Wednesday 22 April 2015

Careful cultivation

Whenever you hear that a pub is going be closed for refurbishment, there’s always a slight feeling of unease. OK, if it’s just a case of repainting and reupholstering and improving the toilets, then there’s nothing to worry about, but anything more than that and you sort of know it’s going to end up worse. Smarter, brighter, cleaner maybe, but inevitably opened out a little more, lacking a few more original features and a bit less cosy and comfortable. It will be praised in the local CAMRA magazine for being “sensitive” and “widening the pub’s appeal”, but some of what gave it character before will have gone. You can see this in some local pubs – the Spread Eagle in Bredbury particularly springs to mind – where, over the years, multiple revamps have transformed what was once an unspoilt traditional interior into an open-plan space that could be any of a hundred pubs.

It’s even more worrying when you hear rumours of work being planned at a much-loved pub that features on CAMRA’s National Inventory of historic pub interiors. For quite a while there has been talk of changes at the Nursery in Heaton Norris, Stockport, and Hydes Brewery have now formally lodged their plans with the local council. However, having had a good look at them, it appears that there’s nothing to be concerned about. The pub, a rare original example of a 1930s design scheme, is now a listed building, which restricts the scope to make structural changes, and the fact that Stockport’s chief conservation officer lives just a few doors down the road will have ensured that the plans received careful scrutiny. The documents attached to the planning application include a large number of interior photographs and before-and-after floorplans.

The only structural alterations are to convert the disused off-sales department into a ladies’ toilet to serve the vault (which previously only had a gents’), close off a serving hatch that wasn’t an original feature anyway, and replace the modern back bar fitting. All the fixed seating and original period decorations including the stained glass windows depicting plants and garden implements are to be retained, while the decorative designs make extensive use of Thirties motifs. So all credit to Hydes for coming up with a very sympathetic scheme that if anything will improve the pub. As the planning assessment concludes:
The impact of the redecoration will therefore be to enhance the existing character and internal building features, reinforcing the separate room layout of the plan form with reference to the 1930’s in the finishes without attempting to create a museum or stage set.

The proposed refurbishment of the Nursery Inn in Heaton Norris represents a faith in the future of this public house by the brewery and will help to secure its long term future and use.

The character of the Listed Building will be enhanced internally and the fabric of the building given a new lease of life.

If only they’d take the TV screens out of the rear smoke room, though!

Hydes are also planning to refurbish the Horse & Farrier in Gatley in the coming months. This doesn’t have an original interior like the Nursery, but maybe fifteen or twenty years ago it was renovated to become a “Heritage Inn” with much dark wood and a rambling layout of several cosy areas around the central bar. To my eye it's one of the most congenial non-original pub interiors in Stockport. No plans have been published yet, so let’s hope they’re not too drastic.


  1. I remember bumping to some drinkers from Preston who were singing the praises of a pub they particularly liked in Southport. "It's recently been refurbished," I told them.

    "Oh, my God!" was the response.

  2. I'm intrigued as to why anyone would feel "unease" like you say you do.

    In every case I can think of, when someones told me a pub is closed for a refurb, it opens as less of a shithole and somewhere you can take your bird in. Often somewhere clean enough you'd actually be willing to use the bogs for a dump.

    By and large my expectation when hearing of a refurb is to expect a fumigation and less of a dump when it opens.

    At the very least they will have to nudge the old codger that smells and is there from dawn till dusk so its an opportunity to check whether he's still alive.

    In the case of Robbies and Stuckpit they can reopen as horrendous middle class pits with signs banning football shirts and the working classes but they have always been overpriced pits of mediocrity, just a bit more dumpy.

  3. I see the Pol Pot of beer blogging has spoken.

    Can I suggest a read of The Village Inn by John Betjeman?

  4. Why would he change my mind? That's just like his opinion, man.

    When every refurb I've seen, left a nicer gaff than the dump that preceded it.


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