“I consider myself a custodian for this moment in time”
September 22, 2020
Walton Lodge is a beautiful red-brick Edwardian building which was built in 1904 to house a then-thriving family-run laundry business. After almost 120 years the laundry finally closed, but the building itself still stands proud at 374 Coldharbour Lane- only now it houses an all day bistro and wine shop run by New Zealand-born MELANIE BROWN. We went to visit Mel at The Laundry to talk about her time in Brixton so far, and what she’s doing to try and preserve the legacy of this amazing building.
Q: We’re a long way from New Zealand! How did you end up becoming a business owner here in the UK?
When I was 15 I dropped out of school. Even at that age I just knew that the hospitality scene was far more my bag than anything else, and I trained to be a chef instead of going to university.
Eventually I moved to London to work in the restaurant industry. Brixton captivated me immediately because it has such a dynamic cultural presence. I think it’s like nowhere else in London and when I moved South of the river I always knew I wanted to be part of the community here one day.
Then when Pop Brixton started I jumped at the opportunity to open a New World wine bar and shop there, which we crowdfunded to build.
Q: How did you come to be the custodian of Walton Lodge?
I used to drive past Walton Lodge every day on my way into work at Pop Brixton and I found myself drawn to it straight away. I thought that such a beautiful building deserved for somebody to do something amazing with it. So I’d been driving past it for about three or four years, totally captivated by it, and then I heard that the landlord was opening up discussions.
There were a massive number of people that were interested but I think the landlord was supportive of my application because he really wanted an independent business in the building rather than a big chain; and he knew what I’ve done in Brixton before so he trusted that Walton Lodge would be safe in my hands.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about the building?
The Newland family owned and ran Walton Lodge as a laundry for 119 years. They also had satellites throughout South London and would wash all the linen for the big hotels in Park Lane. It must have been an huge operation for many years but in 2014 they couldn’t sustain it any more so they closed the doors. That’s when our landlord purchased and renovated the building.
When I started digging into the history of Coldharbour Lane and the building and the people it really resonated with me. History and provenance has always been a strong love of mine and this building has so much of that.
I consider myself a custodian of the building for this moment in time and I hope I do everything that I can do to preserve its integtrity and the story within it.
There’s just this overwhelming energy about the building and I think that’s due to the amazing business that was run here previously. How many businesses run for over 100 years? An amazing family as well, some of them have come down to eat here and they were absolutely gobsmacked when they walked in.
Q: How has the history of the building inspired you?
We’ve created a collection of wines called New Press, produced in New Zealand with a prestigious winemaker in Marlborough, and the New part of New Press is from New Zealand and the Newman family, and the Press part is linen press and grape press.
The style of our menu was also inspired by the Edwardian era (during which the laundry first opened its doors), when a new more relaxed way of eating and dining with lots of sharing and platters was introduced by King William VII to the UK.
So we’ve created a menu of dishes designed to share. It’s all about the casual excellence of hospitality.
Q: How has COVID impacted your business?
The first few months were great, we were very busy over Christmas time, and everything had been going really well. Then COVID hit. Out of the blue, we were closed for three months.
We managed to pivot the business when we were able to reopen as a general store. It was a great way for us to try to reconnect with the community and think about how we could best support them in this crisis. We used that time to develop a reopening strategy with our locals in mind- they’re the people that sustain and drive us.
It’s been great to see it so busy again since we’ve reopened. We’re fortunate to have this prime position on Coldharbour Lane, and it’s helped that we have the terrace with plenty of outdoor seating.
Q: What do you think of Coldharbour Lager?
As a business on Coldharbour Lane, we couldn’t not stock Coldharbour Lager- we love everything about it! It’s fresh, bright, thirst-quenchingly delicious. Everyone loves it!
Portraits from our Characters of Coldharbour Lane series will be on display at the Brixton Brewery Tap Room from 23rd September or you can see them as they drop on Instagram @brixtonbrewery. Look for Coldharbour Lager at bars and bottle shops throughout London and beyond (or shop via our website here). Grab one and take refuge from thirst.