Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Leek pubs- is time about to be called?

"When you have lost your inns, drown your empty selves for you will have lost the last of England" Hillarie Belloc. 
I am delighted that the Roebuck in Derby St has opened its doors after being closed for a number of months. It used to be often said, and I haven’t checked this that there existed at one time 52 pubs in Leek. One for every week of the year. Sadly over recent years the number of boozers in Leek has been reduced so the return of an old stalwart like the Roebuck is to be welcomed. I think a moment’s pause is called for as I reflect on those Leek pubs that have gone to that great brewery in the sky. The Sea Lion with its very pleasant character, the vast Talbot –, surely something could be done with such a magnificent building and gothic clock tower, the quirky Earl Grey very much a throwback to the past in its ambience. And the list goes on the White Lion, Bulls Head, the Park and others have all had time called in recent years.

You see I have a long-term interest in the pubs of North Staffordshire. I owe my existence to a beer shortage in my father’s favourite pub in 1948, which led him to meeting my mother in the pub she frequented with her parents- the Glass Barrel in Copeland Street in Stoke (long gone). All the pubs that my grandfather was a regular such as the Globe, Rose and the Phoenix in Liverpool Road in Stoke no longer exist. As a child I remember going into the Red Lion in Glebe Street to collect a programme for the Stoke v Real Madrid centenarian friendly in 1963. The Red Lion was pulled down and rebuilt at the Tram Museum at Crich in Derbyshire. I was used to pubs from an early age. I was weaned on the publican’s apron.

The situation in Leek and Stoke for that matter is reflected nationally in truth the pub was in the long slow decline from its late Victorian peak. In 1900 there were over 99,000 licensed pubs a figure that had fallen to 75,000 by 1950. That figure is around 40,000 although it also including clubs. Nationally 53 pubs close every week many of them country pubs.

Pubs face a battle for their existence a combination of alternative social activities, cheapness of alcohol from supermarkets; smoking ban, high rents and the recession have reduced their numbers greatly. Is the end nigh?
Of course one should not be too gloomy and efforts have been made by local publicans to make their beer houses welcoming. The "Blue Mugge" hosts the very popular Tuesday night discussion group; the Wilkes’s Head has regular music sessions, and the occasional happening such as the long remembered night of the 14 Elvis Presley impersonators. The Swan is the meeting place of the local writing group and active Comedy Club. The Cock has proved very popular with blues enthusiasts. The Cock and the Roebuck now have on tap Joule’s beer the taste of which sets off a remembrance of things past and rumour has it that a Titanic Brewery outlet is to open in the town.

Perhaps it is too early to sound the death knell for the pub but when a pub closes consequences inevitably follow. The people who would have worked there will have lost their jobs. Locals who will have lost a favoured bolt hole. The choice of local people will have been diminished because there is nothing like a well used pub. The community will loose out and everyone will feel it.