There are some causes you really don’t have to push us too hard to support. So when the authors of a new book celebrating – and commiserating – Liverpool pubs lost, found and on the edge, got it touch, we didn’t need asking twice to get involved…
Part obituary, part rallying cry, Closing Time is a snapshot of a sobering state of affairs – and one that’s been brewing since the ciggie ban, cheap supermarket booze and recession-busting nights in around the Wii combined to create a cocktail far more damaging than any shooter in the Mood Bar.
Liverpool photographer Kevin Casey has spent the past four years capturing the decline of our traditional pubs, and – with an accompanying essay by Kenn Taylor – he’s documented one of the most seismic periods our evening economy has ever witnessed.
The statistics are shocking enough. Last year, 2,365 pubs closed in the UK (accounting for around 24,000 lost jobs). And, while now, nationally pubs are now closing at a rate of 39 a week, down from 52 a week last year, the great British boozer isn’t celebrating extended hours any time soon.
“The idea came from journeys into work,” Casey tells SevenStreets. “Taking the train from where I live in Waterloo to the city centre, I noticed nearly every station along the route had at least one pub nearby that had closed. My family’s had a number of pubs across the city over the years, so we’d always hear through the grapevine if another pub had closed down.”
The death of pubs, Casey believes, are bellwethers for a deeper, gloomier state of affairs.
“It’s in poorer areas that pubs tend to disappear first,” he says. “It’s no coincidence that, in a deep recession, you start to notice the rapid closure of pubs around Anfield and Goodison when you go to the match.”
“I’m a photographer, so I wanted to tell the story my way. It made sense to me to get out there and take photos…”
Kev: A lot of city pubs have had a big role in defining our culture. Their architecture alone is worth saving. CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) says that Liverpool has the best collection of historic pubs outside London. There are pubs like The Sandon in Anfield, just outside the football ground, which is steeped in history, helping to define the story of Liverpool Football Club as we know it.
Kenn: Liverpool has always enjoyed a communal culture and the pub was part of that. Just think about the role the pub has played in the city’s music and arts scenes, its role in politics and activism and the intense nature of the Scouse night out…
SS: What are some of our most recent losses?
Kev: We have recently lost Coopers, by James Street station, The Clarence on Everton Road. Gregson’s Well has been a bit of a relic for a good few years now. Not featured in the book, because it was knocked down before I started the project, is (legendary city cornerstone inn) The Legs of Man on the corner of London Road and Lime Street. For me that was inspiration for the book, because my family used to run it.
I have a lot of childhood memories, playing around the bar and the cocktail lounge before opening time. I remember the campaign to try and keep it open, but it wasn’t successful. Now in its place is the (bland, anytown extension -SS) Liverpool Empire Theatre bar.
Kev: CAMRA has a ‘Back the Pub’ campaign to try and save local pubs. But it’s an issue that needs to be tackled nationally as well as locally, pubs are struggling to keep up with high tax rate, low cost alcohol at supermarkets, the smoking ban and a lot more.
Ultimately, though, a big factor would be trying to improve growth, jobs and industry in these local communities where the local pub is the focal point.
Kenn: You’ve hit it with ‘perfect storm’. Everything from cheap alcohol in supermarkets to too much power in the hands of mega pub companies has contributed to the decline of the local. There are lots of examples nationally of pubs being taken on by communities and becoming general stores, or post offices. The Clock in Everton, has been taken over by the community and turned into a successful community centre, though it doesn’t serve alcohol anymore!
Encouragingly, whilst doing the project some of the pubs Kevin shot have since re-opened with new enthusiastic owners…
SS: Isn’t the situation just symptomatic that our tastes have changed and the pub’s had its day?
Kev: In part yes, tastes do change and the days when you’d clock off from work and go straight to the pub are a thing of the past. People want to go into town, get dressed up and go clubbing. Liverpool was a city where there was ‘a pub on every corner’, so it would be unrealistic to hope to save them all. But that doesn’t mean we should lose them altogether.
Kenn: A lot of it is. I touch upon that in the book. The culture has changed, young people generally prefer city centre bars and clubs, and no-one wants to preserve a once lively culture in aspic. But the pub still has its place. It’s one of the few unifying factors in British culture, something we’re famous for worldwide and one of the few things I’d miss about this country if I was to move abroad. Can you imagine France without pavement cafes and patisseries? Italy without Coffee Bars? America without Diners?
We’re not against change. The book is in part about capturing these buildings before they’re gone. Pub closures are going on in such a piecemeal way that you mightn’t notice it unless you’re actually looking for it.
SS: Thanks chaps. Now, we’re buying, where are you taking us?
Kev and Kenn: The Lion Tavern (Moorfields), Ship and Mitre (Dale Street), The White Star (Mathew Street), The Volunteer (Waterloo/Crosby) Peter Kavanagh’s (off Catherine Street) The Grapes (Roscoe Street), The Edinburgh (off Wavertree High Street).
Closing Time (pub: Bluecoat Press)
Price: £8.99, available from 28 November
Launch party, 6:30 pm, 1 Dec
FACT, Wood Street.
The event will include a live webcast debate about the future of local pubs and is supported by several local breweries. Press and public are welcome to attend.