Friday, April 27, 2012

Pubs, hotels and vanishing customers

click photo to enlarge
Anyone who lives in England or who visits on a regular basis can't help but notice the decline of the English pub. At the end of last year they were closing at a rate of 25 per week as large pub operators and privately-run businesses decided there was over-capacity and that many establishments were unprofitable and never going to be able to produce a profit. A combination of cheaper alcohol from supermarkets, the ban on smoking in buildings open to the public, the tightening of everyone's belt following the banking crash and the increased competition for discretionary spending has resulted in many closures over the past few years. Boarded up buildings can be seen in villages, towns  and cities across the country. This is nothing new of course. A hundred and more years ago even the smallest English village had a pub, and often not one but two, three or more. That was a time when beer was safer to drink than"Adam's ale" i.e. water. Most of these didn't survive the changing circumstances of the twentieth century. What is different about today's closures is the scale and the short period of time over which they are happening.

The down-turn in the fortunes of the pub has been mirrored, perhaps to a lesser extent, by hotels. The rise of mass foreign holidays in the 1960s on the back of increasing incomes and cheaper air fares made a big dent in the custom that English hotels received, and over subsequent decades this only increased. So this sector of the "hospitality industry" has suffered too. The recent economic downturn has offered some relief with more people indulging in "staycations", and the swapping of a stay in a country hotel, travel lodge or seaside resort for a fortnight in Spain, the Dominican Republic or Thailand. But hotels also have a long history of closures, with many buildings being unable to adapt (or be adapted) to modern needs and standards. I wonder if that was the fate of the Stamford Hotel in Stamford, Lincolnshire. This large building, begun in 1810 and completed fifteen or twenty years later after a period of inactivity, looks more like a Georgian Assembly Rooms with its giant order of Corinthian columns in antis. Its scale looks incongruous on narrow St Mary's Street and today it is subdivided and occupied by a number of small businesses. Looking at this Francis Frith postcard it appears that it was still functioning as a hotel in 1922. When did it stop trading I wonder? On a recent day in Stamford I passed through the building, taking this photograph of its fine cantilevered stone staircase that is lit by windows and a glass-topped lantern above.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 17mm
 F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/50 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On