Lost river that's powering the Clerkenwell pub

The Sekforde uses underground watercourse to sustainably keep its beers chilled and its water hot

Friday, 30th August 2019 — By Emily Finch

Sekforde David Lonsdale and Hadi Sarmadi

Hadi Sarmadi and publican David Lonsdale

ONCE hailed for its healing qualities which saw hundreds flock to various wells in the hope of a miracle cure, the lost River Fleet has found a new course in life: cooling the beer served at a Grade II-listed Clerkenwell pub.

The owners of The Sekforde pub discovered that the underground river flowed beneath the basement of the extension they built next to the 180-year-old watering hole during works to convert the pub that re-opened in 2017.

Structural engineer Hadi Sarmadi, who trained at nearby City University, had the brief of creating a sustainable pub and decided to tap into the river that starts at Hampstead Heath and ends by joining the River Thames.

“The most important element of a pub is cooling because you require 24-hour cooling for beer and wine. But at the same time as refrigerators, you require heating for washing dishes and glasses. And for the cooling ­purpose we use the lost river,” he said.

Mr Sarmadi described how the pub in Sekforde Street uses heat exchangers to convert the heat it extracts from the river which flows under the pub’s kitchen.

The cooling system housed in a glass tank on the floor of the dining area

“The river is at 10 degrees, you extract energy from it, which is basically heat, and the water temperature gets to zero and it freezes and becomes a source of cooling for the beer.

“At the same time you are generating heat. What we produce we store in tanks,” he said.

The cooling system housed in a glass tank takes pride of place in the middle of the basement dining area floor. “We’re proud of what we’ve done here promoting sustainability. The council has come to see what we’ve done here because there’s a lot of potential to expand this throughout Islington,” he said.

Publican David Lonsdale said he’s saved around 80 per cent on bills thanks to the system. He said: “It has to be a religion for everyone to stop wasting energy and if we can do it in a building like this it can be done in most places.”

He added that although they don’t serve the river water to customers it was found to be pure enough to drink.

The pub’s designs by Chris Dyson Architects even scooped up the prestigious RIBA London Award and Sustainability Award last year.

The River Fleet is the largest of London’s hidden rivers. Although it was once famous for its healing qualities it became more sewer-like and was encased and directed underground in the 18th century.

Publican: ‘Licensing conditions could end 180 years of history’

A PUBLICAN has warned that 180 years of history will be “boarded-up” if his bid to reverse a series of licensing conditions imposed on his pub by the Town Hall fails, writes Emily Finch.

Barrister David Lonsdale spent years redeveloping The Sekforde pub in Clerkenwell, which reopened to huge fanfare in late 2017 winning awards from the Campaign for Real Ale and Riba for its design.

But according to Mr Lonsdale, the pub has become a “victim of its own success” in the past year after the council’s noise pollution team applied for a licence review which led to 18 new conditions forced on the venue.

The Fleet River (Ditch) in London, 1844 

These include limiting the number of customers standing outside to 20 people at a time and keeping the majority of doors and windows of the building closed after 8pm.

Pub-goers will also not be able to stand outside the venue in Sekforde Street but will have to stand to the side of the pub. Mr Lonsdale fought these conditions at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court earlier this month with a decision expected next month.

“If the conditions stay as they are I will have to close the pub and board it up,” he said.

“I can’t afford to have a business that is a hobby and it has to cover its costs and I won’t be able to cover costs unless there are more than 20 people outside having a drink on a summer’s evening. That’s how people drink in Clerkenwell.”

He warned that the new restrictions will drive his customers to other pubs in the area.

“One window open is not sufficient ventilation because it gets incredibly hot. The building is listed and we cannot install air conditioning. The road where the council have told us to direct people to stand has no sun and is not nearly as attractive. People want to stand outside and enjoy the beautiful street and the pub,” he said.

The council’s noise pollution team received just under 90 noise complaints over six months from residents living near the pub over noise and anti-social behaviour which prompted the review.

A council sub-committee chaired by Councillor Nick Wayne, which decided on the new conditions last November, “considered that restricting the numbers of people outside to 20 after 8pm would achieve a balance between the commercial interests of the licensee and the impact on residents”.

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