Published: 15th April, 2011
by PETER GRUNER
ALCOHOL is to be served at a former underground prison-turned-arts venue in Clerkenwell, despite protests that it will result in a “drunken nightmare” for residents living nearby.
Islington Licensing Committee agreed on Monday to grant an application by the House of Detention, in Sans Walk, for the sale of alcohol until 9pm to guests who attend events.
All that remains of the prison – once called the Middlesex House of Corrections and said to date back to 1616 – are a few forbidding underground holding cells.
During the Second World War, the cells were used as bomb shelters and since then they have been a museum, a café and the location for films.
Now young arts producer Simon Cummins, 22, has turned the space into an intimate theatre and arts space for up to 100 guests.
For the first time, this weekend guests will be able to consume alcohol while watching the latest show – a scaled down production of Macbeth involving four actors.
But local residents warn that Sans Walk is a narrow thoroughfare and under a previous management the venue became notorious for long-running rows over drunks who left in the early hours, often causing a nuisance.
Residents spoke out against the application at the hearing supported by two Clerkenwell councillors, Lib Dem George Allan and Labour’s Raphael Andrews.
Trudy Penk, manager at Priory House, the sheltered accommodation for the elderly next door to the venue, told the committee: “I speak on behalf of our 25 residents who have had a lot of trouble in the past with the House of Detention.
“Sans Walk is a narrow, mainly residential area and people are easily woken up by noise in the street. We believe people [coming] from the venue were in the past responsible for shouting, breaking bottles, throwing cans and urinating in the street.”
Cllr Andrews said that granting the alcohol licence could ruin the quality of life for residents in the area.
He added: “Clerkenwell already has problems with late-night drinkers coming out of pubs and clubs.”
The committee heard the venue is situated just outside a declared alcohol “saturation” zone set up by the council to restrict the number of pubs, clubs and off-licences opening in the area.
Mr Cummins, a recent winner of the Stage One New producer’s award, said he understood there may have been problems with the venue in the past but it was now under new management. He said: “We have met the residents and we are trying to reassure them that our venue will not be encouraging drunkenness. We are merely trying to offer our guests, whether they have come to see an exhibition or a play, a glass of wine or a beer perhaps before or after an event. We hope residents will come and visit our shows and see for themselves that we won’t tolerate bad behaviour.”
After the hearing, Cllr Allan said he was disappointed the licence had been granted.
“We and the residents will obviously monitor the situation carefully,” he said. “Any problems and the licence can be brought back to committee for review.”