It is sad to see that another pub closed on Friday: The India House in Barton Street. According to the story in yesterday’s Citizen, the landlady, Tina Smith, called it a day because they aren’t making any money. Arkells, the brewery that own the pub and who she says haven’t been very helpful, say that she has left for a “combination of personal and commercial reasons.”
The Citizen describes the India House as an ‘iconic Gloucestershire pub’, and that isn’t much of an exaggeration. Standing prominently in a fork in the road between Barton Street and India Road it is very recognisable (and, by the way, I believe the road was probably named for the pub rather than vice-versa). It dates back as far as 1780 and has a gym upstairs where local boxing legend Hal Bagwell trained in the 1930-40s.
When I visited the India House in the name of research for my book, The Story of Gloucester’s Pubs <end of shameless plug> it was a Saturday night in 2009; a live band was playing and it was absolutely packed. Despite almost getting into trouble with one of the locals, whose suspicions were aroused by my note-taking, it seemed like a friendly enough place, and the fact that the he was so protective of ‘his’ pub suggests that it had a good local community behind it.
Barton Street is one of the poorer areas of the city, most of it built in the nineteenth century to provide housing for the huge numbers of workers flooding into the city following the industrial boom, brought about by the arrival of the canal and the railway. Like most poor areas, it has traditionally been awash with pubs, but now it is dry except for One Eyed Jacks, which is much closer to the bustle and night-time economy of Eastgate Street.
By coincidence, a reason for the closure of pubs in poorer areas is suggested by Will Hawkes in his blog today. He suggests that in more affluent areas pubs are turning around their fortunes with ‘a focus on good quality beer’. However, in poor areas where price is a bigger differentiator than quality, pubs just can’t compete with cheap supermarket prices. It doesn’t help that all too often the brewers or, worse, the pubcos, fail to recognise this fact and still expect their tenants to do the impossible. Hawkes says that ‘the Government must act if it wants to safeguard the future of the pub’ – oh yes, here they come now on their flying pigs…
Still, maybe I am being unnecessarily gloomy. Arkells are apparently hoping that a new owner can be found soon, so maybe the India House will re-open before we know it. And although Barton Street itself is now almost dry, there are plenty of other pubs in the area: the Great Western just down the road at the end of Alfred Street is a gem, the Plough in Upton Street is but a short walk away and the High Street in Tredworth has several pubs still apparently thriving. I really enjoyed the pub crawl that I did when researching the area – you can read about it here.