YES, my heart sinks into my boots too. The Criterion is one of the landmark buildings in Shields town centre and has been for more than 130 years.
The thought of it possibly coming all over flash corporate bookie’s livery is deeply depressing.
But you know, maybe this is where the over-reliance of one area of a town on the night-time economy falls down.
Given the smoking ban and the cheapness of supermarket alcohol, all pubs are struggling but big, lofty Victorian bars were always going to be especially vulnerable.
The Criterion grew out of an altogether different social climate.
Built on the site of a tobacconist’s, it was originally a temperance hotel, serving cocoa.
It was called the Criterion Restaurant, after London’s Criterion Grill, on which it fashioned itself. I’d just say here that, looking into the history of the site and the pub etc, some years ago, I traced a link to what surprisingly turned out to be Jewish business interests in the town.
These suggested – and I’m afraid I never got round to pursuing this – a greater presence of a Jewish community in the town, in the 19th century, than has perhaps been thought.
By the 1870s, however, The Criterion was serving alcohol, advertising Burton’s Bitter, and London and Dublin Stout, as well as tea, coffee, soup, chops, and tuppenny pies “now so famous in the borough, for they are supplied hot every day and highly esteemed as a luncheon”.
In time it became a characterful feature of Shields town centre, neighbour to the even older Ship (and Royal) Hotel and the beautiful art nouveau Scotia, the Ocean Road-King Street crossroads being defined by these three great corner Victorian/Edwardian bars.
But here’s a bit of trivia for you. Did you know that there had been – albeit briefly – a fourth?
This was the old Tiger Inn, which held the position only temporarily during the demolition of adjacent properties for the widening of Fowler Street and the building of the present bank.
The Criterion has Local Listing which, one hopes, will at least protect the building’s physical integrity. But it feels like a slippery slope that we’re on.