The shuttering of small, local pubs has caused the decline.
Pubs are one of the most well-known parts of English society to those who live outside the British Isles — up there with things like royal weddings, football (er, soccer) hooligans, and the Spice Girls. But those living within the U.K. have been seeing a different, less endearing side of pub culture as of late: British pubs are closing at a rapid pace.
The number of pubs in the United Kingdom has fallen by over 25 percent since 2001, with much of that decline happening in the last decade alone, according to a new report from the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics. Before you get overly alarmed, that means that the country now only has 38,815 pubs, down from 52,500 pubs 17 years ago — or approximately one pub for every 1,700 people, compared to a pub for every 1,125 in 2001. Clearly, Brits still have plenty of places to grab a pint — and keep in mind, pubs are far from the only establishments in the U.K. that sell booze. Meanwhile, much like in the U.S., the British brewery scene continues to boom.
Instead, what’s driving the decline is the closure of smaller pubs, defined as those employing no more than nine people. Since 2001, the number of pubs of this size has dropped by about 16,000 while the number of larger pubs has actually increased by a couple thousand as big pub chains consolidate their business by pushing people into larger venues. As a result, the number of jobs in the pub industry has actually remained relatively steady, as has overall revenue. However, as the ale and pub advocacy group CAMRA told The Guardian, the pub scene is about more than just economics. “Pubs play a unique role in offering a social environment to enjoy a drink with friends. They help combat isolation and loneliness, and help people feel connected to their community,” the group was quoted as saying.
Another aspect that neither the Office for National Statistics nor The Guardian seem to mention is the historical context — not just of pub culture in general, but of specific pub buildings. For instance, I recently picked up the 2018 CAMRA Pub Heritage Group guide for my home city of Sheffield. The listing includes over 70 pubs, but it also has an entire section dedicated to “Local Closed Heritage Pubs” which includes an additional 15 pubs that have not survived. Certainly, nothing lasts forever, but reading about the pubs of days past really hammers home the point that a pub can be more than just a place to have a drink. Determining each one’s worth simply based on dollars and pounds is inevitably shortsighted.