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04-04-2010, 17:13
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I recently had the occasion to drive along Victoria Avenue in Higher Blackley, Manchester, for the first time in a number of years. Along here there used to be two massive 1930s estate-type pubs, but both have now disappeared and are simply vacant plots. You can see one of them – the Berkshire (http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=blackley&sll=53.800651,-4.064941&sspn=16.188323,46.538086&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Blackley,+Elland,+United+Kingdom&ll=53.531714,-2.205248&spn=0.000992,0.00284&t=h&z=19&layer=c&cbll=53.531583,-2.205365&panoid=StXcA4XjSMngf31k01NzFg&cbp=12,62.23,,0,-2.48) – on Google Street View before it was demolished. This is a pattern you can see all over the country – imposing 1930s, 1950s and 1960s estate pubs, surrounded by an expanse of under-used car park, either closed and boarded, knocked down and turned into a weed-strewn wasteland, or redeveloped into something else entirely. Here’s an all too typical example (http://www.beerpage.co.uk/espg/displayPub.php?pubnum=313) from Redhill in Surrey.

Obviously many once-thriving establishments have fallen victim to a profound social change. You can’t blame this on changing attitudes to drink-driving, as all these pubs have thousands of potential customers within walking distance and in any case were built when few working-class people owned cars. It is certainly true, though, that middle-aged people nowadays are much less likely to go out for a drink in the evenings, and younger ones are more likely to head for a town-centre circuit than go to a “local”.

Was the concept of the “estate pub” flawed from the start? There are two pervading myths about the pub trade – that coming home from work, eating your tea and then going out is the typical pattern of pubgoing, and that the presence of nearby housing guarantees business for any tolerably well-run pub – neither of which is any more than a half-truth, and which over the years have led many people to misunderstand the dynamics of the trade and make ill-informed business decisions. Possibly building smaller pubs that were part of local shopping centres rather than plonking them on massive free-standing sites in the midst of areas of housing may have given them a better chance of long-term survival.

While estate pubs may have been planned to offer all the facilities pubgoers wanted, the very act of planning made them somewhat sterile and characterless, and people felt happier in smaller, cosier, more natural and haphazard older pubs. In many areas the twentieth century pubs have gone, but the nineteenth century ones (or at least some of them) are still there. Perhaps it was a mistake to “plan” pubs at all. Might it have been better if the presence, or absence, of pubs in areas of new development had been entirely left to the discretion of private developers?

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