THE FUTURE of one of Oxford’s most historic pubs hangs in the balance as time is called amid claims of spiralling rents.

The Grapes, in George Street, has been serving pints to city punters since King George IV was on the throne in 1820.

But the current leaseholder, Greene King, has given notice to quit because of “significant rent increases” by the property owner Oxford City Council.

The decision has thrown the landmark pub’s future into doubt.

Regular Dave West, 46, of Abingdon Road, said: “It will be a real shame if we lose it and it turns into a restaurant. It is a proper pub.”

The Grapes is continuing to trade under Greene King at the moment, but the council has put the lease on the market for “offers in excess of £20,000”. The annual rent is £60,000.

The current lease is due to expire in January 2012 and neither party would confirm previous agreed rents.

Yesterday, regulars praised the pub, which is surrounded by chain restaurants, as a “back street boozer” in a city centre location and said they wanted it to stay.

They also pointed to the heritage hostelry being a magnet for tourists.

Paul Heaney, 56, of Botley Road, has been drinking at The Grapes for 20 years.

He said: “Most people want it to stay as a pub.”

He said although The Grapes was always busy, he felt it might be difficult for a manager to make their money back given the rent the council wanted.

But he added: “It won’t shut. They will find someone to run it.”

Derek Cooper, 61, a retired bricklayer who lives in East Oxford, has been drinking in The Grapes since the 1960s, when he would pop in after a trip to the New Theatre.

He said: “It’s the combination of good landlords and traditional pub atmosphere that keeps you coming back.”

Last night, a spokesman for Greene King said: “Unfortunately, the rent for The Grapes has increased significantly over time.

“When the lease came up for renewal, we worked closely with the council to try to negotiate a more viable rent to allow us to continue running the pub.

“But, ultimately, we had to take the difficult decision not to proceed.”

Oxford City Council confirmed that was the situation, but did not comment further.

It is not the first time The Grapes, which was rebuilt in 1890, has faced a threat to its future.

In 1969, irate regulars wrote to the Oxford Mail in protest at proposed changes to the public house’s Victorian interior.

They wanted to preserve its long-standing “Victorian virtues of discretion and privacy”.

However, it eventually underwent a refit in 1973.