The decline of the great British pub is nothing to raise a glass to, but the growing trend of converting old inns into new homes means it’s not last orders yet.
The fall in numbers of pubs has been spectacular. There were 99,000 a century ago, compared to just 39,130 today.
‘Unfortunately pubs continue to close across the country, particularly in small or rural communities.
‘This means the loss of the social, cultural and economic benefits that come with a well-run local,’ explains Nik Antona, national chairman of the Campaign for Real Ale.
Reinvented: Former pub Pound House in Goosey, Oxon, is priced at £1.15m
Smaller, independent pubs have disappeared for three reasons.
Some have been bought by big-name breweries, then sometimes closed down to eliminate competition; others have been heavily expanded to become more like restaurants than pubs; but many have become unique properties packed with character and features.
About 2,400 pubs have been converted into residential use in the past 13 years, taking advantage of features such as stained glass windows, snugs and cellars.
‘Many pubs were built at a time when they needed to be more flamboyant to bring in customers.
‘Conversions, therefore, really make the most of these designs including vaulted ceilings, stock brick walls and inglenook fireplaces’, says Jonathan Higginson, of estate agent Hamptons International.
‘Pubs have spacious ground floors which can take a large number of people. There will almost certainly be a substantial cellar, so easy to convert to a kitchen.
‘Upstairs there will already be accommodation big enough for the landlord and their family and perhaps a lodging room or two, so ready made for buyers,’ says Mike Stedman, who ran a building firm converting scores of pubs in the 1990s.
The most imaginative conversions retain the best features. At Lewes in East Sussex the old Red White and Blue pub, now a four-bedroom house, has magnificent ceramic tiles — ironically, green — across the ground floor frontage.
And at Scarborough in North Yorkshire, the medieval Mariners’ Arms, thought to be one of the town’s oldest buildings, has a pub bar inside even though it’s been a family home for decades.
The romanticism of inns converted into homes has captured the imagination of celebrities, as well as developers.
In the 1970s Fairport Convention star Richard Thompson converted a village pub near Bishop’s Stortford into a home and studio, while in the early 2000s Kevin Maxwell — son of disgraced tycoon Robert — moved with his family into the former New Inn in the Oxford enclave of Jericho.
More recently comedy actor Harry Enfield spent loadsamoney buying the old Queens No 1 pub in London’s Primrose Hill, transforming it into a home.
To overcome objections from 40 locals, Enfield wrote to each of them explaining his connections with the area and reminding them there were six other pubs close by. He got the go-ahead.
But despite the charm, there are some downsides to living in a pub.
Some unmodernised pubs can have dark panels with small windows and low ceilings, while any car parking may require hefty work to turn into a garden. And front doors will often open onto busy roads.
‘Bear in mind that some previous work — for example, electrics — may have been done by a mate of the landlord.
‘It can lead to surprises, so make sure you have a healthy contingency fund in your budget,’ says Rachel Johnston, of Stacks Property Search, a buying agency.
Few buyers appear deterred by such disadvantages, preferring instead to think they are making a home where once people enjoyed a quiet pint at the heart of a community. For many buyers, that’s too tempting to miss, so let’s drink to that.
On the market: Join the inn crowd