In praise of a Derry man’s English pubs

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If you’ve been in England recently you’ll probably know there aren’t as many pubs as there used to be.

As it is in Ireland, so it is in England. Traditional pubs, particularly in town centres, have been closing at an alarming rate. They’ve been dealt a double whammy by the recession and by changing social patterns. More people are buying alcohol in supermarkets and drinking it at home. Younger people head out to clubs late at night after drinking heavily at home. Public displays of drunkenness have increased while moderate drinking in controlled social spaces has declined.

The pubs are struggling to survive as they’re being sucked into an accelerating whirlpool of decline.

On a recent trip to England with friends from Dublin, it was surprisingly difficult to find good, old-fashioned bars in two large towns.

Many pubs have gone seriously down-market. They had dubious standards of cleanliness and several stocked only a limited range of cheaper brands, served in nasty plastic ‘glasses.’ Here we are torturing ourselves in English bars was the consensus of opinion!

Although many Irish people aren’t overly keen on English beers, sampling something different in traditional pubs used to be one of the great pleasures of a trip to our neighbouring island.

The answer to our ‘prayers’ turned out to be JD Wetherspoons. It’s bucking the trend of decline. The popular chain has a successful formula. They go a long way to recreating the great atmosphere of the traditional English bar.

They stock a good range of beers. Their prices are keen and staff members are friendly. And, the next morning they serve the best value breakfasts to aid recovery!

It was a pleasure to casually mention that Wetherspoons had been started by a Derry man and that his firm has premises here in his home city.

Haven’t Dubliners successfully exported their most famous bars all around the world so don’t expect them to be overly impressed, but the ‘lads’ did sound a little envious.Back in 1979, Tim Martin opened his first Wetherspoon pub at Muswell Hill in north London. Now he has over 870 pubs and his chain continues to grow.

The company employs over 30,000 staff and Wetherspoons has been voted Britain’s Best Pub.

Tim Martin has to be one of the most successful entrepreneurs Derry has ever produced. In addition to his pubs he has also branched out into the hotel trade. The company’s first ‘Wetherlodge’ opened in Shrewsbury back in 1998 and now has 26 hotels.

Mr Martin has also proved to be a tough opponent of fraud and shady dealing. “A present-day avenging angel,” was how The Financial Times described him.

In 2005 Mr Martin discovered that his retained property agent had been double-crossing him.

When Wetherspoons expressed an interest in acquiring a property the estate agent would first tip off a third party, who would quickly buy it and then sell it on to Wetherspoons at a vastly increased price. Since then Tim Martin has collected around £10million in damages and fees in various high court cases. The original estate agent, Van de Berg and Co, was ordered to pay almost £8 million in damages in 2009.

Isn’t it great to see a shrewd Shantallow man and former Model School pupil taking on and beating the English at their own ‘game’?