Session #108: Snowed In (Or Not)

This is our contribution to the 108th beer blogging session hosted by Jon at The Brewsite, with the topic ‘Snowed In’.

Britain has a pretty tame climate and snow is sufficiently rare that, when it does fall, the economy grinds to a halt as everyone reverts to childhood.

Where we live now, Cornwall, is even milder, with warm winters and cool summers. We never see frost, let alone snow, and even when it does snow up country it doesn’t seem to push past the Tamar.

What we do have is rain. Rain and gales.

Weather in which you can go to the pub as long as you don’t mind getting drenched and battered by the wind; as long as you don’t mind sitting there in wet clothes steaming like an old sock, dripping onto the floorboards; and as long as you don’t mind getting battered again on your way home. And, you know, all of that can be rather pleasant in a masochistic kind of way: there’s a cosiness attached to drinking a pint while items of street furniture stampede around town under substitutiary locomotion and the sea invites itself over the harbour wall in great chunks.

Waves crashing over the sea wall. (Animated gif.)

But we don’t usually drink anything special — there’s no imperial stout or barley wine in pubs in these parts anyway — though maybe it does nudge us away from the chiming brassiness of hops and towards beefier, browner bitters.

When it’s really bad, as in dangerous, as in batten-the-hatches and hope that’s not your roof tile shattering on the pavement, as in search and rescue helicopters overhead… Then we find ourselves huddling by the fire with Fuller’s Vintage Ale, Adnams Tally Ho or Harvey’s Imperial Stout.

They’re the beer equivalent of a warm blanket.

Pub History: Field Work in West London

After spending an afternoon reading about pubs in the National Archives at Kew we were keen to actually visit some and so decided on a crawl through the West London heartland of Fuller’s.

We started, as the sun began to set, at The Tap on the Line which is, handily, right on the platform at Kew station. A converted railway buffet bar inspired we guess by the Sheffield Tap, it’s also a bit like a mini version of the Parcel Yard at King’s Cross with which it shares a tendency to vintage tiling and scrubbed wood. There was lots of eating, not much seating, and a row of keg taps on the back wall. The ubiquitous Edison bulbs were also present and correct. It’s easy to admire the good taste with which it’s been put together, and pubs at stations are A Good Thing, but it did feel, frankly, a bit like drinking in the kitchen department of John Lewis.

Window at the Old Pack Horse, Chiswick.

On the tube to Gunnersbury we pondered what we did like in a Fuller’s pub and, rather to our own surprise, found ourselves thinking, wistfully, that we hoped the next one would be one of the mid-2000s refurbs with shiny orange wood and the full range of cask ales. With that in mind, The Old Pack Horse on Chiswick High Road was a sight for sore eyes: a grand, vaguely-art-nouveau exterior from 1905 with frosted windows full of gleaming light, advertising Public and Saloon bars. Though the interior was spacious there seemed to be lots of corners, cubby-holes and screens making it feel quite intimate. An antique metal sign advertising The Empire Bar lurked in the shadows above the bar evoking the period of pomp when the pub was built. The beer offer was cask-led… just — a new craft beer menu (mostly in bottles) was in the process of being rolled out, and was being pushed fairly hard by staff. The Thai restaurant at the back was a genuinely pleasing reminder of a decade ago when every pub in London seemed to have the same.

Continue reading “Pub History: Field Work in West London”

Nostalgic 20th Century Pub Blogs

This is part of our occasional series highlighting interesting blogs and the theme this time is pubs in the 20th century.

Screenshot: Manchester's Estate Pubs.
Screenshot: Manchester’s Estate Pubs.

Manchester’s Estate Pubs is put together by the pseudonymous ‘modernmoocher’ and features original photographs accompanied by sometimes lyrical prose:

Point a camera at a hard man and he’ll tell you exactly what you want to hear, it’s easy, though it’s much, much harder to fill a pub these days – tough times.

Standing lost and forlorn in a sea of green grass – nobody’s home, laid low by a litre and a half of Lambrini or six.

Bare burnt rafters, boarded doors, the sign no longer swings in the wind.

Somebody just called tinned-up time.

Billy Greens is no more.

manchestersestatepubs.wordpress.com

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The Never Ending Pub Crawl is put together by Alan Winfield and alternates between accounts of recent expeditions and those from 30 years ago. The latter are accompanied by photographs which, though straightforward in style, have attained a certain romance with age, like this one from 1987:

© Alan Winfield
© Alan Winfield

neverendingpubcrawl.blogspot.co.uk

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Screenshot: Pubs of Manchester.
Screenshot: Pubs of Manchester.

We found both of the relatively new blogs above via Pubs of Manchester (@Pubs_of_Mcr on Twitter), a website of long-standing that also belongs in this list. Its author takes the time and trouble to document even the most lowly of pubs using every photograph he can harvest from private collections, old publications and various corners of the internet. A fascinating recent post, which is fairly typical, is this one about The House That Jack Built:

The House That Jack Built was a very distinctive 1970s estate pub, opening in 1975 at the newly-built Newbury Place shopping centre off Bury New Road in Higher Broughton… It was described in the Manchester Evening News at the time as ‘something entirely different’ – a maze of bars, passages and alcoves with an indoor tree house!

The tone is often rather wistful — so many of the pubs chronicled have disappeared, often only in recent years — which only underlines the importance of recording their existence before they are forgotten altogether.

pubsofmanchester.blogspot.co.uk

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Any other suggestions for blogs that belong on this list are very welcome — leave a comment below.

Q&A: What Became of Kitty Witches, Great Yarmouth?

‘I did a pub called Kitty Witches in Great Yarmouth with my mates on a few dinner time sessions back in June 1982. The pub was a small and single roomed with the bar facing. There were lots of witches hanging from the ceiling and they were also for sale. The pub was a Whitbread tied house and was in the middle of town. I would be very interested if you could let me know what happened to this pub.’ Alan Winfield

The building is still there, and still operating as a licensed premises, under the name Liberty’s Rock Cafe.

The extremely comprehensive Norfolk Public Houses website, referencing local licensing documents, suggests, however, that Alan’s memory of the date might be incorrect, as it was trading as The Lion & Lamb until 1987, when it looked something like this:

It then briefly became ‘Manhattans’ in around 1987-88, before being renamed Kitty Witches or Kittywitches from around 1989 to 1996.

It’s possible, we suppose, that it was decorated with witches and/or known as Kitty Witches, with reference to a local folk custom, before the name changed formally.

If you have any more information, or think we have the wrong end of the stick, leave a comment below.

Pakistanis in the Pub, Bradford, c.1965

We came across the passage below in Graham Turner’s 1967 book The North Country a few months ago and have been sitting on it because, frankly, race and immigration tend to be rather toxic topics.

The North Country, Graham Turner, 1967.It comes as part of a chapter called ‘The Burma Road’ about immigrants to Bradford. The author (who is still about, by the way) was aiming for something like objectivity, letting people tell the story in their own words, although by modern standards the locals seem to come off poorly, exploiting migrants by renting them property, for example, while moaning about them behind their backs. He might nowadays at his own choice of words in places, too — ‘benighted’!

Anyway, the section below struck us as interesting in the context of the argument put forward by some commentators that pubs have suffered in certain towns and cities whose populations include a substantial number of Muslims:

It was almost lunchtime and the pubs looked inviting. In one of them, the man behind the bar had a broad Lancashire accent, but the warm, dusty interior felt like part of the one of those benighted tropical places which Graham Greene evokes so well, where on the priest and publican are white. The publican here was serving a group of Pakistanis and all the faces in the ‘best’ room were dark.

‘We’ve been here two years now,’ he said, ‘and it’s beginning to drive the wife crackers. Wednesday afternoon, she had a drink, there were so many Pakistanis in here by ten she started crying. At two in the morning I was still trying to comfort her. This last month, at least ninety per cent of my customers have been Paks. I’ve about six whites apart from the girls, you get them of course. The whites have just drifted away. When we came, there’d be twenty or so.’

Now, that sounds to us like evidence that people from (probably) Muslim backgrounds (clearly not especially religious in practice) did attempt to make the pub part of their lives — they attempted to ‘integrate’ in the language of this particular debate — but were made to feel unwelcome.

It’d certainly be interesting to talk to some of those Pakistani pub-goers today, or to their children and grand-children.

Main image: ‘Lumb Lane’ from ‘Changing Bradford’, 1969, via Bradford Timeline on Flickr.