The traditional Liverpool boozer. An endangered species, of that there is no doubt. Given special care and protection from our council? Pull the other one.
In their forest of good news press releases trumpeting the (long awaited) opening of the Hall Lane ‘Strategic Gateway’, and dutifully reprinted in our local media, Liverpool City Council has been less than forthcoming about the delays, cock-ups, and catastrophic impact the work’s had on the residents and businesses adjacent to it all.
But one spot in particular has had it tougher than most.
The Mount Vernon Hotel is one of the city’s most distinctive old-time boozers – a former convent, the pub’s anchored the bottom end of Edge Lane for generations. Throughout the shifting fortunes of Kensington, the tearing down of its factories and warehouses, and the uprooting of its communities, the pub’s doggedly hung on in there.
Not that you’d have cared much four years ago, when current licencee Francis Caffery took the reigns.
Undaunted, Caffery – who successfully ran Cheapside’s karaoke capital, the Rose and Crown prior to heading up town – set out to bring the iconic boozer back to life.
Fast forward to the beginning of 2010, and Mount Vernon had become a cornerstone of the community again. Open mic nights, free wi-fi for students, weekly gigs and charity events: Caffery’s long hours and determination was finally beginning to pay off.
“I remember an elderly couple leaving the pub over Christmas thanking me for giving them their local back,” he says. “I knew we’d turned a corner then, and it made all the hard graft and long hours worthwhile.”
Then the contractors moved in.
“The barriers went down in January 2010,” Caffery says, “and I was told they’d be working around the pub for a maximum of five months.”
Sixteen months later, and the pub’s still ringfenced by maintenance barriers, no entry signs, JCBs and general chaos and confusion. No car park, no obvious means of entry. No chance of a peaceful pint.
“In the past year, our takings have dropped by 70%,” Caffery says, “and no-one seems to care. Birse (the contractors) have dug up the road twice alongside here, then they laid tarmac over all the manhole covers, and had to rip it up and relay it. It’s been a complete joke. They’ve had one man laying three inch paving blocks for five months, and in that time he’s advanced about ten feet. They’ve still not got from the door to the front of the pub.”
Meanwhile, with the pounding of the pneumatic drills and the daily onslaught of dumpers and bulldozers, huge cracks have started to appear around the building’s 200 year old brick courses.
You’d think, wouldn’t you, that this inconvenience would be anticipated, off-set, compensated for somehow? That the Council would have been doing all it could to ensure those affected – especially those trying to run a business in a recession – would be shielded from the worst of it all?
“It’s taken me 14 months to get any response from them, and only then it was to agree to lower my business rates,” Caffery reveals. “I’ve had to lay off staff, and my family and friends have stepped in to help out. I’ve got two kids, and this is my livelihood. If the pub goes under, we all do.”
Caffery admits the stress and the disruption has brought his close to breaking point. But he’s still here.
“We were starting to get a great lunchtime trade, but that’s all gone now. There’s no way people can call in here until the contractors have left for the evening, and even then it’s so difficult most people have stayed away. We’ve lost our car park, and they’ve rebuilt the access road to be so narrow there’s no way you can park on it,” he says, “and with no lighting, it’s just not safe for elderly customers to come anywhere near.”
You can do a lot with £19million – and for the residents of Hall Lane, this civil engineering project will doubtless bring a huge improvement to their quality of life. But for Caffery, the delays and the disruption have brought him close to calling closing time for good.
“I’d given a community their pub back,” he says, “I just hope we can hang in long enough for our customers to come back.”
Take a look up Kensington High Street. Most of the local pubs are boarded up. No pubs, houses ripped down, shops shuttered up, communities dispersed. But at least we’ve a brand new road to get excited about.
Still: makes you wonder what they thought it was supposed to be by-passing.
The Mount Vernon,
1 Irvine Street, Liverpool
Tel: 0151 708 6030