Marlborough area pubs in the news: Queen's Head changes hands - The Barge for sale again - Axford's Red Lion for sale - & more
Marlborough.news has been reporting the comings and goings in the ownership - and sometimes the viability - of some of the pubs in the Marlborough area. 2018 seems to have started with a bundle of pubs seeking new ownership or landlords.
Some of the problems these pubs are facing are recurring ones - and some will cause upset in their communities.
One of the main problems facing pubs - especially those in rural villages - continues to be that those relying on drink sales ('wet' pubs in the trade jargon) are not viable at a time when drinking at home is the norm. An increase in food sales and better food is the preferred way to assure sustainability.
In Marlborough, the leasehold of The Queens Head at 23, St Martin's is for sale. It has been owned by the Punch Taverns chain. The online sale notice describes it as "a traditional community pub" and the headline reads: "Introduce a small food offer to grow trade at this wet-led community local."
There is a long and complex back-story to this advertisement which is in the name of Star Pubs and Bars - a branch of the Heineken empire. In August last year the sale of 1,895 Punch Tavern pubs to Star was approved by the government's Competition and Market Authority. It now looks certain that the freehold of The Queens Head will transfer to Star on March 4.
The Red Lion in Axford is for sale at an asking price of £399,000. Christie and Co of Bristol are marketing it. Some of the building dates back to the mid-1600s. It has five bedrooms and 'could be adapted for B&B', but it is "In need of updating and redecoration".
The details state that it has been registered with Wiltshire Council as an 'Asset of community value' (ACV). Under the Localism Act, this means the community have a right to buy it. An intention that the community proposes to buy has to be made within six weeks and then the purchase made within six months.
So far Christies have had no indication that a community purchase is on the cards. But there has been some interest from other potential buyers.
There was an attempt to register The Cross Keys pub in Great Bedwyn as an ACV, but the application was rejected as the owner had already changed its class of use from pub to 'Financial & Professional' use - under a regulation-busting planning Order (not an Act of Parliament) of 2015. Whether that was an intended or un-intended consequence of the government Order is unclear.
The Cross Keys saga continues: the owner, Mr McIvor, has withdrawn a planning application for change of use to help a potential buyer turn the pub into a tea room and evening bistro.
Villagers' campaign - through The Bedwyn Pub Company - continues to return the building to being a community pub. They have had a positive response from Wiltshire Council's planning department on the chances of returning the building to pub use. However, it is reported that the building is now 'under offer'.
Another local pub that is ACV registered and which has hit the headlines over the years, is the canal-side Barge Inn at Honeystreet. Marlborough.news understands it is for sale again. But as it seems not be on the books of any estate agency, it is presumed it is for sale by private treaty.
The Barge was last on the market for £900,000 (including the barn-cum-exhibition space and the camp site) - a very large target for a community purchase.
The New Inn at Winterbourne Monkton is yet another local pub with a chequered planning history and is ACV registered. This pub was saved by community action in 2012 from being sold off as a house - price £595,000.
The estate agent said then that if a buyer could get permission to turn it into a house, they would be getting a bargain as its value as a residential property was about £1,250,000 - a proposition the agents described as "Certainly food for thought!"
The community then opposed vigorously a planning application to add a wing for B&B use. They believed the plans - which included doing away with the cellar - showed the owners wanted to turn it either into a home or into a B&B with no bar and no meeting room for the village. Wiltshire Council put a condition on the extension that the B&B could not come in to use until the pub re-opened.
The villagers of Winterbourne Monkton had argued strongly that the village has few amenities and this pub was the centre of village life - where many meetings and events were held.
Now The New Inn is standing empty. It is now being marketed as a pub by the London based agency Fleurets at £600,000. The sale comes with an unusual condition for any new owners: "We have been advised that the accommodation cannot be let out unless the bar is reopened."
The Crown in The Parade, Marlborough is still empty. With the likely regeneration of The Parade once the former chapel becomes The Parade Cinema and Arts Centre, it might be a good thing for the Town Council to apply for ACV registration before it is sold off as flats.
FOOTNOTE - ONE: other ACV registered pubs in the area are: The Bruce Arms (Easton Royal), The Royal Oak (Wootton Rivers), The Red Lion (Baydon), The White Horse (Winterbourne Bassett) and The White Hart (Burbage.) The Three Horseshoes in Burbage closed for a change of tenants and has not yet re-opened.
FOOTNOTE - TWO: The Queen's Head began life in 1782 as the King's Head. From 1822 to 1838 it was the Queen Caroline - reflecting, perhaps, some left over anti-royalist feeling in the town from Civil War days. Caroline was the mistreated and rejected wife of the Prince Regent and never officially George IV's Queen - her cause was taken up vociferously by radicals of the day. Was Marlborough ever a hotbed of radicalism? It then changed allegiance by becoming The Queen's Head in 1838 - the year after the start of Queen Victoria's reign.