Last orders: Campaign launched to protect Britain's endangered post-war pubs

Rising duties, the lower price of supermarket alcohol and more varied nightlife have contributed to pubs closing at a rate of 29 a week in the UK

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Indy Lifestyle Online

The pocket of London around The Shakespeare offers a richer survey of architectural history than most. Built in 1964, the pub lies on the western edge of the Barbican estate – widely considered a Brutalist masterpiece. Facing it, Georgian houses stand side by side with Victorian warehouses and 1980s office blocks.

However, the place post-war pubs command in Britain’s built environment is now dramatically under threat. They are one of the country’s most “severely threatened building types”, according to Historic England.

The newly formed government body has launched a project to research this very particular architectural category and investigate what can be done to save it. It is asking the public to inform it of pubs built between 1945 and 1985. 

Sat outside The Shakespeare Geoff Murphy, 68, and Paul Bigden, 52, were enjoying a lunchtime pint in the sun. They have been drinking here since 1987 – in spite of the architecture. “Knock the place down,” Mr Bigden said. “It’s a throwback to the Seventies. Nobody even goes to the Barbican.”

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The Shakespeare pub in Goswell Road, Barbican, London (Alamy)

The elderly group at the next table in blazers and summer dresses – looking as if they are enjoying a pre-matinée drink – bristle.

“Post-war pubs are a severely threatened building type, with many being converted to other uses or demolished altogether,” a statement from Historic England says. “Through this project we’re aiming to help people understand and appreciate these buildings, and hopefully to help protect them.”

If the Historic England campaign is a success, this number will rise. Inside, the walls are lined with pictures of William Shakespeare – who lived locally – and his contemporaries.

“We don’t particularly like the building to be honest with you,” the owner, Oscar Poma, 40, said. “It was a proper boozer when we bought it – a bit rough – designed to serve the estate behind it. We’re aiming for the City workers now. We’ve started serving food and have put the prices up.”

Catherine Croft, director of the Twentieth Century Society, said the project is part of a wider reappraisal of the aesthetics of post-war architecture. “There is increasing interest in – particularly – the listing of post-war buildings. People are getting a more sophisticated understanding of the architectural styles, such as hi-tech and post-modern but specifically Brutalism. That whole ‘it’s a concrete monstrosity idea’ is becoming increasingly passé.

“The passing of time definitely helps. It’s not that long ago that we thought St Pancras station was ugly.”

The wider story of pub closures is a well-documented one. Rising duties, the lower price of supermarket alcohol and more varied nightlife have contributed to pubs closing at a rate of 29 a week, according to the British Pub Association.

Whether a recent resurgence in appreciation of post‑war architecture can counteract this trend and rejuvenate interest in boozers built since 1945 – time will tell. Otherwise the Bigden school of thought might just get its way.

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