Sunday, 13 July 2014

Sir Frank Whittle, Lutterworth (closed!)

In the current climate of rapid change and decline in the pub market, it's inevitable that I'll occasionally feature pubs on this blog which have subsequently gone on to close, sometimes temporarily, sometimes for good. It's not often I feature a pub which has already closed though. I always try to accentuate the positive in a pub whenever possible so what would be the point of that!

By posting about the Sir Frank Whittle, a pub sold to the Midlands Cooperative Society by brewers Marston's, and subsequently closed despite strong local opposition, it's perhaps hard to find the positives in yet another example of market forces riding roughshod over local feeling. But I feel it's important to accentuate the positives of what is essentially a sad, if all too common tale. That way people might have a better understanding of just what it is we're losing when community locals like the Sir Frank Whittle close forever.

Because sadly there are still far too many people who consider themselves 'campaigners' for the traditions of beer and pub-going who just don't see the value of pubs like the Sir Frank Whittle. Pubs which don't offer a bewildering array of rare micro-brewery beers, or the latest novelty craft keg specialities, but simply deliver the goods for the locals who use them in an unfussy and unpretentious way. A pub like the Sir Frank Whittle may not be the most exciting proposition for drinkers who view pubs as just mini-beer festivals, but in my view it's pubs like this which represent the very best of our traditional drinking culture. A culture where the beer is the tasty alcoholic lubricant of a good social experience, an accompaniment to a good night out, not the whole point of it.

The Sir Frank Whittle was a two-room 1970's new-build estate pub of a type which was once so common in England as to be utterly unremarkable, even (or particularly) to those who called themselves 'locals'. Originally named The Balloon, the interior was typically clean, modern, and functional. No-frills, a pub very much of its time but certainly none the worse for it. Built for a purpose, and that purpose was as an important social hub for the extensive new-build housing which surrounds it, and which even now continues to be built on the north side of Lutterworth.

The Sir Frank Whittle would have been a true drinking, socialising, and gaming pub. The 'public' equivalent of the many private members social and political clubs which were once also at the heart of working class communities. It's pubs like this which brewery owners Marston's built their Midlands empire on, but sadly Marston's have fallen out of love with community drinking pubs. For many years now they, and many other large-scale brewers and pub owning companies like them, have abjectly failed to invest in the fabric of pubs like this, and in so doing failed to look after the trade which would maintain them as viable businesses. Marston's quite obviously see little future in pubs like this, instead preferring to milk their ever declining trade whilst building new family dining venues to replace them. These soulless pseudo-pubs are springing up everywhere now, often on the side of retail parks, and at the expense of hundreds of historic locals and community pubs like the Sir Frank Whittle. It's the total-shopping/leisure future apparently, but not one I have any great appetite for.

As an aside, it's hard to imagine where a traditional brewery like the one Marston's run fits into this bland new pub future, where the family dining experience is the primary focus, and parents are increasingly frowned upon for having an alcoholic drink in the presence of their children!

The interior of the Sir Frank Whittle was extensively refurbished by the last licensees just a few years ago, and whilst obviously lacking the olde-worlde charm of pre-war buildings, the result was an attractive and comfortable pub which most people would enjoy drinking or dining in. Sadly, Marston's refused to do a similar job on the exterior of the pub, a necessity which would have gone a long way to attracting new or lapsed trade, and possibly even securing the future of the pub. But that was clearly not Marston's intention. As I've already said, this once proud and highly regarded brewer has fallen out of love with pubs.

When I visited, the beer was in excellent condition and the pub beautifully maintained. This was of course a skittles pub, the table equally well-maintained and only recently retired from league play. The licensee was sad but resigned to the closure of the pub, and had already made plans for the future. It was particularly sad to enjoy such a good pint in an attractive pub knowing the builders would be along within days to rip it all out, another good pub lost.

Not the last time it will see service, plans were already in hand to relocate the skittles table elsewhere, but certainly one of the last 9's at the Sir Frank Whittle before the pub closed forever.

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