|Earl of Leicester Pub, Dereham Road.|
Like many other towns and cities Norwich has long had large numbers of public houses. At one time Norwich had as many as 600 public houses and even as late at 1900 there were some 561. Even prior to 1830 there were 440 pubs. It should be borne in mind that these figures do not include beer houses.
But from the beginning of the 20th century the number of pubs started to decline. In 1904 the then Conservative government passed the Licensing Act which provided for compensation to be paid to the owners of licenses which had been granted before 1904 but who were refused renewal. The consequence of this was to reduce the number of licensed premises across England and Wales and a number of pubs in Norwich were closed under the Act. In fact, between 1905 and 1914 there were 9,801 pubs closed under the legislation in England with compensation amounting to £8,920,000 being paid out.
During the Second World War, Norwich took a hammering; over 100 pubs were lost due to air raids, and many more were damaged. It took time to recover from the war, and it was not until the 1960's when slum clearance started that more pubs were closed and demolished. In King Street alone where there were 58 pubs, we are now down to just one, Kings, with the Ferry Boat hopefully reopening in the future. In Ber Street there were 39 pub but we are down to just two, the Ber Street Gates, and the Horse and Dray. Many more public houses were closed in the connecting streets as large scale demolition took place.
Another street to lose many pubs was Coslany Street and its continuation Oak Street where at one time there were about 41. They are all now closed, with only the Old White Lion remaining. So in 3 relatively compact areas 138 pubs have closed within living memory.
Since the 1960s Norwich has lost many more of its pubs as consolidation took place in the brewing industry and the Norwich breweries were taken over by national companies such as Watneys. Many Norwich pubs are now owned by the large national and international brewers with the exception of those owned by Greene King and Adnams.
But even these two East Anglian breweries seem to be letting their Norwich pubs go. Adnams has disposed of a long list; the Lacons Arms in Junction Road, the Mill Tavern in Mill Lane, The Vine in Dove Street, and the Horse & Dray in Ber Street and The Iron Duke on Waterloo Road. Adnams still have the Plasterers, Cowgate Street, Rose Valley Tavern, Unthank Road, St Andrews Tavern and the Steam Packet, Crown Road.
Greene King retain the Ferry Boat, The Lily Langtry, The Windmill on Plumstead Road, The Coach & Horses in Bethel Street, The Golden Star in Colegate and The Ten Bells, St Benedicts.
Over the past few years Norwich has lost more pubs, mostly for site development. One that caused a lot of concern was the Earl of Leicester, Dereham Road an attractive Victorian pub demolished in 2005 and the site left vacant. A similar fate befell the Cygnet which occupied a prominent position at the corner of Churchill Road and Silver Road.
Other Norwich pubs have changed their names to attract new custom. The Woodcock on Woodcock Road became the Highwaymen to give it a fresh start but even that failed and the pub was demolished. So even name changes do not necessary mean the pub will survive. I have never been a fan of name changes, some of them are ludicrous, the Lamb, Old Haymarket became the Rat and Parrott in 1996, and in 2002 was changed again to Henry's. The Ironmongers was changed to Boltz, the Waggon & Horse in Tombland became the Louis Marchesi, and is now Take Five.
But name changes are nothing new, pub have been changing their names for many years with some name changes going back as far as the 1800's. Some have been successful in reinvigorating trade, the New Inn, West End Street is now the well known Fat Cat, and the White Lion, St Martins Plain is now the Wig & Pen, serving the clientele of the nearby Law Courts.
Pubs are very much a part of the heritage of Norwich and they must be looked after, if a pub can not be run as business and has to close, then let the building be used for another purpose - don't assume demolition is the only option. There are plenty of such buildings still in use in Norwich with a variety of functions. It is surely better to say "that used to be a pub" rather than "a pub once stood there"
Derek Mc Donald