Friday, 20 October 2017

Country Matters-October 2017

Greyhound Inn Siddington
Country Matters
By The Hodge

“Let’s get out of these wet clothes and into a dry Martini!”
Anonymous 1920s

Nobody likes change. It’s a fact but it’s also a fact that change constantly happens so we must learn to live with it. As I get older I am saddened by the decline in an institution that has been around for centuries; something just about unique to Britain but more especially to England and Wales – the country pub.

Pubs evolved from inns that were the mainstay of the traveller using horse-drawn transport. For any long journey by coach it was necessary to break every so often to rest and change horses and inns thrived and prospered as part of the mix.

Most of these developed into hotels and pubs and flourished during my younger life as independent, individual establishments. Many were full of character, (and characters!), and relied on selling ale and beers. For most, food beyond a packet of crisps with a twist of salt in a little blue paper wrap, was unheard of.

Then came the big brewers and began the decline by forcing everyone to drink chemical beers for their convenience and sales of bitter in the form of Watney’s Red Barrel and the like began to give way to continental lagers.

The downward spiral continued in the late 1960s when the Barbara Castle’s breathalyser arrived and suddenly remote country pubs saw their trade fall overnight.

But despite all this the village pub mostly survived and food began to make an appearance to supplement beer sales. To begin with, it was just sandwiches but soon we began to learn to love chicken in a basket or scampi even!

Then big companies started to take over individual pubs and make harmonised chains so that you could have the same experience in Cheltenham or Chippenham. Food got more adventurous and then children were allowed in. The days of the working man’s alehouse were over.

Tony Blair introduced almost unrestricted opening times and independent pubs struggled to stretch limited resources to compete with chain pubs. The EU banned smoking and another big chunk of the country pub’s custom fell away, finding it easier to drink cheap supermarket booze at home and smoke in peace.

The poor old village pub has had everything thrown against it. It’s adapted and many have survived despite business rate rises just coming in. But many have gone and once gone seem never to return. The Red Lion at Ampney St Mary is likely to become a private house. The Royal Oak at South Cerney has been closed for weeks – will it ever reopen? The Tavern at Kemble is in a similar state. In recent years The Woodbine in town has gone as have two pubs in Ashton Keynes; The White Horse at Frampton Mansell and The Crown Inn at Tetbury. And those are just the ones off the top of my head. There are doubtless many more.

Of course businesses that are no longer viable must close but it seems that of all businesses the pub has had more to compete with than most.


The country pub is a part of our heritage, a unique part. It’s often the centre of village life, where people go to drink, eat and socialise. To play skittles, cards, darts and other games; to compete in quizzes and even karaoke nights. Of many things that are changing in our lives, to me at least, the country pub is one worth preserving. To my mind, we won’t half miss it once it’s gone.

The Hodge is a countryside writer with a series of books to his name.

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