British Pubs: The Endgame?

One doesn’t have to be particularly observant to see great changes sweeping across the pub industry in the UK of late. For many years, particularly since the days of the inception of themed pubs during the 1970s’, there has always been change. What is apparent now though is something of a sad and ever-accelerating terminal decline.

Passing through many suburban areas, it is possible to see a selection of pubs now sadly having seen their best days. Boarded-up windows are rife, overgrown gardens and crumbling car parks frame semi-derelict buildings, many who’s eventual final fate will be demolition.

The former Town Arms/Aviary at Trent Bridge, Nottingham. A once-hugely busy pub, now fallen on hard times
The former Town Arms/Aviary at Trent Bridge, Nottingham. A once-hugely busy pub, now fallen on hard times

Times change and it should be said that many of the above pubs have been the architect of their own downfall. Dismal run-down surroundings, expensive drinks and mediocre food interest few, and people have higher expectations than of yore. Continue reading “British Pubs: The Endgame?”

Churches as Pubs

I’m quite interested in the concept of using a former church from which to make a pub. I’ve written about this particular establishment before but I have the Piano and Pitcher in Nottingham’s Lace Market district very much in mind as I write. The pub was once a handsome house of God, the former, now deconsecrated Unitarian Church close to Weekday Cross in the oldest part of Nottingham, the original centre of the city. Some years ago it became a museum to commemorate Nottingham’s old lace industry before being converted into a pub.

Recently I was having a conversation with a woman at the bar in the Bell Inn in Market Square about the High Pavement pub and other city centre pubs in general. Obviously her tastes were fairly conservative ones, citing many city pubs as being ‘shops’ nowadays. I found her views on the Pitcher and Piano quite thought provoking though.

I’ve used the place a small handful of times. It’s certainly a curiosity if not necessarily unique though one has to say it’s a pretty inventive conversion that’s been carried out. I was in there last week and whilst it’s not really my thing I can appreciate what some others might see in it. The woman I was speaking to found the use of the church to be slightly sad if not offensive. She asserted a slight revulsion in particular to the fruit machines there and whilst obviously not being a religious zealot particularly, compared it to ‘gambling in the temple’ in the good book.

I wonder about the principle of making a pub from an old church. Is it sad, an indictment on society and us all, or rather a useful way of preserving and cherishing a historic building? Maybe all of these things?

We need to look no further than Nottingham’s Bell Inn perhaps to see religion’s connection with pubs. It’s apparently a former Carmelite monastery’s guest house according to the official website of the Inn.

I’m not overly sniffy about the church’s transformation into a pub. It’s preferable that the building is at least preserved in some useful way than the alternative of it being demolished or left neglected. It is a statement about modern society in some ways perhaps but if people will go to a pub but won’t visit a church then so be it. It is worth a deeper thought though I believe as to what that says about us all and the way we choose to live our lives in 2008.

I find the pub useful for taking family and friends to who are visiting Nottingham as tourists, they seem to like it. As regards queuing to get in there on a weekend evening to throw a heavy pose with the rest of the Lace Market, Ted Baker brigade I think I’ll pass. I much prefer the nearby Cock and Hoop and Keans Head if I’m up that way.

The Caves of Nottingham

I recently took a visit down the city caves in Nottingham for perhaps the fifth or sixth time. Mostly in past times these occasions have been when accompanying visitors to our home. Although the visit is a but a short tour, I can honestly say I never tire of this excellent little historical site, tucked away in the city centre of Nottingham, rather incongruously inside an entrance to the Broad Marsh Shopping Centre.

There is one important change to visiting in the past. Previously the tour was self-conducted by the use of an audio device. The friendly and helpful ticket office worker informed us however that the caves had now changed hands and that there would be a real live group guide for the tour. Having been on so many various audio tours in the past, I looked forward to the personal touch supplied by a guide versed in the history of the site and was not to be disappointed.

From a visitor’s point of view, our day in Nottingham had started with some promise via a tram ride on the quick and efficient service from its Hucknall terminus. Arriving at the far Station Street depot adjacent The Midland Railway Station, the impressive sight of the Pitcher and Piano, an attractively refurbished large church in the Lace Market area loomed above us. Perhaps not unique but certainly rare – even in the current era of reconstructing many types of buildings such as banks and post offices into public houses, one cannot fail to be impressed by the interior of the Pitcher and Piano. It’s a strange mixture of feelings when one enters a pub that used to be a place of worship, I’ll say that straight away without hesitation. One can’t help but lament in some small way the sadness of a grand church being lost to premises licensed to sell alcohol to a weekend hoard of revellers but the world changes and so do its needs. Without being too churlish however I’d urge a visit to the Pitcher and Piano to anyone with an hour to kill and a thirst as it’s a most unusual experience. Personally I felt restrained whilst in there curiously, just as if I was still in a church.

The Pitcher and Piano, Nottingham

Back to the sub terrain and in through the outdoor and back into history then. Our personable guide asked the large-ish group if there were any local residents and I noted I was the sole one, a statistic that might indicate the caves’ popularity and visibility spreading to more and more outside visitors. With a crack and a pun or two we were heading down into the ‘real’ Nottingham, ‘land of cavey-dwellers’. This article won’t spoil what may become a visit in the future to the prospective visitor but suffice to say the cheery guide explained to the group of the many and varied uses of the caves by Nottinghamians in the past. These include the story of the tannery, illegal gambling dens and WWII air raid shelters.

 Brushing against the iron-red bunter sandstone, it’s easy to imagine with the crumbling, dusty walls how easy it was to carve out some of the caves that were not naturally formed, the city of Nottingham was truly made for the temperate atmosphere of the caves being put to practical use. It’s well-spoken that much of the city is honeycombed with underground caves and whilst there has been access available from a handful of pub cellars and most notably underneath Nottingham Castle, the Broadmarsh Caves offer easily the most accessible and varied option. For a few pounds this tour offers a unique insight into the city’s past and can be entered whilst on a shopping trip to the city. As a resident I’d say it’s a not to be missed hour or two for the traveller to the Lace City.

Nosmo King

Almost a couple of weeks in and it’s been interesting to observe some of the changes since the smoking ban came about in England on July 1st. Being a person not adverse to visiting the odd public house or two I of course as a non-smoker welcomed that fateful day when I and my friends would be able to catch our breath in a public bar and other public places.

I’ve always tried to live and let live with smokers as we all have our own particular vices. This has not detracted from my dislike of going home smelling of stale tobacco after every evening out, nor the displeasure at struggling to draw breath, especially in some bars with low ceilings. The latter is a frequent occurrence as the pubs I often visit tend to be older, more historic buildings with just such a construction. It’s been a source of resentment to me that some of those places I would no longer visit because of that problem. Now no longer however.

There have been a few problems with the fallout from the ban. Outside every public building there now appears to be an ugly pile of disused cigarette ends from the groups of people taking a desperate drag outside. One also has to fight through a thick smog to get into those same buildings sometimes. The litter bins are often draped with discarded cigarettes, balanced precariously in lines across the edge of the bin, uggh!

Another development has been the types of constructions pub managers are setting up outside their businesses. These range from a few ‘Martini trees’ with strategic outdoor heaters to full-blown marquees. The latter plastic abominations often look incongruous stood outside some of the more handsome old pub buildings and have fallen foul of the authorities. One of my locals found itself with a visit from the local council one evening due to a marquee stuck on the front of the attractive old pub. Apparently it had three sides to it which constitutes a need for planning permission one presumes.

After trying to accede to people’s need to smoke for practically ever, it dismays me to hear smokers referring to themselves as ‘victims’ now. What on earth do they think the rest of us all were for all those years whilst being forced to inhale their smoke second-hand and smell like a dirty ashtray after an evening out?