The Alpine Gasthof: Let’s Crack This

We’ve been working on an article about German Bierkellers in English towns in the 1970s and as a side quest found ourselves looking into one of the UK’s weirdest pubs: The Alpine Gasthof, Rochdale.

We’ve nev­er been, though it’s very much on the wish­list, but Tan­dle­man wrote about his vis­it ear­li­er in the year:

Per­haps the odd­est of Sam Smith’s pubs is its take-off of a Ger­man local pub, uproot­ed it seems, in looks if noth­ing else, from Garmisch or some oth­er Alpine resort. Only it is in Rochdale. Not only is it in Rochdale, but it is on a busy main road, which if you fol­low it for not too long, will take you to Bacup. This is the Land that Time For­got. Don’t do that… Not only is it incon­gru­ous­ly in Rochdale, but it is in a less than salu­bri­ous part of town… The pub has the usu­al Ger­man style high slop­ing roof and inside is, well, a sort of pas­tiche of a Ger­man pub, but done, unusu­al­ly for Sam’s, sort of on the cheap.

Although there are lots of pho­tos, and though every­one seems quite fas­ci­nat­ed by the place, there don’t seem to be many con­crete facts. When was it built? Why?

We didn’t hold out great hopes for any infor­ma­tion from the brew­ery which is noto­ri­ous­ly tight-lipped but did get this, which is a start:

The Alpine Gasthof was built in the 1970s (don’t have the exact date to hand) because the pre­vi­ous pub we had on that site had to be demol­ished for road widen­ing. To have a bit of fun we decid­ed to build a pub mod­elled on the Brauerei Gasthof Hotel in Aying, Ger­many because at that time we were brew­ing Ayinger beer under licence.

We can well imag­ine Sam Smith’s execs going to Aying dur­ing licence nego­ti­a­tions and being charmed by the orig­i­nal, pic­tured here in a shot tak­en from the gallery on the hotel web­site:

Brauereigasthof-Hotel-Aying exterior.

Although, odd­ly, the pas­tiche doesn’t look that much like it. Here it is pho­tographed in 2013, via Ian S on Geograph.org.uk under a Cre­ative Com­mons Licence:

The Alpine Gasthof, Rochdale.

With a bit more to go on we reck­on we can guess that the date of its con­struc­tion was around 1972, at the tail-end of the theme pub craze (Fur­ther read­ing: Chap­ter 5 in 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub) and just as the Ger­man Bierkeller trend was kick­ing in. That’s also when Sam Smith’s start­ed brew­ing Ayinger-brand­ed beers. But we’re awful short on actu­al evi­dence. We thought this might be some­thing…

Google Search result.

…but there are two prob­lems. First, though Google Books has the date of pub­li­ca­tion as 1972 the par­tic­u­lar issue ref­er­enc­ing the Alpine Gasthof might be from, say, 1978. We’ve come across this prob­lem in the past. It’s hard to know until you have the jour­nal in front of you, ful­ly read­able. Sec­ond­ly… It says Wether­by, York­shire. Sure­ly some mis­take? But, no, appar­ent­ly not – there is at least one oth­er (slight­ly odd) ref­er­ence to an Alpine Gasthaus in Wether­by, giv­ing the address as Bor­ough­bridge Road, LS22 5HH. That led us to this local news sto­ry about the burn­ing down in 2005 of the Alpine Lodge, a two-storey chalet-style build­ing in Kirk Deighton (Wether­by). There are var­i­ous oth­er bits out there includ­ing this inter­view with the cou­ple who ran it for sev­er­al decades and a teas­ing­ly indis­tinct pho­to tak­en from a mov­ing car in bright sun­light on this Face­book nos­tal­gia web­site. We’ve tak­en the lib­er­ty of repro­duc­ing it here, with some tweaks – hope­ful­ly no-one will mind.

The Alpine Inn AKA the Alpine Lodge.

What a bizarre build­ing to find there on the side of the A1.

And that leaves us with two Alpine-style Sam Smith’s pubs to be puz­zled about.

So, do drop us a line if you know any­thing con­crete about the ori­gins of either pub (that is, not reck­on­ings or guess­es); have friends or fam­i­ly mem­bers who might have drunk in them; or live near either Rochdale or Wether­by and fan­cy pop­ping to your local library to look at news­pa­pers for 1972.

Blue Boy Down

From the Brew­ers’ Jour­nal, 17 June 1959:

The choice of name in this new House, built by the Bris­tol Brew­ery Georges & Co. Ltd., is of inter­est as it was cho­sen in an attempt to estab­lish some sort of cul­tur­al con­nex­ion in an oth­er­wise rather fea­ture­less hous­ing estate.

Boarded up front bay window of the Blue Boy pub. Barbed wire around the perimeter of the pub.

Many of the roads in the neigh­bour­hood bear the names of great Eng­lish writ­ers and it is intend­ed that “The Blue Boy” should be a cen­tral piv­ot of this motive. Above the door to the large bar is a pleas­ing and colour­ful wall plaque. Ellip­ti­cal in shape it is in fact a hand-paint­ed repro­duc­tion on glazed frost-proof tiles of Gainsborough’s paint­ing of the Mas­ter But­tall bet­ter as “The Blue Boy”. It is framed in paint­ed hard­board that accen­tu­ates it and effec­tive­ly sep­a­rates it from the sur­round­ing brick­work.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Blue Boy Down”

Sir Charlie and the Elephant: Unreconstructed and Underdone

Pubs built in the period after World War II have, on the whole, had short, rather sad lives, but there are two still trading (for now) at Elephant and Castle in South London. What can they tell us about the fate of the post-war urban booze bunker?

Ele­phant (as we’ll call it from here on) was a furi­ous caul­dron of devel­op­ment in the 1960s. What remained of the old dis­trict after the Blitz was lev­elled and a new traf­fic hub for south Lon­don was cre­at­ed. Office blocks were built to house gov­ern­ment staff, like the Min­istry of Health build­ing, Alexan­der Flem­ing House, designed by the famous Hun­gar­i­an-British archi­tect Ernő Goldfin­ger. Most impor­tant­ly an enor­mous mod­ern shop­ping cen­tre was built, ‘a giant new type of build­ing, a ful­ly enclosed Amer­i­can style mall over three lev­els sur­mount­ed by an office block’.

It was amid all this excite­ment that Watney’s and Truman’s brew­eries built flag­ship pubs there, the Char­lie Chap­lin and Ele­phant & Cas­tle respec­tive­ly. In August, we decid­ed to vis­it both.

Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, 1960s.
Artist’s impres­sion of the shop­ping cen­tre by Wil­lett Devel­op­ments Lim­it­ed.

In the image above from Wat­ney Mann’s Red Bar­rel mag­a­zine for June 1965 the site of the Char­lie Chap­lin, on the cen­tral island and append­ed to the shop­ping cen­tre itself, is marked with an orange arrow. This is how it looked on launch:

Publicity photographs in black and white.
The saloon bar (top) and cocktail/grill bar.

A major fea­ture of the house… is a wrought-iron mur­al of Char­lie Chap­lin. Designed by G. Dere­ford of Mar­low Mosaics and made from met­al springs to epit­o­mise the spir­it of the film Mod­ern Times, the sculp­ture runs the full height of the first and ground floors… The Char­lie Chap­lin was designed by Erdi & Rab­son, built by Sin­clair & Son (Lon­don) Ltd and is let to the West­min­ster Wine Co whose man­ag­er will be Mr H.W. Moles.

It seems rea­son­able to con­clude that Watney’s aspired for it to be an upmar­ket pub for shop­pers, cin­ema­go­ers and office work­ers rather than as an ‘estate pub’. But the shops and shop­pers nev­er came to Ele­phant – it was a famous fail­ure in com­mer­cial terms – and when a huge hous­ing estate, Hey­gate, opened right next door in the ear­ly 1970s, the Char­lie Chap­lin seems to have end­ed up serv­ing it by default.

The exterior of the Charlie Chaplin in August 2017.

In 2017, with the threat of clo­sure and demo­li­tion hang­ing over the ‘mall’, as it has been for sev­er­al years, and in the after­math of a stab­bing inci­dent, the Char­lie Chap­lin feels a bit bleak. At some point it con­tract­ed to a sin­gle large room on the ground floor and received a half-heart­ed faux-Vic­to­ri­an makeover, leav­ing it nei­ther thrilling­ly mod­ern nor gen­uine­ly cosy. Giv­en the ten­den­cy to con­nect the fate of pubs with that of the white work­ing class it was inter­est­ing to see that the reg­u­lars were rough­ly fifty-fifty black and white, most­ly solo drinkers, and entire­ly male. At one point a young woman in office clothes came in and took a seat by the win­dow. As she talked on her mobile phone the woman behind the bar came over and asked her brusque­ly if she intend­ed to buy a drink or not. The young women told the per­son on the phone, point­ed­ly, that they should meet in a dif­fer­ent pub instead, and left. We weren’t made to feel unwel­come in any overt, spe­cif­ic way but it did feel as if we’d intrud­ed upon a pri­vate par­ty, or per­haps a wake. It was lit­er­al­ly and spir­i­tu­al­ly gloomy.

The Elephant & Castle neon sign in 2017.
The Ele­phant & Cas­tle pho­tographed in Feb­ru­ary 2017.

Across the road (or, rather, under it via the sub­way labyrinth) is the Ele­phant & Cas­tle the his­to­ry of which we’ve writ­ten about before as part of a round-up of 1960s Truman’s pubs so here, for vari­ety, we’ll quote Dan­ny Gill’s 2012 mem­oir Have Trow­el Will Trav­el (via Google Books) which fea­tures a chap­ter on the pubs in this area as they were in the 1960s and 70s:

[The design­er] must have had shares in a mir­ror com­pa­ny, as soon as you walked in the door there were mir­rors every­where, on the walls, toi­let doors, behind the bar, and also some on the ceil­ing. The only place there weren’t any mir­rors was on the floor. No mat­ter where you stood in the pub, as you raised your glass to your mouth, your reflec­tion was every­where you looked. I must say I didn’t like this pub; it was too open for me and felt cold.

The bare ceiling of the Elephant & Castle pub.

These days, after becom­ing very rough and even­tu­al­ly escap­ing con­ver­sion into an estate agents, it is run by Lon­don pub com­pa­ny Antic, AKA ‘hip­ster Wether­spoons’. They have giv­en it a retro bru­tal­ist makeover, all func­tion­al mid-cen­tu­ry fur­ni­ture and exposed struc­tur­al con­crete, which is some­what in keep­ing with the peri­od in which it was built, and inter­est­ing to gawp at, but also com­plete­ly inau­then­tic. It too felt odd­ly gloomy – that’s bunkers for you, we guess. Although the wide range of cask and keg beer on offer looked entic­ing the for­mer was in lack­lus­tre con­di­tion and expen­sive, too. (We pre­ferred the Guin­ness at the Char­lie Chap­lin.) The pub was at least buzzing, though, and if we felt out of place it was only because we had at least a decade in age on most of the clien­tele.

This expe­ri­ence prob­a­bly informed a sug­ges­tion we made on Twit­ter ear­li­er this week that there ought to be a prize for the first post-war pub to under­go an his­tor­i­cal­ly accu­rate refur­bish­ment – to bring back the Formi­ca tables, linoleum tiles, mus­tard-coloured lounge chairs and fibre­glass friezes on the bar. The appar­ent alter­na­tives – neglect or trend-chas­ing upmar­ket super­fi­cial­i­ty – seem rather sad.

This post was edit­ed to remove a ref­er­ence to the sub­way sys­tem which was appar­ent­ly closed recent­ly. We used to use it a lot when we reg­u­lar­ly com­mut­ed through Ele­phant and must have got tem­po­ral­ly con­fused. Also, we had con­sumed beer.

Pub Life: For the Slugs

A slug approaching a pint of beer.

A warm evening in late summer, the smell of weed on the air, and blackberry stains on the pathway to the pub door.

Ahead of us in the queue a mid­dle-aged woman in sen­si­ble shoes and a sen­si­ble but bram­ble-both­ered jumper, with black mud beneath her nails.

Oh, hel­lo – I won­der if you can help me… Do you, by any chance, have any beer dregs I might take away with me?”

She waves a large mar­garine tub hope­ful­ly.

Dregs?”

Waste beer. For the slugs. On my allot­ment.”

For the slugs?”

For the slug traps. Slugs love beer. Keeps ’em off my plants! They drown in it.”

The young woman behind the bar eyes the gar­den­er with sus­pi­cion. How can she be sure this strange stranger won’t just guz­zle down the slops straight from the plas­tic the minute she gets out­side? Des­per­ate peo­ple will do all sorts of weird things for a free­bie. She decides on a delay­ing tac­tic, a test of com­mit­ment.

I can’t give you any now because we’re in the mid­dle of ser­vice but if you come back at clos­ing time when we’re clean­ing out the drip trays I might be able to help. Once I’ve asked my man­ag­er, obvi­ous­ly.”

Clos­ing time? Oh, no, I’m afraid I shall be in bed by then. You couldn’t…?”

She waves the tub seduc­tive­ly.

A shake of the head.

And so the slugs, or per­haps the gar­den­er, went thirsty that night.

Bottle & Jug

One night last week, guided by The Buildings of England, we made our way to the Shakespeare in Redland, Bristol, and gazed upon the ghost of its Bottle & Jug.

Bot­tle & Jug was a phrase we didn’t know six years ago which is why we found this odd­ly arranged his­toric sign on the side door of The Crown in Pen­zance so baf­fling – ‘Bot­tle Bar & Jug? Eh?’

Jug & Bottle sign at the Crown, Penzance.
Sor­ry this pho­to is so crap. It’s only from 2011.

We were being dim, of course – it’s Bot­tle & Jug, and then Bar. Here’s how Fran­cis W.B. Yorke explains it in his man­u­al for pub design­ers from 1949:

The out-door depart­ment, some­times called ‘off licence’ or ‘off sales’, and for­mer­ly known as ‘jug and bot­tle’ depart­ment, is set aside for the sale of intox­i­cat­ing drinks ‘to be con­sumed off the premis­es’, and by law may not be used (as for­mer­ly) for the con­sump­tion of drink. It may be planned off the gen­er­al servery, or as a sep­a­rate unit. It must be in direct com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the street, quite shut off from drink­ing areas, and con­tain no seat­ing. It is the only pub­lic room a child under the age of four­teen may enter.

The Shake­speare has a fair­ly well-pre­served Edwar­dian exte­ri­or but much of the inte­ri­or has been remod­elled in 21st cen­tu­ry style with every sur­face either grey paint or bare wood, and par­ti­tions removed to make one long bar room.

There are still odd bits to enjoy, though, such as the stained glass signs for LADIES and GENTLEMEN on the toi­let doors, for exam­ple. Very help­ful­ly for rov­ing pub nerds there are also framed plans of the pub before and after its ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry rebuild.

A plan of the Shakespeare, Redland.

That’s how we spot­ted anoth­er lin­ger­ing rel­ic of the old lay­out: a nar­row cor­ri­dor of blue and white tiles run­ning from the front door up to the bar. Assum­ing they are orig­i­nal (they look it) are all that remains of the old Bot­tle & Jug. They inter­rupt the floor­boards, insist­ing upon the dis­tinc­tion between rooms that no longer exist, across the dis­tance of a cen­tu­ry.

Back before World War I, take-away cus­tomers (often kids sent by their par­ents – the cause of much wor­ry for social cam­paign­ers) would come through what is now the main door and, between pan­els pro­tect­ing their pri­va­cy, and that of sit-in drinkers, and order beer to go at the long counter which ser­viced all three parts of the pub.

It would be nice if those par­ti­tions were still there but in their absence it’s pleas­ing that the old lay­out can at least be dis­cerned with some imag­i­na­tion, like the out­lines of an Iron Age set­tle­ment vis­i­ble in the bumps and ditch­es of an Eng­lish field sys­tem.