in order to leach credibility from what is written below I'm going to confess to my inspiration for this post being having seen a post earlier on the Facebook from someone I know runs a pub, who observed, with some horror, that lots of details regarding his pub on a website were a bit wrong. Considerably so. As a direct result of which, I decided to have a look myself, at the CAMRA pubs database. With interesting results.
Before I share my findings, lets give the somewhat beleaguered whatpub.com website from the CAMRA a bit of credit. Keeping a database of licensed premises in the UK with 7000 closing every time we draw breath and 7000 reopening as amusement arcades selling angostura bitters every 4 seconds, is undoubtedly a massive ball ache. Every time you look round another venue has sprouted with "edgy" names like the 17th November Bar and Glittergang Lounge, and frankly, recording and updating this must be a heinous task.
Also, the fact that the CAMRA have listed none real ale venues is interesting, and not without merit since it includes the above types of establishment. Ones which, whilst perhaps less susceptible to closure than your traditional boozer, are much more likely to morph.
So after reading about its woes, and being a bit cheeky searching for the Royal Cottage, a pub which I concede until Friday I also won't know for certain is still open, I decided to try the site out properly. I was focusing on real ale only establishments that I know, to see if the gripes of licencees were born of isolated glitches, or representative of a wider malaise (counter arguments of CAMRA stalwarts that data updates went awry not withstanding)
And in summary - I have no idea.
I say this because lots of pubs I know are recorded accurately - ones specially chosen included Henry's and Interval and the Anglers Rest in Richmond/Handsworth. I reasoned that their unusual names or location outside the CAMRAsphere might trip the CAMRA up but they seem pretty much spot on. So far so good then. Lets be a little more keen...
DAda. An interesting venue not least because it attracts a lot of barely concealed ire from trad CAMRA types. Not that its a heaven in a half glass beer utopia by any means. There are faults and reasons to dislike it, but it isn't on the website. Full stop. Yet it was a recent pub of the month nominee. Hmmm...
Next the Hadfield, Barber Road, AKA the Sainsbury's Folly. Currently, in fact since May, boarded up to be converted into something no-one wants. That is still open. Meanwhile The great Gatsby, seller of two real ales on Division Street (last time I went!) is also non existent, likewise the Cwmdu Inn in Cwmdu, a landmark community run multi use pub, of which there is no trace. The Closed Shop is managed by last year's team, the Hallamshire House, open two years, is still selling Sharps Doom bar and guests, but isn't run by Thornbridge, and the Freedom House isn't shut. And so on and so forth.
In the end though, its not actually a bad try. In fact I think the only question is, should it have gone live before they were 100% sure it was accurate?
I think more work and another data upload attempt could have improved it. However, it only claims to list 96% of real ale pubs in Britain. In effect, using my own narrow search criteria, having chosen many banana skin venues, only three don't exist (this excludes non real ale searches) and only five are inaccurate, but the majority, a good twenty five, are correct. Compare that with the accuracy of most pub websites, especially whole of UK pub databases, and I think it fairs pretty well.
Perhaps the only conclusion is that the industry is slow to update and those keen to share that info are bound by the same constraints?