Comment: Last Orders?

I am standing in front of three adjacent buildings on Countisbury Avenue in Llanrumney. Each speaks of the changes that have occurred in British society since the Llanrumney estate was built just over 50 years ago. The first is the Llanrumney Library Learning & Community Centre opened in 2008 that sits on the site of the old Llanrumney Library. The next building is the Good Companions public house. The third is the old Llanrumney Post Office that now consists of, in addition to the post office, a fish and chip shop, a convenience store and a Bargain Booze off licence.

The Good Companions public house, in the background is Llanrumney’s Library. Photo: KP Jones

It is the boarded up, forlorn looking Good Companions pub that holds my gaze as the rain continues to fall on an unseasonal summer’s evening. The Llanrumney estate, built in the 1950s, epitomises that era’s austere attitude when it comes to pubs. Although the new Llanrumney estate was built to accommodate 12,000 people, the City Fathers were intent on emphasising spiritual sustenance of the religious rather than the bottled variety. Churches of all denominations were established over the estate but there were only two pubs in Llanrumney itself namely at Llanrumney Hall and then the Good Companions.

As I stand in the rain across from the deserted pub I wonder how many Llanrumney folk are sitting at home watching Coronation Street at this very moment. On the cobbled terrace, in the nations favourite street, the Rovers Return is still the focal point for the community. Coronation Street first aired in 1960. At the same time the final touches were being put to the Llanrumney estate. British life depicted on the screen, where everybody congregates in their local, is incongruous with the reality before my eyes.

In nearby Rumney there are more casualties in Britain’s ever declining pub trade. Rumney’s Carpenter’s Arms, is set to be demolished and replaced with a Sainsbury’s, whilst it has been recently announced that the Monkstone Inn will also be no more. It’s a story being repeated across Britain as pub after pub closes its doors for the final time. In 2009 The Times newspaper reported that pubs were closing at a rate of 52 a week at a cost of 24,000 jobs annually. Of these pubs closing weekly 40 were local pubs.

I last set foot in the Good Companions over 16 months ago and it was never a pub that held much appeal for me or for my friends as we grew up. So the greater sense of sadness is probably reserved for what has happened over the years to Llanrumney’s Post Office and the changes it has experienced offers some clues as to the demise of local pubs.

Good Companions pub in Llanrumney.

Built in 1957 the post office was at the centre of Llanrumney life. In the 1980s I vividly remember holding my mother’s hand as we entered what seemed, to a child, the vast interior. With wooden shelving lining the walls for people to use to lean on the interior was like a booking hall at a train station. Queues would form as people waited to be served by the men and women of the Royal Mail. Now Llanrumney’s Post Office building is dived up into a fish and chip shop, a convenience store, a Bargain Booze off-licence and at the rear of the convenience store you will find the new Post Office.

Civic Pride – brick detail on Llanrumney’s Post Office detailing 1957 the year it was built. Photo: KP Jones

It is said that change is the only constant. Society changes as different generations use services in their own way. I went to university in the late 1990s in a world where as students we queued to make calls on payphones and where we were the first generation on students to use e-mail and the internet. If the mid 1990s seems a foreign country then 1950s Llanrumney is another world. Yet, can we take any pride that Llanrumney’s large Post Office building now proudly bears the frontage of Bargain Booze?  What does the popularity of cheap alcohol tell us about our priorities. Is it any wonder that the adjacent building, the Good Companions pub, now lies deserted and abandoned.

Llanrumney’s Post Office building now an assortment of businesses. Photo: KP Jones

As I look through the falling rain at the three buildings in front of me I wonder what the City Fathers who built Llanrumney in the 1950s would make of an abandoned pub and a post office that now heralds Bargain Booze on its signage. Pubs are disappearing all over Britain maybe it is last orders for an archetypal British institution.

Poet A. E. Houseman in his ‘A Shropshire Lad’ eloquently summed up the emotion of nostalgia.

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

This is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.”

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