Saturday 28 September 2019

Whither the village pub?

On my recent visit to Cambridge, I happened to be driving through the village of Harston, to the south-west of the city, and spotted a closed Indian restaurant prominently situated in the fork of two roads. It looked like an obvious former pub, and after a certain amount of digging I found out that it was originally called the Old English Gentleman. Clearly a shoo-in for my Closed Pubs blog.

However, my investigations also revealed that there were two other closed pubs in the village, the Pemberton Arms and the Three Horseshoes, leaving just the Queen’s Head still standing, plus a keg-only brewery tap on an outlying industrial estate that is only open for ten hours a week. This is a familiar story from villages up and down the country.

Yet Harston is situated in area where there’s a lot of new housing development going on nearby. Surely that should provide new custom for its pubs. After all, it’s often said that being close to a good local pub is often a major factor in housebuying decisions – for example, this report states that a quarter of homebuyers see it as important. However, this seems to be yet another example of revealed preference, where what people say to pollsters isn’t borne out by what they actually do on the ground. There’s very little evidence that building new housing in practice does much to help village pubs. It’s a demonstration of the “chimneypots fallacy” that nearby housing is a guarantee of trade.

Take the large village or small town of Holmes Chapel, right in the heart of Cheshire. The 2011 census gave it a population of 5,605, but that has since been substantially boosted by major housing developments on three sides. It once had four pubs, one of which, the Good Companions, closed a number of years ago. Of the three remaining, Sam Smith’s Swan, just over the railway line from a big new estate, is currently closed, leaving just two, plus a new craft bar/micropub. Despite a large influx of new residents, it doesn’t seem to be boom time for pubs in Holmes Chapel. Maybe the archetypal village local isn’t what new house buyers are looking for.

Planning permission has now been granted for the former Old English Gentleman to be turned into a convenience store. Clearly that will be of more benefit to the local community than a closed Indian restaurant. And, while we may bemoan the loss of pubs to retail use, it has to be remembered that all pubs are not equal. While some can genuinely say they are the heart of their village, others adopt a trading format that delivers very little to local residents, something with which my recent Twitter poll agreed:


  1. Out of the four pubs (in recent history - there were loads more) that used to sit on the half mile stretch between the Tynemouth Lodge Hotel and North Shields, only the Lodge remains. Two are now convenience stores and one, the former very successful Tap and Spile, has just been converted to three townhouses. All at least doing something useful. Times change - all three were hanging on well past their sell-by date long before the smoking ban.

  2. maybe the people don't want a old codger pub.

    Pull out the bench seats, get some posing tables, put down the pub cat, get some craft gin on. Place would thrive.

  3. The Stafford Mudgie29 September 2019 at 09:17

    I would be interested to know the percentages had the choice been "convenience store" or "Proper Pub".

    1. Yes, the poll is setting up something of a false dichotomy. But it is certainly true that a shop will be of use to most village residents, some types of pub rather less so.

    2. I imagine that there would be a large majority in favour of 'proper pub', with most of those in favour popping in once every year or so.

    3. The Stafford Mudgie29 September 2019 at 14:16

      T'other Mudgie,
      I doubt "that a shop will be of use to most village residents" as the new housing developments going on in villages all over the country are based on car ownership and having moved in it's so so easy to drive each week to the edge of town 'supermarket' with plenty of parking, more choice and possibly lower prices.
      I would never risk relying on the use of a car but millions do.

      Yes "once every year or so" for all too many. In Wolverhampton yesterday three friends from the mid 1970s were saying how much nicer pubs are since the smoking ban but it was only on my way home that I thought that two of them probably use pubs as much in a year as I do in a week and the other as much in a year as I do in a month.

  4. It's not only pubs which are being replace by convenience stores - we had a nice convenience store which closed and was replaced by a funeral directors. Which is more useful as a community facility - a pub, a convenience store or a funeral directors? At least the convenience store use to sell bottles of beer!

  5. The revealed preference thing is quite a thing; a couple of examples:

    1) A friend was taking photos of a local pub that was closed (though it has since re-opened). and a passing bloke says "I think it should be a pub. We need a pub here". "Did you used to drink there, then?" "Oh no, I don't go in".

    2) local facebook groups are full of how we need independent grocers. greengrocers, delicatessens, cycle shops, hardware shops, restaurants. Meanwhile, we *had* all of these businesses, and they've since closed because people buy online, or at the local Tesco, and either eat at cheaper chain restaurants or don't go out. A similar thing is people wanting traffic calming in their own street but moaning about it on the street they use to try to dodge traffic...

    1. Also see this news story:

      Half of drinkers say cask should be more expensive than lager.

      But how many would be personally happy to pay it?

    2. The Cask Report highlights that keg craft is more expensive than cask but oddly goes on to suggest the price differential shouldn't be as great 'given all that the goes into creating a great pint of cask ale'. I would argue that up to the end of fermentation all that goes into both are the same, but after that the costs of producing keg are increased, especially if you're a smaller producer and using a third party to do it. And the great 'secret' of cellaring cask ale is to simply leave it alone to condition.

    3. I'm in two minds whether to write a post about the Cask Report, but I think I've gone over the same ground so many times before. The premiumisation of cask is the zombie idea that just refuses to die.

    4. The Stafford Mudgie30 September 2019 at 21:15

      When in town I might go for a pint of Wadworths in the Coach and Horses. That's because it's a beer I like in a Proper Pub - and I must admit that at £2 it's affordable for one whose GP says he'll never work again, will wait another year and a half for a state pension and whose wife can't work and daughter is at university.
      But should I shun the Coach and Horses because I'm told Real Ale should cost more than £2 a pint ?


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