The Crown crashes out in Catton

With a short notice on the Crown in Catton facebook page, the Crown has announced its closing by the end of play today:

“The Crown will close at 6pm on Sunday 30th June. We will be open as usual from 5pm this evening. We will not be serving food today or Friday and Saturday. Our final steak night will be tomorrow and we will be serving Sunday Lunch between 12-4. As you would expect our stock is being run down and not replaced so when it’s gone it’s gone. Thank you to all those that have supported the pub.”

There are, or have been during this year, seven pubs on this patch: The Elk’s Head in Whitfield; The Cart’s Bog in Langley; The Crown in Catton; The Allenheads Inn; and in Allendale Market Square, The Golden Lion; The King’s Head; The Allendale Inn. So now there will be six. Until a new owner is found for the Crown, anyway.

The Crown has had its share of controversy, over the years, but it had probably settled into its own niche (Thursday Steak Nights, Wednesday Quiz Nights, Folk Session Nights every other Thursday, and big Sunday lunches) under owner Andrew Watt, who was quite a curmudgeon with his own sense of humour. The business probably couldn’t have been thriving, but it was steady enough as a retirement venture, and certainly the 50+ comments on facebook at the news suggest a community in dismay at its closing.

It must have been nearly two decades ago that the Crown closed while its then owner occupied the entire premises as a house. Unfortunately for the owner’s dreams, and backed by a bitter community dispute, the planning officials did not agree to a ‘change of use’ and the place was ultimately vacated to stand empty for a couple of years. It was eventually purchased by Jim Hick as a local outlet for Allendale Brewery’s product, and renovated to a decent standard. Managed first by the owner, and then by staff, the pub offered a quiet, if dwindling service for a few years, run later by a small succession of tenants before it was purchased again by Andy, who apparently was seeking an easier lifestyle after a long career in the pub trade. Another set of renovations, and extensive attention to the garden perimeter, opened up the pub to the views over the upper East Allen Valley.

Those views became a cause célèbre a year or so after, when neighbours applied to build a bungalow which, it was said, would obscure them. With all the controversy swirling around the little village, either the planning application was withdrawn, or it was refused, and the views remained. But now, perhaps because of ill health, perhaps because the trade is barely sufficient to maintain a service (as so many country pubs around the country are experiencing), or perhaps just as part of the normal cycle of pub life, what you might call attrition, the Crown is closing again.

I don’t imagine anyone has much of a real idea whether a new owner or tenant can be found to re-open the Crown; the general sense I have of pub businesses is that rumours circulate endlessly, and eventually something happens, or it doesn’t. So we shall have to wait and see what transpires.

Meanwhile, it’s a contemporary fact of life that the pub trade is hard, and increasingly harder, and rural pubs are probably hit harder than most. Diversification into places for meetings, into music venues, into sports bars, participation in pub sports leagues, transformation into gastronomical sites of excellence, or favoured position (as on the C2C route), all contribute to the success of the pub business, as regular drop-in custom drops off.

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