The Ghost of Farringdon
by Kristen Gioscia, Karla Liriano, Alana Osborne, & Windsor Smith
Serving the Central London neighborhood of Clerkenwell since 1865, the small pub Betsey Trotwood on Farringdon Road has a returning and steady clientele. To follow the curfew set by his license, owner Richard Cobbing asks all of his customers to stay inside the pub after 11 p.m. until closing.
The curfew ensures fewer disturbances for sleeping residents in the community. Aside from the normal daytime bustle of a busy street like Farringdon, Cobbing says that the residential neighborhood of Clerkenwell is “quite quiet on the weekends.” Some might say quiet as a Ghost…
Cobbing took ownership of the pub in 2006 and has witnessed the area becoming progressively more residential in the last decade. This calm was interrupted in February of 2009, when an edgy nightclub moved in across the street.
The new kid on the block, owned by David Serlui, was known as Ghost, a name that ironically foreshadowed its current state. Ghost closed its doors only 11 months later due to a series of incidents and community conflicts.
Cobbing’s family live above Betsey Trotwood, and when Ghost opened had infant children. Club disturbances affected him personally as well as professionally. “As a resident it was just very, very noisy,” he said.
A 2007 London law prohibits smoking in public places, which forced Ghost clubbers to step outside to smoke. Cobbing identifies that as the beginning of Ghost’s problems that haunted the Clerkenwell community.
“It wasn’t just on their premises,” Cobbing said. “It used to affect everything within 100 to 200 yards of their front door.” This radius included Betsey Trotwood.
Clubgoers from Ghost would cross the street to Cobbing’s pub, looking to use the bathrooms and avoid the long lines back at Ghost. Club owner Serlui claimed this drifting clientele would be good for the pub.
“He was trying to say to me, ‘Oh, it’d be good business for you,” Cobbing said. “I was like well, we’ve got our own crowds, we’re a small pub and we’re happy with that. We’ve got enough people coming in here already, we don’t need that disturbance.”
Cobbing recalled everything from traffic jams to police chases to drug deals in the surrounding area, and attributed it all to Ghost clubbers.
Former Clerkenwell Councillor George Allan recalls the growing residential grievances in the area each week. On December 13th, 2009, the situation escalated.
“One sort of rather low life gang drug dealer from south London shot another one on the dance floor, causing utter panic and an immediate departure of most of the guests into the street,” Allan said. The man survived, but was sent to the hospital with gunshot wounds.
According to Allan, someone had called the police to report the shooting, but when they arrived the door staff reported that nothing had occurred. Allan said this alleged cover-up led to the permanent closing of Ghost.
Allan advocated heavily for the voices of Clerkenwell community members. He said they described the presence of Ghost as a constant nuisance, reducing what he called their “quality of life.” With the support of the residents, Allan used the UK’s 2003 Licensing Act as support to have their permit reviewed.
Cover-up or not, Cobbing said most of Ghost’s problems traced back to the customers, rather than the management. “From what I saw, they seemed to get a crowd of people in here that were quite keen to fight each other,” he said.
Even in their situation, Cobbing said it was apparent that Ghost was attempting to work with the neighborhood, but had trouble controlling what their customers did outside the premises.
“You could see that they were making efforts, at one point they put parking attendants down here to try and make sure that people weren’t causing problems in the street,” Cobbing acknowledged. “They were patrolling the smoking area and all this sort of stuff, but once they sent everybody out, then it all kind of kicked off outside.”
With Ghost’s license under review, Allan said Serlui tried to appeal to the court and save his business. The request was denied, and shortly after, Ghost disappeared.
Five and a half years later, the space is yet to be occupied. The underground venue, with blacked-out windows and a locked street door, was put up for lease last month by Lambert Smith Hampton Investment Sales at a suggested price of £1,370,000.
Betsey Trotwood, which will turn 150 years old next year, still remains. In his seven and a half years as owner, Cobbing saw Ghost come and go, and believes he knows exactly why.
“When you’re in this business you have a responsibility to control not only what goes on inside but outside as well,” Cobbing said. “And well, they just didn’t do it.”
The neighborhood awaits the next occupant. Today Clerkenwell is back to its quiet ways, but the sign over the old club’s street entrance remains, a ghost of what used to be.