A SADDLEWORTH pub that can trace its history back more than 250 years has shut its doors for the final time.
Mine hosts Michael and Sheila Fancy served their last drinks to a handful of regulars at the Royal Oak on Sunday evening.
And Michael warns the closure of the long-standing CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) recognised pub might not be the last to have drinkers crying in their beer.
The isolated th’ Heights hostelry on Broad Lane, above Delph, was open seven days a week and regularly packed to its centuries old rafters when the couple pulled their first pints 33 years ago.
But trade has dwindled to a trickle in recent times forcing the pair to take the difficult decision to call time on their licensing career.
“People have not been coming in, it is as simple as that,” explained Michael. “It wasn’t paying its way.
“When we first bought the place it was busy every single day, from opening to closing.
“Over the years it has gone quieter and quieter. A lot of it is a lifestyle change.
“People are up early, getting home late and after a long day at work they are not going out for a drink in the evening.
“Unfortunately, it is not good for rural pubs. It is sad but it is a fact of life.
“When you look at the pubs that have shut: Black Horse at Denshaw, the Golden Fleece, Bull at Grains Bar, Rose and Crown in Delph, the Woolpack in Dobcross, Red Lion at Austerlands, lots of places are falling by the wayside.
“Christmas Eve was really busy but on New Year’s Eve we had six people in at midnight. You cannot run a business like that.
“Someone said about the idea of a community pub. If it was a community pub, they would be using it and we wouldn’t be shut. Even people from the village weren’t coming up.
“People are just not going out. Even bars in Manchester are closing.
“There are a lot more pubs struggling than people realise. We were fortunate it is our own place and so didn’t have to pay staff and brewery rents.”
So, what does the future hold? “We are going to carry on living here,” he said. “And have chance to enjoy it.
“We have never had a proper life,” added Michael who has been working on other projects while Sheila has been behind the bar.
“We have never really had a Christmas and not worked.”
With its stunning moorland backdrop and proximity to historic Heights chapel, the pub has served some famous customers down the years during location shoots.
“We have had Steve Coogan in, Jenny Agutter, Patrick Stewart, Pauline Quirke,” said Michael.
“The last time a film crew was up was for Peterloo and used the graveyard
“We had some champagne. It wasn’t to celebrate closing; it was because it is the end of an era.
“I am sure people will be sad to see it close. But like any business if it is not supported it falls by the wayside.”
* The pub was originally established in 1767 under its original name the Punch Bowl and in the 1900s it had its own brewhouse. It has been included in the Good Beer Guide consecutively for nearly three decades.