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Crash, bang, wallop! Eight years running the 'pub from hell'
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".
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?’."
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.
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.
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."
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."
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."
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