Save our pubs – use ’em or lose ’em


Nearly 900 pubs closed down in rural Britain last year. It’s a clear indication that traditional village life is under threat of extinction in many parts of the country – including ours.

The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) has revealed that 893 pubs closed in rural areas last year, with 195 new boozers opening – leading to a net loss of 698 in 2009. The previous year, an estimated 650 country pubs called last orders on their businesses.

This is despite ICM polling commissioned by the Federation showing 82% of country dwellers say a pub is an important part of a village, including 46% who say it is ‘very important’.

Village shops are also in rapid decline with around 400 closing in 2008, while schools closed at the rate of one a month in rural England between 1997 and 2008.

The Federation said the mass closures reflected a declining demand for services in villages where local families – the core customer base – had been priced out of the area by wealthy commuters, pensioners and second home owners.

Federation chief executive David Orr said: “The cornerstones of traditional village life, such as the local school, the shop and the pub, are disappearing from the rural landscape at an alarming rate. 

“Rural towns and villages need to have mixed, working communities, otherwise there is a very real danger our countryside will become little more than a theme park for weekenders.

Brigid Simmonds, BBPA chief executive, added: “Along with local shops, post offices and schools, village pubs are pivotal to the life of local communities across Britain. Pubs act as much more than a social venue. They are a focal point for sports teams, local groups and meetings. In addition they provide a range of community services like post offices and shops.  We need a climate that allows these community businesses to thrive.” 

Mike Benner, CAMRA chief executive, said: “There is a pressing need for the Government to support community pubs and other local services, which is why CAMRA has praised moves by Nigel Adams MP to bring forward a new Parliamentary Bill with the potential to empower local communities threatened with the loss of local landmarks such as the pub. 

“Such potentially groundbreaking legislation could help to redress the current crippling UK pub closures, but there is still a huge amount of work to be done to prevent rural communities from losing their irreplaceable social hubs.”

Part of the problem is the ‘Tesco-isation’ of every aspect of our lives. Cheap booze, cheap tellies, microwave curries. Many people now prefer to sit indoors sipping a chardonnay and munching their microwave dinners, watching strictly or updating Facebook – rather than spend a couple of hours in the pub actually talking to people. Pubs are under threat because they can’t compete on price with the supermarkets. But they can compete as a social hub – and we don’t really want to bring about the redundancy of face to face human interaction.

Over the years many pubs have gone; The Wheatsheaf (house), The Barley Mow (flats), The Dragon (house), The Fitzwilliam Arms (now Fratellis). The by-pass has reduced passing trade but the population of the village can still sustain two pubs.

I have it on good authority that one of our two remaining pubs could close if the lack of use continues. And the first to complain when it goes will be those that live locally but never involve themselves in village life and visit the pub once a year for a Christmas pint.

So – use it or lose it.


Cold case Castor

Damp area at Castor Hanglands NNR, England
Image via Wikipedia

The village is turning into a location from Waking the Dead or Midsomer Murders – take your pick. 

Last week two men were arrested and subsequently bailed in relation to the murder of Peterborough girl Sally Ann McGrath. She was last seen at the Bull Hotel in Peterborough in 1981 before her body was found by a local gamekeeper in Wild Boar Spinney, part of Castor Hanglands – just up the road.

 The body had lain undiscovered for some time before it was found. It had been in a shallow grave and when it was found it had been partially uncovered and pulled around by foxes. That was back in 1981 and the case has remained unsolved. But the case has been re-opened because of new evidence possibly linking it to a series of other rapes and assaults that occurred in and around Peterborough from the mid to late 1970s. 

But this wasn’t the only murder to darken the mood of the villages that year. In November 1981 Bill McCullough, a well-known local businessman, was found murdered in his bed – shot in the head while he slept. 

This was the notorious ‘Kiss of Death’ murder. McCullough had met a former beauty queen and businesswoman Muriel while on holiday and after a whirlwind romance they married. 

Things soon turned sour though when she realised that he wasn’t as cash rich as he had promised her he was. She arranged his murder in a contract-style killing. She kissed him goodbye and left home on a business trip on the day the murder was carried out. 

It was soon discovered, however. Liverpudlian scallies asking for directions in The Wheatsheaf stood out a bit from the local crowd. And, as the beneficiary of McCullough’s life insurance, the finger of suspicion soon pointed at Muriel. 

Police enquiries led them to shooter James Collingwood. Both he and Muriel McCullough were arrested and subsequently sentenced to life prison sentences. 

But there have been other slayings tenuously linked to the village. The killer of a Peterborough cabbie, who directed the driver to a secluded country lane before stabbing him to death, was seen walking through the village shortly after his nefarious deed. 

Later, in December 2002, there was a gruesome discovery of a man’s body at Dead Man’s Hollow, Upton. He was wrapped in a green blanket and a cream-coloured bedspread, and was wearing a blue T-shirt, a dark jumper, trousers, socks but no shoes, and a jacket with brass buttons. The man had been shot in the head, stabbed and then set alight. 

After a year of forensic work he was identified as an Armenian gangster called Sako who had been wanted for murder in Russia and Belgium. Two Armenians, one of whom worked with Sako at a factory in Kings Lynn, were convicted of his murder almost three years later. 

1981 might have been a year inept contract killers, black widows and a fear of strangers, but it was also the year I was taking my ‘O’ Levels so it all kind of passed me by at the time.