Plans for the Kensington Park Hotel, one of London’s oldest live music pubs, are upsetting locals who are trying to raise millions of pounds to save the much-loved landmark in Ladbroke Grove as a community asset.
The pub forms part of the backdrop to the annual Notting Hill Carnival. In the Sixties Tom Jones was paid £10 for his first London gig in the upstairs theatre bar, while in the Seventies punk era it was the hangout of The Clash.
The KPH, as it is affectionately known, also has a grisly backstory. The serial killer John Christie is rumoured to have worked behind the bar during the Forties and it was used as a location for the 1971 film about his crimes, 10 Rillington Place, starring Sir Richard Attenborough.
The pub’s future has been in question since 2013 when it was sold by Punch Taverns to property investment company Swade. The KPH had been run by music promoter Vince Power, but he was evicted last year. The KPH remains open but its owners have now indicated they wish to sell the Victorian building.
Earlier this year a group of locals, led by Power, launched a rescue bid under the name KPH United, using powers granted under the Localism Act which allow pubs to be designated “assets of community value”.
The KPH was declared an asset in 2015 which means that if a community group requests an opportunity to buy it, they are given a six-month grace period to make their bid. During this time the owner cannot sell the pub to anyone else.
This moratorium runs out on June 6, when the owner can put the property on the open market. “We are confident we will be making an offer, but we are not confident he will accept it,” said Power.
Steven Archer, owner of Swade, who paid £3.2 million for the pub, said he would be open to offers from KPH United and insisted he had not made a decision about the future of the building. “I think that its best use is as a pub, but it would be nice to bring the upper parts back into some sort of use,” he said. “It is crying out for some sort of refurbishment. There is investment needed.”
Power thinks it is unlikely that Kensington and Chelsea council will allow the pub to be redeveloped as flats but he fears it will become a fashionable boutique hotel, restaurant and bar rather than a regular boozer.
“At the moment it is a community pub,” he said. “None of … [its regulars] … will have a pub to go to because all of the pubs in this area have been socially cleansed already. They don’t need to put a bouncer on the door to do that, they can just do it by the pricing.”
The KPH has always attracted a mixed bunch, from people living on nearby council estates, to long-term residents who lived in Ladbroke Grove long before it became gentrified, to newer, richer residents. Power said: “It is the last pub in the area that has not been turned into some sort of gastropub aimed at middle-class, upwardly mobile, mostly white people.”
Former Clash bassist Paul Simonon, 61, is backing KPH United’s bid to buy the pub. “If we don’t protect the history of Ladbroke Grove it’s just going to become like Covent Garden, a place for tourists,” he said.