The Death of Great British Traditions – Public Houses


The interior of a typical English pub, in this...

The interior of a typical English pub, in this case the Penruddocke Arms, which lies between Dinton and Wilton in Wiltshire. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A number of great British traditions are dying and it can all be linked back to one thing – The Government. Not just the current one, this is something Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives can all take the blame for.

It all started with alcohol, the death of the local public house. Sure, there are still pubs, but there are not as many and they are not what the used to be. Over 4500 Uk pubs have closed down since 2008. In reality I am too young to remember properly the ‘old’ pub lifestyle. I wasn’t one of those kids who grew up in a ‘pub’ family. My parents rarely frequented the local smoke-filled bars, but I am aware of what these places were like to a degree.

There used to be a pub on every other street corner (well almost, lol) when I was a kid. A ‘Golden Mile’ would consist of 16-20 (or more) pubs within a mile walk – a heavy night out if you drank in each one. Now not many places can say they even have a golden mile, the majority of pubs having closed down, even being knocked down or turned into McDonalds in many areas.

You used to be able to give people directions based on the nearest pubs as landmarks “Turn right at the Duke of York and it’s just past The Green Man…”. For those of us who remember these landmarks, even if they are long since gone will still refer to them to direct others “You remember where the Red Lion used to be? It’s just on the left past there…”

The decline in this traditional industry (which dates back to Roman times) started back in the 1990’s (from what I can tell). This was when I first started to notice pubs closing down. Being an 80’s kid (born in the 70’s) I remember seeing these busy centres of the community thriving in the 80’s. Only to start disappearing in the 90’s as I was reaching the age most people started frequenting such establishments. Even then my lifestyle was no one which caused me to follow that group of peers, yeah I participated in under-age drinking, most of us teenagers did, but I was part of those groups that started drinking on the streets.

Since 2009 the number of pubs has declined even more steeply year on year. There are a number of reasons for the decline:

  • Increasing taxes, to the level that now over a third of the cost of a pint of beer is tax.
  • Changes in licensing laws introduced in 2003, that came into force in 2005 meant that while licensing hours could now be extended the old tradition of Lock-in‘s after hours became something that could cost the publican their license.
  • Related to the licensing laws the increased pressure of identifying the age of customers with the threat of fines, criminal charges and loss of licences make pub staff ever more vigilant and careful about whom they will serve, no ID no drink. The think 25 campaign means many customers over the age of 18 are constantly pestered for ID. I’m not saying this is a bad thing per se, but it puts customers off. Teenagers are going to get access to alcohol, if they want it, by some means. doing so in a relatively safe environment, the pub, rather than drinking on street corners or at house parties is surely better for all concerned?
  • In 2007 the Smoking ban came into force which meant you could no longer smoke indoors, another blow for the pub industry.
  • Changes in the drink-driving laws also had an impact as customers were being stopped the following morning after a night out and being arrested for still being over the limit, so they stopped going out so much.
  • And then there’s the supermarkets, not regulated so heavily on taxing and licensing, meaning the sell alcohol at a fraction of the cost pubs can. People are not drinking less they are just buying it cheaper and drinking it in different, less sociable places.

I have spent a lot of time talking about the death of pubs, but this post state’s ‘Great British Traditions’ so why the focus on pubs? Well, that is because the other traditions that I see dying off are linked to this.

From the late night eatery’s, a kebab and chips at the chippy after the pub closes, to traditional pub games, such as Darts and Pool. Britain is losing a lot more than just it’s pubs as a backlash of the changes and decline of the industry. Many pubs have their own teams for darts, pool, football and other traditional games, as well as more recent introductions such as poker and video games. Quiz nights, and live music are also regular features in many pubs.

For a new band starting out getting a gig in a local pub is a good starting point for gaining interest and recognition.

A pub is a great place to socialise, you don’t have to drink alcohol all the time.

In our local pub we have four pool teams playing in the local league. A dart board, football table also draw in a number of customers. Live music, discos and poker nights are also regular features. There are a number of other pubs near by but we choose to frequent this one because of the facilities, entertainment and people. Without it we would be stuck with places that do not offer the same level of entertainment, just selling alcohol is not enough, it is not the alcohol which draws us in, but without the alcohol the pub would not exist and we would lose all those other things that matter more to us. Wetherspoons are great, but they don’t have dart boards or pool tables, the atmosphere is not the same as a ‘local’!

Pubs are not just places frequented by chavs and dole-bludgers, they are no places we would be better off without. They are places that are integral to community and tradition. And we need to fight to help them survive!

CAMRA the Campaign for Real Ale is running a petition to ‘Save your Pint‘ because the tax increases that threaten our pubs (and jobs and traditions) are continuing to rise. Sign the petition to help save your local and preserve Great British Traditions for the next generation to enjoy as we have!

What do you think?

Would you miss your local pub? 

What is it that draws you to your local pub?

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9 comments on “The Death of Great British Traditions – Public Houses

  1. I spent every summer in England and went to probably 2 pubs a week since an infant. There were metal swing sets outside and most of our visits (me,my mom and gran) were at lunch or evening while still light. I hated to read this… so sad. So much character and tradition in “pubbing”. Most of the ones we went to were country ones but my mom remembers the in-town one that was 3 doors down that her dad went to each evening for a pint or two. Sad.

    • Indeed, it is such a sad thing to watch it happening, and the knock on effect on so many other things is far greater than what people think! 😦

  2. Here here Sharon!

    I think you’re right. Unfortunately. And I don’t think it’s going to be saved.

  3. I’m also sorry to see the death of a tradition. We all know of ancient pubs which have been closed and then demolished or turned into housing. The car parks are built on too. In some cases you can see an old porcelain plaque set in the wall advertising the beer they used to serve or faint lettering – ‘Badger Beer Served Here’ ot ‘The White Hart’. Almost as bad is the current fad of changing the long-established names of pubs into something considered modern and ‘edgy’. Hence the good old ‘George and Dragon’ becomes the ‘Blue Maze’, ‘Charlie Brown’s’ becomes the ‘New Orleans’ and the ‘Copcut Elm’ becomes ‘Trotter Hall’ (fortunately they reversed that one). A piece of history is thus lost for ever.
    There isn’t a pub in my village although there used to be a small informal pub or ‘tap room’ many years ago. If there was one I would go there and I think it would be an asset to the community. Personally I now go to pubs more than I ever used to. This is because so many of them now do excellent food and because you can visit one without being smoked to death. One of the reasons I didn’t go to pubs much in the past was that you couldn’t take your children in unless you were eating in an area serarate from the bar. I have been ushered outside to a freezing garden cabin in the depths of winter whilst all the other customers basked in the warmth of a log fire, simply because I was accompanied by my 2 year old. Needless to say, I left smartish. Do they really want us to go back to the bad old days which I endured as a child; being left in the pub car-park in the car with my younger brother – and no – we were not provided with bags of crisps and glasses of coke!
    I agree that the easy access to cheap alcohol in supermarkets has not helped and I also think the ‘rise and rise’ of nightclubs swimming in booze must be a factor. However, the thing which has done the most damage, especially in rural areas is the Drink-Drive laws. Where it used to be possible to go out for a boozy evening and then drive home, today we realize that this is not a wise or public-spirited (there’s a pun in there waiting to get out) thing to do and laws which were originally despised have come to be accepted. The general public has become more law-abiding helped not a little by that draconian invention the ‘breathalyser’. We’ve woken up to the fact that drinking and driving form a fatal combination and it’s now the pubs which have become the fatality.
    Today’s pubs should be cosy and look old-fashioned without necessarily being old-fashioned. They should be clean and welcoming, boasting open fires, good food, real ales, friendly licensees and bar staff and comfortable (warm!) toilets. They should not have piped music! Pub gardens need attractive planting, trees, sturdy tables and chairs, sun umbrellas and play equipment. One of our favourites in the past also had numerous guinea pigs, fluffy rabbits and a goat! Other activities such as pub quizzes, games, traditional music, morris men, ferret racing, pudding evenings and beer festivals provide a happy community spirit (whoops another pun in there). Lots of hostelries have had to become restaurants or to build restaurants to survive and now do B&B too. That’s OK by me. I’d rather they did that than close although it’s still nice to have a nod to tradition with a bar area where the locals can be found having a chin-wag and a joke over a pint. The B&B pub gives you a great place for a weekend away and provides the extra income the publicn so badly needs.
    So that’s what I think. How about you…?

    • Hi Rosemary,
      I like your ideas for a cosy pub! I think that type of pub is great for the countryside and villages, for a town centre pub I like my own ‘local’ which has more focus on the gaming side of the social element (Pool and darts etc). I guess there is a need for variety to suit the regulars tastes which will vary depending on location…

  4. That is so sad. Some of my best times in Britian were spent in pubs. They’re a fantastic way of life. In my country pubs are just booze machines, not worth going to unless you want to be picked up by seedy men or totally trashed (or maybe both) 🙂

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