Saturday, 11 June 2016

Punch Bowl, Worcester

Of all the many pubs that have been lost in recent years, it's perhaps the untimely closure of so many village locals that has been most keenly felt by pub-goers. For the locals it can represent a devastating 'social' loss, particularly where there are no convenient alternatives, but even less regular users and visitors from further afield are likely to mourn the passing of a favourite 'destination' watering hole. Such is the special place we hold in our hearts for that uniquely gregarious institution, the village pub.

By contrast, the epidemic of closures that have afflicted post-war estate pubs seems to have gone largely unnoticed by the wider pub-going populace. For most of us, when we think of our ideal destination for a social pint, it's not likely to be an estate pub that springs to mind, and sometimes with good reason it must be said! It's also true to say that the classic estate pub was not really built to attract a wider custom. Planted squarely in the middle of what were then new housing developments, they would have been perfectly positioned for the locals yet very much out of sight and off the beaten track of passing trade. There would have been more than enough trade on the doorstep anyway, and each pub would have enjoyed a predominantly local and in many cases fiercely loyal following.

I've made a point of visiting just about every kind of pub in the pursuit of our traditional pub games heritage, and this includes numerous late 20th century estate pubs, many of which represent a last refuge for gaming traditions which have been pushed out of the ever-changing town centre drinking circuit. In the course of this investigation I may have been forced to drink Guinness a little too often it's true, but I've also found that by and large, estate pubs can be just as welcoming and well run as the attractive rural village pubs we hold so dear.

The Punch Bowl on Worcester's Ronkswood estate is a good example of this. A quiet midweek afternoon session rarely shows a pub at its best, but it gave me a great opportunity to chat with a few of the locals in the public bar. As a bonus I also got to enjoy a pint of Banks's Mild, and admire the largely intact late 1950's interior, an interior so highly regarded by those that know about these things that the pub is included on CAMRA's list of unspoilt heritage pub.

A surprising addition some might say, but heritage isn't just about historic buildings and relics of a bygone age. It also encompasses important cultural survivors. Pubs like the Punch Bowl are important because they represent a rare connection with a post-war 'near-past', still clearly remembered by many, but fast disappearing from everyday life. Of course the most important aspect of pubs like the Punch Bowl is that they remain open, and continue to serve the local communities they were built for.

A pub like the Punch Bowl won't be to everyones taste it's true, but to my eyes it has a plain, functional beauty that so many post-war boozers have lost to bland and unsympathetic alterations. The pub retains it's original four room layout where most have been knocked through to one large space around a central servery. Even the original off-sales remains, though now pressed into service as office space.

Chatting with the locals gave me a good insight into the pubs current position in the community. Popular and busy at weekends, less so during the week, particularly during the daytime which is my experience of practically every pub in the current climate. Trade is probably not helped at the moment by the ongoing development of a large green space at the front of the pub. These grassy areas were considered essential to the original design of estates like the Ronkswood, but are now just another opportunity to squeeze in a few more houses. Perhaps the new residents will become regulars at the pub.

In common with pretty-much all community locals, the public bar of the Punch Bowl would have been alive with game play in its heyday. League Darts and Pool are still played at the pub, the Dartboard occupying its own alcove off the public bar, but Dominoes and Cribbage are now played on a more casual and occasional basis. Indeed the public bar is furnished throughout with tables designed for games play (left), the shelf below designed to hold pints, leaving the upper deck free for the shuffle and deal of Dominoes and Cards. Sadly the pubs traditional Quoits Board is long gone from its position under the Dartboard, as is the Shove Ha'penny board that once resided on a table in the bar.

To the rear of the pub is a large function room, a common feature of pubs and clubs from this era where entertainment was so important to the working class social scene. Adjacent to the function room is a Skittle Alley, a later addition to the pub which several teams play from in the local Winter League.

No comments: