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Wednesday, 30 May 2012

#070 The Rainbow, Digbeth : 1998 to 2011

How fitting that The Rainbow is the thirty-third and FINAL installment in my 'Birmingham Eastside' series. Back in 1998 when I started this project I expected there to be some closures, but I thought it was going to be because of great new developments in the area, not just as part of the general demise of the British pub.

The Rainbow is a survivor, though. In 1998 I'd never been inside, but it looked like a typical street corner pub.

As we move on to 2011, I was surprised to find that The Rainbow had survived and is thriving. However, it's success is mostly down to it now being a prominent Digbeth music venue as well as being a pub. This success hasn't been easy; there has been a constant battle in recent years with the 'johnny-come-lately' residents who have moved into the newly built flats nearby and don't like the noise!
The outside has been completely redecorated, but the original sign remains on the first floor on the corner. And, as I write, now in 2012, I've still not been inside The Rainbow! For the Jubilee weekend it will host several music events.

Now that I've come to the end of the Birmingham Eastside pubs it's time to reflect on the changes that have occurred in this area.

Of the 33 pubs I originally photographed in 1998, one has re-opened (The Old Crown), but twelve are now closed, two of which have been demolished. One has been converted into a Shisha Lounge (Carpenters Arms), one (Billy's Bar) is now a backpackers hostel and many have turned to music as a means of staying alive.

There are only a handful which I would say are still just pubs/boozers - The Fountain (#054), The White Swan (#061), The Anchor (#025), The Spotted Dog (#042), Sir Charles Napier (#044), Town Crier (#062), Forge Tavern (#012), Big Bull's Head (#038), Cleary's (#036) and The Old Crown (#016). You can still get a drink in all of the rest, but they are all multi-use venues now.

The Digbeth area is a microcosm of the general trend in pub decline/rebirth that is currently going on across the country. I follow The Pub Curmudgeon's excellent blog and he has, quite rightly, highlighted two of the main factors in recent pub decline - the smoking ban and the cheap booze available from supermarkets. These have definitely hastened the demise of many establishments, but I wonder if these are just the symptoms of a greater trend - namely that the pub as I grew up with just isn't fit for purpose any more.

I'm no historian (Pete Brown is; and his blog is always interesting), but from what I've gleaned over the years, the pub as we know it really came into being in Victorian times when there was a vast 'explosion' of new (then unlicensed) drinking establishments. These greatly outnumbered the old inns and taverns that had existed for many years previously. Even after licensing became compulsory and opening times were imposed (during World War 1) these pubs thrived.

These pubs were successful mainly because there was no real competition. Cheap booze at home was not widely available and they offered an escape from the 'drudgery' of the home - a place to meet friends (and make new ones) and generally get away from the stresses of life albeit temporarily. And it was also a place men went to get away from the wife and kids!

Now, in the 21st Century, virtually all of the factors that made pubs such a success have disappeared. I believe that the pub is in terminal decline and cannot compete with the attractions of the modern world. Many have closed and more will follow, but a lot are adapting. In Digbeth, music appears to be the salvation of many pubs, in the countryside the gastropub seems to be taking over. 

I am hopeful that the 'essence' of the British Pub will survive, but we should all recognise that the 'Golden Age of the Pub' has passed and embrace the new era - however difficult that is for us 'old codgers'.  

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