The Death of a Country Pub

Here’s an article I received for publication before the recent Parish Council meeting where it was revealed that the owners of the Fox and Hounds have applied for change of use on the grounds that the pub is no longer financially viable. With Peter’s consent I held it back until after the meeting but we both feel it is appropriate for it to be seen now. More detail about the Parish Council meeting will follow. CP

As I write it appears that the Fox and Hounds in Great Wolford has “Currently Closed”, at least that is what the sign says. To anyone who has been in or tried to get in, this has been inevitable for the past few months.

Why should this previously thriving pub fail in such a short space of time? Competition? Bad management? Brexit? Bad Luck? Immediately discount the last two. So Competition? Well there’s plenty of that in the area and there always has been. All village pubs need a basis of local support but no village round here is big enough for a pub to exist on locals alone. A pub has to offer something else to bring trade in. A unique selling point if you like.The Fox and Hounds has been a typical example of that. Its unspoilt traditional buildings with flag floors, low beams, traditional hops and pictures of local interest, dim lighting, smoky inglenook fireplace and peculiar front door it is the quintessential unspoilt English country pub. Combined with good beer and attractive food menu The Fox and Hounds became a “destination” pub with folks visiting regularly from Birmingham, Warwick, Cheltenham etc as well as the surrounding villages.

But all this just doesn’t happen. It takes considerable input from the landlord.Bad management?  For a pub to succeed out here in the sticks there has to be a lot of basic hard work, marketing and management to bring it all together. This is down to the landlord/lady . As well as hard work a landlord/lady needs a sense of humour, a sense of discretion and a welcoming bonhomie, a thick skin and a certain charisma that makes folks feel at ease and welcome at all times however off the landlord/lady may feel. Get this and the staff will do similar . A pub needs all of this and a  good front of house and you’ll find this in every successful pub in this area.

This is probably where the recent landlord and lady failed. They just didn’t realise what it takes to run a country pub relying  on locals and returning outside trade without doing anything to attract this input. They were just not suitable. Unlike a town pub which has locals but also plentiful passing trade. There is no  passing trade in Wolford. You have to work to pull it in.

It’s a shame because I’m sure the new owners had a vision of how to  run their newly acquired pub which just didn’t work out . I can’t say any more because I just don’t know. It hasn’t been all bad, though. The bar’s been updated and whilst some bemoan the loss of the old copper top, I found the new wider layout more friendly even if the brightness of the new wood isn’t to my taste. The bar floor was replaced and strengthened and some of the furniture changed. The w.c’s were updated and you no longer had to go outside in the rain although some thought this part of the pub’s quirky character.  It looked fine but lacked atmosphere possibly  because customers did not seem to be  welcomed, the old settles have gone and there are no pictures on the bare walls.

I, personally, am very sad about the closure. I moved to this village 38 years ago because of the pub. It has been a central hub of Great Wolford society until very recently. I am devastated.

So the pub lies empty but doesn’t appear to be up for sale . It’s there, ready and waiting to be a success again should the owners want to have another go or someone else buys it. The Parish Council has applied for an Asset of Community Value order which gives a short space of time for the village to get its act together to save it should circumstances change and we should all be prepared to move when the time comes.

Peter Watson