These are a Few of our Favourite Pubs

Over a few beers the other week we found ourselves making a list of pubs we love and find ourselves longing to be in.

It’s not The Best Pubs, it’s not a Top Ten, it’s just some pubs we like enough to feel wist­ful for. We’ve been tin­ker­ing with it since and decid­ed to share it.

Brains bitter at the City Arms, Cardiff.
The City Arms, Cardiff

10–12 Quay St, CF10 1EA
This is, in fact, the pub where we had the con­ver­sa­tion. It was our first vis­it but love at first pint. The per­fect mix of old school, new school, cask and keg, it just felt com­plete­ly right to us. Worn in and unpre­ten­tious, but not cur­mud­geon­ly, and serv­ing a rev­e­la­to­ry point of Brains Bit­ter. (Not SA.) Is it an insti­tu­tion? We assume it’s an insti­tu­tion.

The Brunswick, Derby.
The Brunswick Inn, Derby

1 Rail­way Ter­race, DE1 2RU
We loved this first time, and it’s still great. Flag­stones, pale cask ale, cradling cor­ners, a view over the rail­way, and the mur­mur of love­ly local accents. Worth break­ing a train jour­ney for.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “These are a Few of our Favourite Pubs”

So They Brewed Their Own Beer – The Northern Clubs Federation

There’s been a bit of talk lately about working men’s clubs and the breweries established to supply them and we thought we ought to flag an apparently little-known book on the subject.

So They Brewed Their Own Beer by Ted Elkins was pub­lished in 1970 and tells the sto­ry of the rise of the North­ern Clubs Fed­er­a­tion. Elkins was a jour­nal­ist from the North East of Eng­land whose career start­ed in the 1950s and as a free­lance PR man he wrote a few offi­cial com­pa­ny and organ­i­sa­tion­al his­to­ries relat­ing to brew­ing and hos­pi­tal­i­ty.

Cover of So They Brewed Their Own Beer.

STBTOB opens on 24 May 1919 at the Social Club in Prud­hoe, a vil­lage on Tyne­side, where the founders of what would become the Fed­er­a­tion Brew­ery met for the first time to dis­cuss the idea. Elkins, pos­si­bly scram­bling to reach word count, or per­haps just to make the job more fun, lays it on a bit thick:

These were new men, bruised and blood­ied in mind and limb by the car­nage of slaugh­ter and sur­vival. They came back [from war] with a sense of com­rade­ship, buoy­ant in tri­umph, each humbly aware of his oblig­a­tion to his fel­low man, the need to right the wrongs of a world irrev­o­ca­bly changed by the tor­ment of war.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “So They Brewed Their Own Beer – The North­ern Clubs Fed­er­a­tion”

Further Reading #1: The Newcastle Beerpendium

Researching 20th Century Pub we spent time in some great libraries and archives with rich collections of pub- and beer-related material. We barely got to scratch the surface in the book so this series of blog posts is intended to highlight some great resources you can go and look up yourself.

Our first stop is the City Library in New­cas­tle upon Tyne which we vis­it­ed for a cou­ple of pleas­ant ses­sions in June 2016. The top floor ref­er­ence col­lec­tion has a nice col­lec­tion of books on the region’s pubs, most packed with pho­tos and anec­dotes, like this from Bri­an Ben­nison’s Heavy Nights, pub­lished in 1997:

In Gos­forth High St the Coun­ty Hotel was owned by James Deuchar before [Scot­tish & New­cas­tle]. One sig­nif­i­cant change took place in 1975 when the sanc­ti­ty of the Gents’ Buf­fet was breached after what was thought to have been 140 years of ‘men only’. The day the Sex Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act came into force three female jour­nal­ists entered the Gents’ Buf­fet to push the boat out with an order of one glass of cider and two fruit juices. The land­lord told them, “You realise you’ve just made his­to­ry in here. It’s a sad day.”

The real star of the show, though, is a huge scrap­book of news­pa­per clip­pings and leaflets. Archivists right­ly protest when peo­ple claim to have ‘unearthed’ some­thing which they, the librar­i­ans, found, bound and cat­a­logued years ago, and this col­lec­tion is a great exam­ple of their work. It con­tains ear­ly Tyne­side CAMRA leaflets, for exam­ple – the kind of thing that most peo­ple threw away or lost when their guid­ance ceased to be use­ful but that some­one thought to keep and pre­serve.

Good Pub Guide c.1975

From the above, undat­ed but c.1975 we’d guess, it becomes clear how dom­i­nant Bass was in the region and that the Mitre at Ben­well (sec­ond on the list) and the Duke of Welling­ton in New­cas­tle city cen­tre were the most notable ‘beer exhi­bi­tion’ pubs.

The news cuts tell inter­est­ing sto­ries, too, such as the offence tak­en in the region in 1971 when analy­ses of beer strength under­tak­en by Durham Coun­ty Weights and Mea­sures Inspec­tors revealed that the North East­’s beer was rather weak­er than pop­u­lar­ly imag­ined.

HEADLINE: "We're Weak Beer Snobs!"

This arti­cle also con­tains a table of the orig­i­nal grav­i­ty, ABV and price-per-pint of every beer sold in the region. (Which we think we’ve already shared with Ron Pat­tin­son…)

There’s a sto­ry from 1976 about a two-day CAMRA beer fes­ti­val in Durham with no less than fif­teen dif­fer­ent ales, but not Tet­ley, which refused to sup­ply the event because they feared the beer ‘would not be served prop­er­ly’. That’s fol­lowed by a review of the event by John North for the North­ern Echo:

There was a feller pro­fess­ing to be the Earl of Der­by’s nephew, anoth­er who’d strug­gled there on crutch­es, and a third who car­ried round an emp­ty Cas­trol GTX can, pre­sum­ably in case he need­ed to take a few sam­ples home… The senior man at St Chad’s Col­lege arrived in knee-length shorts and near knee-length hair; the wife of a book­shop own­er in Sad­dler Street came in a Pick­wick­ian dress; a lot of men wore light blue CAMRA tee-shirts over tight brown bel­lies and a young lady had the pecu­liar mes­sage ‘Lub­by, lub­by, lub­by’ embla­zoned across her chest… In one cor­ner a beard­ed man sat engrossed in his Times cross­word, auto­mat­i­cal­ly reach­ing out every few sec­onds to grab his Hook Nor­ton’s.

(An ear­ly man­i­fes­ta­tion of the bel­lies and beards stereo­type?)

One final item worth high­light­ing is the arrival in 1977 of Tsing-Tao at the Emper­or Restau­rant, run by Arthur King who came to New­cas­tle from Hong Kong as a child in the 1940s. The Jour­nal had great fun with the crazy idea of Geordies drink­ing beer from Chi­na and got a few locals to taste it, like 71-year-old pen­sion­er Albert Smith:

It’s very good: a soft, smooth tast­ing drink… But at 40p a bot­tle it’s too expen­sive for peo­ple like me to drink. And it’s a long way to take the bot­tle back.

Beyond the stuff specif­i­cal­ly relat­ing to beer and pubs there are also, for exam­ple, decades’ worth of issues of local soci­ety mag­a­zine New­cas­tle Life packed with ads for local pubs, clubs and brew­eries. (Main pic­ture, top.)

If you live in the North East and fan­cy learn­ing about your region’s beer his­to­ry, or if you’re in New­cas­tle as a beer tourist and need some­thing to do between your smashed avo­ca­do toast and the pub open­ing, do pop in and take a look at this fas­ci­nat­ing col­lec­tion.

Impressions of Pubs in Newcastle

Based on our week holidaying there we reckon Newcastle is a great city, a great place to drink, and we’ll definitely be going back.

For one thing, we loved the sense that there’s less of a stark line there between ‘craft’ and ‘trad’, posh and rough, town and sub­urb, than in some oth­er parts of the coun­try. The Free Trade and The Cum­ber­land, for exam­ple, were both just the right side of grot­ty. There and else­where, basic but decent pints were avail­able at rea­son­able prices, along­side more extrav­a­gant, trendi­er prod­ucts, with no sense that one is bet­ter than the oth­er.

Newcastle Breweries branded Formica tables.

At the Gos­forth Hotel we had what might be our beer of the year, Allen­dale Pen­nine Pale, at £2.85 a pint, but we could have gone for pints of keg Brew­Dog Punk at £3.55 – about the price of Bass in Pen­zance – if we’d been in that mood. Prices were dis­played clear­ly in front of the pumps so there was no need for embar­rass­ing con­ver­sa­tions or warn­ings over price. In fact, prices were plain­ly on show, as far as we can recall, every­where we went.

All of this made for gen­uine­ly mixed crowds, even if there was some­times a self-seg­re­ga­tion into lounge and pub­lic bar crowds – lit­er­al­ly where the par­ti­tions sur­vived.

The Crown Posa­da was one of a hand­ful of pubs that was so good we made time to vis­it twice. Even on a busy week­end night in town we did­n’t have any trou­ble get­ting in or get­ting a seat. The beer was great, the ser­vice was fan­tas­tic, and there were cel­lo­phane wrapped sand­wich­es going at two quid a pop. It’s a tourist attrac­tion but not a tourist trap. When we went back on Sun­day lunchtime, though, we found it desert­ed – just us and a bar­man – and, as a result, much less charm­ing.

The more full-on craft out­lets – Brew­Dog, The Bridge Tav­ern brew­pub – seemed out of place, super­im­posed rather than inte­grat­ed, as if they might have been picked up in any anoth­er city and dropped into place. (If we lived there, we no doubt wel­come the vari­ety.)

An inter-war improved pub with 'Flaming Grill' branding.
The Cor­ner House, Heaton, built c.1936.

There aren’t as many inter-war ‘improved pubs’ in New­cas­tle as in Birm­ing­ham (on which more in our next post) but we found a cou­ple, mano­r­i­al in scale, chain-brand­ed, but oth­er­wise doing what they were built to do near­ly a cen­tu­ry ago: pro­vid­ing un-threat­en­ing envi­ron­ments in which men, women and chil­dren can socialise togeth­er over beer, food and after­noon tea. They’re not much good for seri­ous beer lovers – just lots of Greene King IPA, well off its own turf, but even that was in good nick when we did try it.

We came away with a clear impres­sion of what seemed to us to be the dom­i­nant brew­eries in the region: Allen­dale, Mor­due and Wylam were almost every­where. We’d tried Wylam beers in the past and thought they were decent but we’ve noticed a renewed buzz around them on social media in the last year; now we see why.

Almost every pub we went in had one beer we real­ly want­ed to drink and most had a cou­ple more we were keen to try, or already knew we liked. Across the board there was a ten­den­cy to pro­vide a range from dark to light, and from weak to strong. Only in one pub-bar (the oth­er­wise like­able Cluny) did we find our­selves think­ing that the vast range of hand-pumps might be a bit ambi­tious – the beer was­n’t off, just a bit tired.

Light shining through coloured glass into a dark pub.
Stained glass at the Crown Posa­da.

But even if the beer had been ter­ri­ble every­where it would­n’t have mat­tered too much because the pubs are just so pret­ty – stained glass, fired tiles, dec­o­ra­tive brick, shin­ing brass, lay­ers of pati­na – and often set beneath the cathe­dral-like arch­es of the city’s many great bridges.

And, final­ly, not in New­cas­tle but a short train ride away in Hartle­pool, we got to vis­it our first microp­ub, The Rat Race – the sec­ond ever, which opened in 2009. We stayed for a cou­ple of hours, inter­viewed the land­lord, Peter Mor­gan, and chat­ted to some of his reg­u­lars, and to oth­ers who drift­ed through. We think we get it now and, yes, we reck­on they’re prob­a­bly a good thing.

Interior of the Rat Race micropub.
The Rat Race. Yes, that’s Astro­turf on the floor.

This is a part of the world which, to our eyes, def­i­nite­ly seems to have a healthy beer cul­ture. If you decide to pay a vis­it your­self – and you should – do check out these local pub­li­ca­tions for tips:

  • Tyne­side & Northum­ber­land CAM­RA’s Can­ny Bevvy newslet­ter
  • Inde­pen­dent mag­a­zine Cheers North East edit­ed by local expert Alas­tair Gilmour