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Economic Crisis Calls Time on British Pubs

English pub landlady Karen Murphy poses for photographers inside her pub in Southsea, Portsmouth, southern England. (File Photo)
English pub landlady Karen Murphy poses for photographers inside her pub in Southsea, Portsmouth, southern England. (File Photo)
Henry Ridgwell

The British pub is famous worldwide, part of the social fabric of the land and a draw for tourists visiting the country. But hundreds of pubs across Britain are closing down every year. 

A roaring fire, a pint of beer, a cozy corner and good company; the British pub is famous worldwide as a place to escape the outside world.

Names like the Rose and Crown, the Red Lion or the Three Horseshoes are an embedded part of culture. But this institution of British life is suffering.

John Cryne is from the Campaign for Real Ale, or CAMRA, which is leading the charge to save the British pub. "Sixteen a week in the UK are closing, often forever," said Cryne. "And it’s community locals’ pubs, those that support their neighborhood, that are often the most under threat."

Up and down the land, the boarded-up shells of former pubs are becoming a common sight.

The Campaign for Real Ale says the problems stem from too much tax and the complex relationships between pub owners and managers, known as the "tied pub" system.

"Pubs that are owned by large pub-owning companies are faced with a bit of a double-whammy" added John Cryne of CAMRA. "In the first instance, they have to pay a rent for their premises, and we feel that in many cases the rent is a bit overstated. Then they’re caught out twice as they can only buy their beer through the pub company."

The British Brewing and Pub Association represents the companies that own pubs. Its chief executive, Brigid Simmonds, refutes the accusation that owners charge too much and says it all comes down to tax.

“Brewers are only making a penny a pint," said Simmonds. "For pubs, because they are small businesses, they have to pass on that increase in tax to the customer, and they’re really struggling in this economic climate as people are struggling throughout the world. But there are some great pubs out there. Pubs are the third reason why the majority of people want to visit the UK.”

Pubs and breweries do agree on one thing, lower taxes on liquor sold in stores means more people choose to drink at home.

Plenty of pubs are bucking the trend.

The Pineapple in north London dates from the 19th century. Its carved wooden interior enjoys protected heritage status.

The owner wanted to sell it to be developed into flats (apartments), a common fate for closing pubs. A vociferous campaign by local residents saved it, and Simon Rennie took over the management.

"I think it was Prince Charles that actually said, 'The pub is the hub.' And it really is. The pub is the hub of the community," said Rennie.

Local residents at the Pineapple can drink to the future of their pub.

But across Britain, many others are finding the hub of community life has gone for good.

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