Categories
pubs

Notable Pubs: The Rhubarb Tavern, Barton Hill, Bristol

The Rhubarb Tavern

The Rhubarb is a rare survivor – an old backstreet pub that hasn’t gentrified or closed down, where locals still drink.

It’s one we’ve had on our #EveryPubInBristol tick-list for a while having noticed the unusual name on the Pub Stops of Bristol poster that hangs above our usual spot in our local.

A quick Google told us what to expect: a pub catering to its locals, down-to-earth, but not unfriendly to strangers.

We walked there in darkness through eerily quiet industrial estates, past wasteland and roadside caravan shanties, and finally into a residential area with the smell of weed on the air as squat, muscular dogs were taken for their evening walks.

The pub, by a railway line and opposite a hulking, boarded-up Victorian school building, dazzled from afar: there’s a painted sign advertising Georges & Co Ltd, either fake, or a recreation of a lost original, but convincing; decorative brickwork with swags and other pseudo-classical details; and fairy lights. The building is oddly truncated – there surely ought to be an extra floor or two – which only adds to the sense that this is a pub just hanging on in hostile territory.

The history is a bit vague. Its apparently old, though we can’t dig up a definitive founding date, but came into something like it’s present form in the late Victorian period, finding renewal with the growth of the Great Western Railway.

On Saturday evening we found it busy, if not perhaps quite busy enough for its size.

A large family group with children was enjoying a table-obscuring, wonderfully aromatic feast of Caribbean food, centred around a tray of rice the size of Captain America’s shield.

There were multiple TV screens showing football along with several furiously illuminated fruit machines. Some strange lighting scheme meant that one entire corner was cycling through the Joel Schumacher Batman Forever colour scheme of lurid greens and purples. Several people were staring towards this electrical storm, either watching match highlights, or perhaps just hypnotised.

Brew XI beer pump.

The sight of Mitchells & Butlers Brew XI on cask was momentarily startling but the barman assured us that, no, the pump-clip wasn’t just a nostalgic decoration and, yes, they do actually serve it. We had to order a pint, of course, having a weakness for orphaned brands. (Brewed by Brains these days, the internet tells us.)

He then did something we’d like to see in more pubs: not liking the look of the first pint, he sniffed it. “Hold on,” he said, before consulting a colleague who said: “Pull a couple of pints through and try again.” Our man pulled through four pints in all before giving up and suggested GWB’s Hambrook Pale Ale instead. What he didn’t do – what happens too often – was give us the dodgy pint and hope we wouldn’t know better. And the Hambrook, after all that, was pretty good.

Despite the bar being decked with bunting advertising Carling there was a plastic moneybag over the keg handle signifying that the bestselling lager was off: “I’ll have to have Grolsch, then, won’t I?”

Local twenty-somethings played pool in the back bar and a tentative group of what seemed to be foodies arrived for dinner, placing a complex order punctuated by the barman’s gentle murmur: “Yes, sir… Yes… Yes, sir… Thank you, madam…”

A bloke perched on a stool and drank a pint while he waited for takeaway which emerged from the kitchen in four bulging carrier bags. On his way to the door he stopped to banter with what seemed to be his neighbours at the feasting table, telling an appalling dad joke that made the six-year-old giggle with delight. He left waving, and being waved to.

Our favourite detail? On the dark red patterned carpet, a freestanding yellow sign with a handwritten note sellotaped to it: ‘Carpet wet, please go round’.

A strangely normal pub. Uniquely typical. A different arrangement of the same old pieces to create something that is all itself.

Categories
london

Notable Pubs: The Royal Forest Hotel, Chingford

The Royal Forest Hotel in Chingford is a mock Tudor behemoth deformed by fire and forced to live out its old age bedecked with Premier Inn and Brewers Fayre branding.

When Jess told her Mum that we were staying there her reaction betrayed her memories of The Royal Forest’s reputation in the 1960s: “Ooh, get you!”

The Royal Forest in 1986.
SOURCE: Whatpub (CAMRA)

As a child growing up in Walthamstow Jess knew it as a place where you parked to eat your fish-paste sandwiches but wouldn’t dream of entering. It was alien territory — Essex culture, with Essex prices, not posh but still out of reach. We think with research that it was a Schooner steakhouse, Watney’s answer to the Berni Inn, if that helps place it in terms of culture and class.

Certainly its location between golf course and a genuine Tudor building, along with the sheer raging pretentiousness of its architecture, permits a certain grandeur to linger.

The approach to the Royal Forest along the main road.

Ray’s first encounter was this weekend, rounding the corner on foot to see its high flank with black-and-white timbering and multi-pane windows peering between the branches of old oak trees: “Bloody hell, it’s Nonsuch Palace.”

Brewers Fayre.

Faded sign on the front of the pub.
“Scotch Ales”

The corporate makeover isn’t elegant — plastic signs glued here, gaudy menus nailed there — but there’s the ghost of some old brewery livery at the front and a magnificent stained glass window inside, which you’ll probably only find if you’re staying over, or nosy.

Stained glass pub-hotel window.

Pinning down its history proved tricky, even with a trip to the local library on Sunday morning. Was it terribly ancient, or built in 1880, 1890, or the 1920s?

Eventually we decided the most efficient approach would be to contact London tour guide and Chingford history expert Joanna Moncrieff. We’ve followed on Twitter (@WWalks) for years and know that runs a guided tour of Chingford.

She laid it all out for us in an email (lightly edited):

It was built in 1879 as a hotel to accommodate the hordes of people visiting the Forest. It was renamed the Royal Forest Hotel in 1882 after Queen Victoria’s visit to Epping Forest to dedicate it to the People.

It was originally built by Edmond Egan, the Loughton architect who was responsible for some of the very decorative houses in The Drive and Crescent Road, Chingford.

The hotel’s busiest period was around 1910 but then there was a serious fire in 1912 which resulted in the hotel being re-built minus its top storey.

Until 1968 it was a terminus for buses.

1890 advertisement for the Royal Forest.
SOURCE: Hathi Trust.

Because it was a centre for tourism there are quite a few contemporary sources, such as A Forest Holiday from around 1890:

On the walls are some fine water-colours of forest scenery.

The wide staircase is decorated with a fine stained-glass window representing Queen Elizabeth and her Court at the famous Epping Hunt.

The landing is of noble dimensions, and lighted by another large window, opening on a broad balcony, from which is obtained a charming and extensive view of the Forest.

This source goes on to tell us of the great dining hall with its tapestries and heraldic designs, and of the six private dining rooms: Japanese, Watteau, Spanish, Queen Anne, Indian and Queen Elizabeth themed, with “furniture and appointments in harmony”. (An early theme pub?)

Lawn Tennis at the Royal Forest.

The fire is interesting. Of course “legend has it”, according to to hack-work local histories, that guests and firemen were killed and of course they are “now said to” haunt the hotel. But we looked at some contemporary newspaper articles and if anyone was killed, journalists were oddly silent on the matter, suggesting instead that most of the guests were out at the time.

At any rate, it didn’t feel haunted to us, as a lively 50th birthday celebration rocked the wooden beams, and the beer garden heaved with drinkers despite the whisper of drizzle.

Or did we perhaps hear the chug of a spectral beanfeast charabanc in the night?

Categories
london pubs

Notable Pubs #1: The Eagle Tavern, London

The Eagle (Shepherdess Walk, N1) is known to generations of children from the nursery rhyme ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’: ‘Up and down the City Road/ In and out the Eagle’.

Charles Green as painted by Hilaire Ledru.
Portrait of Charles Green by Hilaire Ledru, 1835, via Wikipedia.

On Monday 4 April 1825, the aeronaut Charles Green ascended in a balloon from the gardens at the Eagle. After much trouble, he got airborne at 5:30 pm and drifted away south. He returned to the Eagle for another ascent on a later occasion, this time seated on the back of a ‘very small Shetland pony’ (Stamford Mercury, 01/08/1828).

Famous as the site of a theatre and other entertainments, The Eagle was the subject of one of Charles Dickens’s Sketches by Boz (1833-1836) entitled ‘Miss Evans and The Eagle’:

[The] waiters were rushing to and fro with glasses of negus, and glasses of brandy-and-water, and bottles of ale, and bottles of stout; and ginger-beer was going off in one place, and practical jokes were going on in another; and people were crowding to the door of the Rotunda; and in short the whole scene was, as Miss J’mima Ivins, inspired by the novelty, or the shrub, or both, observed—‘one of dazzling excitement.’

The present building dates from around 1900.

Not to be confused with The Eagle, Farringdon, ‘the original gastropub’. There will be more on balloon ascents in a future post on The Star & Garter, Richmond. Main image: ‘The Eagle Tavern Pleasure Gardens, from an old print’, from Dickensian Inns & Taverns by B.W. Matz, 1922, via Archive.org.