The 12 best British pubs saved from closure

The Bell in Ticehurst, East Sussex
Picture perfect: The Bell in Ticehurst, East Sussex has been given a new lease of life - Saltwick Media

It sometimes feels like there are more public houses in Britain than stars in the sky. But the fact is they are in steep decline, with at least one pub closing down every day in the past couple of years. Recent figures reveal a failure rate of 80 a month across England and Wales so far in 2024.

It’s not all bad news, however. For every 10 pubs that shut for good, at least one is saved from dereliction by rescuers who tend to be either hospitality groups with an eye for a good location, or former locals with deep pockets who can’t bear to see their favourite boozer turned into flats.

Their shared belief is that pub businesses can survive and thrive if run with care and passion, and it’s possible to transform a pub’s fortunes by adding rooms, revamping the food and instilling a more up-to-date identity in what are often historic and much-loved landmarks.

So raise a glass to one of our cherished institutions and take the opportunity to visit some for yourself. Need inspiration? Here’s a rundown of my favourite dozen.

The Bell in Ticehurst, East Sussex

A picturesque exterior view of The Bell in Ticehurst, East Sussex
'The epitome of what a modern pub should be': The Bell in Ticehurst, East Sussex

In many ways this village inn (thebellinticehurst.com) is the epitome of what a modern pub should be: it has an affable bar that’s perfect for a quick pint or two, it serves good food, including a gourmet tasting menu once a week, and there are lots of locals around enjoying it all.

There’s a dash of quirkiness too, from the bowler hat light fittings to the tubas in place of urinals in the gents’ loos, not to mention the eccentrically decorated guest rooms and purpose-built lodges out the back – the circular Love Nest is an ideal spot for a romantic weekend.

The White Hart Inn, Essex

The White Hart Inn was revived in late 2022 by local hospitality entrepreneur Piers Baker
The White Hart Inn was revived in late 2022 by local hospitality entrepreneur Piers Baker

This originally 15th-century pub on Mersea Island (whitehartinnmersea.co.uk) had sat neglected for the best part of a decade before being revived in late 2022 by local hospitality entrepreneur Piers Baker, who turned it into an enticing gastropub that blends chic decor, an inventive seasonal menu and six cool and stylish guest rooms.

From the outside, the weatherboard cladding has a New England-style charm; inside, it’s a study in coastal cool, with a spacious, airy restaurant fringed with leather banquettes and a snug lounge bar with sofas. All guest rooms cost the same, so hopefully you’ll get lucky and snag the top-floor Mehalah Suite, which has views of the sea, only a few minutes’ stroll away.

The Black Horse, West Sussex

Back in business: The Black Horse has been lovingly refurbished
Back in business: The Black Horse has been lovingly refurbished - Alamy

Not so long ago the Black Horse in Climping (hshotels.co.uk/theblackhorseclimping) was an unappealing boarded-up ruin. Now this 17th-century smugglers’ haunt is very much open for business again, serving great food in its cosy front bar and contemporary oak-beamed restaurant, and offering welcoming accommodation in its spruced-up rooms upstairs.

The Black Horse has been lovingly refurbished with care and sensitivity by a local hotel group, which means those craving more amenities can pop across to the spa at the Bailiffscourt Hotel, just two minutes’ walk away.

The Gin Trap Inn, Norfolk

Enticing image of gourmet food and a pintat The Gin Trap Inn, Norfolk
Earlier this year The Gin Trap Inn was awarded three AA Rosettes

Just a mile away from some of the most popular parts of the north Norfolk coast, this is another centuries-old inn (thegintrapinn.co.uk) that has been revitalised by a stalwart of contemporary hospitality. In this case, it’s David Lamyman, who ran a group of bars in Australia and New Zealand before relocating to Norfolk and gussying up this place as a comfortable inn with an emphasis on top-end dining.

Earlier this year it was awarded three AA Rosettes, a testament to the food on offer – a delightful choice between beautifully crafted pub grub and some very refined dishes, indeed. The Gin Trap also has 13 cosy bedrooms for overnight stays, and three cottages if you prefer self-catering.

The Packhorse Inn, Suffolk

The Packhorse Inn, Suffolk, has recently doubled the number of its guest rooms
The Packhorse Inn, Suffolk, has recently doubled the number of its guest rooms - Jake Eastham

Situated in the sleepy Suffolk village of Moulton, right by the ancient packhorse bridge that gives it its name, this country pub (thepackhorseinn.com) was rescued just over a decade ago by city trader Philip Turner, providing the blueprint for more than a dozen revitalised East Anglian pubs that subsequently became his Chestnut Inns business, including the nearby Three Blackbirds and The Weeping Willow.

It has recently doubled the number of its guest rooms, and serves excellent food at moderate prices in a new dining room. It’s also handy for the horseracing at nearby Newmarket.

Bull, Oxfordshire

The modern looking and spacious bar area at the Bull, Oxfordshire
Cotswolds pub Bull was reopened by local PR guru Matthew Freud - James French

Cotswolds coaching inns may be two-a-penny, but there are none quite like Bull (bullburford.com; note the dropped definite article), recently reopened by local PR guru Matthew Freud. Bang in the middle of chi-chi Burford, its oak timbers and stone walls remain, but the walls are decorated with paintings and photos from Freud’s art collection – think Bacon, Dali and iconic images of Bob Dylan and the Stones – and there’s a poker table downstairs that was donated by Idris Elba.

There’s a contemporary feel to its rooms too, which are stripped down and elegant, yet cosy at the same time. And the food? Well, it’s not just steak and chips. Instead, you get a choice of two cool, communal places to eat – Hiro, a 10-seater Japanese omakase eatery, and Wild, where food is grilled in front of you on open flames – as well as the more trad Horn restaurant.

Crown & Anchor, Wiltshire

An exterior shot of the Crown & Anchor in Wiltshire with pub trestle tables and the pub sign
Open doors: the Crown & Anchor in Wiltshire ticks all the boxes that a village pub should - Alamy Stock Photo

Situated in a pretty Wiltshire village, on the edge of the North Wessex Downs AONB, this pub (crownandanchorham.co.uk) reopened five years ago after a stint as an Indian restaurant, having been done up by some well-heeled locals who fancied getting their village local back.

It ticks all the boxes that a village pub should, with a cosy bar out front, a menu built around local, seasonal produce, and six individually furnished en-suite bedrooms, decked out with considerable taste and contemporary style. It’s a dog-friendly sort of place – which is just as well as it’s handy for any number of enticing country walks, all of which are detailed in a magnificent ring-bound book prepared by the owners. Bring your hiking boots.

The Duncombe Arms, Staffordshire

A waitress prepares one of the tables at the the Duncombe Arms in Staffordshire which serves an impressive menu
Overlooking the Dove Valley, the Duncombe Arms is well placed for exploring the Peak District

A decade ago, local lass Laura Greenall used to drive past this pub every day, its derelict appearance a sad sight to a former regular whose coat of arms featured on the pub sign. Along with her partner Johnny, she decided to restore it, and the rest is history, with the Duncombe Arms (duncombearms.co.uk) not only now a fully functioning gastropub serving impressive food, with a formidable gin and wine list, but also with a set of very comfortable and well-equipped guest rooms in a separate building next door.

Overlooking the Dove Valley, it’s well placed for exploring the Peak District, and is just a few minutes’ drive from Alton Towers, making it a great base for families, walkers and foodies alike.

The Brackenrigg Inn, Cumbria

An interior shot of the refurbished Brackenrigg Inn in Cumbria showing the spacious bar area
The Brackenrigg Inn was given a makeover by a local hotel group - Rachael Smith photography

High above Ullswater, this was until recently just a slightly tired old boozer. But it has recently been given a makeover befitting of its elevated location by a local hotel group (another.place/the-brackenrigg-inn), with seven dog-friendly bedrooms that make the most of the views and come with every kind of comfort.

It serves food that champions local producers, plus goodies from its own kitchen garden, on a menu that spans everything from steak and ale pie to moules marinière and hearty roasts on Sundays. Not only that, guests can also enjoy the restaurants, spa and pool and other activities at its sister establishment, Another Place, The Lake, just down the hill.

Cross Keys Inn, Scottish Borders

Exterior view of the reopened and rustic looking pub the Cross Keys pub in the Scottish Borders
The reopened Cross Keys in the Ettrick Valley offers a terrific base for exploring the Scottish Borders - SIMON JAUNCEY

Not far from the attractive town of Selkirk in the Ettrick Valley, and a terrific base for exploring the Scottish Borders, the Cross Keys (crosskeysinnettrickbridge.com) opened up again recently having been brought back to life by Rory and Vicki Steel, son and daughter-in-law of the former MP for the area, Lord Steel.

Its seven dog-friendly guest rooms have been beautifully updated, with local art on the walls and en-suite bathrooms with local toiletries, while the pub downstairs is as rustic and cosy as you like, with all the things that make staying in a pub so special – plenty of locals with their dogs, roaring fires, hearty food made with local ingredients, and a warm welcome.

The Alma Inn, Essex

Exterior shot of the The Alma Inn, Essex, which has been lovingly restored
The 10 quirky rooms at the Alma Inn make for an inviting place to stay for a weekend away from London - Alamy Stock Photo

Mere footsteps from the quayside in the heart of old Harwich, this historic inn (almaharwich.co.uk) was done up by London pub entrepreneur Nick May more than a decade ago and has been a firm local favourite ever since: partly because it remains a properly inviting local, but also because it serves some of the best food you’ll find anywhere along this coast – Mersea oysters and local lobsters, fish and chips, seafood sharing platters and locally sourced steaks.

Its 10 quirky rooms make an inviting place to stay if you fancy a weekend away from London somewhere a little bit different, and the owner has recently opened a new restaurant next door.

The Brisley Bell, Norfolk

A vintage car parked outside the charmingly restored Brisley Bell in Norfolk
Roll up and make yourself at home at the welcoming Brisley Bell in Norfolk - Steve Adams

Just outside Dereham in central Norfolk, right opposite Brisley’s village green, this pub (thebrisleybell.co.uk) was rescued from permanent closure by ex-regulars Marcus Seaman and Amelia Nicholsson a few years ago. Since then, it’s prospered – in part as a proper village local, serving excellent food and drink, and also as a modern country inn, offering a handful of boutique rooms in the flint barns next door.

It’s emphatically not a restaurant or hotel, and is a terrific place to turn up late at night, when its lights are a welcome sight in the otherwise pitch-dark village of Brisley. Stroll in and make yourself at home.