Merton freehouse reopens against all odds

A Merton freehouse reopened last week following a two-year closure despite the economic difficulties currently facing independent pubs. 

The Trafalgar Freehouse, located in South Wimbledon, has undergone three months of renovations following its period of abandonment, with much more still needing to be done. 

The independent establishment, dating back to the 19th century, has had freehouse status since 1985.

This gives them the freedom to stock a whole range of beverages as they are not linked to any one brewery or pub company, helping distinguish them from competition.

Having closed its doors in the summer of 2021 due to the passing of the previous owner, the pub was abandoned.

This closure period ended three months ago as the opportunity arose for new co-owners Rodger Molyneux, 71, and Oli Carter-Esdale, 31, to reopen the establishment. 

Molyneux, who was involved with the pub previously, said: “Lots of people were champing at the bit so when we opened, they all came rushing in.” 

Molyneux was glad to see friendships rekindled yet remains aware of the work that still must be done to restore the pub back to former glory.

Molyneux and Carter-Esdale have spent between £35,000 and £40,000 on the renovation and legal fees so far and expect to spend another £10,000 before the project is complete. 

The cost-of-living crisis has affected pubs across the UK, leading to the closure of almost 400 in the first six months of 2023.

Molyneux said the increase of staff wages and uncapped energy bills for businesses are the biggest causes of economic struggle for his pub.

Although most surrounding pubs in South Wimbledon and Colliers Wood remain open, the businesses are showing ‘clear signs of stress’, as they shorten opening hours and increase the price of their stock.

James Watson, 44, a lead member of the Campaign for Pubs, has rallied for better legal protection of traditional, Victorian pubs like the Trafalgar.

This campaign has successfully lobbied in parliament and works with communities to maintain the character of traditional pubs.

Watson likened the opportunity to take over this type of establishment to ‘winning the lottery’, as large company-owned pubs dramatically outnumber the number of freehouses and independents in the UK.

He said: “Freehouses are like gold dust.”

Featured image: Ewan Munro from London, UK, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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