The Bar Man - Slowing the decline

There is an oft quoted statistic that around 27 pubs close each week.

I was up North recently, in Blackburn and Bradford, and as you travel around these areas it is easy to believe, but my current impression down here is that there is a new optimism in the trade.

Perhaps we went through the worst of the closures early, or perhaps we are benefiting from being between the affluent areas of Cambridge and North Norfolk, but things seem to be picking up. Several pubs have changed hands in recent months and seem to be doing very well.

The Hare Arms at Stow Bardolph seems to be thriving. The new style light and bright Foldgate served us a fine lunch and an excellent pint.

The Wash and Tope in Hunstanton and the Ffolkes Arms at Hillington have both seen large investments, while the Denver Bell and the Gate at Fair Green found new landlords fairly rapidly after closing and one day sufficed for the new team to take over at the Gayton Crown.

The Blue Lion at North Pickenham has reopened after five years, the Crossways in Lynn is trading again and hopefully these will soon be joined by Northwold Crown, where the community buyout bid seems to be gathering pace.

People are always passing on rumours of work taking place at the George and Dragon at Newton by Castle, while newspaper reports of a licence application for the Black Horse at Castle Rising being granted permitting us to hope for a future reopening.

There are other opportunities around, and a quick glance at businessesforsale.com reveals that in Lynn you could purchase the Live and Let Live, for £37,500 leasehold, due to retirement and an intriguing unnamed property.

‘Brew Pub/Traditional Ale House & Kitchen - Grade II Listed Property. This inn has been lovingly renovated and cared for by the current owner for the past 15 years. The price of £950,000 includes a brewery to the rear of the premises which would have the capacity to produce 55-65,000 units of beer a week and it’s very own fishing boat.’

Going by the evidence of the two newest pubs on the Lynn scene, both could be worth a punt. The Nip and Growler has rapidly established itself as a unique Lynn venue on the beer circuit, and shows that there is a market for different styles of beer in a pleasant environment, while Goldings appeals to the high end of the market, albeit at a price.

Up North, we stayed at the Shireburn Arms in Hurst Green, a wonderful old pub with stone floors, period furniture, great beer, super food and brilliant staff. It was all you could want in a pub, and it seemed not too great a leap of the imagination to see something similar created at the Tudor Rose, sadly neglected in recent times.

We have the Bank House for quality accommodation in the town centre, but as the town grows and tourism is encouraged, surely there is room for another great hotel in the heart of the historic area.

I delivered a talk on ‘The Decline of the English Pub’, and while it is clear that this has happened, I am more optimistic than for some while that it has, at worst, slowed down.