Not all ale and hearty
FOR centuries a quiet pint in a traditional pub has been an integral part of our British culture. Our hostelries are renowned around the world, they re often mimicked and are the envy of nations where a decent pub is as rare as a fine tasting non-alcohol
FOR centuries a quiet pint in a traditional pub has been an integral part of our British culture.
Our hostelries are renowned around the world, they're often mimicked and are the envy of nations where a decent pub is as rare as a fine tasting non-alcoholic beer.
But this hub of British life has little protection from the onslaught of the chain pub, the gourmet pub and the demise of community life in Britain.
Huntingdonshire is no exception to the current trend that looks away from the traditional (wooden beams and open fires) towards the ultra modern (chrome and glass).
Andy Ross, chairman of the Hunts branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), feels the community pub is in real danger of being lost.
"Around 26 pubs across the country are lost each month, for a variety of different reasons and that trend is echoed in Huntingdonshire.
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"A worrying trend is the amount of pubs being turned into restaurants or residential use. There is currently no provision to stop landlords simply demolishing a pub if they choose to."
Statistics from Huntingdonshire District Council reveal at least 40 parishes in the district are served by just one pub.
But there are many villages and hamlets now without licensed premises altogether. These include Oldhurst, Kings Ripton, Covington, Stonely, Toseland and Wennington which have all seen their pubs closed or turned into residential accommodation.
Simon Peck, chairman of Covington Parish Council, said: "We lost the Red Cow about 10 years ago and recently we lost the Nag's Head in Hargrave, which was our next nearest pub.
"It means we've got a half-hour walk to Dean or Tilbrook, which is fine in summer but obviously not ideal in winter evenings.
"We do have a thriving village hall but we don't have that spontaneous opportunity to go to the pub and see who is in.
"Increasingly, it seems, we are living in communities with no central meeting point."
Other traditional pubs to disappear in Huntingdonshire in recent years include The Harrier in Brampton, now the Masala Bar and Restaurant, and the Monagu Arms at Grafham. While a new bar/restaurant is a welcome addition to most villages and towns, it is argued the addition should not be at the expense of the local watering hole.
The Crown Inn, at Broughton, is a prime example of how a community could be missing out if they lose their pub. In 2001, members of the local community clubbed together to stop the pub being sold off and retained its use for the community.
The Lord John Russell pub in Russell Street, St Neots, is another example of a pub at the heart of its community where the local residents are encouraged through the door.
Under new ownership, landlord Charles Smith offers incentives for the elderly population in surrounding streets to use the pub, and also runs evening events - such as a skittles league - to attract other customers.
"We aim to serve our local community, so we do casserole and crumble specials during the week and offer smaller meal portions as well.
"We are one of the few back-street community pubs left in St Neots - unfortunately it seems we are one of a dying breed."
Theories as to the diminishing numbers of traditional drinking houses include greater respect for drink-drive laws and competition from supermarkets and off-licences that are able to offer cheap beer and wine for people to enjoy in their homes.
In addition, we are also becoming a nation of food lovers - a night out will more often be aimed at indulging in good food.
Some landlords see this as the only way to survive in a tough market place.
Trevor Fowler, landlord of the Samuel Pepys Diary Rooms in Huntingdon High Street, has taken steps to modernise his pub.
It has recently been refurbished to brighten the inside and a new bistro-style menu was introduced.
He said: "Increasingly pubs are having to adapt to survive and it is things like the introduction of more upmarket menus that can help tempt people back to their local. Our changes have been very popular to date."
However, there is some protection for a limited number of pubs. HDC has a policy that refuses to grant permission for change of use to the last remaining village pubs. . . unless there is evidence of little public support for the facility.
Only last year the council refused to allow the King of the Belgians, in Hartford, to become a house.
But this change of use does not include altering licensed premises from a public house to a bar or restaurant and many Huntingdonshire residents feel their options are limited.
One Hartford resident told The Hunts Post: "It seems that bistros are springing up all over the place and the traditional pub with an open fire, real beers and simple, reasonably-priced food is no more."
Back to Mr Ross, of CAMRA: "A friend of mine went for a drink in what used to be The Harrier, in Brampton, but it wasn't long before he found a restaurant menu in his hands, but this seems to be the current trend.
"People must support their local pub to ensure they keep it."
INFORMATION: CAMRA is holding the first ever Community Pub Week in February next year. For more information on the group visit www.huntscamra.org.uk
* What do you think? Is Huntingdonshire losing its traditional pubs? Where do you go to drink? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with your views, name and address.