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Last Updated: Monday, 27 November 2006, 22:27 GMT
Owner calls time on historic pub
By Huw Williams
BBC Scotland reporter

People at Tweedsmuir in the Scottish borders have started a campaign to save their local pub, the Crook Inn, from being developed into flats.

The art deco tiles in the Ladies toilets are a real highlight, apparently. Along with the floor and fireplace in the main bar - more-or-less unchanged since the 17th century.

Crook Inn
The Crook Inn is one of the oldest pubs in Scotland

And the oldest part of the pub may be a pele tower - a fortified building dating back to times of cross-border problems between England and Scotland.

I wish I could tell you I'd seen all these things for myself. But sadly I haven't. The pub is closed. And a planning application has been lodged to turn it into four flats, and a house.

Local residents met on Monday, to discuss how to save the pub, which is one of the oldest in Scotland - licensed since 1604, but known to have been in existence long before then.

They say it's full of history and heritage, and a vital centre for the community. If it stays shut, there's no pub for 15 miles in any direction.

Alison Swan has lived in the area all her life.

She told me that the Crook Inn had been a haven for religious dissenters - known as Covenanters - during the so-called "killing times" when "bluidy Claverhouse" and his dragoons hunted them across the hillsides.

Inspired poem

One man was even hidden in the peat stack, whilst soldiers who were looking for him sat and drank ale just a few yards away.

And she gleefully quoted one verse from the Robert Burns poem "Willie Wastles Wife ", written as Burns sat in the pub's kitchens:

She has an e'e (she has but ane),
The cat has twa the very colour,
Five rusty teeth, forbye a stump,
A clapper-toungue wad deave a miller;
whiskin beard about her mou,
Her nose and chin they threaten ither:
Sic a wife as Willie had,
I wad na gie a button for her

But, she explained, we know the woman in question was really stunningly beautiful. A full complement of two eyes. Not just five dirty teeth. And no beard.

But she had, apparently, turned Burns down when he tried to have his way with her.

"Poor Rabbie tried his hand, and received a severe knock-back", she told me, "so it's just spite and vindictiveness. He's writing out of sexual frustration"

Colin Valentine
Over the UK we have approximately 26 pubs a month closing
Colin Valentine

And the importance of the pub isn't just historical, she said. "It has been the hub, and the centre of the community. It would just be disastrous, if we lost it."

But Colin Valentine, from the real ale group Camra, told me that communities all over the country will recognise the story of the Crook Inn.

"Over the UK we have approximately 26 pubs a month closing", he said.

And he pointed to the village of Broughton, five miles up the road from Tweedsmuir, where the pub has already gone.

"The Greenmantle Hotel there was sold about 10 years ago, and now it's a housing development. You go past it on the road to Edinburgh."

Community ownership

But he said there are positive examples of what can happen to threatened pubs as well.

"If you go about 50 miles further south, you get to the Lake District. And the Crown at Hesket Newmarket is actually owned by the community," he said.

"Everyone has shares, and there's a management committee. Chris Bonnington, the mountaineer, lives locally, and he's involved as well."

Community ownership was one of the options locals discussed at their meeting.

But of course there's nothing they can do about that until the local council's considered the outstanding planning application. That probably won't happen until the new year.

Crook Inn
Art Deco alterations were made to part of the building in 1936

The owner of the pub chose not to do an interview with me, despite a lengthy talk with his lawyer and a brief conversation I had with the man himself.

But it clearly isn't fair to expect someone to keep a loss-making business open, just because it's in a historically important building.

And maybe he's doing the best thing to preserve the architecture and the heritage, by seeking a new use for it.

But those arguments don't convince local people, who are determined to keep the pub open.

Alison Swan told me there are two shepherds' crooks hand-made by her father hanging on the wall in the bar.

And another local man reminisced about using the scales in the ladies toilets, to weight a huge salmon he'd caught in the Tweed. No matter how good the flats are - they say - the village needs to keep those memories alive.

But, on the other hand, the lawyer for the Crook's owner said if everyone now lining up to save the pub had been as enthusiastic about drinking there when it was open the situation might not have arisen at all.

Perhaps it really is true that you don't know what you've got till it's gone.

Steeple restoration fund proposal
14 Aug 06 |  South of Scotland
Council agrees to rescue theatre
27 Jul 04 |  Scotland

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