Paying the price for HS2

Craig Douglas manning the pumps in the Bree Louise

Craig Douglas manning the pumps in the Bree Louise - Credit: Archant

The next time you’re in the Euston area of London, do drop in to a pub called the Bree Louise on the corner of Cobourg Street and Euston Street. As well as enjoying a cracking pint of beer, you can ask yourself the simple question: do I feel a powerful urge to cut half an hour off the journey time from London to Birmingham – or do I want to stop an award-winning, street-corner pub from being knocked down to make way for HS2?

Anti-HS2 banner outside the pub

Anti-HS2 banner outside the pub - Credit: Archant

Craig and Karen Douglas who run the pub are faced with a Compulsory Purchase Order. If and when High Speed 2 is operational, then their pub, lovingly nursed back to fame and fortune over 13 years of hard graft, will be razed to the ground.

There’s a St Albans connection: before moving to London, Craig ran the Midland Railway on the corner of Alma Road and Victoria Street. That’s now a private house but the Bree Louise awaits a worse future as a pile of rubble.

It’s not a poorly trading pub. The Bree Louise has just been named the Campaign for Real Ale’s London Pub of the Year for 2016/17. It’s the second time it has won the award. The first was in 2009/10 and was followed by being named CAMRA’s London Cider Pub of the Year for 2014/15.

When Craig and Karen took over the Euston pub it needed a complete makeover. It was called the Jolly Gardeners – “don’t know why, there were no gardeners, jolly or otherwise, in the area” – and the pub regulars could not be described as desirable. The Douglases changed that by introducing a vigorous cask ale policy with prices to match.

The Bree Louise

The Bree Louise - Credit: Archant

“We didn’t break even for four years,” Douglas says, “but we had to change the clientele.”

The pub’s name was also changed – in memory of the Douglas’s daughter Bree Louise who died just 12 weeks after being born. Today they live above the pub with their two sons. If the pub is flattened by HS2, they will lose their home as well as their livelihood.

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The Bree Louise is a no-frills, traditional pub with one large L-shaped bar, ample seating and a ceiling festooned with beer mats to show the vast range of beers it sells. It’s a shrine to cask beer. The number on offer has grown over the years and Craig now offers 23 on handpump or straight from the cask. The range changes daily, sometimes hourly.

“There will be 14 beers on today,” Douglas told me, “but they won’t be here next week.”

He also offers around a dozen ciders and perries.

Craig and Karen Douglas cater for all-comers. The wine offer is thoughtfully drawn up and there’s good pub grub, based on a large range of pies along with pasta dishes, burgers, and good old fish and chips and bangers and mash.

It’s everything a great pub should be and it’s too good to lose. HS2 is some way off and could yet run into the sidings. A bill to allow the new line is wending its way through the House of Commons and will then have to pass to the Lords for approval. If that happens, it will return to the Commons to gain Royal Assent.

It will then take five years and £80bn to build the line. But in the finest British tradition of cock-up, it’s likely to over-run both its deadline and its budget.

If HS2 does go ahead, Craig Douglas doesn’t yet know what compensation package he will be offered. “A new pub next to a train station would be good,” he says.

He will create a petition to save the Bree Louise once the plans for HS2 are finalised. In the meantime, it’s a classic case of use it or lose it. When you’re in the vicinity of Euston, King’s Cross and St Pancras, head for Cobourg Street and enjoy a rollicking good pint before the bulldozers move in.