The cult of Wetherspoons: why does the pub chain inspire such devotion?

Despite an estimated four pubs closing every day, Wetherspoons continues to thrive. I spoke to the man who – literally – wrote the book on it to find out why..

 

By Ben Myers

When the 24-year-old Tim Martin opened his first pub in Muswell Hill, London, in 1979, he exercised no imagination and named it Martin’s Free House. That didn’t bode well, but in the first months of the 1980s, he decided to change it to “J D Wetherspoon”, after a teacher from his schooldays in New Zealand whom Martin considered too nice to control a bunch of unruly kids.

“I thought: I can’t control the pub [and] he couldn’t control the class,” Martin said last year, “so I’ll name it after him.”

Standing 6ft 6in tall and once known for sporting a luxurious mullet, Martin turned Wetherspoons into a chain that now runs 917 pubs and employs 35,000 staff. Today, it is regarded either as a company whose branches are a shadow of what the British boozer once was – the apotheosis of a wider culture of retail uniformity that is turning town centres into identikit high streets with no distinguishing features – or as a national institution that inspires surprising levels of loyalty.

The Campaign for Real Ale reported earlier this year that almost four pubs were closing every day, but Wetherspoons continues to thrive. Speak to regulars such as Mags Thomson, who has visited almost every branch, or the writer and former pub manager Kit Caless, and you will hear devotion in their voices.

 

Read the full piece here…

 

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