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Ten top independent pubs - and why they thrive

Ten top independent pubs - and why they thrive

If I won the lottery... I imagine we’ve all had those musings, thinking about the things we’d do if we suddenly came into a ridiculous amount of money.

Personally, I’d buy Elvaston Castle Country Park lock, stock and barrel, tell all the developers precisely where they could stick their plans for new roads, car parks and glamping pods or whatever and get the whole place sorted out properly. I’m not the only one I know who would do this but, obviously, we haven’t got enough cash.

There are also a few pubs I’d buy, locals I love but which are held back from being even more brilliant than they are by being under the yoke of large pub company ownership. The two I have in mind, especially, are outstanding village locals, despite the restrictions of that ownership, because they happen to have exceptional licensees who grew up within a stone’s throw of them and who, as a result, know and understand the locals and care about the pubs surviving. If I made Star Pubs & Bars offers they could not refuse for these two, I could tell the licensees to get on with it, free of tie, make the living they deserve and give the customers more of the beers they love to drink.

I’m dreaming – but, happily, sometimes this really happens. A wealthy person buys a pub which means something to them, one which might otherwise have closed, and proves that it is viable. Sometimes they do it purely for sentimental reasons, sometimes because they see the potential for a successful business; sometimes both of these. Here are 10 examples…

The Boat, Cromford:As featured in last week’s column, the Boat was a Punch Taverns outlet and was closed when a local businessman bought it, installed Dave and Lorraine Mountford as licensees 10 years ago this weekend and watched it grow into the huge success it is today.

The Lamb, Holymoorside: Also recently featured here. After longstanding licensees Pat and Alan Goucher retired, a wealthy local purchased the village local with a view to ensuring that it stayed the community local it had always been. The lease is with Derbyshire brewery Peak Ales and proprietors Rob and Debra Evans have every intention of keeping The Lamb just that way.

The Chequers, Ticknall: Although the Chequers was privately-owned, at least latterly, it was more recently purchased by a local who had been taken in there for his first drink at 18 by his grandad. The Grade Two listed pub is a gem, gloriously unspoilt. The owner wants it to stay that way and it will under the smart management of licensee Tony Matthews.

Ten top independent pubs - and why they thrive

Royal Standard (Brewery Tap), Derwent Street, Derby: Closed and left to rot by a large, now defunct, pub company, the Royal Standard was taken on and brilliantly renovated by Derby Brewing Company, firstly as The Brewery Tap and now just The Tap. At the time, the renovation was groundbreaking and it’s been proved over more than a decade that the pub could thrive.

Brunswick Inn, Station Approach, Derby: In the early 1970s, Derby’s railway cottages and the adjacent pub were earmarked for demolition but, after a public outcry, they were restored by Derby Historic Buildings Trust. The brewery who held the pub’s licence at the time, long since defunct, did not see the viability in continuing the job of reopening the pub. Local businessmen Trevor Harris and the later John Evans could see it and they re-established the Brunswick as a pub with a brewery. Trevor moved on to found Derby Brewing Company and the pub is now owned by Everard’s of Leicester and immaculately run for them by Alan Pickersgill and Phillipe Larroche, with the brewery also still thriving.

Fox & Goose, Bridge Street, Burton:Back in the early 1980s, pubs in Burton were almost wholly dominated by the big brewing and pub-owning companies and the Fox & Goose had closed down, unwanted it seemed. In stepped Bruce Wilkinson and Geoff Mumford with what was then the boldest of moves, to establish their own pub and brewery in the giants’ back yard. This year, the Burton Bridge Inn and Brewery celebrates 40 years’ successful trading. They were one of the first and remain one of the best.

Devonshire Inn, Station Street, Burton:The “Devvy” was an Allied Breweries pub back in the 80s and later one of several pubs in the town given a new lease of life by Burton Bridge Brewery. Carl and Nicki Stout had had a spell running it for Burton Bridge and loved the pub, so when it became available for sale, they took the plunge and bought it. It was a gamble – but how it has paid off. Carl and Nicki recently marked three years since signing the deal. They have never looked back and the pub – which has near-legendary food nights booked up for months in advance – is now admired far and wide as one of Burton’s finest pubs.

Bell & Harp, Coxbench: A succession of licensees had found the Bell & Harp’s rent under Marston’s too hot to handle. The pub was sliding slowly towards oblivion until three of its regulars, John Green, Martin Archer and Nathan Radford, clubbed together and bought it. They then transformed it, tastefully, inside and introduced a wide range of beers. The pub is thriving.

Spotted Cow, Holbrook:The Spotted Cow had long since been deemed unviable and left closed by Punch Taverns; demolition and housing on the site was a distinct possibility. It was a long battle for the 200-plus locals to be allowed to buy the pub but they raised the money and, after a long and sympathetic renovation, reopened it as Derbyshire’s second community-owned local in July 2017. Cynical suggestions that the new business might not last six months were – of course – unfounded.

Angler’s Rest, Bamford:Derbyshire’s first community-owned pub was another which had fallen into the hands of developers after the owners, Admiral Taverns, decreed it unviable. It may well have been unviable under a large pub company’s archaic business model. Initially, the local community in the Peak District village raised the asking price but Admiral sold it to developers anyway. The subsequent outcry reached the national media and a u-turn was performed which allowed the company to save face, the developer to make a small profit and the community to reopen the pub, with Post Office, shop and bistro included. That was in 2013 and, yes, it’s thriving. Independent pubs usually do.

Enjoyed reading this article? You can find more of beerhunter Colston Crawford's columns here.

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