A Simpsons saviour emerges…
Ask an historian what occurred in 1757 and they might answer the Battle of Plassey. It was, after all, a key chapter in the seven-year war between Britain and France; even more so, it was a major milestone chapter in Anglo-Indian history as it led to the establishment of British rule on the sub-continent.
But 4000 miles west and history of a different kind was being made at the same time by an enterprising City restauranteur. His name was Thomas Simpson and 1757 was the year he moved his Tavern of the same name from Billingsgate to Ball Court, the narrow side-alley set between Lloyd’s and the Bank of England in the heart of the City.
The Tavern has remained there ever since – and it hasn’t changed much either. The wood panelling, the shared benches and even the menu (where else can you get stewed cheese?) are all redolent of the past. It has survived fires, world wars, an industrial revolution and a pandemic. It was serving chops long before the USA was born.
Of course, the occasional new tradition has been introduced in the intervening years. House rules now insist that every guest is offered an “extra sausage” with their meal selection. Another is that as the last original City chophouse still standing, it has become an initiation rite for many a young banker, broker or underwriter to have one of their first City lunches there. In fact, its connection with Lloyd’s are so entwined that the Tavern’s booth tables were salvaged from the old underwriting room before Lloyd’s moved to its (1986) building.
But in October its landlord - Tavor Holdings - suddenly foreclosed on the business. According to the restaurant the landlord acted while in still negotiations regarding the arrears that had accumulated during lock down. The business was then put up for sale with vacant possession.
Cuthbert is old enough to appreciate that commercial disputes are rarely one-sided. Nonetheless, it is difficult to see the actions of the ultimate owner (a property company headquartered in Bermuda) in a good light. It looks opportunistic. Most catering landlords – encouraged by the Government – have agreed deferred repayment schedules.
But as Simpsons manager Benjamin Duggan explains, Tavor decided instead “not to look at a horizon of payment for debt, but demand all and force a liquidity issue. Given time I can pay debt, given no time I cannot.”
Sadly, the locks on Simpsons’ doors remain firmly closed. But late last week a potential saviour came from the rarest of quarters - a fast-moving local government body.
The Policy and Resources Committee of the City of London Corporation designated Simpson’s Tavern as an Asset of Community Value.
It means the restaurant, which closed in October, cannot be sold without first providing the local community with the opportunity to bid for the building. Considering the foreclosure occurred in October, the Committee acted remarkably swiftly for a local government body.
As Cuthbert contemplates the convivial times he has spent in the Tavern over the years, he finds himself raising a glass to the Committee and its chairman Chris Hayward. The site is now more difficult to sell and – with luck – this could be the catalyst to bring the two sides to the table. The Square Mile has plenty of office space but only one Simpson’s. It should be preserved and supported if it can.
I’ll take a sausage with that…