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English Pubs Lift Glasses To Liberal Sunday Opening Hours

August 6, 1995

LONDON (AP) _ Instead of forcing down a few last gulps of beer as the clock struck 3 at The Warwick Arms on Sunday afternoon, patrons let out a cheer and bellied back up to the bar.

For the first time since well before World War I, pubs throughout England were allowed to stay open all Sunday afternoon. The laws that forced them to close between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday became history.

``It’s a great moment, a truly great moment for severe drunkards like myself, who enjoy sitting in a pub 24 hours a day, day after day, letting today run into tomorrow,″ said Adam Stonebridge, a patron at the bar.

Sunday’s change was a vast improvement over the days when ``you ended up head-butting the front door trying to get in,″ said Stonebridge, who treated his equally ecstatic friends to the next round of drinks.

The looser opening hours represent the latest in a series of changes in the country’s restrictions on doing business on Sundays, which traditionally has been a day of rest for most British workers.

``Sunday’s no different from any other day. It’s just got a different name. If somebody wants to buy a pint, you should buy a pint,″ said William Bolshaw, one of Stonebridge’s drinking companions at the Warwick Arms.

Christian groups have fought to maintain the tradition of Sunday as a family day with no business dealings. They teamed up with labor unions who wanted to let workers stay home. The critics viewed all-day Sunday drinking as just one of many defeats.

``There’s been a whole succession of things, which we suggest have had a corrosive effect on Sunday as a family day,″ said John Alexander, a spokesman for the Keep Sunday Special Campaign. ``Every time one of these things happens, more people are being asked to work on Sunday. Eventually, there may be more people working on Sunday than taking the day off.″

Stephen Cox, of the beer advocacy group Campaign for Real Ale, argued that churchgoers can still go to church but drinkers should be allowed to drink. ``It’s an issue of choice,″ Cox said.

Since licensing laws were loosened about a year ago, Sunday has been rapidly evolving into just another day of business.

Britons can not only go the grocery now on Sunday. They also shop for clothes and gamble on Sunday horse races. Some banks are looking into the possibility of some Sunday opening.

Business was a big proponent of changing the laws, which were attacked as inconsistent and pointless in the modern era.

Tourism officials argued that foreign visitors often wait until the end of the week to purchase their souvenirs _ only to be shut out by the laws they did not even know about that kept many stores closed.

Large grocery companies complained smaller rivals could open on Sunday while they could not.

It was often pointed out that the rules prevented people from going into a bookstore to buy a Bible, while they could walk into many a newsstand and pick up Playboy magazine.

``It had to happen,″ said Michael Quinlan, who manages the Bloomsbury Tavern in London’s West End entertainment area. ``It’s just a thing where we had to get in line with the Continent _ and the rest of the world really.″

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