If we don’t use pubs we’ll lose them and once they’re gone, they may well be gone for good - Jayne Dowle
He went bankrupt in the end, and eventually, his pub was replaced by another - The Mayflower - which closed a few years ago.
My 17-year-old daughter works in a pub, a 19th century South Yorkshire coaching inn with a rich and vivid history that one day I’d love to get around to researching properly. Let’s just say I wouldn’t fancy getting locked in the cellar after closing time.
I worked in pubs at her age too, and all through university; at the ancient Turl Inn in Oxford, once the hang-out of J.R.R. Tolkien, we used to delight in entertaining the American tourists with fanciful tales of where the Lord of the Rings author liked to sit, and his favourite tipple.
The French have their café bars, the Germans their biergartens and the Americans head to the roadhouse when they fancy a beer, but nothing compares to the Great British pub as the hub of a community.
The best kind are de facto second homes – in a good way - natural gathering places for celebrations and commemorations, part of the social fabric of local life.
So it is very worrying that at least 50 pubs are closing every month in England and Wales. And the pace of turning off the taps for good is accelerating.
Between June and September 2022, a total of 150 pubs were either demolished or turned into homes or offices, close in number to the 200 which shut in the whole previous six months, according to figures compiled by analytics company Altus Group.
Whole areas of the country - particularly in suburban England and rural areas, where free to enter communal spaces are surely more important than ever – are now what the hospitality industry calls ‘pub deserts’.
Covid and the cost of living crisis have not done pubs any favours; even a Wetherspoons closed in my hometown a few months ago, but I’m pleased to say it’s looking to re-open under independent ownership.
There are now around 39,800 pubs in England and Wales. One less as of last week when The Crooked House, in the village of Himley, near Dudley in the West Midlands, burnt down almost immediately after being acquired by new owners. Marston’s, the brewery, had deemed it surplus to requirements.
I hope that when the history of pubs in the early 21st century comes to be written, The Crooked House will stand as a marker in the sand. Historically significant, but more that, beloved by locals who are righteously angry at its destruction, its fate may make breweries and developers alike stop and think before calling last orders.
Planning restrictions have been relaxed in many cases to facilitate the easy conversion of pubs to housing. In some cases, this can be the saviour of a historic building, providing a spacious family home.
In others, if some of the shoddy examples I come across throughout Yorkshire are anything to go by, these projects are simply profiteering, producing questionable bedsit-type accommodation, bringing short-term tenants to villages and residential areas, and often, anti-social behaviour.
Interestingly, I can think of several former pubs (and clubs) here in Barnsley which have now become places of worship.
Or, surplus to requirements pubs are simply razed to the ground.
I was sad when I heard that The Mayflower, named in honour of a local Pilgrim Father, William Bradford, seemed to be scheduled for demolition with apartments planned for the site; on an ancestor hunt, I stayed over on my 50th birthday and found it warm and welcoming, even to strangers.
So I’m delighted to report that it has been taken over by a father and daughter team, Chris and Jade Jessop, refurbished, got with the modern way of socialising – grazing boards and all - and is ready to take bookings for Christmas 2023.
It takes vision, energy, stamina, courage and determination to run a pub, and keep running it, day in, day out.
But without people, a pub is nothing but a heap of bricks and mortar. If you’re lucky enough to have a decent one in easy walking distance of your home – and where I live, this is no longer the case, two local pubs were demolished for housing, one stands boarded up and neglected – treasure it, call in, take visitors and friends and relations, and give the bar staff a tip now and again. It is very true that if you don’t use it, you lose it. And once it’s gone, it’s gone for good.