Another proposed revamp of a Woolwich town centre building as part of a Heritage scheme is the First Choice cafe has been submitted.
Burton had their original Woolwich branch at the site, which was originally a far busier end of town leading to the previous ferry crossing.
The building sits at the junction of Hare Street and Woolwich High Street.
A document within the application states:
“The entire ground floor has been significantly altered. At ground level, the existing cafe shop frontage features a hugely oversized yellow light box sign, unsightly external shutter boxes and numerous oversized vinyls on its original windows, which are not in-keeping with the character of the building and obstruct the original shopfront.”
Neglect of the building symbolises Woolwich’s decline, particularly at the western end of the town centre.
First Woolwich store
In terms of the building’s history, the application gives a good overview:
The corner building was built in 1929 as Montague Burton’s first purpose-built shop in Woolwich, after the clearance of a large outfitter’s (Thompson and Jackson) for road widening.
Architecture was an important part of Burtons’ pitch, and Harry Wilson, the firm’s in-house architect, deployed here a version of one of several lively types, using faience in a neo-Egyptian mode.
The builders were W. H. Gaze and Sons of Kingston. Remarkably, most of the original shopfront survives, with Burtons’ usual black-granite surrounds, slender wooden mullions, and even some curved corner glass.
The upper storey was probably a billiard hall, to attract working-class male customers. The shop was converted to a cafe/restaurant in the 1980s, with a bright yellow fascia. The upper storey has become a club. This building is of high townscape value, as a substantially intact, evocative example of a particularly characterful, locally valued commercial building.”
When built, the area would have thrived with the nearby prior ferry terminal and a view to the river seen all the way from Powis Street.
When the Waterfront was constructed, an open area was retained to the river but has since been built over.
The leisure centre is due to close and be demolished, with any future development expected to again open views to the river.
Streetscape here is generally poor and extremely tired.
Unfortunately street improvement work related to a separate public realm upgrade will not cover this area, and no income from various new developments will be spent improving Woolwich High Street.
Recent developments in the vicinity include Callis Yard, Berkeley towers and to the west there’s Mast Quay phase two. That’s a lot of potential footfall for this area in future.
A recent visit to the street on foot again showed how poor it is, and wasteful to boot. One lane is almost always blocked by a couple of cars parked even during peak hours. A bus stand also limits traffic to a single lane.
From the above vantage point, turn around and the sheer scale of new housing is clear.
This application follows other town centre buildings including the Castle Tavern pub which will be funded as part of a £95 million government project covering a number of town centre across the country. Historic England are taking a key role in the project. Much of Woolwich town centre became a Conservation Area in 2019.
The application can be viewed here.