clock had chimned midnight on the Friday prior to the game. As in present days, there were people who did not respect the rules and it was a common occurence to find the goalposts thrown into the middle of the Dyke [the manmade lake on the far side of The Rye. Rivalry was most intense and to uproot goalposts was a favourite way of expressing it."
With Wanderers homed up in The Nag's Head, they had the perfect location to plant their goalposts in a prime spot as soon as the clock had struck midmight and then have the luxury of a potential lookout post. Landlord Pearce would go on to become the first real treasurer of the Club as support increased for the team, who sonn went on to be described as the 'premier football club of the town'.
The Nag's Head remained the HQ of the Club despite a brief move to playing at Spring Gardens. A meeting their on 20th July 1894 passed a motion that would see the Club take part in Senior competitions for the first time. A year later on the 8th July 1895 a Special General Meeting was held at The Nag's Head to discuss a new ground, plus a vote for the Wanderers to enter the English Challenge Cup (F.A.Cup) for the first time. The latter vote was carried, while Loakes Park was eventually proposed as the site of the new pitch and carried unanimously at the AGM at The Nag's on 26th August 1895.
The Nag's Head was retained again as the Club's HQ following the move to Loakes Park for the start of the 1895/96 season but The Red Lion, in the High Street, was used for changing facilities. The Nag's Head was eventually dropped as an HQ for the 1897/98 season with landlord Bill Pearce 'heartedly thanked' for the use of his premises for the previous eight years.
The halcyon period for the Nag's Head for live music events came between the late 1960’s until the early 1980’s when Ron Watts was the main promoter. Watts created ‘The Blues Loft’ in the attic room at the rear of the pub and the venue hosted the likes of John Lee Hooker, Howlin Wolf, Thin Lizzy, Status Quo and Jethro Tull during the late 1960’s, while the punk explosion saw bands including The S*x Pistols, Damned, Clash, Stranglers, Siouxsie & The Banshees and The Jam, all play in the ‘Blues Loft’ prior to signing major record deals.
The 'Nags' was lost as live music venue during the 1990’s and underwent two names changes (The Pride, then The Office) before returning as The Nag's Head in 2005, where it hosted live music again up until August 2012 when the tenants were evicted by Admiral Taverns. The PubCo sold the property shortly afterwards (for £472,000 according to Land Registry records) and it eventually ended up under the ownership of a local High Wycombe resident.
The proposed desecration of the venue began shortly afterwards with proposals to build a 12 bedroom hotel with 10 parking spaces on the land at the rear of the property. Permission was narrowly granted in August 2013, with the Council choosing to approve the plans despite a 700 plus petition calling for it to be retained as a live music venue. However, there was some hope when the planning report included the note: “Council's policies require the partial loss of the ground floor element of the premises to be considered as the loss of a community facility, which in this instance, is considered to be acceptable, especially as a small bar area, serving food would also be retained for public use.”
However, the plans were never carried out and two further planning application was made in July 2014, proposing 13 flats on the land at front of the property, plus 8 on the land at the rear. These were accompanied by a total of just 8 car parking spaces. The plans were passed again – with the note regarding the small bar area and restaurant dropped without comment from the report. The development would also convert the rear of the existing Nag’s Head to three stories, with The ‘Blues Loft’ being set for demolition.
To confuse matters, an alternative planning application was made in October 2015 for a similar development for 21 flats but this time with the frontage of the original structure also changed to three stories. This was refused by the Council and although an appeal was lodged, as of July 2016, the developers appeared to be proceeding with the 2014 scheme. Sadly this has meant that ‘The Blues Loft’ had been demolished and while the original front structure should be retained, along with the original roof line, it is the community hub with huge historical significance that is the loss the can never be replaced.
For those wishing to delve deeper into the planning reports, these are the details from the WDC website:
13/06265/FUL | Change of use A4 (Public House) to C1 (Hotel) and minor external alterations
14/06780/FUL | Change of use of former Public House, construction of 3-storey rear extension and associated landscaping works to create 13 x 1 bed flats and associated access |
14/06781/FUL | Erection of three storey block comprising 8 x 1 bed flats, creation of new access and associated bin storage and parking | (Rear of Nags Head)
15/08037/FUL | Raising of roof and roof extension over existing building, construction of 3-storey rear extension with conversion of former Public House to create 13 x 1 bed flats (3 with study rooms) and communal gym area with associated landscaping works and access (alternative scheme to p/p ref: 14/06780/FUL) – Application Refused
Save The Nags Head facebook page
Article from Live Music Magazine
Wanderers into the records books and punk memories - February 1976
Ron Watts - 1942-2016 - obituary of High Wycombe's legendary music promoter
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