The first pub I took as a tenant of Courage Brewery was in the picturesque village of Headcorn in the Weald of Kent. It was a run-down establishment, commercially just surviving.
I was in my early thirties, as fit as I’ve even been with a good physical build obtained from pumping weights three times a week. I had packed-up rugby a few years earlier, but conditioning was my hobby. I looked good and that’s not being vain!
To become a first-time ‘tenant’ one had to apply to a brewery chain showing both the financial capability of running a pub, the physical ability and most important the ambition to turn one of their outlets around, giving an increased profitability on any future investment they chose to make.
List’s of potential locations were sent to those who qualified on a regular basis leaving the prospective tenant to look over the sites and apply for any thought suitable.
If a pub is subsequently applied for, an interview board must be attended where a series of questions are asked by senior management officials of the brewery all aimed at selecting the right tenant for the bottom line figure of profit for the management company i.e. Courage.
The agreement between tenant and brewery is one where the brewery holds the freehold of the building whilst the tenant pays rent on it being tied to purchase all beer from the brewery and all wines and spirits from a wholesaler nominated by them. All other items for sale were purchased at the discretion of the tenant. Profit from all of those sales could be kept by the tenant.
Fixtures and fittings inside the property were bought at market value by the tenant and remained his or hers. If they were ripped out and replaced in order to improve the ambience and appearance, then it was a cost the tenant endured, but the improvements could be sold on when the tenancy expired.
The flat above the pub was entirely the responsibility of the tenant and never viewed before the occupancy. It was considered private with nothing of relevance to the business. On my arrival at the White Horse, the carpet on the upstairs landing was covered by dog faeces left to be cleared away!
The pub tenant is called the Landlord and bears his/her name above the entrance to the premises. He/her is the only person legally allowed to sell alcohol on, or for consumption off, the premises, but the law recognises that staff are employed and waive that restriction.
However, it’s the Landlord’s strict accountability to acquaint the staff with their legal duties in relationship to the age restrictions within the pub, allowable behaviour and the customer’s personal condition in a licensed environment. If there are infringements to the various laws then it’s the Landlord who is prosecuted.
And so to the beginning of my eight-year life in the licensed trade. At this stage, all I knew was how I wanted to run a pub, not how a pub was run! I was, thankfully, a quick learner.
The White Horse in Headcorn was one of four pubs in the village; one other Courage pub and two Whitbread ones. All had reasonable footfall. I immediately set about taking trade from those pubs and any others in a travelling distance. Within a year I had almost doubled the sales figures of that pub, but it was far from an easy journey.
Under the previous Landlord, an ex-boxer, certain customers were virtually in charge of the pub. They decided when it was time to close, not the Landlord, who by the time he left was beyond such control. I never met him nor knew this about the place. It was in the first week when I found all that out when ringing the last orders bell and then the bell sounding Time. A dozen or so youngsters (aged 20/25) in the public bar laughed on hearing my new bell ring.
The White Horse was designed in such a way that two drinking areas were designated. A public bar: pool table, dart board, stone floor and little in the way of comfort. A saloon bar: carpet, soft bar stools and seating. Over the eighteen months, I remained there I kept it as a two bar pub, but improved both….More of that perhaps later. For now, back to the night when those young locals didn’t want to go home!
Obviously, I tried to reason with them whilst I cleared the empty tables, stacking the chairs on top and trying to make them feel as uncomfortable as I could. To some extent it worked. Eight left! I carried on like this for ten minutes or so in the other empty bar until the clock showed 11:30. Drinking up time in those days was ten minutes. The glasses on their table should have been emptied twenty minutes ago!
To be honest, their type of trade was not something I wanted in the long term, but I have always tried to avoid animosity if I could.
“Come on chaps, enough is enough. The rules have changed. I’m now in charge, not you. You’re all welcome to drink here in the future, but your hours of going home are now earlier than before. If you don’t like it then feel free to go elsewhere with no hard feelings on my part.” It wasn’t working. They stared defiantly at me.
I picked up the four remaining half full glass of lager, walked to the front door and poured their beer in the street gutter. I then placed the now empty glasses on the bar. I was on my own, there were four of them. Although as I’ve said I was fit, I was no pub brawler, but circumstances demand certain actions.
Perhaps here I could, and maybe should, have acted differently. But I was what I was then, that’s my excuse if that’s what’s needed. I grabbed a fistful of hair of one of them and another by the collar and pulled them both from their chairs and dragged them to the open street door. The two of them complained noisily and were joined by the other two. No blows were exchanged and after the expected verbal I closed for the night.
Sadly, that incident stayed embedded in all of those four minds leading to an altercation of far greater magnitude a few months down the line.
If you want me to continue the story of my life as a Pub Landlord in this pub and the others then I’ll gladly write it up. But for now I’m going to continue doing what I love best; the writing of fictional stories. I’m a mere 10,000 words into what I think might be my final novel. I have miles to go yet, so, please, bear with me whilst I indulge myself in pleasure.