Thursday, 2 May 2013

A deep draught of history

I have written before about how the creation of the National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors is one of the best things that CAMRA has ever done, and will prove to be one of the most enduring. While there are still around 50,000 pubs trading in the UK, fewer than 300 retain an interior that is largely unchanged since the pub was built, or even since before the Second World War. Most of these pubs are still very much in business and very often the original interior continues to function very well while providing an atmosphere sadly lacking with so many soulless modern refurbishments. I am fortunate to have one of them as my local – the Nursery in Heaton Norris, Stockport, a splendid multi-roomed, wood-panelled suburban pub little changed since it was built in 1939.

Not before time, CAMRA has now produced a book covering all the National Inventory in a single volume, complete with extensive colour photography, for a very reasonable £9.99. There’s a fuller description (and a lower price for non-members) on Amazon, where it says:

Full-colour guide to over 260 pubs throughout the UK which have interiors of real historic significance - some of them stretching back a century or more. It is the first time ever that these pubs have been collected into a single volume. Illustrated with high quality photography, the guides extensive listings are the product of years of surveying and research by CAMRA volunteers dedicated to preserving and protecting our rich pub heritage. With a foreword by Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage.
I haven’t actually laid my hands on a copy yet, but I certainly will be doing, and if the various volumes produced for individual regions are anything to go by it should be very attractively designed and well-written.

These pubs are an important part of both our architectural heritage and social history, and represent something that is much more relevant to the life of ordinary people than stately homes and castles, however splendid they may be. In the 1970s, a liking for “old-fashioned pubs” was very much part of the mainstream of CAMRA, but more recently, with the growing emphasis on new beers and breweries, they have perhaps somewhat slid down the pecking order.

It occurs to me that it might be a good idea for CAMRA, possibly in conjunction with the National Trust, to establish a separate organisation, perhaps called “Friends of Heritage Pubs”, which would allow people with an interest in traditional pubs to contribute directly to championing their cause and resisting unsympathetic and destructive alterations. This could well attract support from many people who aren’t specifically interested in real ale or indeed beer at all. There remains a widespread warm fuzzy feeling about olde-worlde inns that goes far beyond the ranks of CAMRA.


  1. a separate organisation, perhaps called “Friends of Heritage Pubs”

    Excellent idea.

  2. Why is it a good thing that a boozer has not moved with the times and is stuck in the past? Why is old shit considered good?

    If we assume humanity is a progressive species and the amount of land is fixed, then in order to improve things you have to knock down the old to build the new. The new being better than the old.

    If this weird mentality of venerating old crap existed a couple of hundred years ago people would still bath once a year, wear dirty rags and live off turnips. Now that may be the life of the average CAMRA beard but the rest of us like progress. It means things get better.

    I blame the antiques roadshow. If we had a show called "destroy old crap and make something better" Britain would be out recession.

  3. Well, I've just ordered my copy from Amazon (do you get commission?)!

    I'd be happy to be a 'Friend of Heritage Pubs'. I perfectly fit your profile as I'm a confirmed lager drinker and know nothing about so called 'real' ale (nor do I care about it either, but I do care about pubs!)

  4. I seem to recall Pol Pot trying that, Cookie. It was called "Year Zero". The Taliban seem quite keen on that approach too.

  5. Straw man there Mudge, no mention of Hitler?

    You might have compared it to the story of Atlas Shrugged by the mother of your libertarian philosophy, Aryn Rand, where progress is thwarted by regulation in a story of destruction and thwarted renewal. You're a right rubbish libertarian, you, fella.

  6. “Friends of Heritage Pubs” Motion for the AGM next year, CM?

  7. Got my copy last week.Very good it is too. It only covers part 1 inventory pubs with mostly new photography by Geoff Brandwood - some older shots by Michael Slaughter.It contains a few cheesy pics of locals around the bar, but generally an excellent and long awaited publication.
    Excellent idea regarding freinds of heritage pubs, gladly join such a worthwhile cause.

  8. Rather than putting forward an AGM motion, it might be worth proposing the idea to the NE - any ideas as to who the best person would be?

  9. Cookie, while we're on politics, didn't Edmund Burke say that society was "a partnership between the dead, the living and those yet to be born"?

    It's a sign of a civilised society that it values and preserves the best of its past - and remember the National Trust is a voluntary organisation, not an arm of government. A classic example of the Big Society in action.

    If all of our 50,000 pubs were laid out as they were in the 1930s, it might be a problem for the development of the industry. If less than 1% are, it isn't, and indeed it's something to be celebrated and cherished.

  10. If Tandleman's willing, he might be a good person to submit the idea to the NE after his high profile AGM, but perhaps backed by other members such as you and me, CM. I'm in the National Trust and could send it to them too.

  11. CL: "If we assume humanity is a progressive species and the amount of land is fixed, then in order to improve things you have to knock down the old to build the new. The new being better than the old."

    I thought I was the out-of-touch, Leftie dreamer here! Quite charming that you assume humans are a progressive species and the new is always better than the old. I'm sure that the 60s developers said exactly the same thing when they built estates and high rises that are now being demolished as hopelessly unsuitable for living in. In my last job, I visited thousands of such homes; I thought "good riddance" when I heard many of them had been demolished after a mere 30 or 40 years.

  12. And it's actually cheaper on Amazon for CAMRA members if you include the postage that CAMRA charge (Amazon have the super-saver free delivery option).

  13. @Mudge. Not wishing to delve too far into politics and off the subject of grotty pubs, but just pointing out you are more disgruntled conservative than libertarian. It isn’t a libertarian society you want with individual freedom but you would just like the restrictions to mirror you own values rather than those of the rest of us. A grotty old pub club would be a harmless enough thing finding value and utility in the grotty remnants of the past. If that club started to get restrictions on future development of the grotty old building then it is venerating the past at the expense of the future.

    @Nev yes, slums were knocked down for something better and that is now being replaced with something better. All economic activity to the good of progress. We could learn a bit from the Germans here though. When they rebuilt Munich & Hamburg they did a nice job, better than Coventry. Still, you can always knock it down and start again. So long as a group of old codgers don’t start venerating the old crap.

    @Fishter You’ve noticed the big rip off of the beard club eh? Get a load of daft volunteers to work for nowt compiling a book and sell it back to them. Laugh as you sell it back to them for more than it goes for outside the club on the excuse that every penny helps “the campaign” or Benners paper clip collection.

  14. Like it or not, old buildings make people happy. They give them a sense of continuity with generations past and generations to come and a sense of their own place in history. The unique nature of our surroundings, whether natural or man-made, provides an invaluable underpinning of our sense of national, regional and personal identity.

    Renovation is only progressive when the value of what you put up exceeds the value of what you tear down.

  15. "If that club started to get restrictions on future development of the grotty old building then it is venerating the past at the expense of the future."

    I take it you disagree with the listed building system, then?

  16. I take it you disagree with the listed building system, then?

    I take a Buddhist view that it is futile. That permanence is an illusion. That all is process. As indicated by the 3rd law of thermodynamics that infers entropy. All old crap will at some point decay as will all things. Some old buildings look nice and might have current utility. I wouldn’t stop anyone from knocking it down. If they bought it they can do what they like with it. If it turns out to be a mistake you can knock it down again and build what there before or something new again.

    Look at Las Vegas. The pyramids there are better than the ones in Egypt. They are newer and the climate is more clement for looking at them and you can get better cocktails in the nearby casinos. Egypt is a grot hole. America is quite nice. The Disney kingdom in Florida and California is in many ways nicer than the Bavarian castles they were based on. Things get better Mudge, progress is good.

  17. How lovely to believe that every politician, every planning department, every property developer and every builder all have human perfectibility as a primary mission statement. None will ever approve, finance or build substandard properties. I'm reassured about this being the best of all possible worlds - and it's getting better all the time! The same principle must also apply to blogs: some fade away to leave room for superior specimens.

  18. Now now, Nev. A flame that burns twice as bright, burns half as long, old chap.

    Nobody sets out to do a crap job nor make things worse. You either accept the profit motive has an overall beneficial effect of improvement or you consider it to be filthy greed. You either look forward with optimism or hanker after 1950. Take your pick.

    Some things are nicer now, than they used to be.

  19. Some things are nicer now, than they used to be.

    You contradict yourself. Either everything's nicer than it used to be, or some changes are for the worse & are therefore worth opposing. (That's logic, that is.)

  20. Not really Phil, Over time everything is better. In the short term a change may succeed or fail, but overall the direction of travel is improvement. By opposing change you oppose the improvements. Like evolution.

  21. P.S. the book is currently £6.89 on amazon with free postage. A better none members discount should you want a coffee table book of crappy old pubs.

  22. think it was on offer at the AGM for £7.99, I took a quick look at it as I was interested in the pubs locally included, more especially as there was one in that Id never have thought in a million years would count as a heritage pub but it does as arguably its not as pubs they are included, its often just one particular feature of the pub that makes it heritage worthy, which might ease Cookies concerns that it looks to encapsulate these places in lucite never to be altered completely again :)

    and you might find a better link up suggesting collaboration with English Heritage than the NT, as they helped with the book.

    but in the end even with a discount, I didnt buy it as I dont actually think its that interesting as a book to read/look up/sit on coffee table, theres not enough history or context to the pubs it describes, and I saved my money...for once.

  23. The National Trust has much more expertise than English Heritage in mounting campaigns and running a membership organisation. Also has a much larger membership to potentially tap into.

  24. I've now got my copy of this - a very impressive book, and surprisingly heavy for a small-format paperback.

    My one minor gripe is that it would be enhanced by adding exterior shots of the pubs. Yes, I know the NI is basically about pub interiors, but showing the exteriors would help put them in context, and also make it more saleable to the general public.


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