Tuesday 15 December 2009

Gone but not forgotten

Earlier this year I made a post noting the sad loss of most of the pubs on the main road between Ashton-under-Lyne and Oldham, which provoked an oddly poetic comment about the decline of the Ashton pub scene.

This is now starkly underlined by Steve Gwilt in the latest issue of Opening Times, in an article entitled Gone but not forgotten... Ashton-under-Lyne, a study in misery for the drinker. (Warning, it’s a big .pdf, and you’ll need to scroll down to Page 16).

More than one in three pubs in existence in the town fifteen years ago have now closed, he says, and the situation is much the same in many of the Manchester satellite towns, although Stockport has not suffered quite so badly. He writes:
Out west, the credit crunch, the smoking ban, town centre redevelopment and the changing demographics have done for several pubs.
And his conclusion is a reproach to anyone who still goes on about the reason pubs are closing is that they’re crap:
And yet I’ve always admired those down to earth staunchly working class locals and Ashton had many. Places doing what they’ve done for a century or more – being the heart of a local community and helping dull the pain of the day to day miseries we all face. Of course these pubs are much the better if they have some architectural merit; and much more palatable if they sell real ale. But even a cold leaking shack dispensing chemical lager to a band of dedicated locals should have its place in our communities. No food, and no frills and no beer mats laying down the law and selling healthy lifestyles either. But these pubs are slipping away and part of our history is going with them.

More than one in every three pubs we had in Ashton 15 years ago is gone, and many of those that remain are up for sale or to let. Now you might disagree with me that these pubs are worth saving. But too often in Opening Times I see remarks such as “good riddance” when a non-real ale pub closes for the last time. Yet it is these ordinary pubs that form an established network of community locals – with their darts teams and pool tables, their dominoes, cards and quizzes and yes, their keg beers too. They are the fabric of our communities and we should do all in our power to support them – real ale or not.

A “bad” pub can always be turned into a “good” pub. A demolished or de-licensed pub is lost forever – like the nearly 40 pubs of Ashton you won’t find today.

The same issue of Opening Times also contains the write-up (on Page 9) of the pub crawl of Stockport Market Place that I referred to here – so those who don’t know can find out my real name.


  1. 'Bad pubs' with keg beer are as important (if not more important) when they fulfil a community role, and when they allow darts teams to play and dominoes teams to flourish. My local when I was 18 (some 7 years ago now) had a footy team and both of the above (men and women's), and also a pool team (of which I was part of) and some of my happiest memories of coming of age are joining the lads for a pint before an away match and enjoying the hospitality of another 'bad pub'.

    I can be a beer snob when I want to be, but the death of local pubs saddens me and the fact that a pub is called bad because it doesn't serve real ale and real ale only saddens me more (and I'm not implying that you or the article on Ashton do that, but they highlight an attitude I've heard in the past).

    Pubs that truly are the heart of a community deserve saving, not based on quality of beer but quality of community service.

    And of course if they sell good beer (including real ale) all the better.

  2. Well said Mudge, and well said Mark.

    Some of the best nights in my life were spent in pubs like those that we are losing by the score each and every week.

    Bastard smoking ban. It began with that.

    No if's and's or but's.

    And it is within governments remit to stop the slaughter.

    That they do nothing makes them no less than criminals, as far as I am concerned.


  3. When I started drinking in the seventies, there was the Salford Hundred mega-crawl - there were a hundred pubs along Regent Road. Now I doubt if there are more than twenty or thirty. While many would have been demolished because of the housing changes in the area, I suspect that few replacements were built along with the replacement housing.

  4. Whilst it is provocative to descibe any business as crap, how does one describe a business that serves none of my needs? Many of these traditional old school, old man, dumpy pubs you describe may very well be well loved by some, but they do nothing for me. I have to presume if they were well loved, they would be thriving. If they are not, I have to presume most people think on similiar lines to myself.

    Those lines are that when I walk into a pub I want it to be well lit, clean, modern and somewhere the lass is happy to join me.

  5. Martin, Cambridge16 December 2009 at 17:46

    The decline of Ashton's pubs is sad, I recall there being up to half a dozen town centres locals in the Beer Guide a decade ago.

    I hope the relative success of Stockport is more to do with "success-breeds-success" syndrome, seen recently on the A6, rather than that Robbies are keeping going a horde of pubs with dwindling custom.

    By the way, Peter, I really appreciate the clear descriptions of beer quality from your recent crawl; too many CAMRA newsletters tell me that every beer sampled is wonderful - honest criticism often produces improvements !


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