Thursday, 14 April 2016

Bushwhacked

The Holly Bush in Bollington is (or was) a modest 1930s Brewer’s Tudor pub with a wonderful, unspoilt interior including small separate rooms, extensive wood panelling, and a distinctive bar with glass shutters. It rightly featured on CAMRA’s National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors.

However, in a small town/large village with plenty of pubs and little passing trade, it struggled, and ended up being closed for a couple of years. To their credit, the owners, Robinson’s Brewery, rather than just selling it off, decided to spend a lot of money refurbishing it, and it opened again for business on Friday 1 April.

The problem is that, in doing so, they’ve greatly eroded its previous unspoilt character. The key change is that the original bar – surely the core feature of the pub – has been replaced by a modern, curved effort, and it has been opened up in to the front left tap room. Apart from this, the tap room and the “smoke room” opposite the bar are largely untouched. Yes, I would prefer velour seating and carpet to leatherette and parquet, but that doesn’t affect its historic character, and nor do the inevitable scatter cushions.

The small snug on the right of the front door apparently never had fixed seating, so it’s not a case of having removed it. The interior has been extended at the rear to create two new drinking spaces, but that doesn’t on its own detract from the original parts.

This is the previous bar, as shown on the National Inventory website:

And this is its replacement, creating a very different and much more open-plan feel:

If you came upon the Holly Bush out of the blue, you would probably still think it was a pleasant, cosy pub with a number of original features. But it’s now basically an open-plan pub with separate areas, not a multi-roomed pub. And it must be said that Robinsons are being rather cheeky in their press release in referring to its National Inventory status, which will almost certainly be lost as a result of their changes. The question has to be asked whether there is a straightforward trade-off between heritage and viability, and if the same improvements could have been achieved while showing more respect for the original layout and fittings.

When I called there were five cask beers available – Unicorn, Dizzy Blonde and Trooper, plus the seasonals Jester and Beerdo. There’s also an extensive and fairly reasonably-priced food menu. I’m not sure whether it served food in the past, but it certainly didn’t in its last few years.

8 comments:

  1. Here's a quote for you

    http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/3543028-tradition-is-not-the-worship-of-ashes-but-the-preservation

    Not from me, Lew Bryson the American beer blogger had it on one of his posts.

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  2. I will go and see for myself. Five beers feel much too much for a small town dining pub, the first three of those is plenty of choice (controversial view I know).

    Is there any practical reason for opening up a pub, e.g. making food delivery easier ?

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  3. Although it’s sad to see these original features removed, the alternative could have been worse. You say that the pub struggled to attract custom, and was even closed for a while, so Robinsons should be applauded for re-opening it.

    I agree that the removal of the internal partitions will almost certainly see the pub losing its NI status, but perhaps that is the price of its survival. I also agree with Martin; five beers are definitely too many – the seasonals, for example, are superfluous.

    It’s worthy of a separate blog post, but seasonal beers work for some breweries, (I’m thinking Harvey’s and Hook Norton here), but when they’re just beers with silly names, bashed out for the sake of it, they’re just a case of jumping on the bandwagon.

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  4. The Holly Bush is but 2 minutes’ walk from my house and was never on the radar beer wise - or anything else wise to be honest which is why the last three licensees lost a lot of money. It may have been a nice interior but it was ignored by all but a tiny minority. I never saw it busy even on Christmas Eve. Until about the last five years, it was a wet pub. They tried normal pub food then they tried tapas and they all failed. There are three other wet pubs within 5 minutes’ walk - the Spinners (Punch) across the road; much bigger, busy & lively with beer garden, the Dog & Partridge (another Robbies); definitely one for the locals and the Cotton Tree (Punch); under threat for a while but new management means it's thriving with an excellent pint of Bass.

    I'm not surprised that Robinsons looked long & hard at this venue and decided; against local wisdom (which was to sell it); to carry out the renovation - opening it up to give 50% more seating and an airier appearance. I suspect that's the reason they've opened it up - experience will have indicated that small-roomed pubs just aren't cutting it - despite CAMRA's love of them.

    I estimated that there were at least seven groups of people & organisations whom may have objected to the planning. Not one of them did.

    Initial reaction from the local community is positive. Nobody on the Bollington Facebook community page has criticised the renovation. They've taken more in two weeks than in the last six months it was open. The only criticism was under-estimating Bollington thirst and running out of cask beer entirely on the opening weekend :-) Ohh and not inviting the local CAMRA branch to the opening night...

    Will it succeed? Only time will tell but it certainly has a better chance of survival than before IMO. You have to come out fighting to compete with two GBG pubs, six other cask ale pubs and two local breweries.

    I just hope they put White Label beers on regularly because otherwise it won't be a beer destination pub. I remember almost having to physically drag a visiting CAMRA branch into the Dog & Partridge. It was the time they had Black Beauty (?) on. Otherwise, they'd have skipped it. Still got a way to go Robinsons to overcome some deep seated prejudice within CAMRA.

    I did postulate somewhere that historic pubs have to be in the right location to survive. Bollington is not a tourist town and has a lot of local competition. Due to pretty poor public transport links (Beeching closed the railway years ago), it’s often not on a beer crawl – with Macclesfield been the preferred destination for obvious reasons. Even one of the other historic pubs in our branch, the Castle in Macclesfield, is under threat of demolition because of years of neglect.

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  5. I know the police like unobstructed sightlines in pubs, for obvious reasons. Whether they'd actually object to a multi-room refurb (and if so how) I'm not sure, but it's a possibility.

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    Replies
    1. I can't see the police objecting to the reopening of a pub with a listed interior.

      Given all the various trends in pub and bar design nowadays, I don't really think that unobstructed sightlines are a key feature any more.

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  6. Agree with the comments about the range of beers; I was in a Wadworth pub this week with six of their beers on, all slightly varying shades of brown and slightly varying degrees of bland.

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  7. Jeremy Corbyns Left Nut15 April 2016 at 13:09

    looks nicer done up. looked a bit of a dump before. they should improve more pubs. make them nice for decent people.

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