Pubs or Pub Buildings?

Saloon Lounge metalwork sign.

We’re still in learning and thinking mode when it comes to the thorny issue of pub preservation.

The question that’s currently dogging us is this: is it more important to preserve pub buildings, or the spirit of the pub? Or does it have to be both?

The other week, walking through South East London, we came across The Yorkshire Grey, a rather striking example of the “brewers’ improved” style of public house. Red-brick, mansion-like, and taller than the surrounding suburban houses, it was so well-maintained and clean it might have been built yesterday. It was also apparently well-used by the local community.

Yorkshire Grey, Eltham. (Now McDonald's.)

Except it isn’t a pub any more — it’s a drive-through McDonald’s burger restaurant.

We couldn’t help but feel that, if McDonald’s hadn’t taken it on, it would probably be mostly empty and in poor repair, if not falling down and boarded-up like some pubs we saw on the way into nearby WoolwichPerhaps this conversion was for the best?

Of course it would be better if there was such huge local demand for a pub that it could have continued trading as such.

Failing that, it might also be better if, like Eltham Palace down the road, an organisation such as English Heritage could take control and preserve it as a museum and time capsule. (Better for us, anyway — Elthamites seem extremely happy with Maccy Ds.)

But any form of occupancy has to be better than dereliction.

Meanwhile, the spirit of the pub seems to be better preserved in buildings which weren’t built for the purpose of boozing, such as the Crofters Rights in Bristol, or any number of ‘micropubs‘.

15 thoughts on “Pubs or Pub Buildings?”

  1. Have a look at modern German cities. They benefited from being flattened by the allies. They rebuilt and what they built was better. If we flattened most of this country and started again we would all be better off.

    1. Cookie, Coventry, Telford and Milton Keynes are hardly considered hotbeds of decent pubs.

      1. Our failure to turn catastrophe to our advantage is no barrier to a second attempt. Why not ask out teutonic cousins to flatten them again?

      1. Depends on your point of view. I think adequate plumbing & safe wiring & wide streets (enough for cars & a cycle lane) is quite nice. I like modern stuff.

        I know Mudge thinks it was all better in 1950, I suspect some might think it was better in 1550. Those that like the smell of horse dung, and such.

    2. Weren’t a lot of German cities rebuilt in a way that their centres were much more faithful to the original than Coventry or Plymouth?

  2. The question here is how much a business that is not able to support itself as such should be supported by public monies.

    Here in CZ it is very common for a village to own the building of a pub and they charge very low rents, if any at all, to keep the pub open, and I’ve head of at least one case where the village was paying the pub’s utility bills in order to keep it open, and yet, the people running the pub were struggling to make ends meet.

    By and large I agree with those that say that, at least in small towns and villages, pubs should be seen as something more than a business, but if not enough of the people living there will not patronise the pub, dies keeping it open make any sense?

    1. What if the alternative was collapse/demolition/new-build McDonald’s?

      This way, at least the building is preserved for nerds like us to get wistful about.

      (Not sure how to respond to that ‘link-bait’ comment but, in short, no — ugh!)

    2. Unless you believe that every single pub is viable for eternity, surely a McDonalds (or a Tesco Express) in the existing building is preferable to a derelict eyesore or a patch of waste ground.

    1. Everyone likes biting cookies surely? Except the ones you dunk in your tea that get soggy.

  3. “Weren’t a lot of German cities rebuilt in a way that their centres were much more faithful to the original than Coventry or Plymouth?”

    Yes!

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