Last month the remote mountain village of Pumpsaint in Dyfed, south Wales, lost its only pub. Christmas decorations still hang in the dusty bar; there are socks drying, board-stiff, on an inside window ledge and 'all day' menus dying at the edges in a weathered display box outside. The big, square pebble-dashed building stands alongside the A482 like a landlocked Marie Celeste.

Phyllis Smith, the landlady of the Dolaucothi Arms Hotel, was driven out, villagers say, by 'exorbitant' National Trust rents. And now the Welsh-speaking locals, who are less than happy with the trust's 50-year stewardship of the 2,500-acre Dolaucothi estate, have joined forces with English incomers in accusing the NT, their landlord, of turning their close- knit community into a heritage wasteland.

Daphne Morgan, whose family has run the post office and store for 100 years, says the shop could be the next victim of a policy to exploit the area's history as a Roman gold-mining centre. Her trade has slumped since the established the Dolaucothi Gold Mines, a tourists' theme park complete with gift shop and cafe in a derelict quarry outside the village.

'Before the theme park was built, people used to come to the village,' she says. 'But you don't see them now because they sell things like postcards in the gold mine. And the same with the pub: six years ago they'd get 100 people in for lunch, but they've got that little cafe at the theme park so you don't see them any more. I've run this shop for 27 years but I can't see it staying when I retire because the gold mine's taken away the summer trade. It's just a forgotten village.

'The trust demolished the public conveniences four years ago on the promise they'd build new ones, but they haven't. One Saturday morning a coach-load of French tourists got out and did all their pennies in my little car-park across the road.

'Next to the pub there was a row of cowsheds and farm buildings falling into disrepair. But rather than repair them they knocked them down and started looking for Roman remains.'

Villagers like Mrs Morgan say they long for a return to the benign feudalism of its last squire, Sir James Hills Johnes, VC, hero of the siege of Delhi.

Anger over the loss of the pub has been exacerbated by a claim by Gary Davies, the NT's regional spokesman, that locals did not drink enough there to keep it solvent.

'It's terribly insulting to look down at a Welsh farming community, with bods out in the cold struggling to make pounds 5,000 a year, and accuse them of not drinking enough,' says Laurie Manifold, who retired to the village nine years ago. 'The pub's been the centre of the community opposite the village hall where 17 different organisations meet. And, of course, after the WI and farmers you go across to the pub for a drink, don't you? And the annual dinners are held there and the old folk's lunches . . . you name it.

'Mrs Smith, with the best will in the world, was a woman alone. According to my investigations she bought a 15-year lease for pounds 20,000, plus pounds 6,000 a year rent, plus 10 per cent of profits above a certain level. I worked out that if you added all that up it meant she'd got to make pounds 160 a week before she could even buy a packet of cornflakes for breakfast.'

Mr Davies is indignant about the accusations. 'In fact it actually costs us pounds 10,000 a year to run that estate,' he says. 'The question of rents and leases is entirely subjective. We seek advice from experts and we've a legal obligation, as a charity, to ask the market rate. What's unfair is that we've been painted as wishing to close the pub. At no time would we consider any policy that would be contradictive, if you like, of our wider obligations to the community.

'It's not on my part to suggest that locals have to be alcoholics to go there, but such places do depend on support from their community.' Mr Davies adds that the gold mine centre is now attracting 30,000 visitors a year to the area. 'One would have hoped for a natural spill-over into the village itself,' he says. He insists that the housing scheme and new public lavatories are high on the trust's agenda, and work has been held up only because of the need to consult conservationists.

But not all members of the trust's ruling council believe that Britain's largest charity and private landowner is getting its priorities right. One council member, Rodney Legg, who is also chairman of the Open Spaces Society, is so concerned that he is demanding a social charter to protect the 20 villages in the trust's care.

'I'm not against local museums- cum-theme-parks as such,' he says. 'But we should be preserving this kind of Celtic fringe community without inflicting 20th-century overkill or the cultural imperialism directed from London.

''When people like the villagers of Pumpsaint want to return to feudalism, it must show we're doing something wrong somewhere.'

(Photographs omitted)

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