Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Going, gone, definitely gone.


      yesterday's post focused mainly on the closure of the Hadfield in Sheffield. Not only because it was entirely topical, but also because I had quite a few other examples of closed and threatened pubs which were different from the Hadfield  in that they have or had certain classic, unspoilt characteristics.

I'm not suggesting that the Hadfield was in anyway the opposite - but I only went in when it was still really a pub when I was 17, and don't remember very much about it, apart from feeling simultaneously daring and conspicuous. In contrast, tonight's post is about pubs that I either knew, know, or you need to know about. All either closed for good, or under threat.

On Sunday I was in Salford visiting an unfathomably giant edifice of a pub. Monstrously dramatic in scale, built for an almost unimaginable heyday of buoyant patronage, with hoards of visitors thirsty for refreshment and entertainment of every kind, high on the drama of race days and gambling, and where all their identified leisure needs were met (I've rewritten this 3 times and it still sounds like I'm describing a brothel. That is absolutely not my intention!)

The Racecourse Hotel in Salford will close on Sunday 26th May. Admittedly its not guaranteed to be forever, but even putting on my most optimistic face, I just can't see anyone with the cash, the time, the dedication and sheer stubbornness to turn such a place round. It would be quite an undertaking to attempt to steer the pub away from the rocks - but if it goes, as seems inevitable since the pub is not listed, we will lose another great architectural accomplishment, and another National Inventory classic .

As an aside, the situation of its closing is complicated by the obfuscate business behavior of current owners Oakwell Brewery. All sorts of rumours have have surfaced re what is happening, but am not going to share them - because the only key factor here is their decision to close the Racecourse Hotel.

For your puzzlement, here's a link to their website "our pubs" section. You have to admire their unfussy process of removing the photo's of pubs they've given up on. Whilst simultaneously being baffled by the sheer grimness of so many of their acquisitions . (with thanks to Curmudgeon and Tyson and Dimpled Mug for links and info).

Next up is the Drovers Inn at Dallowgill near Ripon. Up on the moors and undoubtedly a welcome sight for winter walkers, I have been a couple of times only, but found its cosy traditional layout and friendly atmosphere highly enjoyable. It did occur to me that its isolated location on a quiet road meant it would struggle but it regularly appeared in the GBG so I figured it must have been getting by OK. And besides, even though only twice, it was rammed each time I visited, and Wee Fatha said he same on his visits. When I read in Whats Brewing that it had been deleted from the beer guide, closed I immediately raced to the conclusion it had been converted to a house or closed awaiting change of use consent.

In fact, a change of use had indeed taken place. It was now a burnt down pub. Luckily no-one was injured in the blaze, but its a tragedy nonetheless to see a great pub like the "little drovers"wiped off the map. Its quite a blow for local pub-goers as well, since the other Drovers at nearby Bishop Thornton is also all but destroyed itself.

Moving into West Yorkshire and you may have heard about the unfortunate state, and ongoing campaign to save, the Cock and Bottle in Bradford. Its fair to say this Grade 2 listed National Inventory pub has had a chequered and at times inglorious history, but the fact that its currently closed and appears to be having unapproved work done on its interior is a real cause for concern.

As fans of Tommy Ducks in Manchester will know, the punishment meted out for knocking down pubs when you haven't the authority to do so is a pittance, so God only knows what type of mild slap on the wrist the desecration of the rare interior of the Cock and Bottle will entail. The lack of any website for the campaign (so far) is a shame but for the twits among you there are updates, albeit in a slightly odd pub as human perspective, from the following account @ajheyes50.

Other recent examples have included the formerly village owned Drewe Arms in Drewesteington, Devon.  I visited in 2004 and it was probably about 10 years too late to appreciate at as a truly unspoilt country boozer but it was still interesting and aesthetically pleasing, and importantly, busy. The fact that Enterprise are looking for new tenants after the previous ones left after a rent price hike does not bode well - I don't have much faith in their selling it to an interested party at a reasonable price, but we'll see.

Closer to home and Sheffield encapsulates many different pub styles and designs in its now much reduced stock, and quite a few sad closures have happened in the last few years. Yet in contrast to blazing country pubs and unloved inner city boozers , almost all of Sheffield's pub losses of late have been squarely down to conversion into dwellings.

The Robin Hood in Little Matlock, Stannington, closed at the end of August 2011, after the owners tried to market it as a pub with high quality food and accommodation. Such a scheme would have been beautifully romantic had it come off, with the pub hiding at the end of a long tree lined lane, but it was alas, a bad judgement call. Once the owners realised their dream of making the huge building pay its way it was closed as a pub, and the plan was to convert it to apartments.

Interestingly, on my later visits I still considered it to be a traditional pub, with its huge central beam in the top bar and the downstairs bar linked by stairs, gloriously cool with its high ceilings. However, I recently discovered that as well as having changed its name at some point (clearly to capitalise on the nearby Loxley legend) having been called the Rock, it also previously had two rooms in the small top floor area with the back bar for darts above the fireplace. It seems likely the bottom bar would therefore have been domestic rooms, with the cellar beneath (given that he drop was on a steep slope running down into the valley, a very long way from the bar at the top).

Its lucky that I started walking in the Loxley valley area again or I might have never rediscovered the pub - I used to go there throughout the summer holidays with my parents for an al fresco coke (for me) and a clamber on the rocks on the bank which the path to the pub descends.

Another childhood pub that my Mum and Dad would take me and my brother to, usually whenever there was a promising sunset, was the Bell Hagg Inn, on Manchester Road. Although a fair walk from nearby housing it should really have been a success, based on its location alone (even if it did change its name to the John Thomas when it was acquired by Banks'....)

The other day I discovered this explanation for its closure on the rather excellent Lost pubs website. Its puzzling that Banks' Brewery seem to have no interest in securing the now perilously derelict building, even if they don't intend to reopen it as a pub. A sorry tale all round. Admittedly this is slightly off the theme having not been converted into flats, but its still a woeful fate to befall a good pub.

The final crop concerns both of the Freedoms in Walkley - most lately the House, converted into, um, flats  with the View having been cruelly sacrificed for crap student flats early in the century. Add to that the Albion, not exactly an unspoilt gem, but noted as selling more Stones than any other pub in Sheffield, if not the UK, which was "offloaded" by the pub-co and became, well, yet more student flats, likewise the Springfield on Broomspring lane, the Crown on Walkley Bank, and of course, the dear old Heavygate.

However, against this backdrop its nice to hear some good news! And its my public duty to share it with you pub lovers so you don't end up psychologically damaged by this post.

Firstly, the Commercial at Wheelock, according to Dimpled Mug, has reopened. Possibly one of the least prepossessing pubs from the outside, it didn't look exactly in rude health trade wise when I visited a few years ago, but it has an outstanding unspoilt interior. Make sure you go visit it and maybe it will stay open.

And finally  though this may be unsubstantiated, but I hear the Lower Turks Head on Shudehill in Manchester really really is going to open! A quick Google search leads to numerous similar claims and worries about its conversion over the years, but aside from all of that, if nothing else, this fantastic picture shows that the building appears to be in good nick (though am not sure about its neighbour...).

Having walked past its glorious frontage many times en route to the Hare and Hounds, I've always thought what a brilliant sight it would be to see the pub reopen. Lets hope the sun actually rises on this project, finally, and the pub is once more open to the public.


Wee Beefy

A quick addition - have a butchers at this post on a similar theme from Alan Burnett. He's a big fan of traditional Yorkshire pubs, and now he's back blogging after a significant break you might like to give his site a look. WB

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