Frinton grapples with a revolutionary concept - the pub

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If there ever was a pub in Frinton-on-Sea, the most self-consciously "exclusive" resort in Essex, nobody knows about it and no trace remains. Archaeologists would be more likely to turn up evidence of an early Roman bath than of a tap room in Frinton.

If there ever was a pub in Frinton-on-Sea, the most self-consciously "exclusive" resort in Essex, nobody knows about it and no trace remains. Archaeologists would be more likely to turn up evidence of an early Roman bath than of a tap room in Frinton.

Next week, however, landlord Andy Bernard and his wife Linda, late of the Royal Oak in Dartford, throw open the doors of the Lock and Barrel, an all-new Shepherd Neame establishment. They will usher in not only the huddled masses of Frinton's frustrated drinking fraternity but a new chapter in that peculiar town's peculiar history.

For the stalwarts of the Frinton Residents Association (FRA), it promises to be a dark day. A public house, to the FRA, might as well be a bawdy house, and the arrival of the Lock and Barrel, on the site of a former ironmonger's, Blowers and Cooper, is as keenly awaited as an Inland Revenue inspection.

"If they keep it as a good sort of house, they could do well, I suppose," said Mrs Muriel Burrell, chairman of the FRA. "But a lot of people who have been invited to the opening say they will never put their foot across the threshold.

"Frinton used to be a very nice place. It had a lot of West End shops. But people can always pull a place down, can't they? I mean, when you open a place with a lot of cheap beer on sale, what sort of people do you expect to attract?"

Mrs Burrell's well-meaning, well-modulated voice is representative not only of Establishment thinking on the issue but of prevailing opinion down the centuries. Frinton is that sort of place.

A couple of years ago, they didn't want a chip shop, in case it lowered the tone. The struggle went on for months. A generation before, just as the Blitz was about to burst over the skies of London, the local council made representations to the Ministry of Health pointing out that Frinton was not "suitable" for the reception of wartime evacuees. A proposed car-park on the esplanade was opposed in the 1950s lest it turn the vicinity (next to the golf club) into a "trippers' paradise".

Not even religious celebration was proof against the borough's social intemperance. A proposal for a Christian Youth Holiday Centre was once turned down for fear that "consecrated fun" could reduce property values. A proposal in 1934 to introduce buses in the central area was rejected on the grounds that "working class people likely to use a bus service" already lived near the station.

But times change, even in Frinton. The town council has been subsumed into Tendring District Council, which also governs the affairs of neighbouring Clacton, and saying no is not as easy as it used to be.

Just as important, there has also been something of a generational shift. The Lock and Barrel, while it may be boycotted in the short-run by diehards of the residents association, looks certain to be popular with young people in the town, who presently have to walk half a mile or so "beyond the gates" to the Essex Skipper if they want so much as a Babycham and lemonade.

The "gates", it should be said, are not the remnants of some medieval bastion; they are a manually-operated level-crossing. Members of the FRA live, for the most part, in large houses in the town, close to the sea; the "workers" are to be found, quite literally, on the "wrong" side of the tracks.

No fewer than 60 locals, most of them young, have applied for the 15 full-time and part-time jobs available at the pub.

According to one local trader, who refused to give his name in case the FRA boycotted him as well, its opening is long overdue.

"It's about time Frinton came into the 21st century," he said. "Pubs are part of the British heritage. They've got a Chinese restaurant and an Indian restaurant, but as soon as anything smacks of the working class, they're against it. They moaned about the chip shop; now they're moaning about the pub. I don't understand their attitude."

Robert Neame, the chairman of Shepherd Neame, one of Britain's largest remaining independent brewers, insisted last week that he had no intention of offending public opinion in the town. On the contrary, it was an assurance he gave regarding his company's policies and plans for the site that eventually persuaded a majority, even among the FRA, to vote in favour of change.

"The reason we obtained our licence, against a great deal of local opposition, was that we were able to assure residents we would run the pub sympathetically, without 'theming' and recognising their requirement for an open, ordered ambience in which people wouldn't feel threatened.

"We have great confidence in the pub's future and should do extremely well," said Mr Neame.