Friday, February 04, 2005


Glass Half Empty

The original architecture of British pubs is disappearing at an alarming rate, according to a new book cited by The Guardian:

Only 250 original Victorian pubs - complete with antique-tiled exterior, stained-glass windows and roaring log fire - have survived unscathed from a 30-year wave of redevelopment, say the authors of a new book on pub heritage....

Travel writer Bill Bryson, who wrote the foreword to the English Heritage book Licensed to Sell: The History and Heritage of the Public House, said: "It's easy to dismiss a lost pub sign here or a refurbished Victorian interior there as not worth worrying about. But it is, to every last, minor detail."

Though the general retreat of pubs from British towns has been a matter of concern before -- witness their governmental Pub is Hub scheme -- there is something particularly melancholy in watching the Victorian ones fade away. One of the most curious stories from BBC News in the late 90s was the discovery of a veritable King Tut's Tomb of British pubs :

A Devon pub which has not changed since last orders were called more than 30 years ago is to be re-opened as a museum. Now the search is on for the American servicemen who made The Valiant Soldier their regular during the war years. The pub in the village of Buckfastleigh has remained untouched since the last pint was pulled in 1965.

Beer glasses remain unwashed, there is still old currency in the till, a darts match has been left unfinished and unopened bottles of wine and beer are stashed behind the bar... [Local] Mr Cross says the war years were definitely the pub's busiest time when the village was thriving. "It's like stepping back in time. It still smells like a pub, not an unpleasant smell, but the smell of smoke and beer," he said.

The building's landlady still lived upstairs until 1997; apparently she just never got around to cleaning the old pub up. So I now cling to the hope that somewhere out there is a dust-covered Miss Havisham who inherited a slumbering Victorian pub from a negligent great-grandmother who closed it up back when Disraeli was in office, and where the beer glasses and dice cups still sit on the tables abandoned mid-game, like an alcoholic Marie Celeste.

I know, I know: unrealistic. But it's a pleasant thought.

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