Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Left defenceless

Sad news, although not coming as a complete surprise, that Robinson’s Waterloo just off Hillgate in Stockport has recently closed. Given that all the brewery lettering has been removed, it doesn’t look as though they have any plans for reopening it, and I’d be very surprised if any other buyer came in to run it as a pub.

It was never an unspoilt gem, and had an odd layout whereby the positions of vault and lounge had been reversed at some point in the past, leaving the long bar counter on the “best side”. But it always seemed to have a good community spirit, and won at least one CAMRA Pub of the Month award. A claim to fame was that it was opposite the erstwhile Strawberry Studios, and many famous musicians had been spotted enjoying a pint in there over the years.

Its loss will also reduce the number of pubs serving real ale on the famous Hillgate Stagger to an unprecedented low of seven. Here’s a picture of a relaxed pub dog I took in there on last year’s event.

In recent years, Robinson’s have culled a number of traditional urban locals in and around Stockport town centre – for example the Spread Eagle just down the road, the Unity, the Adswood Hotel, the Tiviot and the Grapes in Edgeley. Apart from the Flying Dutchman further up Hillgate, which has been revived as the Fairway, none of the others have been taken on as pubs by new owners. The Railway in the centre of Whaley Bridge, a similar type of pub, has also recently bitten the dust.

To be honest, they largely seem to have largely given up on this segment of the market in favour of craft beer and dining pubs, and this is shown by their apparent unwillingness to offer any kind of financial support package to their tenants to allow them to be more price-competitive. As I wrote here, Robinson’s were never a particularly cheap brewer, and now that their main competitors in Stockport are no longer the Big Six breweries but Wetherspoon’s, Sam Smith’s, Holt’s and independent free houses, their tenants are left very exposed.

On Castle Street in Edgeley, Punch Taverns have recently carried out an expensive and thoroughgoing refurbishment of the Sir Robert Peel. Not my cup of tea, but it’s smart, well-thought-out and clearly appeals to its target market. It also offers Fosters and John Smith’s Extra Smooth for £2 a pint, all day, every day. As I wrote here, while the nearby Armoury is in pretty much every respect a far superior pub, if it’s charging a quid more for a pint, how can it compete for the trade of cost-conscious drinkers? Don’t forget that, while it may be cask beer that you see as defining a pub, most beer sold in pubs is lager, and without a strong lager-drinking contingent very few pubs would be viable.

I’m not going to put the kiss of death on any particular pubs by naming them, but there are still quite a few that it’s not hard to see going the same way.

13 comments:

  1. What are Robbies doing with their closed pubs? Are they leaving them boarded up or are they selling them for alternative use, generating cash for some of their other projects such as the "Visitor Centre" or collaborative products? Historically the company were pretty frugal but the current generation have a very different perspective.

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  2. It's a mixture - a few have been taken over by others as pubs, some sold for alternative use, some for residential development. They have retained some such as Cobden's (ex Manchester Arms) for possible future reopening. Others, such as the Royal Mortar on Higher Hillgate, have just been left derelict for years.

    To their credit, my understanding is that none have been sold with restrictive covenants preventing reuse as a pub.

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    1. They do have a propensity for leaving closed pubs boarded up. The Grove in Buxton being a particularly annoying example, situated as it is in a architecturally significant part of the town.

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    2. They don't actually. There are a couple in Stockport that have been "mothballed" but generally they sell their closed pubs as quickly as they can and any subsequent boarding up is down to the new owners and not Robinsons.

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    3. Another in that category is the Swan on the A6 in New Mills Newtown, of which I'm sure you've told me that Robinsons are baffled why the new owners have done nothing with it for years.

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    4. That's right - there was a comment in Opening Times about this and this provoked a letter from Peter Robinson no less. They sold this one about 10 years ago since when the new owner appears to have done nothing with it.

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    5. @John - I remember calling in there with you on the way back from visiting the Royal Cottage on the Buxton-Leek road.

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    6. Yes indeed. That was my one and only visit there I think.

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  3. In fairness to Robinsons they closed and sold the Royal Mortar years ago (back in the day when a Robbies closure was something of a rarity) so its current state of dereliction is down to whoever owns it now. Shame about the Tiviot - I do think they might have kept that going if it hadn't been falling down.

    They do also have quite an extensive tenant support package but I don't think this extends to the price of the beer - which of course is the elephant in the room.

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    1. Oh, I entirely accept that Robinsons do make an effort to find new tenants but, as you say, the elephant in the room is that, without price support, many of their wet-led urban pubs are simply unviable in that trading format. Also see this tweet from Stuart Vallantine.

      Clearly Punch do think it's worthwhile to offer sufficient support to enable the tenant or lessee of the Bobby Peel to sell Fosters and John Smith's at £2 a pint.

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  4. That is a shame as i did most Robinsons tied houses in Greater Manchester and Derbyshire plus quite a few in Cheshire,i only missed out on the North Wales ones.
    Been to Stockport loads of times pub crawling either with the wife or in later years on my own.
    I love the town and have done all pubs you said had closed.

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  5. Being from Merseyside, I don't know any of these pubs, but it's sad to see such a trail of destruction anywhere.

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  6. I'd never realised until I went to photograph it yesterday that the Waterloo had a small car park at the rear.

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