ONE of Liverpool’s oldest pubs, Thomas Rigby’s, has been closed after the discovery it was riddled with potentially deadly asbestos.
Rigby’s was due to be closed for a fortnight at the end of February while its basement kitchen was refurbished, when the material was discovered.
“The workmen found it when they took away a stud wall and then took away three false ceilings to uncover a whole lot more,” said landlady of five years Fiona Watkin, explaining that it would have been used as a flame retardant to protect the pub’s wooden beams.
She is uncertain, however, when the installation would have occurred.
Asbestos became increasingly popular among manufacturers and builders in the late 19th century due to its resistance to heat, electricity and chemical damage, having sound absorption and tensile strength.
It was only discovered relatively recently, however, that the inhalation of its fibres can cause serious illnesses, including the lung diseases mesothelioma and asbestosis.
Since the mid 1980s, its use in buildings has been banned in many countries including Britain.
The pub, reputed to have been an inn since 1726, has been sealed off to the public ever since and special contractors brought in to strip all trace of the substance.
“They brought in a big decontamination unit – it was like in the film ET when all those guys in protective suits and masks arrived,” said Fiona, who has had to move business to the adjacent building, the former Courtyard restaurant which, like the pub, is owned by the Isle of Man brewery Okells.
She admitted: “We have lost a lot of trade while this has been going on because the bar is a lot smaller, and whereas before the customers used to fall in off Dale Street, they now have to walk a little further, which always affects business.
“But we’ve been lucky in a way to have somewhere to move to, and while trade has been down 50% its 50% better than it could have been.”
She added that she and the likes of Rigby’s long standing chef Tommy Rockliffe, who is now ensconced in the Courtyard, have been reassured that the risks are minimal despite working unknowingly so close to the asbestos.
“It’s the dust from it that causes the damage, and as its been lying there covered up and undisturbed it should be OK,” she said before adding jokingly: “Besides it’s usually 40 years down the line before they find out if its done any harm and with the booze and smoke I’ve been exposed too it would probably be too late for me anyway!”
The pub is now scheduled to reopen on May 20 when all the original plans for the kitchen revamp will have been completed.