A – Z Story Challenge: L is for Last Orders

It’s the last thing an ale drinker wants to hear on a night out in the pub – last orders! It used to happen around 5 to 11 by the pub’s clock – which was often 10 minutes fast to assist the landlord in getting the punters out by the legal closing time. Of course, now we have all day / night drinking and as one door closes another one opens and it’s always possible to find somewhere dispensing alcohol.

Zywiec

Zywiec – a strong Polish Lager – available in cans and bottles from corner shops in my area

However, all is not well in the pub industry both nationally and in Finchley. Cheap beer is available from supermarkets and corner shops, all trying to undercut each other to the extent that there have been complaints that sometimes the product is being sold below cost price – which presumably means that the cheap alcohol is being subsidised by other items in store. Much of what is sold is tinned lager – it is a by-product of the domination of the market (some would say abomination) by the large brewers of the 1960’s and 70’s who sought to make bigger profits by replacing the traditional British ale with European Lagers and some home brewed ones. All chemically dead beers with a longer ‘shelf life’ than the traditional ‘real ale’. They were sold to the market as having a cleaner taste and being stronger than the traditional ales – I’m not sure about the former but the latter was a deception aimed at the vanity of young drinkers. The average strength of the popular Lagers was around 3.4% whilst most bitters were around 4.0% alcohol. More recently, we have seen a growth in premium Eastern European Lagers from Poland and the Czech Republic as the suppliers follow the migration of workers from those countries to the UK. These are superior products to those marketed in the past – both countries have a reputation for producing excellent Lagers. Indeed Plzen – the home of the Pilsner Lager is in the Czech Republic.

Fullers London Pride

Fullers London Pride – A traditional Bitter available in bottles from corner shops / supermarkets or from the hand pump in certain local pubs

Meanwhile, the smaller brewers carried on hoping to survive somehow. Partial salvation appeared in form of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) born out of the desire of ale drinkers for a proper pint of naturally brewed beer. The market for traditional beers grew again though it remained a bit of a niche with micro-breweries starting up and disappearing again within a few years. For most, sales through pubs that now had a clientelle mainlining on fizzy Lager were small and the breweries had to find other ways to market their product. In fact, only those traditional brewers like Fuller’s, Young’s and McMullen with their own tied houses were really able to challenge in the marketplace. In the face of adversity the brewers rediscovered the bottle – and the supermarkets began to carry a stock on their shelves. Thus, the traditional family breweries found a way to survive outside of the tied houses of the major brewers. And the drinkers could now enjoy a pint of ale at home whilst watching the footy (or a film).

All of which did little for the public house. Unlike the supermarkets, the pub landlord has to look after and sell draught beer which has a limited lifespan once the barrel has been tapped. The clients have to be handled in a polite and friendly way and given a comfortable and well-appointed environment in which to enjoy their chosen tipple. So there are big overheads for the publican and the cost of a pint of beer in a pub clearly illustrates that. Pint of lager in a pub – £3-20p… 500ml bottle from a supermarket £1-59p, or roughly half price (these are illustrative prices rather than exact ones but hopefuly you get the point).

Clearly, there are more complex factors at work too. Pubs on busy high streets tend to survive whilst those in declining shopping areas or away from the bright lights struggle. The result overall has been the closure of many traditional pubs at a time when the actual population of an area is greater than it ever was and you would expect demand to be increasing. There have been new pubs created on high streets utilising shop premises that have closed which partially fill the gap left by the traditional pub but they can’t replace the sense of lost history and architecture.

Over the last 20 years in East Finchley I have witnessed Last orders being called on a number of pubs – some of which had names tied to the history of the area… The George and The Duke of Cambridge – recalling Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, who commanded The Middlesex Regiment (and possibly the earlier visit of the 1st Battalion Royal Highlanders to Finchley Common in 1743 for review by King George II also Duke of Cambridge – though in the end the review was carried out by General Wade), The Red Lion, The Green Man.

Most recently last orders has been called on The Dick Turpin in Long Lane, just a few hundred yards from my home. The name recalls the time when Finchley Common used to ring to the Highwayman’s call to “Stand and Deliver” as coaches with the well-to-do travelled to and from the capital along the Great North Road. It was with a degree of sadness, despite never having been a regular of the pub, that I witnessed the delivery of an excavator on Thursday morning to carry out the demolition of the building…

Dick Turpin

The Dick Turpin as it was

Excavator Delivery

J.O’Doherty’s Volvo low-loader delivers an excavator to The Dick Turpin on Long Lane

Dick Turpin 2

The Dick Turpin – roof already half gone and excavator on site ready to pull down the walls

Meanwhile, on The walks, my preferred public house lives on…

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle – McMullens tied house and my preferred East Finchley Pub

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Comments

  1. Martin, love this to bits. What a great post! The demise of the pub is a backwards step indeed: let us hope, like our cinemas, they find a new lease of life, but unlike our cinemas they retain their characters.

    • Thanks Kate – Whilst the traditional pub in Finchley is struggling, we’re very fortunate to have The Phoenix Cinema. It has kept its character very well (as Mark Kermode illustrates in his video) and the auditorium is just as I remember it from watching films there when I was a child. Amen to the survival of the traditional pub and traditional British beers 🙂

  2. Amen to the survival of the traditional pub and traditional British beers
    – and for Last Orders: In Germany you could drink till 1 a.m. !

    • Thanks Frizz – And I hope that the great Breweries of Germany continue to produce their ales too. I had the pleasure of trying some of the dark beers in Dusseldorf whilst visiting with a girlfriend a number of years ago:-)

      Times have moved on in the UK – most bars and pubs are open to 1am now and then the clubs come on line. How’s it go… Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier, Lift your Stein and drink your beer 😉

      Apologies for putting the L in the K post!

  3. Oooh. Hehe. So THAT is what they are yelling. “ORDERS”… I have been wondering why “Last call” sounds so odd here in the UK. And, amen to traditional pubs and beers. I am amazed by the shortage of local brews, even in supermarkets. I thought that the pub culture would be fundamental enough to encourage more local brewery-pubs. We have them popping up all over in the States.. it’s a shame the same trend isn’t showing strongly here.

    • Hi jane – thanks for dropping by. The family breweries that I listed are big boys in their own right but step outside the capital and you will find lots of small brewers selling in a local area. When I go to Lewes for our next away match against the local football team I know they will have good quality ale available from Harvey’s brewery just across the road. At Bury Town FC 2 weeks back I had the opportunity to enjoy a very nice bitter by Brewshed of Bury St.Edmunds – a great example of a micro-brewery. I hope they do well because their product tasted very nice without being overly strong (4.3%). So there are good things out there its just that recovery from the muck spread by the big brewers back then takes a lot of sweeping away and the kids in the metropolis probably don’t give a damn about what they drink as long as they are legless 😦

      ps – do I take it from your comment that you are currently in the UK?

  4. I’m really sorry to hear of the pubs closing! the funny thing is that here in the United States there are several “British pubs” popping up appealing to Americans with I suppose what we imagine as a warm and inviting place to congregate over a brew! The Dick Turpin looks like it was a fine place!

    • Hi Debra – I’d read about new ‘British Pubs’ in the US and also in Canada. I guess they’re a bit like the new pubs over here that are built in shop premises. Unfortunately they will not have the atmosphere of a genuine pub with the open fireplace and the musket ball holes from the English Civil War or a Cutlass mark in the pub sign caused by fighting Pirates (If you’ve read Treasure Island you’ll know what I mean). It’s the loss of that heritage that can’t be replaced by these new pubs.

      The Dick Turpin was probably a very fine pub when it first opened – which I’d estimate at 120 years ago as the area grew rapidly after the coming of the railway. By the time I occasionally visited in the 1970’s it had become very drab and the clientelle were pretty rough – the police sometimes sat in a car outside on a Friday evening to pre-empt any trouble. It did improve a bit in the 1980’s and when I last visited circa 2003 it had a steady clientelle from the nearby estate – most of whom were Arsenal fans. Unfortunately it was only selling Lager and Guinness so not really my sort of pub. It closed twice between 2003 and 2008 only to be reopened by people hoping to build a business but sadly it wasn’t to be and it finally closed in 2010.

      Windsor Castle has always served good traditional ales and has been home to the local Labour Party for ages. It has a good clientelle in the evenings but is quiet during the day and at the weekend. I once read a review that claimed that it was a great pub for the beer and food but so peaceful that you could die quietly in the corner and no one would notice 😉

  5. Hi Martin, It’s late here & my eyes are too fuzzy to read the write up. Great photos of the pubs. Michelle was really impressed by all the village pubs they saw while she was over your way. I noticed the K is missing from The Dic Turpin sign in the 1st photo.
    Your Baked Beans inspired comic will be posted on Monday. Actually scheduled for 12:02am Monday morning Aussie time GMT +11 normally +10 but we just started daylight saving. Oos I’m rambling on…
    I’m back on WP.com now. A post on The Tasmanians explains. Or just click my name for my new(old) WP.com site

    • Oops, see told you my eyes were fuzzy. It’s GMT+11 not -11

    • Hi Tony – Yes, I saw your message on your site and amended my Blogroll immediately 🙂 The letters have been falling off the Dick Turpin slowly over the years that it has been closed. I’m surprised that the pub sign has survived! I’m glad Michelle enjoyed the country pubs while she was here – you can usually get a good pint of ale in them.

      np about the time difference – I can’t see a thing on screen without my glasses 😉

  6. I love old pubs and taverns with a rich patina of history. But if the demand isn’t there, it’s easy to see why the owners decide to close.

    The decline in demand for pubs may be more than just the price of a pint . . .

    1. TV, DVD’s, computers now provide entertainment to the masses so they no longer feel the need to congregate in the local pub.
    2. We are bombarded with news form so many sources that we tend not to scout out the local gossip over a pub pint.
    3. People move around so much that they don’t have the same sense of loyalty to neighborhood icons . . . and they see less need to be neighborly.

    Etc.

    • Hi Nancy – Yes, I did hint that the issue was more complex than the price of a pint 😉 I actually think that number 3 on your list is more prominent than the others – I can’t picture anyone over here attending a pub to get news – it’s never been a priority whereas sport will drag them in.

      There is so much movement of people now to try and find jobs that communities have been wiped out. Sure, the houses may be occupied but the people may have only been there for 6 months whereas people lived in an area for many years in the past.

      I’m very lucky in that I have several neighbours that I have known since I was a child and we get on well together. We also seem to be able to drag in most newcomers to our bit of the street – that includes the Polish builder across the road and the highflying government people who moved in next door, for example. But, going to the Pub isn’t something they do – so the local pub seems to be doomed whatever happens 😦

  7. A great piece thank you Martin but sad to see that the decline of the British pub continues although your handsome local looks secure. The smoking ban, not to mention gentrification, changed so many of our local pubs from traditional, smokey and seedy to gastro bits and bobs competing with the new bars converted from closed high street banks.
    Have to tell you there are so many wonderful brews here in the US in general and in NY in particular. A pub near us, the David Copperfield (!) always has a great selection of draught beers.
    Cheers Martin!

    • Cheers Patti 🙂 I have been hearing about the blossoming micro-breweries of the USA. If I ever get over to the States I’ll have to try some of the beers.

      • Martin, I spoke too soon 😦 The David Copperfield has closed and I suspect the whole building will soon be pulled down for redevelopment. Hang on to your local, although it does look secure enough!

      • Sorry to hear that it has gone. I think many apparently successful businesses are struggling currently as a result of the greedy bankers, so it isn’t that much of a surprise 😦

  8. Many of my ancestors were Czech…
    so perhaps that partially explains my lack of interest in this subject matter. 😉
    (and by ‘lack of interest’ I mean the exact opposite, of course)

  9. A nostalgic and bittersweet post, Martin.
    Even though years ago we visited England often, we never got into a pub habit. Always felt like outsiders, perhaps. But always pubs held a dear spot in our hearts, thanks to English literature, especially the English mysteries which I read in abundance.
    The reasons for decline people cite here are all operative. TV and now alternate computer entertainment, frequent moves, provisionality, the decline of community in all its aspects —
    There’s much that will be lost, but the change seems ineluctable. Nostalgia is powerful, but not powerful enough. Glad your pub holds on.

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