A historic Staffordshire country pub has closed its doors for the first time in 250 years after a row between the landlord and its owners Punch Taverns.
The award-winning Swan with Two Necks in Longdon, near Rugeley, first opened as an inn in 1755 and even managed to stay open in both world wars – but now the beer taps have run dry.
It follows claims Punch Taverns wanted to change its current agreement with the landlord, forcing them into a “tie” where they would pay the company higher than market value for all of its drinks in return for cheaper rent.
Licensee Anne Walters, who lives at the pub with her 12 year-old daughter, claims Punch Taverns won’t supply her with beer until the dispute is resolved.
If the row isn’t settled, she could be forced to move out. She said: “This pub is at the heart of the village and plays an active part in community life. My locals are gutted that it’s closed. I would like to see it open again as soon as possible, serving great beer and food to locals and visitors alike.”
Villagers, backed by real ale action group group CAMRA, have launched a campaign to save the pub and have been quick to criticise Punch Taverns, based in Burton, for “dragging its feet”.
Ian Strachan, a former pub regular, has accused the firm of having a “hidden agenda” in offering “more draconian” lease terms that he claims would make the pub “unviable”.
He said: “Punch say it wants the pub open, but its actions do not support its words. Punch is behaving dreadfully and affording no respect to Anne who has worked tirelessly to make the Swan the fantastic village pub at the heart of the community which it has been for many years.”
The pub’s appearance in the national Good Beer Guide for 30 consecutive years has been described by CAMRA’s Adam Randall, as an “outstanding and extremely rare achievement”.
But he warned prolonged closure could see it deleted from the guide ending its “exemplary record”. Mr Randall said: “This is an outcome we do not want. It appears Punch is not taking timely and assertive action to resolve this. We want to see Anne regaining the reigns of this pub and returning it to successful operation. Speed is of the essence.”
Last month the Business Select Committee called for drastic reform of the pub industry to stop locals closing at an alarming rate. They criticised large pub companies for the “beer tie” system, which campaigners have argued push up the price of a pint.
“The deep-seated problems within the industry, and in particular the relationship between pub companies and their lessees who run pubs, have been the subject of repeated scrutiny,” said Adrian Bailey, the committee chairman. “Each report challenged the industry to deliver meaningful reform. On every occasion the industry was found wanting.”
Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant has described its closure as “very unfortunate”. He said: “I have written to Punch Taverns and hope that with a realistic rent, it will soon be able to find new lessees and the pub will be able to re-open.”
A Punch Taverns spokeswoman said: “We are doing everything we can to re-open the pub and we are currently awaiting feedback from the licensee.”