Hitchin community pub closes

Emily Piper & Ron Piper at the Sir John Barleycorn, which has been registered as a community asset

Emily Piper & Ron Piper at the Sir John Barleycorn, which has been registered as a community asset - Credit: Archant

The future of a pub which has been at the heart of its community for almost 150 years is hanging in the balance.

The Sir John Barleycorn in Oughtonhead Way, Hitchin, stopped operating under normal working hours last week.

Landlord Ron Piper, who has been behind the bar for the past 11 years, has been served an eviction notice by owners Punch Taverns and must leave by July 29.

“At the moment I am opening on an ad-hoc basis to sell the stock,” he said.

“I have been locked in a dispute with Punch Taverns for some time and I feel they have let me down and let the pub down. There has been a total lack of investment in the pub.

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“I feel sorry for the community and Hitchin as a whole. This is a traditional pub and it served the people of Hitchin well.”

The pub, which opened in the middle of the 19th century, is being shut despite North Herts District Council granting community asset status in November.

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The status means the building can only be used as a pub for a five-year period through to November 2018 and gives people in the community six months to submit a bid to buy the pub if it is put up for sale.

The nearby Bedford Arms is another recent pub casualty in the town, and is now being converted into flats.

Punch Taverns said: “Despite Mr Piper being declared bankrupt and a subsequent company being struck off by Companies House, he and his family have continued to run and inhabit the pub over a number of years.

“They ran up significant debts with us so we decided not to renew the most recent tenancy agreement.

“We have followed standard legal processes open to any landlord in our situation but eviction is always our last course of action. Once the pub is returned to us we will be reopening as soon as possible.”

Another Hitchin pub – The Kings Arms in Bucklesbury – is also believed to be closing.

John Scotney, from jazz band Blue Note, said they would be playing their last gig at the Grade-II listed building on Wednesday – 15 years after they began performing there once every two weeks.

“Many musicians who have performed over the years at The King’s Arms have been invited to join in this farewell event,” he said.

“The pub scene is a great platform for local musicians to perform and it is sad this pub is closing.”

Malcolm Chapman, pub preservation officer at North Herts CAMRA, said: “It is near impossible in the current climate for pubs to continue. Places like the Sir John Barleycorn have worked hard to keep going, but with companies like Punch Tavern charging high rents it makes it very difficult.”

No-one from The Kings Arms has been available for comment.

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