In place of strife

The British pub was once a mainstay of working-class morality

All over Britain, in town and village, in the suburbs and in the countryside, you will come across public houses, some still named from the animals - hare, hound, deer and fox; horse, cow, pig and cockerel - through which the leisure and labour of the countryside were once defined, some sporting local coats of arms and noble titles.

More and more of these buildings are being boarded up and festooned with "for sale" signs. Some of them will find other uses as offices, restaurants or flats. Some will be preserved as listed buildings, lingering on in hope of a use. Many will be demolished. And their demise signifies the passing of a culture and a way of life.In our village there are still two pubs. They survive as restaurants, frequented by people who drive out from Swindon, or by locals with something to celebrate. They still have their core of regulars, who will drink in the pub out of a rooted sense that this is how drinking should be done; but the regulars cling to the pub as sailors cling to a stricken ship, conscious that the refuge is temporary.

The British pub was kept going by two features of ordinary life: male bonding and the sacred nature of the home. Men would assemble there on weekday evenings to offer each other ritualised hospitality through the "round of drinks" - an institution often sneered at by wealthy people, who see in it only the obligatory stinginess of the poor, but which is in fact a way of squeezing from poverty the real moral benefits of gift-giving.
The round of drinks was an instrument of peace and reconciliation among neighbours, the way in which people could express and enjoy the affection on which, in moments of competition and conflict, everyone depended.

Drinking in the pub therefore added to the moral savings of the community. And on weekends, men would come with their wives for some special event, by way of gaining female endorsement for this largely male preserve - the men dressed in suit and tie, the women in their finery.

That ritualised celebration of sexual difference was not likely to survive into our time and it didn't. But in rural areas the home continued to be valued as a vice-free zone. There were things you did only in the pub, and the most important of these were drinking and smoking. The sanctity of the home therefore kept the pub in being. But smoking has been banned, by one of those vindictive pieces of legislation in which our current parliament specialises, and people have discovered wine - a drink that costs next to nothing, and does not depend on a tap, a barmaid and a barrel.

For those two reasons the pubs are now closing. And the simple vices that were turned to good use by the pub are being transferred
to the home, where they can only do damage.

Roger Scruton's final Drink column will run in a fortnight's time