Sunday, 2 September 2012

Were they ever any good?

I am fortunate to have as my local pub the Nursery Inn in Heaton Norris, Stockport, a previous winner of CAMRA’s national Pub of the Year Award. It’s a pub built in 1939 to replace an earlier one just down the road, and has the typical elegant but restrained styling cues of that era. It’s a substantial pub, but small enough to retain some intimacy of scale, and it still works pretty well and continues to do good business.

However, it is very noticeable from my blog of Closed Pubs how many of the pubs that have closed have been magnificent edifices of the inter-wars period, often in the “Brewer’s Tudor” style, almost resembling licensed stately homes, that have fallen into decay, dereliction and eventually demolition.

Despite their impressive architecture, was it maybe the case that many of these pubs were always too big and too impersonal, and never really developed that sense of community, intimacy and feeling at home that are so vital for success? Shortly after I moved into this area, I remember going in to the Gateway in East Didsbury (now a Wetherspoon’s) at a quiet time and being struck by what an unappealing, soulless place it was. Having said that, by the time I came to use them, most of these pubs had been gutted to a greater or lesser extent and so had lost much of their original character.

I’ve never been there, but one of the most magnificent survivals of this era of pub building must be the Berkeley in Scunthorpe, now owned by Sam Smith’s and featuring on CAMRA’s National Inventory of Pub Interiors. There are very few in the country that are anywhere near as intact.


  1. The problem with a lot of these 'Roadhouse' pubs was that they were improved in the '60s and '70s by knocking down the internal partitions to create large souless areas.
    Luckily in Cardiff we still have the Birchgrove as a fine example of this style

  2. They were the "theme" pubs of their day, and every bit as artificial as some of today's creations. Back in the 20'and 30's the brewers came up with the idea of the "improved public-house" in order to counter a strong temperance movement, backed by a licensing system that was far from sympathetic towards the public house.

    The idea was that instead of somewhere for men to go and get drunk in, the improved pubs were designed to appeal to families. With waiter service in many of them, plus food, games and even libraries, these places were supposed to show the powers that be (licensing magistrates, police etc), that brewers were caring and responsible people.

    I think that even back then, these massive mock-Tudor, or Art Deco roashouses were not the rip-roaring sucess that their creators hoped they would be. People on the whole prefer somewhere more cosy and intimate to meet up for a drink and don't like an artificial, and barely disguised, government sponsored artificial pub environment foisted upon them.

    Architectural and historical considerations aside, their demise is no huge loss.

  3. I think Paul is right. I have read in some pub history or other that these big new roadhouses weren't all that popular as people preferred the smaller old fashioned pubs.

    I also think there is a trend these days for the bigger old pubs to be closing down. They must cost an awful lot to run and would I guess have to do a roaring trade most nights be be financially viable.

  4. As you say, a lot of these pubs were ruined by being knocked through. There is one near me which had its four distinct bars until well into the 1980s but now consists of two cavernous, soulless spaces. In Bristol there are many of this type of pub. In the (generally) more affluent northern suburbs, they are still hanging on for the most part. In the south, however, many are derelict, demolished or converted into Tescos.

  5. Re: 'stately homes', the bit on 'Tolly Follies' here is interesting.

  6. Martin, Cambridge4 September 2012 at 18:37

    The most impressive pub of this style locally is the vast Golden Hind, a "Tolly Folly" on the A10 into Cambridge that seems to have prospered as a "2 for 1" but also gets a good crowd of drinkers, despite being open and characterless.

    The Berkeley is a magnificent pub, with a very male clientele and superb Sam Smiths, but not a place to take female company.


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