The sun may have set on the British Empire, but if there’s one bastion of Britishness that has refused to collapse it’s the local pub. Refused to collapse, that is, until recently, when economic hardship combined with poor management have driven many beloved watering-holes out of business. And while heroic microbreweries battle to save the industry one pint of real ale at a time, 2010 figures estimated the closure of 52 British pubs per week. This article documents a tiny number of those abandoned institutions.
All across Britain public houses that once formed the backbone of the local community stand empty, devoid of the good humoured revelry that characterised their glory days. Suburban neighbourhoods and rural villages often had several pubs owned by competing breweries, frequented by patrons fiercely loyal to particular venues. But poor management and the sale of many establishments to pub companies, which often charge tenant landlords unsustainably high rents, have served as catalysts for the closure of many local pubs.
In addition, cut-price supermarket alcohol, exaccerbated by recession, has enticed many drinkers to take their tipples at home, while some pubs have been forced to close due to their captive markets drying up like the beer in their barrels. The Marquis of Granby (above, top) in Binbrook, Lincolnshire, for example, shut its doors following the closure of the local Royal Air Force base despite being the only pub in the village.
We’ve seen how industrial decline left its mark during the transition from the manufacturing to digital age. The back streets of decaying industrial areas often hide abandoned pubs that once thrived on the trade of surrounding factories. Interestingly some have been revived, but for most, with no market to support them, abandonment seems inevitable. This is painfully true for former mining towns and other industrial communities that have fallen into destitution following the collapse of industry.
While some old pubs have been modernised over the years, many retain their character and old-time charm, and continue to do so in abandonment. Whether or not they’ll reopen remains to be seen but the future for most looks bleak. In many cases, a pub’s appeal and ambience go hand-in-hand with its history. Once its historic fixtures have been torn-out, it’s fate is often sealed. The final chapter, like many abandoned buildings, is too often dereliction or even arson. Thankfully, Britain’s increasingly popular real ale movement is helping to buck this worrying trend.