A short history of The Pheasant



The Pheasant closed in March 2020. It was already earmarked for closure because it was considered to be unviable; the finishing touch was the Covid epidemic which forced the closure of so many pubs, creating financial difficulties for tens of thousands of owners, landlords and managers. Pub closure, however, unlike having to buy car insurance (more of this below), is not a new phenomena. In the last 20 years more than 13,000 of them have shut their doors for good. For some, the cause has been the increase in house prices in the United Kingdom; many pubs with car parks occupied enough land to build numerous houses on and it was simply more profitable for the owners to sell them for redevelopment than to keep them open. However the industry has had numerous body blows over the decades.

What has car insurance got to do with this? Prior to 1965 drink-driving was a major problem with around 25% of motor accidents featuring one driver at least who had had a drink or two. In 1967 the breathalyser came out and in the first year it was effective; deaths on the road fell by more than 1000, and there were around 11,000 fewer serious injuries as a consequence of road accidents. These are statistics for most of us to celebrate; but it also meant the death of many a country pub, as it's clientele stay away. The cost of motoring shot up as well; both car tax and car insurance prices increased dramatically, and despite the rise in cheap car insurance for young driver sites, many millenials (often facing insurance premiums running into thousands of pounds) began to abandon hope of ever owning a car, and preferred to socialise locally rather than drive out to a country pub, regardless of how attractive it was.

The next hit was the smoking ban in 2007. A large proportion of beer drinkers were fond of the pipe or the cigarette but rather than smoke in the bar they were obliged to huddle outdoors, sometimes in the rain or snow, in the majority of pubs that didn't have a dedicated undercover smoking area. In addition non-smokers arriving at a pub often had to walk through a crowd of not very happy smokers huddled around the doorway, trying to keep their tobacco dry! More custom was lost.

In the early 1960s the government in Britain made it easier for supermarkets to sell wine and this became very popular. However wine is best drunk at home over a meal and so the trend was for people to spend more time drinking at home and less in the pub. This has increased over the years as supermarkets have become more aggressive in selling beer, sometimes even as a loss leader, at a fraction of the price that the pubs had to charge. This was not because the landlord was making a stinking great profit on the beer, but very often he or she had to buy from a brewery at a fixed price which was often more than the local supermarket was selling it for, under the terms of the contract or tenancy agreement. By 2014 the supermarkets were selling more beer than pubs.

Sky TV and the coming of the Internet have possibly been the worst development ever for the pub. Prior to it's arrival home entertainment was limited (at least legally and morally!) to board games with the family or friends or throwing a dinner party; there was always BBC and ITV of course but if you didn't fancy any of their offerings – and a lot of them were, in retrospect, pretty dire – you would have to leave home and go to the cinema, the theatre, the dance hall or the pub – all of which were hit by the home entertainment explosion of the late part of the 20th century.

We now have a huge number of people in Britain who were born around the turn of the century who have a choice of several hundred television channels, Facebook, YouTube, their smart phone, and film downloads from Amazon or Netflix. They can sit at home sharing a bottle of wine or a few beers which have cost a fraction of the price they would have to pay by travelling out to a pub where they would be limited in the amount they could drink if they wanted to drive back afterwards.

Many pubs have survived by switching their focus to food rather than drinks. It is not all that long ago that asking for a meal in a pub would be met by a blank stare, or at best an offer of a pickled egg, a packet containing some aged crackers and a piece of cheese, or maybe some salted peanuts. The majority of successful pubs became more like restaurants that sold beer; but this is a highly competitive market and not all survived.

Looking at all the shocks that the pub trade has had over the last couple of decades it is not so much a wonder that so many pubs have closed, but that so many have remained open. And that was before Covid……

What then is to become of the Pheasant? It is in a beautiful old building full of character with a thatched roof; and it was named the Cambridgeshire Dining Pub of the Year in 2019. This was no mean achievement particularly since the current owners had only been in there for seven years, the previous ones having being forced into liquidation! Hopefully, despite the possibly continuing effects of Covid, high business rates, high minimum wages, competition from supermarkets. car insurance for young drivers rivalling the cost of a mortgage, and the changing social habits in Britain, the new owners will be able to make a success of it again.