The background to this tale is The Packhorse in South Stoke, an area, indeed a pub, I know well. It’s an entirely lovely building in a picture postcard village. It’s also an enormous pub in a village of under 500 people. Back in the day it could be, and was, well supported by such a population, being the proper centre of the community and all that (from memory it sold chocolate from behind the bar, for example, because there was no local sweet shop. That as well as scrumpy so vicious that foreigners – those from more than a mile away – would be limited to halves). These days we just don’t drink that way.

The cost of drinking out is now very much higher than doing so at home, we can’t smoke (yes, sorry, the seasoned topers that are the financial lifeblood of a pub did and do tend to smoke) and this particular pub is just that little bit too far away for a wander to it. It requires either a determined walking expedition or a car ride – and we all do that much less now, and rightly, because of concerns over drink driving.

29 thoughts on “Elsewhere”

  1. Yes and no. If it was privately owned, then I’d agree, the chances are its not viable as a pub. However its owned by one of the big pub chains and quite possibly they’re mismanaged it so badly that it looks like its got no future, but with a more savvy owner/landlord it could be a goer. Its also not without the realms of possibility they’ve mismanaged it on purpose to demonstrate its non viability as a pub so as to enable getting permission to turn it into houses, as which its worth more.

  2. I guess this is a poor form of price discrimination. The pub has to charge a single price per pint but there were some consumers who would have been prepared to pay £10 per pint for the value of having a pub, but didn’t want to spend the excess money on extra pints each time they visited. By being able to directly buy the pub they can convert the excess value into hard cash, and if they are happy to make a loss and subsidise the average person who is only prepared to spend £5 on a pint (or whatever) then fair enough. There may also be some networking effects, people are more prepared to pay more in ‘their pub’, the parish council is more prepared to do activities in ‘their pub’ etc and so footfall may rise in the short run. I imagine in the long run the novelty will fade away and it will go bust again and at that point the value for development realised. Which might make us marginally richer (value of x more years as local pub + delayed development value) compared to just the development value.

    As long as it is local people with local money impacting other local people its not so bad, if central government starts trying to force it then we will really have issues.

  3. What other pubs are within say a mile? Time to reflect carefully on what level of population is needed to support one pub?
    The place seems to have been one of a row of houses. Why can’t it simply revert to that?
    Alan Scott (Dorset, where we have similar situations)

  4. Bloke in North Dorset

    The pub in the next village was closed for about 8 years and during that time somebody bought it and tried to get change of use but the council was having none of it. Apparently a pub has to fail twice before they’ll consider it.

    It was bought by a couple who had run something big in Bournemouth from what I understand. They renovated it themselves and have done a good job and now run it almost as a hobby, he does the cooking and she runs the bar. They have a few staff but obviously need to keep costs down.

    They’ve committed to keeping prices down and a decent pint of bitter is £3 and they do a simple but very filling meal for £8.

    (Alan, the Rivers Arms at Cheselbourne if you’re out and about)

  5. Misleading article:

    …According to the carved stone above the door, the current building has stood since 1674 – but historians say the pub dates back to 1498…

    It was a farmhouse until mid C19 when it became a pub/inn – thus ~150 years.

    Reverting to being accommodation means building reverts to what is was for vast majority of building & site’s built history.

  6. I know of failed pubs that have been so revived- by keeping part of the site as a pub and redeveloping the rest.
    No idea whether that’s practical or even possible in this case.

  7. >The pub has to charge a single price per pint but there were some consumers who would have been prepared to pay £10 per pint for the value of having a pub, but didn’t want to spend the excess money on extra pints each time they visited.

    Easily fixed. Get in a fancy beer, and charge £10 a pint for that.

  8. Bloke in North Dorset said:
    the Rivers Arms at Cheselbourne

    Oh, didn’t know that had opened up again. I’ll give it a try.

  9. Self-driving cars (especially ones rented by the mile) will change everything.

    Sell: Houses with garages
    Buy: Flats, country pubs

  10. “keeping part of the site as a pub and redeveloping the rest”

    Could well be the best solution.

    “Its also not without the realms of possibility they’ve mismanaged it on purpose to demonstrate its non viability as a pub so as to enable getting permission to turn it into houses, as which its worth more.”

    I know of one pub – not actually in chain hands – where this is exactly what happened.

    The ‘community village shop’ thing seems to work well; the pub angle is a bit trickier to pull off I suspect.

  11. Rosscoe (a bloke not quite so far north in Dorset)

    To fair Tim, market value often has little to do with this. A large pub co often buys pubs by the hundred and then sends a teenager to manage them on a one size fits all basis. Particularly in rural areas it is (because of planning and licencing) very hard for new competition to enter the market, and (again because of restrictive planning on new buildings for housing) they often have a very high value alternate use, which doen’t require the hard work of running a pub. None of this give an incentive for the owners to invest or to try alternate strategy’s and it can often lead to pubs dying on there arses simply because the owners don’t care enough/have the nounce to try a new approach; they have no incentive to do so as they can just shut it, convert it and hope the trade moves to the other grotty dive they have in the next village. We’ve had a few pubs around here that have either been bought either by the community or a group of locals (usually they buy the freehold and then lease it to someone on a longterm let) or purchased from the pub co by induvuduals and they are all much better run than previously and would probably worth more now than they would have been as building land.

  12. For a rustic pub in a touristy area, to what extent does offering accommodation keep things ticking over? Probably not an option in the back of beyond in somewhere unfashionable. But in some places it would make sense. I’m just wondering because I can’t recall tell of “community pubs” acting in that way – involves hard work, investment, and not so much fun for the locals – when a more commercial operator might be more inclined to investigate the options.

  13. Many years ago I recall reading a stat about the prevalence of public houses in medieval St Ives, near Huntingdon. Sadly I can only remember that the stat was quite astonishing and not the precise number. It was along the lines of one in X buildings being a pub, or one pub per X people, and X was a number you could count on your fingers. One shouldn’t expect the prevalence of drinking establishments to stay fixed over time as habits change.

  14. @MyBurningEars – do you mean this stat?

    ” St Ives had a history of being a busy inland port and market town with a surfeit of pubs (64 in 1838, one for every 55 inhabitants)”

    When I first visited Norwich in the late 80s it was said that the city had 52 churches and 366 pubs. A different church for every week of the year, and a different pub for every day (including leap years).

  15. So how many of us are in Dorset? On this post, there seems to be Bloke in North Dorset (obviously), me, Rosscoe, Alan Scott. I think there were a few others on other threads recently.

  16. @Flatcap Army

    In Norwich it was *more* than a pub for every day of the year and more than one church for every week. In my copy of ‘Norwich Pubs and Breweries Past and Present’* it states that “By the 1880s there were over 450 pubs within the city walls”. Quite a few of them were “…little more than the downstairs room of a house where a family would live at the expense of the brewery”. Incredible number though, as Norwich is / was a small city. There was one pub called the ‘Bess of Bedlam’ on Oak Street which was closed in early 1900s as “…15 other licensed premises were located within 200 yards”. Along Oak Street itself there were 27 pubs along a probably 1/3 mile stretch.

    On the church side, Norwich has (I believe) more mediaeval churches within it’s city walls than any other city North of the Alps. And yet it’s now also the most atheist city in the UK.

    Can’t decide if thats due to too many churches or pubs!

    *Great book. Nice bit of social history

  17. @ Flatcap Army
    If that means a circle of 200 yards radius – I’ld bet you could have found that somewhere in the City when I was young. 200 yards along a single street, even I should be astonished

  18. @MyBurningEars – speaking of Huntingdonshire pubs apparently in Wistow a population of less than 300 had 7 thriving pubs

  19. DT9 postcode = Dorset, though administratively I am in South Somerset.
    Places with a lot of pubs tend to have markets (the City has lots of those) it’s not how many pubs per inhabitant that matters so much as how many pubs per visitor.
    I know of two pubs that appear to be doing well by serving both a local and visitor market. The problem with community pubs and also shops run on similar lines is that they are not very enterprising, they tend to depend on people shopping their out of a sense of charity, of use it or lose it. That isn’t much of a long term business plan.

  20. When I were a young lad, it was well-known in Abingdon that it was the town with the highest density of pubs per head of population in Britain. Doesn’t make it true, of course, so I went looking. Didn’t find what I was looking for, but meanwhile there’s this:

  21. @Fred

    I loved Huntingdonshire. I’d rank it highly as a retirement destination.


    Yes can only be a short-term fix really. In the end regulars and members die off, enthusiasm peters out, the finances start to look unhealthier. As per my comment above, I can’t see that they have the same incentive to innovate and particularly to attract visitors that a commercial operation would have. Would have thought that the online hotel booking revolution would have been a big boon for larger rural pubs in attractive locations. But seems not.

  22. In she Stoops to Conquer by Goldsmith where two gents mistake a country house for an inn in the night. Much fun in ordering up drink and food from the friendly old squire. At one point one says this place is rather grand and the other replies “the usual fate of a large mansion having first ruined the master by good housekeeping it comes finally to levy contributions as an Inn”.

  23. Our village (Cotswolds, approx 500 people) used to have eleven pubs. But back then there was not much else to do bar drink and go home and knock one into the missus, which produced the kids who would be drinking in the pub 15 years later. These days we have two, and the internet, and hardly any kids.

  24. As a more general point, of our two village pubs one is run by a wet, ineffectual ex hippy and the other by a confirmed wanker. Neither are going great guns. The hippie gets more of the custom, and all of mine, but either pub would do better with a decent landlord and better beer (none of this ubiquitous Tribute shit).

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