Thursday, 18 September 2014

Great Western, Gloucester

In recent years I've made special efforts to seek out back-street pubs like the Great Western. It's these classic community locals which seem to have suffered the most from the wave of closures and redevelopment affecting the pub trade in recent years. Some of those which I've visited have been quite clearly on their last legs. Shabby, unloved, and sparsely populated by customers. Victims of both changing tastes and a radically changed local population who may have no tradition of pub-going. But also often victims of the rapacious pubco and brewery greed which has all-but priced local drinkers out of their local pubs, and is killing community locals everywhere.

One thing I've noticed when visiting pubs like the Great Western, is that the very best establishments are often run by older, sometimes even elderly licensees who may have been a fixture of the pub for decades. This continuity of ownership is now quite rare in the pub trade, and yet the value of it is clear to see in the ever-decreasing number of well run, often beautifully maintained pubs which result, and the loyal band of customers who appreciate it. Such is the case with the Great Western, where licensee Lynn Mann has been in the trade for most of her working life, and has run this pub in particular for nearly 30 years.

This certainly shows when you walk through the door. Railway memorabilia and potted plants adorn the pub, and the front bar in particular has a warmth and welcome which you only ever seem to get in pubs like these. Pubs where the licensee and locals treat the place like a second home, and the 'locals' actually come from far and wide, such is the appeal of this, one of the last pubs of its kind in town.

The sad dichotomy of such well run and popular pubs like the Great Western, is that many of them are likely to be only a few short years away from changing forever. In the case of some this will inevitably mean closing forever. Because even licensees with such a strong and abiding attachment to their pub as Lynn Mann, have to retire sometime, and so it is with the Great Western.

It was only as I was writing this blog post, and only a few weeks after visiting the pub, that news filtered through of Lynn's imminent retirement, and consequently the Great Western's possible closure. Sadly a pub like the Great Western can only ever be as good as the person running it (and the people who use it of course), and with much of the trade travelling from across the city for the unique qualities that Lynn brings, it's hard to see how a pub like this could survive the massive changes that will inevitably come when Lynn calls it a day.

The Great Western is a lovely pub. The labyrinthine and award-winning beer garden probably the best in Gloucester, the welcome in the bar genuinely warm. A proper, well-run pub of a type which is becoming increasingly rare, so do pay a visit soon while you still have the chance.

Hidden away at the far end of the beautiful garden is the pubs very fine old skittle alley. A purpose built affair, featuring an alcove of fixed seating, and its own small bar servery, adorned with what appears to be West Country Breweries livery.

The alley is apparently home to four teams in the local Gloucester City Skittles League, and is therefore in use on most weekday evenings.

The rear, or left-hand bar has a Pool Table and Darts, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if Cards and Dominoes are a feature of the pub too.

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