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The planned rear of the new Railway Tavern © D2 Architectural Design

Bold Vision for “Unsafe” Historical Pub

An 18th century Pub on Penicuik’s High Street will be heavily altered after structural defects were found during refurbishment works.

It is one of the oldest buildings left largely intact on Penicuik’s High Street but the long vacant Railway Tavern Pub could be about to face major changes, if the architects can convince the council to approve their latest plans.

Last year it was announced that the new owners of the pub, which dates back to the mid 1700’s, had ambitious plans to reopen the establishment as a modern bar and restaurant featuring a substantial extension to the north of the original building. These proposals were granted by Midlothian Council in April 2015.

However, according to planning documents (available to read here), once the contractors commenced the refurbishment at the start of this year, it became apparent that there were many structural defects within the 250 year old facade, prompting an urgent investigation by local engineers into the long term viability of it. C.R.A Ltd.’s report into the matter concluded:

The front façade is in extremely poor condition and considered structurally unsafe. Following our meeting we have instructed the contractor to erect scaffolding on the front elevation which will assist in providing temporary restraint […] The extent of structural works required to the front façade is significant and due to its precarious condition would be impossible to undertake safely. We would therefore advise that the wall is removed and reconstructed.

The instability of the primary elevation means the owners now face a costly battle to rebuild the majority of the property, which was left in a poor condition by the previous tenants. New plans were submitted on Friday by Dalkeith based architectural practice D2 Architectural Design, to replace the historical street front with a new modern interpretation comprised of a ground floor clad in cedar timber and zinc; the first storey would be carefully rebuilt using the old stone. This stone would be cleaned and restored to its natural state, allowing the first floor to return to its early 20th century appearance, sash windows and all.

The new internal layout will feature a large bar and dining area suitable of taking just over two hundred covers. Log fires and informal sofa areas will be utilised to form cosy spaces. A kitchen, toilets and a management flat will be located on the upper floor.

The proposed elevation © D2 Architectural Design/Midlothian Council
The proposed elevation (Click here to view more) © D2 Architectural Design/Midlothian Council

However, the building has featured on Penicuik’s High Street since the town’s development by Sir James Clerk in 1770. Its age and importance, on the much altered thoroughfare, means it has Historic Scotland ‘C’ Listed status, preventing any alterations unless it is believed to be in keeping with the adopted vernacular style. The modern interventions proposed will face additional scrutiny throughout the planning process and may be rejected if councillors and the heritage body are unconvinced.

Comment: There’s No Point Recreating the Past

There is no argument that Penicuik’s shopping area has seen better days, both in terms of variety of shops and quality of building design.

Penicuik’s High Street has been much altered over time, mostly to its detriment. On the northern side, oversized signage, strange tiling and a mismatch of styles blight what used to be a historical thoroughfare. This is largely with thanks to a 1960’s development project to replace the bare stone original shops which are now home to businesses like Flower’s by Lindsey and the Bestsellers. In my mind, this was an unfathomably wrong decision but we can’t dwell in the past.

Don’t get me wrong I would be a strong proponent against the Railway Tavern’s modernisation if there weren’t underlying structural problems. However there are, and we’ve got to deal with the fact that one of the last remaining buildings could very much face a similar fate to those near it. Thankfully, what the architects are proposing is a contemporary, yet sympathetic reinterpretation of what the shop front should be. By reinstating the bare brick at first floor level, yet offering up a harmonious pairing of warm cedar and cold, striking zinc, the new restaurant and bar will be the best looking shop front on that street by far. It won’t simply be a pastiche and hollow recreation of what came before.

This high quality, contemporary style, that keeps one eye on the past whilst looking ahead, should become the template for a wider shopfront initiative on the High Street, rejecting the slapdash madness of the sixties architect.

I do however have one request. Please, oh please can we have the Lamb’s Pend archway back?

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