The papers are full of statistics these days about pubs shutting up for good. Many are said to be struggling following the introduction of the smoking ban and the fact that you can enjoy cut price drink at home. According to recent reports between 36 and 52 pubs are closing every week.
Time and time again I’ve read the same story about closures and thought nothing of it. Surely it must just be lazy landlords who refuse to respond to current customers’ needs? Perhaps they should all just turn into gastro pubs? But then at the weekend I visited the Sun Inn in Leintwardine, Herefordshire, and my whole opinion changed.
The Sun Inn is said to be Britain’s last remaining parlour pub. You walk through the front door and it’s like entering someone’s living room. You join the regulars on wooden benches at long tables and get involved in the pub table games. There’s no bar; drinks are brought direct from the barrels in the kitchen (regulars just help themselves).
But earlier this year the pub was threatened with closure. Following the death of the landlady (who was in her nineties) in June the property was put up for auction. Many feared it would be picked up by a developer for converting into a house. Britain’s heritage was on the verge of being destroyed.
Then, after national media coverage, the pub was withdrawn from the sale and a team a team of volunteers stepped in to keep it running. They come in and open the pub for a few hours in the evenings. Now ‘a friend of the pub’ is on the verge of completing the purchase of the Grade II listed building and keeping it as a parlour pub.
Entering the cosy bar, that looks straight out of the 1930s, you can’t help but get involved in the conversations of the fellow drinkers. There’s no juke box or noisy quiz machine to divert your attention. It means that visitors quickly feel as if they are part of the village.
From talking to villagers both inside and outside the pub, we saw the important role The Sun plays in the village. The other, more conventional, pub in Leintwardine closed about a year ago so there was great worry about The Sun closing. All the local interest groups drink there and friends meet for drinks. There is nothing else for them in Leintwardine.
We heard the stories about regulars who travel from across Britain to visit the pub, some even come from London each month. The night we visited there were drinkers popping in from all over the county.
But the most interesting stories were about the former landlady Florence ‘Flossie’ Lane who died in June. Across from the bar was Miss Lane’s private sitting room, with the armchair in where she slept most nights for many years, rather than venturing to the upstairs bedrooms. But as she became more frail the regulars converted a store room into a downstairs bedroom. One would kiss her good night at the end of each day.
The Sun Inn may need a bit of updating; some complain about the grotty toilets. But changing it too much would destroy what is unique about the pub. We shouldn’t just change things to respond to consumer demand. Britain’s heritage deserves to be saved for future generations.
Hopefully now the future is more certain for The Sun. I will certainly be keeping my fingers crossed that it doesn’t become another statistic.