London’s Pubs Are Falling Down…
I’ve noticed a few new pubs around lately, thanks to some late saves by craft beer outfits – hooray for The Parcel Yard, the Holborn Whippet and the Pig and Butcher, but they’re few and far between and limited to central London. I didn’t realise just how many local pubs had vanished beneath the rapacious claws of property developers looking to create new investment portfolios until I saw a website called the Lost Pubs Project, which is photographing and listing all of the lost pubs in great Britain, here.
What’s shocking about this vast swathe of wiped-out properties is that they go despite well-funded community attempts to save them. The ones listed on the site are only the most recent losses. The roll-call of lost names is all the more depressing because many public houses have extraordinary histories attached to them which involve local people and local legends. The loss of the Mother Red Cap in Camden was the end of a tale of witchcraft and magic that simply vanished after the pub was gutted and meaninglessly renamed ‘The World’s End’.
Recently the Black Lion in Bayswater – a 300 year old pub first listed as an alehouse in 1704 – changed hands for an astounding £27 million. You will not be surprised to learn that the buyer is a new Jersey-registered developer called 123 Bayswater Road Ltd, who is expected to turn the building into more luxury flats. This is typical behaviour from the kind of developers who don’t care about unstitching the social fabric of London’s villages in order to turn a buck.
In the area where I was born, Greenwich, over eighty public houses have shut lately, including the one I used to go to with my parents and grandparents. But I guess kids don’t do that sort of thing anymore. Many of the vanishing boozers listed in the Lost Pubs Project are beautiful inside and out, and are listed. No matter – the developers keep the features and charge even more.
I’m reminded of Terence Davies’ marvellous trilogy ‘Distant Voices, Still Lives’, and ‘The Long Day Closes’, which features many Liverpool pub get-togethers, but the whole history of British film seems to be allied to the history of the pub. The move to home drinking is economically driven – as the wealth gap continues to widen, many pubs which were built for working class families have faced a stark choice – up-sell or sell up.
Once a longstanding license has been taken away it is all but impossible to get back. Certainly, the days when there was a pub on ever corner have passed, but they do still preserve a communal way of life across the UK that is now somewhat lacking in our homes, and it would be a pity to lose them forever.