“There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern.”

So wrote Samuel Johnson who, when not working on his dictionary in the 18th century, enjoyed a tipple or two in one of his favourite hostelries, the Turk’s Head in Soho.

How times have changed.

Today, figures show that pubs are closing at an alarming rate.

According to the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), around 18 pubs are shutting their doors every week.

As well as campaigning for a decent pint, the organisation also wants to see a lower rate of duty on draught beer and a reform of business rates, which it says will relieve pubs of the unfair burden placed on them by the current system – a system which has also been blamed for the demise of high street stores like Beales in Hexham.

But as reported this week, there is hope yet for the Black Bull in Matfen, which has closed twice in one year.

The chairman of the local parish council is right when he says a pub at the heart of a local community has never been more needed.

When villages are losing other facilities, pubs have become more than a place for a drink and a bite to eat, but the centre of community life.

That’s why villagers at Ridsdale successfully fought to save their pub, the Gun Inn.

Other pubs in the district have shown that they can not only survive, but flourish. The Dipton Mill Inn in Hexhamshire and the Rat in Anick are award-winning examples.

And so we should all drink to the good health of our local – preferably at the bar rather than at home – and perhaps give the toast with a glass of something stronger than beer.

Dr Johnson did, after all, advise: “Claret is the liquor for boys, port for men; but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy.”