Monday, October 02, 2006


Beer Pumps, Lewes Arms. Photo: John May
See other images of the town at Lewes Light

Life in this overworked and stressed-out Britain of ours is made bearable by one’s local. At least that’s my and many other people’s experience.

The public house is, as its name suggests, our modern-day longhouse – a place where one can escape daily cares and speak freely to friends and colleagues, whilst pouring whatever your poison is down one’s throat until things don’t seem too bad at all. A place where one can get some sense of community, of being part of something bigger than oneself.

Naturally, this last bastion of free speech and free thinking is under threat. The ‘free houses’ have in the last two decades or so, been gobbled up by industrial chains whose only interest is the bottom line. In a criminal wave of refurbishment, establishments that have survived centuries largely unchanged have been vandalised and turned into modern-day gin palaces, ersatz heritage destinations - history with the soul sucked out of its bones.

Now it’s the turn of our local, the Lewes Arms, from which beer has been sold since 1720-odd. Taken over sometime back by Greene King – the Suffolk-based brewers – there has been a steady pressure to change many of the elements that make the pub what it is. Now they want to take away the Harveys. This is getting serious.

The Lewes Arms is, by any measure, a successful pub. A motley collection of small rooms, with no music or mobile phones, its full of people, dogs, children and conversation. Chess games in one corner, toads in the games room, crosswords at the bar. There are an endless series of meetings and events in the upstairs function room, including the annual pantomime (held in February !!), jazz and folk clubs, reader’s groups, exhibitions, public meetings, cribbage sessions and more. The pub has a calendar of strange and wonderful competitions including dwyle flunking (don’t ask), spaniel racing, pea-throwing and sundry other delights.

The most popular drink is Harvey’s Bitter, brewed in the town, a beer whose quality was recognised this year when it won the Silver Award at CAMRA’s 2006 Champion Beer of Britain competition. It also won the Gold Award in the Best Bitter category.

Word around the bar is that some 80% or more of the drink sold in the bar is Harveys but Greene-King want to get rid of it. Commercial logic would suggest that if Harvey’s only sold a few pints a week that would be fair enough. But the majority of drinkers in the bar come there for the Harveys and, as a result, make it a successful pub financially.

So what can Greene King’s motive be for banning the home brew? Surely, even if it is another brewer’s product, if its making money for you, what’s the problem. GK are introducing their own ale, called the ‘Lewes Arms’ but they must be delusional if they expect seasoned Harvey’s drinkers to swap over to a lesser brew.

Friends from Cambridge are advising that the Greene King strategy is to get rid of the locals then move in, tart the place up and get a completely new clientele who have no allegiance to the auld brew. They have seen it happen with their ancient locals. Before you know it, they say, there’ll be men wearing crombies at the door and they’ll be serving blue cocktails.

So it may come as a surprise or not, that the trade magazine The Publican is running a national campaign called Proud of Pubs, whose main sponsor is Greene King. More than 1 in 10 MPs from across the parties in the House of Commons, have signed up to a motion backing the trade and the campaign.

In fact Rooney Anand, chief executive of Greene King, told his audience of licensees and MPs at the campaign’s launch in Parliament, that the motion was “a great start” in the battle to put pubs on the front foot and highlight their positive contribution to the nation. “It’s about time society started standing up for pubs, and recognising them as one of our nation’s greatest assets.”

This point was underlined by Fiona Hope, marketing director of Greene King, who said: “The pub and the pint are great institutions that play a positive role in millions of people’s lives.’ The campaign’s website urges readers to pledge allegiance to their local by filling in and submitting a small form. By pledging allegiance in this way, says Fiona Hope, it ‘gives pub-goers a communal voice in support of great pubs and great beer.’

The Lewes Arms already has a communal voice and its saying: ‘So why is Greene King proposing to remove Harveys from the Lewes Arms’. It is an important community pub, full of life and laughter, which serves a great beer that everybody likes – Harveys.

It is clear that, if they continue to insist with this misguided strategy, then a substantial number of our little community will be scattered to the winds and the welcoming arms of other establishments around the town. Does this matter? It matters if you believe all the values that Greene King say they aspire to.

Fiona again: “We want to show the wider world that it’s not just the pub industry that values pubs and beers. It’s the millions of people who visit pubs for great company, quality food and excellent beer. People who care about their local.”

We are some of the people who care about our local and hope to hold Greene King to the high values that they claim to espouse. They can demonstrate this by leaving the Lewes Arms and its Harvey’s alone.

To take the argument one step further. There is another national campaign called Local Works, backed by more than 80 national organisations – including the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) – which is a lobbying for the introduction of a Sustainable Communities Bill.

‘If the bill becomes law, writes Daniel Pearce in The Publican, it will set up a process where local communities will have more decision-making power over local issues and the government will be required to help reverse ‘Ghost Town Britain.’

Roy Bailey, who is leading the campaign, says such a bill will put pressure on pub companies to do more to ensure local beers find their way into local pubs.

SIBA director Nick Stafford told The Publican : “There’s already a consensus that the pub is the hub of the community. What better support can the pub get from its local brewer? It’s got to be a priority for every brewer to help its local pub by providing it with quality beer, at a reasonable price.” Harveys is already doing this and should be allowed to continue.

We are familiar with the concept of ‘food miles’ so now we should be talking about ‘beer miles.’ Local beer in local pubs means less lorries and tankers on the road and less damaging greenhouse gases.

Incidentally, has Greene King got an environmental policy. Perhaps it could use its considerable energy and expertise to commit to making the lighting in all its pubs energy efficient and ensure that beer is delivered the shortest distance from source to mouth. The corporate colour is Green but one suspects the company is a long way from fulfilling its social obligation in this regard.

It summary, it seems that Greene King, like many other large corporates, has a public face which claims to be supporting the very values that they are actually intent on destroying.

Recent reviews of the Lewes Arms from

Beware!! It is strongly rumoured down here in Lewes that Greene King are trying to remove Harvey's from the six remaining former Beard's pubs which they own. This, the Wellington in Seaford and the Red Lion in Bromley are three of them - I don't know which the other three are. There has been a petition going in the Lewes Arms. If one of these pubs is your local and you want Harvey's to remain, you may wish to do the same.


The "own brew beer" is almost certainly a beer from the Greene King portfolio rebadged for this pub, but I do not know which one. It is rumoured that the Harvey's in this pub (and other former Beard's pubs) is under threat again. Greene King should realise that if they can't get Harvey's here, many people will go elsewhere to get it. Not only is it damn good beer, local people are fiercely loyal to their home-town brewery.


This is the sort of pub you dream about having as your local. After many years of dreaming, it now is. Despite being a Greene King tied house, it still serves Harvey's Best although this winter there is, alas, no Old. Nice atmosphere (even in the front bar - we don't bite, you know!). Come on a Sunday afternoon and you may well get press-ganged into one of the crazy competitions they occasionally hold, such as pea-throwing or paper aeroplanes. A real community pub.


This is a fabulous pub. It is everything a pub should be - very friendly punters, good beer, a relaxing place to be. It has three separate rooms, including an intimate front bar. A great place to play chess as well! Although it is a Greene King pub, Harvey's is still served from its days as a Beards house because the regulars prefer it! I thoroughly recommend this pub for the great beer and people.

1 comment:

RLT said...

Hi John,
Always a pleasure to see you hit the nail on the head!
I'm setting out for Lewes shortly from Toronto here in Canada. At the top of my to-do list will be a visit to my old watering hole in Lewes - the Lewes Arms - to see my old chums and quaff a few pints of Harvey's best.
We've already seen Harvey's disappear from the Black Horse, a fine Lewes pub, much to our chagrin.
The question of taking out the Harvey's at the Arms has been rumbling on for years. It has been hanging over us like the sword of Damocles! It is almost as if we need to be punished for having the temerity to be different. In a town known for bonfires and floods, we need to be taught a lesson by a heartless bigco who take us all for granted.
I recall Greene King being lampooned in the parade on the 5th of November in recent years, but to a bunch of Suffolk accountants it is water off a duck's back. What do they know of Lewes and its quirky concerns?
They care even less. A spot of bother - get the PR department to fix it! Well don't fix what ain't broke, as they say in these parts. We like it the way it is!
Rupert Lloyd Thomas, Toronto