The pub and club trade across the country is undergoing perhaps its biggest challenge in recent times as the economic impact of the current national lockdown takes its toll.
However, this challenge is just the latest in a long line of issues threatening an industry that has been at the heart of British culture for centuries.
A stretch of road in the north of Coventry was once known across the area for being peppered with pubs and clubs.
At the top of Longford Road, sits the Longford Engine. Just over a mile further into Coventry, as the street becomes Foleshill Road, is the New Horseshoe.
Between the bookends of these two pubs once sat 10 more drinking establishments, meaning this bit of Coventry road had the equivalent of a pub or club every 148 yards.
However, this enviable pub crawl is now gone, and currently just half are still trading. The ravaging effect of the coronavirus pandemic could well put others at risk.
So what happened to this once bustling social scene? There are many explanations as to why the area has lost so many drinking establishments, including changes to the local demographic, beer tax, and the loss of industry in the area.
While the Engine and the Horseshoe were still trading before lockdown, only the Coach and Horses, the Wheatsheaf, the Gas Club, and the Parkstone Working Men’s Club join them on the list of places still open on the stretch.
Meanwhile the Saracen’s Head, next door to the Coach and Horses, the Griffin over the road, Carney’s (or Fiesta), the Royal Anteluvian Order of Buffaloes (for obvious reasons known as The Buffs), the Foleshill Social Club, and the William IV (or JK English/Pele’s) have all closed in the past few decades.
The Saracen’s Head is now a Chinese takeaway called China Garden, while the Griffin is now part of Longford Medical Centre. Carney’s, which also went by the New Inn and Fiesta was demolished around the turn of the century to make way for a small housing development.
The Buffs meanwhile closed in 2018 and has too been demolished, while the Foleshill Social Club closed its doors around 2010, before also being demolished.
The William IV, later became Pele’s and then JK English before being repurposed as a food outlet.
Social historian Ruth Cherrington has written extensively about Coventry’s pub and club scene, including in her book Dirty Stop Out’s Guide to Coventry’s Working Men’s Clubs. Ruth was raised in Canley though her family originally hail from the Foleshill area of the city.
She spoke to CoventryLive about the changes in the area and the impact it has had on pubs.
Asked why there were so many places to have a pint on that small stretch of road, Ruth said: “It was an industrial suburb – a very 19th century industrial area with the gas works and coal mines down the road. Later there was also big companies like Courthaulds setting up in the area.
“So It was quite a heavily populated area of the city and when working class areas got bigger, inevitably more pubs open.
“People needed pubs for somewhere to go with their little bit of spare time. So quite a lot of pubs set up and later the social clubs came along as well.
“You’ve got this heavy concentration of working people and people could open pubs quite easily in the late 19th century.
“You could open a drinking room in your living room if you wanted and there was all sorts of takeaway beers and things like that going on.
“People think that takeaway beer is something that’s been invented during lockdown but its got a whole history on its own – people liked a carry out.”
So what happened to this strip, and why have so many closed down?
“The Demographics have changed and they have been doing so for long time,” Ruth explained. “Immigration from places like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, whose cultures are much less likely to evolve around pubs.
“But even before that there was a lot of rebuilding after the war due to the blitz. There were a lot of suburbs built and many people moved to them and the built up areas became less populated, which also contributed to the need for pubs declining.
“Though some people would trek across town to their old drinking haunts, sometimes getting two busses, but that became unsustainable because of work and that’s when pubs, and especially working men’s clubs started springing up in other areas.
“So a shifting of the original parts of the population, populations moving away or even dying. And the inward movement of migrants coming to work in the factories or on the busses or what have you, and the pub just wasn’t their centre of activity.
“So that’s two big reasons.”
A cultural shift in the way people live their lives
However, there are other, more recent reasons the pub trade has been in decline.
Ruth said: “More recently, a big increase in things like taxation on selling alcohol. There’s been complaints in the industry for decades now, about the exorbitant taxation on a pint of beer, which hits social clubs as well.
“We then had massive changes in licencing laws so that now just about anywhere can sell drink at anytime and there are off licences all over the place.
“Supermarket are loss leaders, they can sell 24 bottles of San Miguel or something for next to nothing to bring in customers. And so people started drinking more at home, because it was cheaper.
“If you go down the pub and buy a round of drinks for ten quid, you can go to Sainsburys and can get a load of food and drink for the same price.
“From about the 1970s and 80s onwards, working class people started to stay home as there was more home based entertainment, a video, DVDs, and later the internet and social media. This is a cultural shift in the way people live their lives.
“Then the smoking ban in 2007, which gets mentioned a lot, but the decline was already happening by then, and that added to it.”
Further up the Foleshill Road there were also venues such as The Heath and the General Wolfe, which played a huge part in the city’s music scene, hosting bands such as The Specials, U2 and the Eurythmics. Both are no longer in use.
If you’re interested in the social history of the city’s pubs and clubs you can find out more about them by reading Ruth’s books on the subject here and here.
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