Monday, February 15, 2010

Turn Right At The Red Lion And Left At The White Hart


"History runs through the pubs of our land like some giant circulatory system with beer in its veins. They are an integral part of our country's fabric. Pubs have seen it all. Unless you choose mountains, moors or motorways, it is impossible to be more than five miles away from a pub. Want a village pub? Look for a church spire. Want directions? Turn right at the Red Lion and left at the White Hart".


The above words are not mine - I have taken them from an excellent website called "Pubology - Drinking In History" - but however long I had sat down and however many fine beers I had consumed, I doubt if I could have expressed my love of pubs any better. Although beer has always been the fuel that has powered the rise of the great British pub, it is not simply about beer : the delight of a good pub is the way it creates a neutral environment of fellowship based on nothing more than chance encounter. In this, a pub shares many of the attributes of a vibrant blog community. 

There is nothing vibrant about the current state of the English public house. Five years ago two pubs a week were closing down in Britain, now the figure has risen to five a day. Pub beer sales have now sunk to the lowest levels since the depression years of the early 1930s. Whilst alcohol consumption has increased, that increase has been driven by cheap supermarket booze consumed either in the isolated silence of the home or the social aggressiveness of the street corner. 

There are calls in Britain at the moment for the introduction of minimum prices for alcohol. The proponents of such a policy claim that it would both reduced the alarming amounts of alcohol being consumed at the moment and support pubs which, all things being equal, cannot compete on price with supermarket discounting. It is an argument I have a good deal of sympathy for, but an argument which will probably be lost in this crowd-pleasing election year in the UK.

Some years ago I started a blog - Great Yorkshire Pubs - within which I tried to chart my attempts to visit as many great pubs in my native County as possible before they closed. The current state of closures has encouraged me to merely record as many as I can, even though neither my wallet nor my liver can justify sampling all of them. In the last week I have discovered that two of the local pubs I have frequented on many happy occasions, closed for ever whilst I was away on holiday. It is sad, but it strengthens my resolve to photograph as many as I can before it is too late. And also to call in and sample the fare of at least two or three of them a week. Wish me well in my mission.

16 comments:

  1. The Pubs all look so inviting. It is a shame that so many are being closed. They seem like such a vital part of the commnunities and social life.
    Have fun on your mission, although I'm sure it will be bittersweet, knowing you will lose some of the pubs.
    Hoist a brew for me...Cheers : )

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  2. These days one has to sell good food in order to make it in the pub business. I blame the French - for everything.

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  3. Not only is it sad that so many are closing, but that many of those which are left are not really 'pubs' anymore. Shame.

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  4. interesting post.

    hmmm I wonder how much the rise of cyber-culture has played in the waning of the pub community?

    I can't imagine the pub ever disappearing

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  5. It's interesting to see a correlation between unhealthy, anti-social drinking & the closure of pubs, which strike me as first & foremost a social place & secondarily a drinking establishment. Thought-provoking post.

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  6. Alan, I didn't realise the rate of closure was so quick! Mind your liver surely, but I wish you well in your quest :)

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  7. Best of luck on your missing. I love looking at Pubs (even though I don't like beer at all) it makes me sad to see so many close down!

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  8. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it Alan.

    I worked for an independent brewery in Cornwall for nine years. A former colleague and good friend tells me they are still going strong, even in this current climate. There's no denying the alarming rate of pub closures nationwide, so the Cornwall phenomenon must be the exception to the rule.

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  9. Alan, I lived in Oxford for three months one summer. Going to the pub with fellow students was such an important part of the day. I loved that everyone gathered there. Then there were the pubs by the river with tables outdoors...couples brought there children. My favorite was the The House of Windsor in neighboring Witney where we played the game Aunt Sally in the back garden. This is a really fine post. Loved it. I am off to visit your Yorkshire Pubs as well!

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  10. I fell in love with English pubs from their charming depiction in Merchant Ivory films. They're full of such dark earthy history. It's a shame they are disappearing from your neck of the woods, Alan. I hate to see these lovelies go before I have a chance to visit them in person!

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  11. yes Neutral Social Spaces Are Quite Rare.Pubs have always served an important community role.It's a pity to see the current state of them .50% have closed & the other 50% have Barred Me!!!!

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  12. sad. i love a good pub...the food is amazing...and the comraderie...sad.

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  13. I had the privelege of traveling to England with Willow's WT in 2007We had a great time in the Maidstone/Canterbury area. We stopped at a pub for dinner. I thought I was transported back in time to about the 1950s in the movie "Remains of the Day" starring Anthony Hopkins. It truly was a wonderful experience where WT and I had shepard's pie and ale.
    I hate to hear of the numerous closings. :( The Bach

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  14. Pubology....now that word is just fun to say! LOL!

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  15. How sad...Good luck in your mission and I'll visit the other blog...

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  16. What an admirable mission too! Our licensing laws prevent a plethora of pubs, these days they're just big drinking houses. How I miss the English 'local'. My gran lived in a village in Shillington in Herts, only about 1000 people at a push and at least 15 pubs!

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