11 October 2010

Pubs

"The Bell Hagg"
Rambling earlier today on the green outskirts of Sheffield, I observed the dilapidated state of "The Bell Hagg Inn" on Manchester Road. I remember the very first time I went in there thirty years ago for a hearty Sunday lunch. The view from the lounge window was truly spectacular, with an unexpected panorama of the lush Rivelin Valley with its old stone farms and ancient green pastures.

Erected in 1832 as "Hodgson's Folly", the building became a public house some time in the eighteen sixties - no doubt serving travellers on the Snake Pass turnpike road between Sheffield and Glossop. Its construction must have been challenging for although you can't tell this from the photograph, the main building had five separate floors and was cleverly built into the valley side. Behind the pub, down a steep track, is where you can still find the old stables - testament to a time long before the internal combustion engine and tarmacadam - when a journey to Glossop would have been as stupendous as a transatlantic flight nowadays.

Back in the nineties, I attended a few folk sessions at "The Bell Hagg" with a friend I have since lost touch with - Big Jim. My God that man could sing! His booming voice must have not only filled the tap room with sound but also the pastures in the valley below, waking whole flocks of sheep and farmers' wives in flannelette nightgowns.

Across the valley you can still see another old pub - "The Rivelin", serving the hamlet of Undertofts and visitors like me from the big city down the road. Lord knows how that pub continues to survive. The death of the English pub has been a quiet national tragedy these past twenty years. Our pubs have been central to English culture - a drinking culture of rowdiness, social gathering, music and singing, darts and skittles, finding a home from home, a place to relax, to talk, to laugh and try to make sense of the world. No other country in the world has pubs like ours where you can spend as little as a couple of pounds and still have a pleasant night out.

Just last week, I noticed that "The Millhouses Inn" in Abbeydale was boarded up. Perhaps "The Rivelin" will be one of the next to go. And in the end, what will we have left? Corporate chain pub-restaurants with background muzak, McDonalds, Pizza Hut and ultimately the sofa at home with a plasma screen television and cans of "traditional" beer in the fridge. I'd rather fight for the English pub than for whatever mysterious cause we are currently engaged in in faraway Afghanistan.
"The Rivelin" viewed from "The Bell Hagg"

8 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. MOUNTAIN GARLIC I feel like I just ignited a firecracker. Light blue touch paper and retire!...But you're so right about the squashing of independent businesses as the corporates take over. WalMart has even reached these shores - rather like the spread of swine flu. Sadly, Sheffield is not a small mountain community. It is a city of half a million souls but with lovely countryside just a stone's throw away.

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  3. I agree with MT about the sadness of it all. I've lost count of the number of pubs you see with "Investment Opportunity" boards outside.

    Just today, I was on the other side of that Sheffield hill in Mottram and saw that the Pack Horse pub has closed. It has been there since at least 1832 when it was listed in the Pigot's Directory and presumably for many years before that.

    Blame the smoking ban and cheap supermarket booze.

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  4. I enjoyed your photos, YP, and your memories. How sad that so many country pubs, and other small businesses such as those in Mountain Thyme's comment are closing. Some of my fondest memories of my visits to England are of pub lunches - usually a ploughman's and draft Guiness.

    You and your compatriots are not alone in bewailing the incursion of Wal-Mart, McDonald's and the ilk. Many a small business has closed its doors when the "big guys" came to town. In the 40+ years I've lived in my community (pop. 29,000), all my fingers and toes are not enough to count the really nice, friendly shops that are now only vacant store fronts, with trash accumulating inside and out, visited stealthily by the darker elements of our population. "The Black Death" is perhaps a more accurate description of Wal-Mart's effect. Sometimes I regret to say that Wal-Mart is an Arkansas-based company; however, we take no responsibility for McDonald's.

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  5. You are absolutely right there. As a tourist/ visitor who LOVES England I think one of the things we love most is the English pub. We don't have anything like it here . Our pubs are for drinking - a lot - ! Oh they have food sections- often upmarket expensive options where you dress up and go for a night out- but they are not places the locals go, often for a coffee and a chat, like you do in the UK.
    IN the UK they are sort of a social hub, a place to stroll down to after dinner where you will often run into people you know and where a conversation often can include everyone who is there in the room, dogs asleep at their owner's feet or in front of the fire.
    Recently on a visit to France it was the thing we missed most in the French villages. It is one of the things that draws us back to England time and time again.
    Cheers
    Helen

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  6. The death of the pub seems to be a fact, but what is the cause? Commercial expansion by the likes of Wal-Mart, or something more insidious, such as the government imposing different rules (hours of operation, smoking, etc.) ? This is a serious question.

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  7. HELSIE, SHOOTING P, PAT ARKANSAS - Thanks for adding your comments.

    SAM Thanks for dropping by again. You ask - WHY - are pub numbers reducing in England. I think Mr Parrots has part of the answer - "Blame the smoking ban and cheap supermarket booze." To this I would add three other contributory factors. Firstly, at home with amazing vision and sound on our TV set-ups with beer in the fridge and a computer with internet access - people may feel they have all they need to entertain themselves. Secondly, the growth of brewery chains that drive out private pub landlords who cannot compete with the mass buying power and economics of the chain organisations - like Mitchell and Butlers. Thirdly, changing drinking habits amongst working class drinkers. It used to be all about pints of beer to slake industrial thirsts. Now with advertising and more health consciousness, it's more about Budweiser or cider, aftershave and a clean shirt. So there's not just one reason for the decline of the traditional English pub. I'm sure that other observers could give you three or four further reasons. Thank heavens the theory that the strong survive seems to be true of the English pub. Although many have disappeared, some of the very best remain, not resting on their laurels but learning to adapt to changing times.

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  8. Steve of Occupied Country5:49 am

    Well said YP. It is a national tragedy what has happened to these places.

    There is one bright note though: sales of real ales are on the increase and lagers are slipping. Believe it or not real ale is being supped my more young women than ever before!

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