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Norwich Area Pubs

Trading Conditions

Since 1760

 Demise of the Pubs : Section D 
(Paras. 1 to 10)
2. Demography :  3. Trade Implications
4. Boom Years :  5. The Exodus
  7. Music :  8. Price Factors
9. Competition :  10. The Future

1. : Geography

It is hard to grasp now, but Norwich used to
be the second-largest  walled  City in England,
after the City of London.
So, when there was a growing population to
accommodate, this meant that residents stayed
in the same  confined  area - for longer than
one might otherwise have expected.

Hence the inevitable "explosion" beyond the
Walls  occurred surprisingly late in the 18th C.
The  Walls  and  Gates  themselves -
detailed by  Riddington Young -
were not destroyed until 1793 and onwards.

Not much over 200 years ago, all the City inns
and pubs were "crowded" into one area [1].
Those in neighbouring hamlets (now "suburbs")
like Catton, Eaton, Lakenham, Trowse might
as well have been in Great Yarmouth, for all
the use they were to  Norwich  drinkers.

[1]   Exceptions were :-

  • A little "ribbon development",
    outside a few of the gates -

          Lower Heigham, Oak Street, Pockthorpe
          and St. Stephen's.
  • Individual hostelries placed immediately
    outside other gates; serving as late-night
    refuges, after the gates had closed !.

  • ^Top^

2. : And Demography

It would be wrong to say that the population
increased  steadily;  although the depredations
of the Black Death etc. occurred long before
the "breaching" of the  City Walls.

From then onwards, the increase in numbers
has been a notable feature, albeit not one of
However, the increase of populated  area
has been  disproportionately  large, and
(until very recently) ever more so.

Population Growth
Unlike many other towns/cities, the fastest
period of growth was  not  in the Victorian era
(of very large families).
This meant that the original "overspill" areas,
e.g. New City  &  New Lakenham  mushroomed
during the first 3 decades of the 19th Century.
They were - but quite a bit later - incremented
by "onion rings" of further development.

Meanwhile, to the North,  New Catton  and
New Sprowston  were village-expansions
taking place in an  inward  direction !!
(as also was the case with  New Lakenham).

Not until the late 19th C. did City expansions
(northward and eastward) go in those
to-be-expected, outward directions.

3. : Implications for Trade

For most of the 19th Century and earlier, the
implications were perfectly straight-forward :
the  intra-mural  City pubs continued to thrive;
and very many new ones sprang-up to cater
for the "overspill" populations.

Later in that century, however, an
industrial boom  (again, much delayed
in our case) claimed large plots of City Centre
land for factories; forcing the residents to the
outskirts, and turning them into "commuters".
The remaining pubs, however, had  workers
as their new customers. (See below)

From this point on, a  steady decline  in true
"City" pubs began. BUT, around the turn of
the century, several large Victorian-style pubs
had been built towards (what is now) the
Outer Ring Road - by way of compensation.

4. : The Boom Years

The first boom period -  century,  in fact - has
been described; but this had resulted in some
over-provision, addressed - nationally - by the
Compensation Act  of 1904.
The boom was brought to a sad finale
by the First World War.

This conflict, plus the Boer War, entailed large
numbers of human losses : almost all were men,
- at a time when women rarely frequented pubs.

It took until the late 1920's before another
mini-boom of pub-building was undertaken
by the (then)  Big Four or 5 ?  brewers.

We should note that nearly as much RE-building
of specific "City" pubs (17) took place, around
that time, as building anew in the suburbs (21) -
for the spreading populations.
See details of pub buildings  Pre-WWII.

Perhaps it was assumed male workers were as
likely to drink in their lunch-breaks (or after work)
as when they got home, tired and some walking
distance from any "boozer".

5. : The Exodus

More factory-building, and large slum-clearance
projects, before WWII  ( covered in   Section B )
decimated the numbers of pubs within the
City Walls;  and there is no evidence that
as many pubs, or as much trade, were ever
transferred to the suburbs.

It has to be admitted that the advent of other
forms of entertainment (cinemas, dance-halls
etc.), and increased mobility (coaches as well
as trains), had reduced the share[2] of
"leisure-expenditure" received by the
Licensed Trade in the 1920s and 30s.
This situation was to persist for
many years to come.

[2] Regardless of the current state of the
     National Economy, unemployment levels etc.

The 1930's "mini-boom", mentioned in 4. above,
seems strangely at odds with all these other
factors; but must be seen in the context of the
aggressive  consolidation  of the   brewing
industry and of its  estates  of tied-houses.


6. : Home Entertainment

An evening at the pub was no longer the
height of social life; and even the modest charms
of the radio or gramophone were enough to keep
many at home in the hard-up 1940s and 50s.

Two World Wars and the intervening  Slump,
not to mention post-war rationing, had knocked
much of the heart out of the "vittling" profession :
whose concept of  food  provision, for their
drinkers, had shrunk to either a pickled egg or
a packet of crisps !
It was to be nearly half a century before pubs
were to regain their rightful status as houses of
100% refreshment. (See Paragraph 9 below).

Throughout the final decades of the 20th C.
pubs have had to compete with technological
advances in home entertainment - principally
the TV,  then enhanced by VCR, "music centres",
CDs, computers etc. etc.
Now, when you add - to all that - that you

  • can get something to  eat   at home  and
  • can raid the nearest off-licence . . . .
  • ^Top^

7. : The Music

Amateur and professional musicians, like actors
and general entertainers, have doggedly clung to
their belief in the appeal of  live  performances.
Paradoxically, they managed to convince many
landlords that they (the musicians) were the
best means of persuading people to leave their
homes* and return to the "local".
* (and radios, TVs, recorded music of all kinds !)

Noisy "pop" bands had the strongest appeal,
across the age-range; but they needed a full
drum-kit (as a minimum), and might comprise
several artists : making space- and cost-
requirements exceed what most old-style pubs
could provide.
Not to mention the  decibel factor.

Larger venues were favoured, and several
were converted in ways congenial to bands
(e.g. making a small stage); and with a
modest-sized area for  dancing  purposes.

However, not all these venues proved
successful, for  long enough  to recoup the
special investment e.g. the  Manor House
("Maxwell's"); so the properties might be
sold for other uses, or (as in that case)
demolished altogether.

The point being that, once established as a
"pop-venue", it can be very difficult to revert
either the premises  or  the customers to the
standard public-house format.
But see the  Oval   "rock house" experience.

8. : The Price Factors

Late 20th C. drinking was becoming
[and remains !] an expensive pastime.
Successive Chancellors may take most of the
blame, but the heyday of brewery mergers had
not benefitted the customer. On the contrary,
every "new" beer was an excuse to increase

In the music-led venues, as detailed, the wages
paid to the numerous performers (who had fancy
kit to buy) were a substantial overhead at the bar.

The humble street-corner pub slowly discovered
the means to fight back : ranging from a (large)
TV in the corner and/or recorded music (via a
"hi-fi" set behind the bar), to an occasional live
performance by just one or two persons.

Not least, if the pub was one of the increasing
number of  free-houses,  it could offer beer which,
while perhaps being no cheaper, was  Real Ale
customers would willingly pay for.

Section A : Renewal   has a discussion of
that very important topic.

9. : Competition

Healthy competition has again broken-out in
the Licensed Trade, mainly involving members
of the revived  Free Sector.
This growing sector has also re-discovered
FOOD  in a big way, after a lapse of
several decades.

Food gives them, at a stroke, the best means of
differentiating themselves from competitors
(their "USPs")  and  their most profitable sales.
Many, somewhat larger and/or central houses,
can now regard the provision of beers as a
"side-line" (albeit an important one).

All this constitutes a truly remarkable
turn-around, in the Trade, within living memory.
See para. 6. above.

10. : The Future

As described elsewhere, we are told that
the future is  Wetherspoons.
Certainly, they have fully embraced the FOOD
culture, and provide a decent (but not
ultra-wide) range of  cheap  Real Ales.

One other point, well worth a mention, is the
total  absence of  Wetherspoon  music[4].
Not only does this relieve them of any
expenditure in that regard (including "live"
bands), it is an atmosphere  much  to be
preferred to those pubs who seem determined
to damage the hearing of their customers with
excessively loud "background" (!?!) music.

Not, one would think, good for business . . .

[4] This "rule" has, however, recently been
      broken at the new  Lloyd's No. 1