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Pub closures hit east London - but could the tide be turning?

12:00 30 March 2013

Last Orders for the traditional British pub

Last Orders for the traditional British pub

Archant

Last orders have been called in hundreds of East End boozers over the last 10 years – but campaigners are confident the tide could be turning.

Exterior of the  Old Spotted Dog, a Grade II listed 15th century pub that has fallen into disrepair.Exterior of the Old Spotted Dog, a Grade II listed 15th century pub that has fallen into disrepair.

Almost 200 pubs across Tower Hamlets and Newham have shut down in the last decade, according to a pressure group.

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) aims to promote the availability of traditional beers in independently-run pubs.

It has warmed that two pubs are closing in London each week as supermarkets and larger chains take their toll on smaller establishments.

Bill Green, who is CAMRA’s representative for the City and east London, said: “I would say the main thing is the huge difference in pricing in supermarkets.”

The Grapes pub in Limehouse.The Grapes pub in Limehouse.

But he insists that pubs are so integral to our culture that they are worth paying for.

“Pubs are part of the British social fabric, going back to Roman times - particularly in east London where there’s such a vibrant history”, he said.

Despite the problems facing boozers nationally, he pointed to some success stories which suggest the institution can survive.

Mr Green said: “There are signs of pubs fighting back and of people beginning to realise and support them and campaign for them”, he said.

The King Eddie in StratfordThe King Eddie in Stratford

One reason for this is an increased demand for real ale among younger drinkers, and an ongoing recognition in communities of the value of pubs.

Two thirds of Londoners agreed that a well-run pub is as important to community life as institutions such as post offices and community centres, according to a CAMRA survey.

Little wonder, then, that London Assembly Members are queuing up to join the push to preserve our pubs.

A report by Conservative AM Steve O’Connell is calling for the introduction of strict criteria when considering planning applications for the redevelopment of pubs.

Problems facing pubs

At least 191 pubs have closed in Tower Hamlets an Newham since 2003.

18 pubs a week are closing across the UK.

Two pubs are closing in London every week.

1,300 pubs have closed in London in the last decade.

The number of pubs in the UK has shrunk from around 70,000 to 50,000 in the last 30 years.

He also recommended the introduction of so-called ‘saturation zones’ curtailing numbers of new off licenses.

“These saturation zones could help cut binge drinking and create more of a level playing field for pubs encouraging social drinking in their local communities”, he said.

Despite gloomy figures suggesting that if pubs continue to close at the current rate nationally the institution will die out by 2040, campaigners are cautiously optimistic.

“The tide is turning in a way 20 years ago I didn’t think it would – both locally and nationally”, added Mr Green.

The mixed fortunes of east London’s pubs...

The Old Spotted Dog

The Old Spotted Dog was reportedly used as Henry VIII’s hunting lodge after it opened in the 16th century.

But the Grade II listed inn has been boarded up for more than a decade amid tussles over its future use.

Campaign group ‘Save the Spotted Dog’ are calling for the pub, in Upton Lane, Forest Gate to be reinstated as a family pub or for the site to be used for the community in another way.

The campaign has won support from MPs and Newham Council – but for now, one of east London’s most historic pubs remains derelict.

To get involved in the campaign to save the pub, email info@savethespotteddog.org.

The Kind Edward VII

One of Newham’s oldest pubs, the ‘Eddie’ remains a popular haunt for locals, attracted by real ales and good pub grub.

Landlord Jigar Patel, who took over before the Olympics last year, now plans to diversify by introducing an Indian food menu.

He says trade is relatively consistent at the Grade II listed pub.

“Business has not gone up, but we are still here”, he said.

“We have a niche client that comes in for the real ale. People don’t mind paying extra as long as you’ve got a decent atmosphere.”

But from May, the pub, in Broadway, Stratford, is introducing an Indian restaurant to cater for its “multi-national clientele”.

The Grapes

Bought out by Lord of the Rings star Sir Ian McKellen two years ago, The Grapes dates back more than 350 years.

Manager Paul Mathias says it is faring better than many others, but that there has been a drop in trade during the last year.

He said regulars are still attracted to the pub, in Narrow Street, Limehouse, by the selection of real ales and the unique atmosphere it offers.

“You cannot be competitive with [pub chain] Wetherspoons, charging £2-3 a pint, so you better make sure the atmosphere is worth paying that extra £1-2 for”, he said.

“It’s a local gathering point and it has been for ages. As soon as you go into big chains, it loses that.”

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