Thursday, 12 December 2019

The Previous Lives of Pubs: A church that became a pub, for a time

NB: The church in this article did have a life as a pub, but is now a Miller and Carter Steakhouse.

Churches seem to be prime candidates for conversion (no pun intended) into other purposes. Just as numerous bank branches have closed down in recent years due to the growth of online banking, a decline in attendance has forced a lot of churches to shut their doors to worshippers. 

As congregations have shrunk, so have church budgets. Churches are expensive to maintain, heat, and light, and some have been unable to carry on in their original function. 

Hundreds of former churches have been demolished or converted into homes and businesses of all sorts, including restaurants, galleries, a climbing center in Manchester, and a circus school in Bristol. Others have become pubs. 

One of them once occupied the Muswell Hill Presbyterian Church (later United Reformed Church). Opened in 1903, it served its original function until the 1970s. The Neo-Gothic structure was "saved" from demolition or worse when the O'Neill's chain converted it into one of their Irish pubs. 

From outside it looked like the church it once was, except for the O'Neill signs and logos. The handsome terracotta and flint façade was left virtually untouched. 

Inside, the basic structure also largely remained, but the altar was replaced by a large bar, the pews by chairs, tables, and slot machines. Hymns gave way to pop music. Worship of beer took the place of worship of the Deity.

One can only imagine what the church's founders would have thought of the transition. But perhaps after a pint and some reflection, they would see it as preferable to destruction. 

Other pubs that had previous lives as churches, include the Oran Mor in Glasgow, and the Church Café and Bar, formerly St. Mary's Church of Ireland, in Dublin.

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