Landlords across the country are stuck between a rock, and a hard place with pubs fastly becoming an endangered species.
Rural English pubs are on a life support machine, and the visitors have long stopped coming by. Much like a vegetative patient, there’s understandable pain and anguish at the idea of letting them go. But deep down, we know we hardly visited them when they were alive. So, there comes a point when it’s best to turn off the machine.
Nicki and Oliver Wolfe have run a 13th Century pub in North Devon since the early ’90s when the village pub truly was the beating heart of the community. Those days, Nicki would come through to their adjoining house after her busy shift in the kitchen smelling of chip fat, and Oliver pulled pint after pint while inhaling the second-hand smoke of others. Continue reading →
A good pub within walking distance is on most buyers’ wish lists and can even uphold an area’s value. But what makes the perfect village pub? Arabella Youens investigates.
If the idea that a village pub can sell a country house sounds a bit extreme, here’s a story to prove it. When the parents of James Mackenzie, head of the country-house department at Strutt & Parker, were in Oman and reading a copy of Country Life, they spotted an old rectory near Lyme Regis in Dorset for sale.
As soon as they could, they jumped on a plane and booked a viewing,’ says Mr Mackenzie. ‘When they reached the top of the drive, my father jumped up onto the gate to inspect the exterior and its aspect. Then, without venturing any further, he took the agent for lunch in the pub opposite. Once that had passed the test, they bought the house – barely bothering to look inside.’
The Bell at Stow is one such pub – gorgeously cosy with beautiful food.
That a pub acts as a binding force within a community was ever thus, but, today, this role is on the rise, believes Harry Gladwin of The Buying Solution, Knight Frank’s buying arm, who says a good village pub comes within the top three requirements of a country-house buyer. ‘It’s a place where everyone meets, regardless of background. This mix of people and ideas around an open fire is what breathes life back into many villages and – unlike village shops – can never be replaced by Amazon.’
In recent months, Mr Gladwin has handled two transactions where a good pub was at the top of the list of must-haves; as neither client enjoyed cooking, the pub would be an extension of their kitchen, to feed the family and house guests.
The Ebrington Arms.
‘Even in less extreme scenarios,’ he adds, ‘it’s great entertainment for guests at weekends, especially if they can combine a good walk with a pub lunch or have a late dinner there after driving down from London.’ The best landlords, adds his colleague Jonathan Bramwell, ‘will keep their kitchens open a bit late to accommodate this type of clientele. Now that you can no longer make a profit on selling pints alone, it’s the food that helps in no small way to keep these pubs alive’.
‘We will never do pea shoots or foams’
Village pubs that are successful tread a fine line between catering for the weekend crowd and looking after locals. Peter Creed runs The Bell Inn at Langford in west Oxfordshire, having taken over the pub, which was then derelict, with his business partner, chef Tom Noest, two years ago. It’s taken off and they now have an outlet in Soho Farmhouse (The Little Bell) and are in the process of negotiating on another pub nearby.
‘A pub needs to act as a hub for the village,’ says Mr Creed. ‘It has to be somewhere that everyone can afford to go.’ To that end, they ensure the menu accommodates local families, as well as those wanting to celebrate an important anniversary. ‘We will never do pea shoots or foams.’
Dogs friendly is a must – luckily, the Ebrington Arms welcomes all types of patrons!
Although it may not come as a surprise that the British public hankers after a regular pint to wash down wholesome grub, Charlie Wells of Prime Purchase, Savills’ buying agents, believes the pub factor is increasingly playing a role for international buyers, too. ‘Foreign buyers love a good old-fashioned English pub with horse brasses, which doesn’t really exist in Scandinavia or America,’ he explains. In addition, they attract buyers with families; as children become teenagers, the pub becomes particularly useful if they can walk there and meet friends, rather than using parents as a taxi service.
The Fife Arms, Braemar – The Flying Stag adds a unique decorative touch.
‘A good pub makes a good village and vice versa,’ concludes Mr Gladwin. With that in mind, if the current pub isn’t hitting the mark, it might be a good plan to take it over. That may sound like a storyline from The Archers, but these days, communities are beginning to take matters into their own hands and village-owned, village-run pubs are reversing some of the decline in pub closures.
In (albeit rare) cases, incoming buyers of large country houses are also buying the pub to turn it around – a move made by a number of Mr Wells’s clients. This can work to benefit everyone, argues Adam Buxton of Middleton Advisors. ‘It might underpin the popularity of the village and ultimately help hold up values.’
Albert Jack, who did exhaustive research for his book The Old Dog And Duck, The Secret Meanings Of Pub Names, says: “There’s something about a good honest boozer that can’t be beaten so I decided to find out where their names come from and what they mean.”
Some of the most interesting names are unique and don’t appear on the list.
For example, the longest pub name in the world is The Old Thirteenth Cheshire Astley Volunteer Rifleman Corps Inn in Stalybridge, near Manchester, named after a Victorian army corps. Oddly, the pub with the shortest name is also in Stalybridge – The Q Inn.
And in Hampshire there’s an inn called The Pub With No Name. It used to be called the White Horse but it’s said the locals tore down the sign to make it hard for strangers to find. Here’s the history of some of the most popular names [ . . . ]