My interest in British pub and inn-signs begins at a time when many pub and inn signs have simply disappeared. The most obvious reason for this is that there are less pubs in Manchester and throughout Britain than there were even five years ago.
WHY PUBS CLOSE
The reasons for this vary though the most devastating recent social upheaval is the British ban on smoking in any public places. To smoke cigarettes, cigars, or a pipe now, a smoker has to leave a comfortable pub and stand outside in the street or a designated corner of a beer garden. If cast into the street no matter what the weather, the smoker cannot take his beer out with him, due to draconian police regulations about being seen with open alcohol containers in the streets and parks of the city. Given that the two pleasures, smoking and drinking, have been separated, many smokers now prefer to drink and smoke at home, with off-licence ale. Pub populations have been torn apart.
Absence of smokers and ashtrays has exposed many pubs to other odours, especially from the lavatories, and the heavy perfumes used in pubs to mask such smells. This deters others from using bars. As a pub population shrinks, profits plummet and many pubs have to close.
Police and media hysteria about binge drinking is paramount to a slowly encroaching new Prohibition – drinkers are being ostracized as smokers once were. Businesses, as well as doctors are insisting on monitoring how many units of alcohol staff take in and many booze ads carry health warnings such as ‘drink responsibly’. Drinkers are facing a new intolerance driven self-righteous puritanical Temperance movement that is gaining increasing power in our fair land.
Proof of age is an increasing deterrent to under-age alcohol consumption, one which might have stopped me drinking in pubs from the age of 12 if I was that young now instead of 48. Some bars ask for ID for all under-25 and a few simply set 25 as the new minimum drinking age though legally it remains at the more sensible 18.
Under-age drinking can be a problem. Many kids today fail to develop a respect or appreciation for alcohol. For me, a few early experiences of waking up very ill told me to drink more slowly and not to mix drinks. I learned that drinking at my own pace made for a good long night out, and I found that most drinkers seemed to judge one another by how long and late we could drink on to before succumbing to fatigue and having to go home. The new generation of young drinkers seem to think in the opposite way – celebrating the idea of getting smashed as soon as possible – booze is often priced out of pocket money range now, so a long night out drinking at leisure is less practical – the young drunk reduces himself to a mess, and a dangerous, potentially violent one – and the anti-drinking lobby holds all drinkers in contempt accordingly.
The media exploits every instance of drunken behaviour to puritanical excess. Many quiet country pubs now have bouncers and door-staff once only seen in the nightclubs.
Watching the football at the pub has always been the next best thing to going to the match itself for many fans, and some pubs set themselves up as football pubs by installing large screen TV’s specially for match days. The Installation of unsightly satellite dishes often means having to remove pub signs to make room for them. The Satellite dish may attract footie fans but it tells non-sports fans to avoid he same bar. Worse, though fans can enjoy the match and a pint, the wearing of their team colours can see a punter refused entry to a pub – even a sports pub. The danger of a clash between rival fans runs too high.
Dress codes can get excessive in many bars, which see themselves as night-clubs, with trainers, baseball caps, work-clothes, hoodies, etc being banned. Trainers are a particularly strange item of apparel to ban – with bouncers presumably preferring to be kicked in the shins with steel toe-capped boots than with soft shoes. I wrote a poem on this issue a few years back – see the poem, DRESS CODE in the appendices.
Breweries with strong control of pubs contracted to prioritise their ales will often close unproductive bars with little or no notice. Good landlords may even be moved by brewery policy to take tenancy of another bar, so pubs can lose popular experienced staff overnight, and find themselves stuck with new, less experienced landlords who fail to gain respect from the established customers.
Many young landlords impose their will on a pub thinking the people who have enjoyed a quiet Thursday night for three generations will really appreciate the sudden introduction of a loud jukebox, pub quiz and/ or a karaoke night. Such an ‘if its not broke smash it’ attitude can destroy a pub very quickly.
Too few people are training in pub stewardship – there are just not enough landlords and land-ladies to go around. Fear of lager-louts puts many off running a pub – Worse, pubs are often targets for smash & grab raids and even for armed robberies.
With many breweries, a landlord must be married, with the landlady being his wife, and marital difficulties can lose the couple control of the pub – the divorce leads not only to child custody issues but also the question of ownership of the pub, a dispute in which the outcome is rarely in doubt – the brewery takes it back and offers it to a new landlord and landlady team, if there is one. With few new landlords to spread round, several pubs end up unleased.
Rogue customers can also ruin a pub of course, with the quiet locals suddenly ravaged by rowdy youths hogging games tables, insisting on music being turned up and failing to cope with their drinks, resulting in fights and vomiting.
The traditional friendly neighbourhood local is a rare and pleasant sight – many bars are filled with strangers. The local can become rather an insular place though, and strangers calling in while passing through can be treated with disdain, derision and contempt. One local pub landlord I knew used to be very surly to visitors who came out only once a week for the pub quizzes he ran, not regarding them as locals because they were not coming on other nights. He resented it even further when his attitude drove them to leave en-masse and kill his mid-week takings in an instant.
The local pub, where you are a regular can get you trusted and respected – If there is a lock in, you may be invited while others go home at official closing, but some bars expect total loyalty – one barred me when he learned that I also dared to visit other pubs once in a while as well as his. Such attitudes can destroy a pub as nearly happened in that case. The pub recovered with better management, though it has since closed.
Police being called to a bar once too often to settle a disturbance can kill a pub too – license renewal hearings are likely to turn down a pub with a bad reputation.
Immigration can also interfere with pub trade – Muslim & Hindu faith often goes hand in hand with strict abstinence for alcohol, so estates where their populations prevail have fewer pubs by the year.
Many other factors can put a town’s pub on the endangered species list – road widening can put a pub on a dangerous traffic junction, so folk on the opposite side of the street may go somewhere more convenient and easy to approach instead. A few pubs I visited just to get photos of for my pub sign art collection proved devilish to reach – limited access means reduced custom.
Arbitrary pricing changes can often mean differences of up to £1.00 in the cost of the same brand of beer in different bars. Cheaper bars can benefit, but they face accusations of encouraging binge drinking culture. It’s a cruel Catch-22 situation.
Real ale fans will often boycott bars not serving cask conditioned draught beers, and some bottle beer, alcopop and lager drinkers dislike hand-pump friendly bars, so pubs failing to cater to all tastes risk reducing the number of customers they have, and profits suffer accordingly.
Not every pub will vanish – some fight hard to survive and many are too dearly cherished to disappear. The Old Wellington & Sinclair’s Oyster Bar survived the rise of the Manchester Arndale Centre by being dismantled and rebuilt behind it while many once great bars were flattened as the centre was built. When the IRA bombed Manchester in ----- the redevelopment plans led to the pubs being physically moved again, to their present home by the Cathedral. I’d sooner see a pub relocate to dry land than be consumed by the flood.
Each Government budget seeks easy revenue by adding to the taxation on alcohol, using the excuse of cutting down on drinking habits to fill the own economic deficits, and many are driven from the pubs by the unaffordable beers, while cheap inferior and often more toxic bottled imports are sold at the off-licences.
The witch-hunt hysteria about ‘binge’ drinking is a major nail in the coffin lid of the great British pub. There have always been drinkers with ‘issues’ but capturing them in action on CCTV as a growing problem is misleading and leads to further hostility to drinkers by new teetotal is best puritan Nanny state. Pubs have been criticised for trying to keep their customers through cheap drink promotions and ‘happy hour’ bargains. The aim seems to be to price booze out of the hands of all but the rich – it won’t happen. We’ll lose many pubs, but more will fight back and sooner or later the public will see through the rot and say ‘enough is enough’.
OTHER REASONS WHY PUB SIGNS VANISH
Even if a pub endures, its inn-sign may vanish. Even pubs dating back more than two centuries sometimes try to look and feel modern, - the pub sign becomes old fashioned in a pub surrounded by café bars, wine bars and nightclubs so lots of pubs lose the old signs in an effort to blend in.
New pub signs are expensive, especially for pubs with new and unique names. A new Red Lion bar might be able to lay claim to a pub sign from a closed bar of that name but many a bar will settle for a simple sign-writer’s flat painted use of the name or a graphic art logo, or an energy wasting garish neon light effect – All hail the new pubs that still go for traditional inn-signage.
© Copyright. Arthur Chappell
LINK TO THIS PAGE http://arthurchappell.me.uk/why.pubs.close.htm
FACEBOOK - http://www.facebook.com/arthur.chappell
MY FLIXYA PHOTO PAGES http://www.flixya.com/user/arthurchappell
MY TWITTER PAGE - http://twitter.com/arthurchappell
MY WOOPHY PHOTO SHARING PAGE - http://www.woophy.com/member/Arthur+Chappell
MY FLICKR PAGE http://www.flickr.com/photos/arthurchappell/
MY MODEL MAYHEM PAGE http://www.modelmayhem.com/arthurchappell
MY DIGG LINKS http://digg.com/arthurpeterchappell/submissions
MY TRIOND website http://ww w.triond.com/users/Arthur+Chappell
MY MODEL URL WEB PAGE http://modelurl.com/arthurchappell
BOOK REVIEWS AND ABSTRACTS - http://www.shvoong.com/writers/arthurchappell/
MY SHARE A LINK PHOTO PAGES http://www.shareapic.net/user/arthurchappell
Shetoldme – Website summaries portal – many reviews of my pages - http://shetoldme.com/referral/7368b651
YOUGOV SURVEY PAGES - http://my.yougov.com/go.aspx?id=83d4324b-e38d-4022-af7d-44ee3ab4f4c9