We’re past the worst, right? Fewer pubs are closing now than a couple of years ago. And Osborne knocked a penny off beer tax. So we’re all feeling a bit more relaxed about the future of the British boozer. Right?
In the early days of this blog, I visited the Old Heavygate Inn. It wasn’t long after I moved over to the Walkley area of Sheffield, and it was a minute’s walk from my new house. I naively and sentimentally speculated about it becoming my new local. A place where I could put down roots. A pub I could call home.
What I’d actually found was a pub on its last legs.
Like many a moribund beer house, the Heavygate seemed to close and reopen several times with some rapidity as a series of hopeful new managers tried and failed to revive its fortunes. Eventually it was put up for sale. Here and there Sheffield’s seemingly doomed suburban pubs have been reprieved by a takeover and makeover from the Thornbridge brewery: the Greystones; the Cross Scythes. Not the Heavygate. A few months back the builders moved in. Whatever the future of the building would be, it was clearly not as a public house.
I knew there’d been a pub on this site for a long time. But something I saw the other day, while passing by, really brought it home to me. So I snuck in and took a quick snap. Look at this.
It’s a foundation stone, brought to light by the builders as they’ve dismantled the front of the pub. Look at that date. It’s 1696. Sixteen hundred and ninety-six. William III and Peter the Great. The Inquisition.
It’s more than 300 years old.
Whichever way you look at beer tax, or minimum alcohol pricing, or any of those other things people have started to talk about very recently, there’s a pub just up from my house which has called time on three centuries of human history. Three centuries of human contact, of sociability, of chance meetings. Of chat-up lines, of secret deals and anglers’ boasts, of anecdote, gossip, and pool table heroics. Of consolation and celebration. Of tears, belly laughs, flirting and fights. Of raucous nights and slow, silent afternoons. Of excited talk, of idle chat, of forlorn daydreaming, of staring blankly into space.
Of much, in fact, that makes civilisation worthwhile.
This is what we’re losing and we’ll never have it back.