It was clear well before July 2007 that the British pub was already in a long-term structural decline. Between 1997 (when the BBPA statistical series starts) and the year to June 2007, beer sales in pubs had fallen by 27%, and a lot of prominent pubs had closed. (For comparison, in the four and a half years since June 2007, sales have fallen by a further 26%)
But when did it start to become clear that this was happening, that a few isolated closures actually added up to a significant trend? Pubs certainly did close in the 1980s, especially in areas of inner-urban decline, but there was generally a feeling that this was just an adjustment to population movements, and at this time new pubs were still being opened in built-up areas, such as the Hind’s Head in Heaton Chapel and the Four in Hand in Didsbury. Some of which, such as the Milestone/Rising Sun in Burnage, were closed again within twenty years.
However, around the turn of the decade, something seemed to begin to change. Maybe it was linked with the go-getting, yuppie culture of the time, but somehow just going to the pub for a drink started to seem less of a default way of spending your leisure time. This coincided with the Beer Orders which led to the transfer of over half the pubs in Britain from the major brewers to pub companies which took a more calculating and dispassionate view of their estates. Owning 10,000 pubs became less a sign of strength and more of a burden.
The first major sign that somewhat was afoot came not with mass closures, but with the large-scale removal of cask beer in the mid-Nineties from many of the less prominent and more downmarket pubs. This started to become apparent around 1996. Of course, many of the pubs to which that happened ended up closing ten years later.
I have written before of the variety of changes in society that have led to people being less inclined to drink in pubs, and most of these trends (excepting the smoking ban) were clearly gathering pace by 2000. But it was only after that date that the high-profile pub closures became impossible to ignore.
In hindsight, what probably brought it home to me was a pub called The Salter in Weaverham in Cheshire, which closed its doors in about 2001. It was a 1950s estate-type pub, but in a reasonably pleasant and prosperous area, and well-sited on a main road. Nobody could claim its location made it unviable. It’s now this little housing development. And it has proved to be the precursor of many, many more.