During the industrial revolution, the term “boom town” applied to a lot of Yorkshire towns at one point or another when a major employer came to town and built the new mill or factory, causing an influx of new workers to move into and expand the town into the surrounding area.  This in turn bought in other factories and mills, bringing even more people and jobs into the area.   But the downside of being a “boom town” was when these major employers closed or trimmed jobs due to automation or machines, just look at the developments in textile technology in the later 1800’s which cost countless people their jobs.  The side effect of this is either a lot of unemployed poor people living in the town or people moving away leaving vacant properties and building.  Either way the money is sucked out of the town.

The point of this short history lesson is that towns go through cycles of prosperity, stability and consolidation like everything else in this world.   I’d like to talk about Sowerby Bridge this week and it having its moment in the sun.   Sowerby Bridge experienced a big expansion in its pub market about ten years ago, the Puzzle Hall had been rescued from the thieves literally stripping its materials and was starting to become the de-facto small music venue in the area, The Works had opened and was getting rave reviews and becoming a destination for real ale drinkers.  The Jubilee Refreshment Rooms had opened catering for the same crowd, Bar Franchesca catered for the cocktail crowd and slightly later the Roxy re-invented itself as a late venue.

People flocked to the town including myself, and was widely acknowledged to be the best night out in Calderdale, with packed bars every weekend.   The existing local pubs changed as well, the William IV smartened up and became just Williams, the Turks Head made improvements to appeal to this new crowd.  All this success attracted one of the big pub operators in 2014 when Wetherspoons who took over the Wharf site and expanded the premises beyond all recognition.  Before Wetherspoons came into town, Sowerby Bridge had found its level regarding the number of pubs it could support, probably back in 2012, with enough passing trade during the day, steady weekday evenings and the big nights at the weekend being the big money earners.  The numerous restaurants also attracted a big crowd.

There is something people call the “Wetherspoons Effect”, that says that the other pubs in the town suffer a loss of trade as people move some or all of their drinking to a venue which can beat most other venues in town on price, food offerings, beer choice and pure value for money.  I’m not the worlds biggest fan of Wetherspoons, but even I can’t deny any of those four claims.   I didn’t see it that much initially with Sowerby Bridge, on my visits to the town, trade in the other pubs seems slightly down, but not the big drop people said would happen.  However talking to people involved in the pub trade in the town, this has now happened with footfall and takings slowly on a downward descent, one venue has closed already since they opened, The Engineers (the Bulls Head / Vaults was closed before they came to town I believe).

However the picture is not that simple, just down the road, Ripponden has been quietly building up its reputation for a good night out.  The Beehive and Old Bridge Inn have been servicing the area for years, but the other pubs nearby were in a bit of a state of flux for a while, changing names, switching from bars to bistros to restaurants trying to see what worked in the town.   There now seems to a stable core of pubs, bars and restaurants all within walking distance which is the key for a “night out town”.  Just outside of town, the Fleece Inn has expanded with a huge terraced area and is getting the punters visiting, on the main junction you now have the Millstone, just down the road you have the Silk Mill.  Slightly further on you have one of the original restaurants in the town, Cinnamon Lounge, a fixture in the area, and just on from there towards Rishworth, the Malthouse.   All of these offer a similar mix of craft beer, real ale, good wines and food to varying degrees, meaning most people can have a pleasant pub crawl and find something to drink in most bars.

None of these bars are groundbreaking, but they give the majority of people what they want from a night out. A nice environment, good drinks selection, food if they want it.  Success attracts success and more places will open until it hits a plateau and then it will see select closures as trade moves onto the next place and consolidation of the pub market in the area.  It is as Simba from the Lion King says “Its the Circle of Life”.

  1. Curmudgeon says:

    Pubs serve a lot more functions than just providing a good weekend night out, though.

    • santobugtio says:

      Agreed totally, but discussing the cyclic nature of a towns popularity as a destination for entertainment here.