It would appear that the fate has been sealed on two more of Gloucester’s pubs this week. On Friday the Citizen reported that planning permission has been granted to turn the Welsh Harp (more recently known as No 36) into a convenience store, then yesterday it reported that The Seymour has been sold to someone who plans to ‘develop the site as homes’.
It is likely that any boos of protest will be drowned out by the whoops of delight in both of these cases. The Welsh Harp has been closed since January 2008, when it had the dubious distinction of being the first pub in the city to be closed by the police under section 19 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act of 2001. Since then the empty building has become a haven for druggies and ne’er do wells. The Seymour clientele was also a bit ‘rough round the edges’ and you’d imagine that local residents won’t be shedding too many tears to see it go.
However, this wasn’t always the case. The Welsh Harp dates back to the early eighteenth century – a pub that lasts over 300 years can’t be all bad. I loved this pub in the 1980s and ‘90s, it sold good beer – it was in the Good Beer Guide in 1979 and 1982 – and it was an excellent venue for live music. The Seymour is less old, but still dates back to at least the late nineteenth century. The building is superb: the Godsell and Son’s emblem carved into the stone above the door would suggest that it was built by the brewery specifically as a pub, and it has long been a great community pub.
So why, despite a long heritage of success, have these pubs fallen into decline and eventually got to a position where they are no longer viable to run as pubs?
Well, of course there are many reasons, and these have been trotted out many times before – not least by me in this blog. However, one overriding shadow seems to loom over pubs these days, and that is the nanny state.
Under the guise of doing what is good for us, the last government introduce punitive tax and duty levels on beer making it an unaffordable luxury and squeezing pub margins to breaking point. There seems little hope that the current government is going to do anything to reverse this malaise.
The nanny state is a worry indeed: look at what is happening to cigarettes at the moment. I am no lover of cigarettes and I was glad to see them banned from public places – my joy was tempered by the fear that this would impact badly on pub trade, but from a personal perspective I was delighted.
However, now that I don’t have to suffer their ill-effects I don’t care who wants to smoke. That is individual choice; let them get on with it. Sure it puts a burden on the NHS, but it also rakes in a shed load of taxes, so it probably balances out.
It seems unnecessary therefore to introduce laws banning them from being prominently displayed and insisting on plain packaging. The purpose now is to reduce smoking because nanny knows best. Well, most people probably feel they don’t need a nanny and nanny can just bugger off!
But that is the smokers’ problem, what do I care. Well, I care because this is exactly where we are likely to be with alcohol in a few years time. It’s already started with talk about warning labels on bottles.
Maybe you don’t drink and you don’t smoke, so you really don’t care. But who knows what’s next? Banning cream cakes in supermarket displays? Warning labels about obesity on chocolate bars? Salt declared a class-A drug? Where will it end?
I’m off to the naughty step, but I may just pop out to stock-pile some provisions first.