HISTORY BEHIND ‘CHEAP AND CHEERFUL’ PUBS

Banker's Draft in Sheffield
Banker's Draft in Sheffield

In the world of architectural conservation there is one unsung hero who no-one seems to mention, but singlehandedly he must have saved more historic buildings than anyone in history.

I refer to Tim Martin, founder of JD Wetherspoon, who from humble beginnings now have over 900 buildings in their portfolio, a large number of which are historically important.

There are several branches in Sheffield including the Grade II listed 1867 Sheffield Waterworks Co. on Division Street, now known as Lloyds No.1. In Market Place there’s the Banker’s Draft which most people remember as the Midland Bank. Built in the Edwardian Baroque style in 1904, it was originally home to the York City and County Bank.

In the suburbs we’ve got the Rawson Spring (ex Hillsborough Baths) and at the other side of town the old Woodseats Picture Palace.

Although very little of the original cinema remains at least they’ve retained the name for those of us with long memories.

Someone, somewhere, in the Wetherspoon empire goes to a lot of trouble to research a building’s history and often revives long lost names or links. Very admirable.

No matter where you go in Britain you can almost be guaranteed to find a Wetherspoon although when yet another one opens the groans can be heard from landlords of existing pubs who know that they are going to have to sharpens their pencils.

Evidently much of the beer the company buys from the breweries has a short sell-by date and they buy thousands of gallons. Obviously it never goes beyond the sell-by date owing to the fast turn-over but not many companies can handle the volumes we are talking about.

Thus drinkers get a good deal, the breweries off-load their stock and everybody’s happy.

Wetherspoons also sell good quality and good value food and their breakfasts, now with limitless Lavazzo coffee, are legendary. Four of us recently had one of their full English breakfasts in the middle of London for less than £20. Unbelievable!

Enough of food and back to old buildings. Banks, cinemas, chapels, theatres, police stations, law courts – the list is endless. You name it and they have been converted into drinking establishments. 

More to the point they have been saved from demolition and given a new lease of life. Check out the excellent Wetherspoon News (2m readers) which is lying around most of their pubs and always contains some very interesting both pro and anti Brexit articles.

It’s such an interesting magazine, I usually take it home to read. The investment figures on individual buildings are mind-boggling - £1m here, £2m there.

Their latest project is over in Dublin where they are currently converting a row of derelict period properties and creating a pub and 92 bed hotel. As usual they have researched its history and from some 1673 maps have come up with the name of Keavans Port which will be the name of the new hotel.

This project is costing 18.5m Euros, but more importantly is creating 300 jobs. This constant job creation throughout the UK is inestimable if you take into account the supply chain including suppliers of food, furnishings, catering equipment and even china which is purchased from Churchill China in Stoke. How many jobs has that created in Stoke alone?

Wetherspoons is also to be commended on its buying policy of meat whereby animal welfare is a big factor. Also all eggs used are free-range and within 12 months all its suppliers of food will likewise have to use free-range in their ingredients.

Plastic straws have also been phased out, so all in all some very ethical policies. This also extends to staff as wages start above the minimum wage.

I must apologise if this article sounds like I’ve got shares in Wetherspoons (I haven’t) or that Tim Martin is my best mate (I’ve never met him) but I’ll round off by bringing politics into the equation.

Mr Martin is a well known Brexiteer and together with Sir James Dyson they have alienated quite a few Remoaners. However looking at their joint track record on creating jobs and wealth for the nation I would trust their judgement against many career politicians who have never had a proper job in their entire life and are completely out of touch with the real world.

Time alone will tell who is right, but in the meantime keep on saving and restoring old buildings Tim as there many of us out here who appreciate what you are doing.

You deserve a knighthood.