Crash, bang, wallop! Eight years running the 'pub from hell'

This Is Local London: George Hanson-Graville, 86, bought the pub from hell in The Blenheim Arms George Hanson-Graville, 86, bought the pub from hell in The Blenheim Arms

A secret cellar full of water, exploding fuse boxes and potentially lethal gas fires were among the hazards awaiting an unsuspecting pensioner who took over a pub from hell. 

George Hanson-Graville, 86, of Garden Close, Banstead, became the tenant of the Blenheim Arms pub, in Manor Green Road, Epsom, in November 2004. 

The experienced entrepreneur, inventor and builder said Greene King, the pub’s owner, handed him the keys to a watering hole so defective that he had to spend £80,000 of his own money on repairs.

He said on many occasions when he asked Greene King to rectify the problems they were obliged to contractually, the company refused to do so or acted half-heartedly, telling him "you’re always bloody moaning".

This Is Local London:

The secret cellar full of water which was discovered underneath the pub

After eight years, Mr Hanson-Graville, whose health was failing partly due to stress from problems at the pub, threw in the towel and was given just £25,000 by the company for his trouble having, in his words: "Changed your pub from being a pig’s ear into a silk purse."

But it has taken a further two years, including an attempt by Greene King to make him bankrupt, before the issue has finally been settled.

Mr Hanson-Graville said the problems began shortly after he took over the pub when sewage started coming through the floor, caused by faulty drains.

As winter approached Mr Hanson-Graville went to turn on the central heating for nippy customers but found the boilers had parts missing and were not working. 

Mr Hanson-Graville said: "The customers were coming in with their overcoats on.

"I was just going to light one of the gas fires when an old chap said 'I don’t think you should do that Mr Graville'."

After having the fires checked, it was discovered they leaked the deadly carbon monoxide gas when turned on.

Then, a fuse box blew off the wall and caught fire in front of customers. 

The ex-soldier said: "I got the boilers, the gas fires, the drains and the fuse fixed.  And I said, ‘what else can happen?’."

This Is Local London:

Tiles on the roof of the pub were not properly maintained

The answer was a cold water tank which split, flooding the kitchen on the ground floor requiring extensive repairs.

When a fridge in a takeaway attached to the pub began to tilt on its side, Mr Hanson-Graville lifted the floorboards and was amazed to discover a sealed cellar brimming with 3,000 gallons of water which ran underneath the whole of the pub.

Mr Hanson-Graville said: "A man said to me ‘Mr Granville, I’ve just put my foot through the floor’. 

"The floors were disintegrating - my fridges were sinking into the floor below.  Greene King said they didn’t know the cellar was there."

But, after descending into the cellar himself, Mr Hanson-Graville found a "cast-iron pump, rusting".

When woodworm started munching their way through the pub's timbers, he was forced to spend thousands of pounds renovating it.

Greene King agreed to help with external renovations.

The firm they employed removed two elegant glass orbs hanging on either side of the pub’s front door, replacing them with Victorian-style coach lanterns with sharp corners which repeatedly smashed the glass on the front door - costing £800 in repairs.

This Is Local London:

The Victorian-style coach lanterns installed by a firm hired by Greene King damaged the glass on the pub's door repeatedly

They even removed Aga Khan, the owner of the 1930 Derby-winning horse Blenheim - after which the pub was named - from the pub's sign, to the fury of regulars.

But despite all of the problems, punters did not desert Mr Hanson-Graville. 

Having frequented the pub as a youngster, many of the regulars were his close friends.

He said: "The customers knew what I was doing and supported me.  They said I was the only one who had come into the pub and done anything at all. 

"They were still sitting with me at the very end."

The stress from various problems at the Blenheim Arms took its toll on Mr Hanson-Graville’s health.

He was diagnosed with gut disease Heliobacter Pylori, which doctors said could have been caused by his exposure to sewage and gas at the pub. 

He was then told he had prostate cancer and bone disease Paget’s. 

Doctors told him stress was a major contributor to his ill-health.

This Is Local London:

The original pub sign with Aga Khan, left, and the pub with the glass orbs which were removed and lost, right

In November 2012, Mr Hanson-Graville decided enough was enough and gave notice to terminate his tenancy with Greene King.

On the day of his ‘handover’ meeting with the company, he was offered £20,000 for all that he had spent on the pub. 

But the builder refused to move until he got another £5,000 and demanded to see Greene King’s business development manager Graeme Marley first.

In a showdown lasting 11 hours, Mr Hanson-Graville was told that Mr Marley was away on important business for Greene King in Madrid.

He said: "I said I was staying there until he arrived back.  They thought I was going to have a heart attack.

"Then they said he was on an aeroplane back. 

"All of a sudden, the pub doors opened and he walked in smiling, wearing golf clothes. 

"I said to him 'you've been playing golf all day haven't you?'."

After accepting the extra £5,000 eventually offered by Greene King, Mr Hanson-Graville said he was relieved to cut the pub loose.

But the final flashpoint between the parties came three months later when Greene King wrote to Mr Hanson-Graville asking for £11,000 they said was owed by him. 

When the businessman refused to pay, a bankruptcy petition was brought against him.

The father-of-six said: "They never explained what the £11,000 was for. 

"They were going to bring in the bully boys but I have an inner strength which will allow me to go on until they bury me."

This Is Local London:

The damaged floor inside one of the rooms in the Blenheim Arms 

Greene King were unable to provide satisfactory evidence as to why Mr Hanson-Graville should be made bankrupt and the court threw out the claim in January.

In March, the company finally dropped its complaint against him.

He said: "I have no regrets, but to say it has been a nightmare is to put it lightly. 

"What Greene King has done is absolutely despicable.

"What they did to me, if I hadn’t been strong enough, would have killed or bankrupted me.

"I was a mad, bloody fool to have trusted them. 

"People don’t believe me when I tell them - that Greene King could do all that and get away with it. 

"I want to warn people that if you’re buying a pub, watch what you’re doing."

Mr Hanson-Graville, who is now in better health, said that even though a list of contractual agreements had not been completed by Greene King when he signed his tenancy contract, he had trusted they would be actioned because the company made promises to this effect.

He said: "I’ve learnt in life that you can’t stop trusting everybody.  But you have to be very careful.

"Don’t become bitter.  Always accept what nature has given to you and start again.  You can’t knock me down."

This Is Local London:

The condition of the walls inside the pub was deteriorating

Asked to respond to Mr Hanson-Graville's long list of complaints, a spokeswoman for Greene King instead issued a short statement: "The vast majority of our licensees tell us they are very happy with the support and pubs we offer, so we are disappointed that Mr Hanson-Graville is not satisfied with how his tenancy ended.

"Greene King and Mr Hanson-Graville settled all outstanding matters by agreement earlier this year. 

"The Blenheim Arms, with an experienced and successful licensee on board, is now a thriving Meet and Eat franchised pub, offering excellent value food and drink."

Comments (5)

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2:20am Sat 31 May 14

fosters247 says...

this man made it the pub from hell
he turned it into a @$%£ hole

and if you want the truth why not go down and talk to the people that use it

as a local news paper you should never of printed this with out getting your facts right

just to put the nail in the coffin he used this place as a tax right off he's never spent £80000.00 and if the man spent more than a few hours a week there he was must be David Blain ( THIS IS BAD REPORTING)

the pub is a really good now and the the people that took it over have put a lot of effort into it and don't a need biased man or paper that has no facts bring it down. IF YOU WANT TO TALK TO THE PEOPLE THAT KNOW COME DOWN TOO THE BLEN
this man made it the pub from hell he turned it into a @$%£ hole and if you want the truth why not go down and talk to the people that use it as a local news paper you should never of printed this with out getting your facts right just to put the nail in the coffin he used this place as a tax right off he's never spent £80000.00 and if the man spent more than a few hours a week there he was must be David Blain ( THIS IS BAD REPORTING) the pub is a really good now and the the people that took it over have put a lot of effort into it and don't a need biased man or paper that has no facts bring it down. IF YOU WANT TO TALK TO THE PEOPLE THAT KNOW COME DOWN TOO THE BLEN fosters247
  • Score: -13

7:09pm Mon 2 Jun 14

becstar77 says...

I assumed this article was going to be about the chavvy grotty hellish eyesore of a raucous public house in a nice suburban area. This is old news. Why not investigate loud carpark fights, drink driving, the increase in smashed glass everywhere, and a ridiculous licence for live entertainment till the early hours of the morning?

It's not a nice pub, it attracts grotty topless men, who do nothing but drink themselves silly and ogle innocent passersby. It needs to shut - it can't possibly be a success with the disgustingly cheap food it offers.

What the area needs is a quality family-friendly restaurant, a nice gastro pub, like the rumours we all got excited about before it reopened exactly the same...
I assumed this article was going to be about the chavvy grotty hellish eyesore of a raucous public house in a nice suburban area. This is old news. Why not investigate loud carpark fights, drink driving, the increase in smashed glass everywhere, and a ridiculous licence for live entertainment till the early hours of the morning? It's not a nice pub, it attracts grotty topless men, who do nothing but drink themselves silly and ogle innocent passersby. It needs to shut - it can't possibly be a success with the disgustingly cheap food it offers. What the area needs is a quality family-friendly restaurant, a nice gastro pub, like the rumours we all got excited about before it reopened exactly the same... becstar77
  • Score: 25

8:03am Thu 5 Jun 14

sfocata says...

Scary story, but as it's a Greene King pub, there's fortunately no chance I'd end up drinking there. Plenty of decent beer elsewhere.
Scary story, but as it's a Greene King pub, there's fortunately no chance I'd end up drinking there. Plenty of decent beer elsewhere. sfocata
  • Score: 2

2:05am Mon 9 Jun 14

Blondie92 says...

Now I cannot honestly say what it was like before he came or after he left, but in late 2010 I moved into a flat less than 2mins walk away from this pub, and shortly after moving in had my nan and dad come to visit. We spotted this pub when walking to the costcutter a couple of doors along and decided to pop in for a drink and a bite to eat, despite it looking fairly rough. Seeing as it was the nearest pub by a long shot I assumed it would become my local so thought it would be a good idea! From what I recall it was a weekday mid afternoon, and we realised the second we walked in the door that we'd made a horrible mistake. It was honestly like something out of a horror/comedy scene - think 'Shaun of the Dead' AFTER the zombies smash their way in. Being incredibly British and therefore too polite to turn around and walk back out, we ordered a drink each from a rude and uninterested barmaid and sat down. The place was mostly empty save for a few drunk, overweight middle aged men in filthy tank tops, and after a (swiftly aborted) trip to the disgusting, broken, genuinely unusable ladies toilet, I whispered to my family that we probably shouldn't eat here - not that it wasn't already obvious. We quietly sipped our drinks and after a few minutes a big, heavily tattooed and positively filthy older man came and plonked himself next to my 80-something nan and, without acknowledging me or my dad, proceeded to try and chat her up and began grabbing her arm and kissing her hand. Despite her age and tiny size, she quickly told him where to go, and thankfully he was so out of it, he did so wordlessly. We left shortly after that and to cut a long story short, I spent the next three years avoiding eye contact with the shouty, leery, vile clientele as I walked past to go to costcutters. If you're still reading, congratulations for your stamina, but please let me clarify a couple of things; I'm no snob, and am more than used to being around handsy drunk men twice my age having worked in a rugby club from age 13-18. Most of my friends are male, many look rough but are absolute sweethearts and therefore I did not judge anyone there that day on their appearance alone - purely their behaviour. But this pub just reeks of everything that is wrong with the very worst pubs in England, and I wouldn't care if the queen announced that she enjoyed having a pint there, nothing could convince me to go back. The phrase "you can't polish a tu**" is incredibly relevant here; no matter what you do to the place, that clientele will still need somewhere to go and no pub in town would let them in, probably because they're all (I suspect) on the Pubwatch list (aka the naughty list of people who have literally behaved so badly enough times that they are banned from every drinking establishment in a particular catchment area). The best thing they could possibly do is rip the place down to its bare bones and start all over again with an owner that knows what they're doing and won't take any rubbish from anyone. But pigs will fly...
Now I cannot honestly say what it was like before he came or after he left, but in late 2010 I moved into a flat less than 2mins walk away from this pub, and shortly after moving in had my nan and dad come to visit. We spotted this pub when walking to the costcutter a couple of doors along and decided to pop in for a drink and a bite to eat, despite it looking fairly rough. Seeing as it was the nearest pub by a long shot I assumed it would become my local so thought it would be a good idea! From what I recall it was a weekday mid afternoon, and we realised the second we walked in the door that we'd made a horrible mistake. It was honestly like something out of a horror/comedy scene - think 'Shaun of the Dead' AFTER the zombies smash their way in. Being incredibly British and therefore too polite to turn around and walk back out, we ordered a drink each from a rude and uninterested barmaid and sat down. The place was mostly empty save for a few drunk, overweight middle aged men in filthy tank tops, and after a (swiftly aborted) trip to the disgusting, broken, genuinely unusable ladies toilet, I whispered to my family that we probably shouldn't eat here - not that it wasn't already obvious. We quietly sipped our drinks and after a few minutes a big, heavily tattooed and positively filthy older man came and plonked himself next to my 80-something nan and, without acknowledging me or my dad, proceeded to try and chat her up and began grabbing her arm and kissing her hand. Despite her age and tiny size, she quickly told him where to go, and thankfully he was so out of it, he did so wordlessly. We left shortly after that and to cut a long story short, I spent the next three years avoiding eye contact with the shouty, leery, vile clientele as I walked past to go to costcutters. If you're still reading, congratulations for your stamina, but please let me clarify a couple of things; I'm no snob, and am more than used to being around handsy drunk men twice my age having worked in a rugby club from age 13-18. Most of my friends are male, many look rough but are absolute sweethearts and therefore I did not judge anyone there that day on their appearance alone - purely their behaviour. But this pub just reeks of everything that is wrong with the very worst pubs in England, and I wouldn't care if the queen announced that she enjoyed having a pint there, nothing could convince me to go back. The phrase "you can't polish a tu**" is incredibly relevant here; no matter what you do to the place, that clientele will still need somewhere to go and no pub in town would let them in, probably because they're all (I suspect) on the Pubwatch list (aka the naughty list of people who have literally behaved so badly enough times that they are banned from every drinking establishment in a particular catchment area). The best thing they could possibly do is rip the place down to its bare bones and start all over again with an owner that knows what they're doing and won't take any rubbish from anyone. But pigs will fly... Blondie92
  • Score: 24

10:56pm Fri 13 Jun 14

becstar77 says...

Blondie92, I think I love you - shall we go for a drink? ;)
Blondie92, I think I love you - shall we go for a drink? ;) becstar77
  • Score: -1

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