The British pub is having a tough time right now, with over twenty closing permanently every week. Heritage pubs are not immune from the suffering. Since 2006, fifteen National Inventory pubs have been lost for ever, along with many more which were on our Regional Inventories. Another twelve National Inventory pubs are currently closed and facing an uncertain future.
Pubs are, of course, commercial enterprises and must survive in the real world. Pubs with historic interiors are businesses first and foremost so their owners will naturally look at ways either to increase trade or stem financial loss.
A common approach by pub owners to drumming up more custom is to give the interior a new look. All too often, 'old' has been seen as 'outdated', resulting in historic layouts being changed, usually by removing walls to create large open spaces. Original fittings may also be destroyed. Invariably, such changes have only a short-term positive impact on trade so good money then has to be thrown after bad.
CAMRA has published guidance Pub Interiors Getting Them Right aimed at persuading owners not to rush into alterations but to make the best use of what they already have. It gives examples of sympathetic renovations where the work has respected the building's history but also achieved commercial success.
An even greater threat than ruination is outright closure. It's a sad fact, for instance, that many smaller rural pubs with historic interiors struggle to make ends meet. What makes them so cherishable (their smallness, remoteness, lack of food service) also renders them less profitable. However, lots of town pubs have also closed or come under threat because they are seen to be in the wrong place or are the wrong size and difficult to maintain. Sometimes, the main reason why a historic interior has survived is that the pub is in a quiet part of town so investment hasn't been seen as worthwhile but that has obvious other consequences.
But enough gloom; experience has proved that small pubs and those in challenging positions can be made viable without recourse to the wrecking ball or a change of use.