Saturday 23 August 2014

Pretentious, moi?

Going back forty years or so, Robinson’s brewery seemed to have been afflicted by a virus for drastic, then-trendy pub refurbishments. These had no regard to the pubs’ traditional character and typically involved severe knocking through, “Spanish arches”, white artexed walls, 24-panel glass doors and low, lounge-style chairs. Fortunately, they eventually came to their senses and began carrying out sensible, tasteful updates like that of the Railway at Rose Hill, Marple.

But, more recently, a new generation of Robinsons has taken over, and they have started to take a more drastic approach. For a start, they have closed down a substantial number of their under-performing pubs, as I described here. Now, I’m the last person in the world to expect breweries to keep pubs open that they don’t see as viable, and Robinson’s haven’t applied restrictive covenants to any of them, but even so it’s a clear statement of intent.

They have also been taking a very consciously un-traditional approach to pub refurbishments, and seem to have completely jumped the shark with what has been done to the Farmer’s Arms in Poynton (which I have to admit I have never actually been in before or after).

Upon entry you are greeted by the gaze of Ermantrude, a full-size fiberglass cow. Hand painted, her floral design emulates the upholstery that adorns several new seating areas and is a taster of what awaits.

Elsewhere, customers will be charmed with a flutter of butterflies across the ceiling and a pantheon of cascading flowers that seemingly grow from the walls creating a theatrical focal point that has never before been seen in a Robinsons pub...

Major structural work has also taken place with the addition of an impressive orangery. New wallpaper, which resembles the shadows of trees, covers the walls of the new extension and seems to move with each cloud that passes overhead.

Nurse, nurse, the smelling salts please! The illustration looks as though someone has thrown up all over the wall and ceiling.

In the 60s and 70s, the then Watney Mann employed an interior designer called Roy Wilson-Smith who carried out some quite bizarre internal refurbishments that made drinking in a pub seem more like being in the jungle or a grotto. It seems that his spirit is alive and well and stalking the Robinson’s estate.

I’m sure I’m not alone in finding what has been done to the Farmer’s Arms a load of fashionable, pretentious twaddle that shows zero understanding of or sympathy for the concept of “pub atmosphere”. It’s the kind of trendy nonsense that CAMRA would once have had the guts to roundly condemn but will probably now praise as “bright and contemporary”. Will people never learn that what seems modern and cutting-edge today will look sadly dated in a few years’ time?

Browsing through Robinson’s website, I also came across this description of the refurbishment of the Crown on Walney Island in Furness, where the illustration (right) comes across as just the kind of deliberately uncosy, cold-coloured pub interior that I was complaining about here. It says it uses “a palette of light, neutral colours”, which is just what you don’t want to see in a pub, where colour schemes should be rich and warm.


  1. They don't look good on the face of it.

  2. Looks like a waste of money to me. I'm no design expert-and judging from the pictures, neither are they-but surely they have got it all wrong? By all means spruce it up and improve the facilities but a historic pub such as the Farmers would be best suited to bringing out its character; not a reinvention.

    On the plus side, this sort of thing is manna from heaven for a blog called 'Pub Curmudgeon':)

  3. I don't think the Farmer's was much cop before, to be honest. Someone on Twitter described the new refurb as looking like "a brothel for morris dancers".

  4. Nice piece Mudgie,allthough avoiding much criticism of the
    dismal resistance of Robinsons and similar companies to the reasons for closures.
    These false prophets bend their knees to chique embellishment,
    clamouring to please ever diminishing middle class posers
    chasing self over community.
    The real pubs appealed to all,from serfs to nobility,they were the open doors for social intercourse,for dissent,for debate,for enlightenment.
    They were the focus of foundation of the English Way, where dictators had no listeners.
    Sadly there are many who applaud the demolition of a once essential ingredient of our national character.

  5. The Blocked Dwarf23 August 2014 at 12:09

    The Smoking Verbot and Detox meant the last time I was in a pub was some 5+ years ago.

    Looking at the pictures makes the 12 Steps seem worthwhile.

    I shall need a narcotic strength cuppa and a smoke to recover from that Laura Ashley attack on my senses.

  6. Pub design has always been faddy and contentious. From 1834: “He who most lavishly bestows plate glass and gilding, together with a happy corruption or combination of all three of the Grecian orders into one, is the most likely to insure success..."

  7. It seems me the 'Butterflies' are trying to escape through the ceiling and are trapped. The furniture's fabric suggests solidity, yet the furniture itself gives no such reassurance. In this environment I would be disorientated and not in a nice way. Should I help the butterflies escape, poor things?

    Design can be faddy and OTT fun but bad design is just, bad design.

    The example of neutral colours may be more suitable for a cafe than a pub.

  8. Beyond the scatter cushion !

    Pint won't be cheap in there I reckon.

  9. If you want a cheap pint in Poynton you just get down the local Spoons - although that's another example of horrible design.

  10. Sounds like a wankers paradise

  11. I have to say Mudge, I often disagree with your view that dumpy old mans's pubs are the ideal model for pubs, I like a scatter cushion and a bit of ikea, but on this pub I hand it to you. You're right. What if going on with the seats with butterflies on? It's a mess. Most blokes are easy going with interior design and accept what the missus likes but if the missus did that to the house there would be words.

  12. Perhaps Robinson's money would be better spent on making less pissy and tired beer

  13. Went in the Red Lion in High lane a few weeks ago on a Sunday evening. All modern and pastel shades - not very welcoming! Alright for a meal, I assume, as a table of about 20 were just leaving, but for an evening's thanks!

    We were back a couple of days later and had a few in the Horse Shoe Inn - much more to my taste!

  14. Kind of glad we skipped it last weekend when we did a walk/mini-crawl from Bollington to Poynton; with the basic aim of visiting the Cask Tavern. We were a bit behind schedule so skipped it. Have been in before and it was a pretty standard Robbies pub. Sounds awful now! There's a new bar/music venue opening next door so competition is hotting up in downtown Poynton

  15. Laura Ashley meets Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen? But then we are talking Cheshire here!

  16. As a native of the county (which I continue to visualise in its pe-1974 form) it must be said that most of it doesn't remotely conform to the "Footballers' Wives" stereotype. Poynton is really just bog-standard suburbia.

  17. People have cottoned on that pubs are disgraceful unrespectable dirty places of ill health and life ruining addiction, that is why they are dying.

    The immoral peddlers of poisonous filth continue to think a "make over" will have people view them differently and lure the unwary into their alcohol soaked pits of degradation.

    It will take more than butterflies to lure the righteous. Those that want life enhancing fun will find it over a refreshing orange and pineapple cordial during a choral recital in the church hall

  18. "IF>>>>"IF>>>>
    Temperance Tim is real,I may agree
    with some of the aspects of low life pubs,now the festering sumps
    where back stabbers,traitors,fellow travellers,carpet baggers,appeasers,cap doffers and lick spittles congregate.
    Their constant wailing of existing laws are for eternity,"cant be changed" proving their spineless
    credentials. The same breed who once kept 6 years old down the pits because "because Parliament said so" ,cowtowing to every MPs

  19. Martin, Cambridge24 August 2014 at 08:30

    The Farmers is clearly setting up as a restaurant so any consideration about pubbiness are irrelevant. Picky drinkers have got that new Bollington Cask place and Spoons, the Legion is great, and of course Woodford has a classic pub 5 minutes away. The

    Personally I've avoided Poynton since that scary shared space was introduced.

  20. Have you been in the Thief's Neck since it was refurbished earlier this year? Vastly better than the Farmer's Arms, but to my mind it's still lost a good deal of its old charm - for example getting rid of the dartboard from the tap room.

    You can read twelve pages of discussion about the Poynton "shared space" scheme here.

  21. Both Anon and TT on top form here. I've seen quite a few of the recent Robbies refurbishments and most are pretty good (if not exactly fittng in with your rather strict requirements of what a pub "should" look like, they do seem pretty popular with the people who actually use them). Here though I think the designers have been let of the leash, to say the least, and I have promised myself a return visit in 6-9 months to see how all this stuff is wearing - it certainly looks like it will need a lot of attention if it's not going to get pretty shabby, pretty quickly.

  22. As you know, John, I basically approach pubs as part of the heritage industry - whether or not they are actually successful is not, at the end of the day, my problem.

    Having said that, the work that Robinson's have done over the past couple of years at the Tatton Arms, Healey Hotel and Davenport Arms (despite slight reservations above) isn't unreasonable and manages to retain something of a pubby feel.

    The Baker's Vaults isn't remotely to my taste, but I appreciate that they're trying to achieve a trendy café-bar feel, and it wasn't exactly a National Inventory candidate before.

    But this really does look as though they have been carried away with their own enthusiasm and harks back to the contrived theme pubs of the late 60s and early 70s which, as we know, proved both architecturally and commercially disastrous.

  23. Yes - I don't think we will always agree about pubs and the way some of them are changing. However I think the Farmers Arms is like one of those old episodes of "Changing Rooms" where design was allowed to ride roughshod over functionality. There are one of two good bits, particularly in the areas for drinking rather than eating (although everything is quite light and bright), but the overall impression is of something that hase been seriously over-designed - you will see from the photo you've posted that apart from the stuff on the wall and ceiling, there are also mulitple rows of candles in jars - all needing heavy duty maintenance.

    I think it wil function very well as a decent place to eat. It wil be interesting to see how it all develops.

  24. "As you know, John, I basically approach pubs as part of the heritage industry - whether or not they are actually successful is not, at the end of the day, my problem."

    Pubs as museums, Mudge? Not a contemporary, relevant service industry? Sounds like your a bigger threat to pubs than smoking bans.

  25. @Cookie - in just the same way as how for many bloggers the only thing that matters about a pub is how many awesome craft beers it sells :p

    But I think you'll find that architectural vandalism has seldom been a recipe for success. All those brewers who turned pubs into spaceships or Zulu kraals in the 1960s must have felt a bit sick when people suddenly started going for the old-worlde again in the 1970s.

  26. There are two different levels of refurbishment: redecoration, which can of course be reversed if it proves not to work in the long term, or alterations to the fabric of the building, which usually cannot.

    One large pub near here had all the rooms knocked through into one some time ago: it's barn-like and looks empty even when it has a number of customers that would make other pubs appear reasonably busy.

    Another was knocked through, filled with pool tables, the real ale knocked off even though it was selling well enough, the shelves filled with bottled lager and alcopops, and the name changed to Mr Q's. As an attempt to appeal to the youth market, it succeeded for around 6 months. It has now reverted to its original name and tried to become a local again, but it has lost all its old customers to other pubs.

    Plain silly.

  27. Here's the offending cow in all her glory. I think the name should actually be "Ermintrude" as in "The Magic Roundabout".

  28. The pub down the road from me painted over its traditional dark hardwood interior in pale blue paint that would be more fitting in a seaside pub.

    Its completely ruined the room, suddenly it seems cold and grubby, rather than cosy and warm. You suddenly feel exposed sitting in the corner. Trade has dropped off.

  29. Absolutely, it may be trendy, but it's completely inappropriate for pubs.

    Incidentally, aren't all the rough wood drawers claiming to contain "HP Sauce", "Cheshire Cheese" and "Farmhouse Chips" shown on the first picture another piece of pretentious toss?

  30. Well, who's to say what's "appropriate" for pubs these days? If you have a certain fixed idea of what a "proper pub" should be like then maybe. However "the pub" as a concept is evolving into a variety of incarnations and what is appropriate for one won't be for another. I don't think these days you can apply a blanket "one size fits all" rule of thumb.

    Having said that I do agree that this place has been somewhat "over designed" - and will require a lot of attention to stop it looking tatty. The drawers are another facet of this - there was some amusement on opening night that some of them were misspelled ("Vegtables" for example). And as for the "buckets" doubling up as urinals in the gents...

  31. The first picture reminds me of 'Spoons in Cumbernauld, but less good (that is more "cow and tree"); whilst the second is very "breakfast room of a German pension" (which, mind you, may also serve a nicer beer).

  32. JC said : "Well, who's to say what's "appropriate" for pubs these days?"

    Mudgie is, John, Mudgie.

  33. Am I not allowed to have opinions, Cookie?

    History has shown that "gimmick" pub design invariably proves a long-term failure, and interior schemes that are self-consciously modern all too rapidly become dated.

  34. Course you are fella, even daft ones.

  35. I called in the Farmer’s Arms today to take a quick look. Obviously not aimed at the casual drinker, but just as dreadful as I had expected – and £3.40 for a pint of 3.8% Dizzy Blonde to boot. There's a marked lack of comfortable seating even in the “bar” area. And, when you walk in, you’re greeted with dreaded “are you eating today, Sir?”

  36. did you reply "what, in here, are you kidding?"


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