After the tumult of recent days, it’s probably time for a stiff drink — but if you’re hoping to find a pub to quench your thirst, you might be out of luck.
A century ago there were almost 100,000 pubs in England and Wales, but a new survey shows just 39,970 pubs operating in June this year, down by 7,000 since 2012.
The Altus Group, a hospitality consultancy, says 400 pubs shut in 2021 and another 200 have gone so far this year.
Quirky: A converted pub, formally known as The Ship, in South Harting, West Sussex
‘While pubs proved remarkably resilient during the pandemic, they’re now facing new headwinds grappling with the cost of doing business in a crisis through soaring energy costs, inflationary pressures and tax rises,’ says Robert Hayton, head of Altus in the UK.
Some pubs have simply lost too much money, while others have been snapped up by the big corporate chains and then shut down to eliminate competition.
But there may be a silver lining.
Plenty of redundant pubs are being converted into unusual homes, often rich in character and steeped in history.
‘Pubs typically form the heart of a town or village which means that if they’re later converted, the resulting home is often in a highly sought-after central location,’ says Simon Backhouse of the Strutt & Parker estate agency.
‘Houses that were formerly pubs have fantastic selling points — for example, often a walled garden, architectural interest thanks to period features and, of course, a large cellar for a wine collection,’ he says.
Backhouse says ex-pubs are often large with open-plan ground floors and plenty of accommodation upstairs. But there are also downsides, whether you buy them ready to live in, or as a project to convert yourself.
The layout of the accommodation can be quite quirky, so they appeal to a limited market,’ says Kenrick Browne of high-end estate agency UK Sotheby’s International Realty.
Other experts believe the proportions and condition of most pubs are a disadvantage, too.
‘There will almost certainly be way too much car parking and too little garden,’ says James Greenwood of Stacks Property Search, a buying agency.
‘Kitchens will be industrial and badly sited, and you’ll either have a bunch of small bedrooms with small bathrooms, or poky staff accommodation in the worst part of the property.
‘You’ll need a good architect and deep pockets, as the chances are you’ll need a complete refit and rearrangement.’
Yet if you do take the plunge, you will be in good company.
Veteran rock star Richard Thompson of the band Fairport Convention and comedian Harry Enfield have converted pubs in Hertfordshire and London respectively.
One converted public house currently on sale has a particularly spectacular history. Worked in by Jamie Oliver, The Cock Inn near Braintree in Essex has not only featured in the celebrity chef’s cooking shows but was also used for scenes in the BBC’s comedy drama Lovejoy in the 1990s.
It’s now a family house called Lime Tree Cottage and, according to agent Karl Manning of Savills, ‘sympathetically combines contemporary finishes and stylish new additions such as exposed chrome pipework and solid oak doors’.
That combination of old and new, found in many pub conversions, is part of the appeal of this kind of property.
But, of course, to get a conversion, a pub must shut — and that represents a community loss.
Chairman of the Campaign for Real Ale Nik Antona, says: ‘Pubs are not only vital employers, but they are key to community life up and down the country — bringing people together and tackling loneliness and social isolation.’
CAMRA is calling on the Government to cut VAT on drink, review business rates for inns, and levy new taxes on online sales to level the playing field with pubs.
Who knows whether the new Chancellor will agree, but even if he doesn’t, it looks as if many pubs will at least live on as houses — and most of us will raise a glass to that.