Hard times for rural pub trade as Northamptonshire historic inn looks set for house conversion

A landlady who has tried to sell her rural pub as a going concern says she had no offers in five years from people willing to take on the business.

Wednesday, 13th April 2016, 4:07 pm
Updated Wednesday, 13th April 2016, 4:07 pm
Sign of the times: The Blue Bell Inn in Gretton NNL-160804-120119001

Now Barbara Caulfield, who runs the Blue Bell Inn in Gretton, has had to apply for the building to become a four-bedroomed house so she can sell up.

Cheap alcohol available in supermarkets, high beer tax and the worldwide recession have contributed to tough trading conditions in the pub trade and Camra estimates as many as 27 close each week.

The seventeenth century Blue Bell in High Street is one of three traditional pubs in Gretton and it was taken on by Barbara and her husband Jim in 2004.

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But as the couple moved closer to retirement, in 2011 they put the pub up for sale.

Barbara said: “Jim was 62 and we were thinking that in a couple of years, when the pub had sold, we’d like to retire.

“I had another job so I wasn’t heavily involved in the running of the pub.

“But 12 months later Jim died.

“I’ve been running it single-handed ever since. It’s not my cup of tea and I’m too old to lift barrels at 65, but someone had to run it.

“Within the first three years we had one person altogether who was interested.

“We changed agent and decided to try to convert it to residential and we’ve had our first offer in five years.

“The offer is subject to planning permission being granted so we are hoping the planners agree.”

Barbara said that she is very keen to move near to her elderly mother who lives on the Wirral but even visits have been hard to organise because of the ties of the pub.

She added: “It’s such a shame to shut the pub and I do feel for the residents of the village but there are two other pubs here and the sports club. I do have to be selfish.”

The application before planners says: “Social changes in pub drinking have seen many inns and public houses close and come on to the market for sale.

“Once profitable, the situation has gradually changed and they began to operate at a loss.

“Cheap off-licences and supermarket dramatically undercut public house drink prices which had the effect of forcing their closure.

“While still trading, the Blue Bell has suffered the same effect which prompted the owner to sell the inn.”

The Gretton village website states that the Blue Bell is thought to be a former coaching inn and it was mentioned in the Stamford Mercury on July 16th 1772, when it was advertised ‘To be SOLD or LETT’.

It has changed little over the years, although in 1840 a license was reportedly refused as a result of its disorderly reputation and the bad character of the landlady.

As a breakfast stop during the 1930s for the local quarry workers, the landlord, ‘Tinker Joe’, limited each to two pints. Like many landlords of that time he had two jobs, and his name derived from his ability to repair kettles, saucepans and tools.