Blog for September 2017 with Photographs, Travel Notes and Local History
Saturday September 2nd 2017
Many a day I start a cycle ride without a clue where I am going. On such occasions I simply turn left or right at road junctions, often at a whim. It is generally a fun way to explore the region as you just never know what will appear or happen. Today, after meandering around Willenhall, Bloxwich and Brownhills, I found myself in the lanes that lead towards Shenstone. I stopped to look at the Water Pumping Station at Sandhills near Stonnall as, well, I cannot resist a Water Pumping Station. Although serving an important need, there was little need to erect anything but a functional rectangle for to house the water pumps. And yet the Victorians and Edwardians lavished money on these rural boxes and, in some cases, erected miniature castles or palaces. The example at Sandhills is a later building but the inter-war construction for the South Staffordshire Waterworks Company is still aesthetically-pleasing.
Sandhills Water Pumping Station was built in 1935 by Thomas Lowe and Sons Ltd. and is of architectural importance due to creative use of the locally-sourced red Hollington stone dressing and decorative brick work in Flemish-bond. The building was designed by F. J. Dixon, chief engineer for the South Staffordshire Waterworks Company. Authority for the pumping station's construction was achieved by the South Staffordshire Waterworks Act of 1922, which enabled new buildings at Slitting Mill, Little Hay, Prestwood and here at Sandhills. Much of the interior tiling and timbers have survived. The adjacent cottages were constructed for employees of the company.
A little further along Cartersfield Lane, opposite the junction of Lynn Lane, stands Old Fighting Cocks Farm. I am not familiar with this area so immediately thought the name harked back to the outlawed sport rather than it being an old tavern. However, I have found an advertisement dated 1847 for the sale of the property in which the cottage was described as being formerly known by the name of the Fighting Cocks, suggesting that it had formerly been a public-house. The cottage probably formed part of the farm which in the 1840s was run by Joseph Middleton. He and his descendants remained at the farm for many years. There is another public-house connected to this cottage as Frederick Bates once worked here for his father John Bates, publican of the Red Lion Inn at Walsall Wood.
From the Old Fighting Cocks Farm I headed in the direction of Shenstone from where there is a lovely lane through Shenstone Park, the remains of an ancient deer park first enclosed in 1236 by Sir Ralph de Grendon. From here there is the quiet route to Mere Green through Little Hay. In this small hamlet there were two pubs. The Holly Bush has survived by the Haycock Inn closed many years ago. However, the pub's name, along with an advertisement for Allsopp's Burton Ales has survived on the gable end of the building. When I took this photograph there was a 'Sold' sign in the garden. The property had been advertised at £1,000,000 - probably way above the price of an operating public-house! A sign of the times when the value of private houses is higher than taverns. However, the property, parts of which date back to the late 18th century, features five double bedrooms over three floors, along with a cellar complete with original stone stairs and rollers. The house sits within an acre of land and gardens which features an orchard.
The Haycock Inn was always a popular Sunday destination for those venturing out of Birmingham, Walsall and Sutton Coldfield. The Tamworth section of the Cyclists' Touring Club used to hold meetings here before the Second World War, a time when the South Staffordshire Hounds met outside the building. However, it was in February 1939 that the licence of the Haycock Inn was transferred to the newly-constructed Royal Oak Inn at Shire Oak. In the early 20th century both the Holly Bush Inn and Haycock Inn were owned by the Lichfield Brewery Company.
Apart from Sutton Park and Sandwell Valley, I enjoyed a largely urban route back to my neck of the woods. From Smethwick, I was rolling through Rood End and Causeway Green so I wasn't a million miles from the Fixed Wheel brewery tap. Well, why not I thought. The team had just about got over the previous weekend's hectic beer festival and it was a bit low key but, as luck would have it, the Through and Off was on tap, a beer I had still to sample. Very nice for a low ABV pale ale. As you can see from my photograph, I also tried the Milk Race Stout, another enjoyable drink though a little sweet for my palate. I really like brewer Scott Povey's cycling appellations for his creative recipes - all we have to do now is get him back on a bike!
Friday September 8th 2017
I have only just heard about this story so apologies that it is a couple of months old. On June 21st 2017 the Albion on Lichfield Road at Wednesfield re-opened after a refurbishment and name change. The pub was re-named The Lancaster in tribute to seven airmen killed nearby in an air crash days after V.E. Day was declared. On what was described as a routine flight, the Lancaster bomber lost altitude and crashed on Lichfield Road on May 17th, 1945. The accident left a five-foot crater with wreckage spread over two miles. Following the crash, the wreckage and remains of the crew, were bulldozed into the crater and a local minister performed a simple funeral ceremony. Not all of the locals are happy about the pub's change of name. On social media one man said : "It will always be known as the Albion. Even years ago when it changed to the Harvester, people still called it the Albion." Sounds like the headline for this story should read: "New Pub Name Bombs."
Sunday September 10th 2017
It was a fabulous day of cycling today, both in the professional world and within our tiny sphere of pedalling around pubs. We were up and at 'em early in order to head towards Malvern as the Tour of Britain was rolling over British Camp en-route to the race's finish at Cardiff. This afforded us the opportunity to see some of our heroes up-close-and-personal - and, the great thing about cycling as a spectator sport ... it's free of charge!
We cycled through Welland so that we could follow the race route up past The Marlbank Inn and make the ascent alongside Little Malvern Priory to the summit at British Camp. This adds a little extra spice as one can compare times with the professional riders. In other words, we could match our sluggish ascent against the 'how do they do it' pace of the peloton. Those racing to Cardiff would have little time to glance across at The Marlbank, a pub that is now a free house after years of being operated by big breweries and pub companies. A couple named Val and Ken have run the pub for around four years. They offer both bed-and-breakfast and camping facilities for an overnight stay with a menu that includes Tapas. I think the Wye Valley HPA is a regular beer and is supplemented by some guest ales.
We were climbing up to British Camp around an hour before the Tour of Britain was due to arrive but the crowds had already started to gather on the slopes. This is great for cyclists making the ascent because, short of nothing much else to do, the spectators applaud, cheer and encourage people making their way to the top. What I really liked is the rich cheers given to very young cyclists who, although struggling a little with the gradient, were roared on by the crowd. One small girl named Jodie was warmly cheered over the line. There is a great deal of bonhomie within the cycling fraternity.
We managed to nab a great spot just after the finish line of the King of the Mountains segment at British Camp and settled in for around an hour. The queue for coffee and snacks at Sally's Place was like a massive snake. The Malvern Hills Hotel was also doing great business. The crowds grew as the race arrival time approached. The atmosphere on the hill was full of conviviality. The truth is that watching a cycling event can be a bit like sex - there's a long build-up to the event and it's all over in a flash. The race for the line was keenly contested with Quickstep's Laurens De Plus just edging it from Gorka Izaguirre of Movistar. Ben Hermans of BMC was at the front of the leading bunch chasing the two riders upfront. There then followed a stream of familiar cycling gods such as Dan Martin, Phillipe Gilbert, Geraint Thomas, Tony Martin and Michał Kwiatkowski. Bringing up the rear was Mark Cavendish who got a massive cheer as he cycled past. Although, at the tail end of the race due to his recent illness and accident, he still flew past at an impressive speed.
We rolled down into Great Malvern to undertake our own circuit of the lowlands surrounding the Malvern Hills and wound up at the Farmers' Arms at Birtsmorton or Birts Street wherever you prefer to define the location. I have cycled past this timber-framed building a couple of times when in the small lanes around Coombegreen Common. It is a lovely part of the world. However, I have generally been in the midst of an audax or sportive and haven't been able to get my riding companions to agree on stopping. I had made a mental note to return here at some point and today was the ideal opportunity. And we are so glad we visited as it is a lovely old slipper of a pub. They were in the middle of serving Sunday roasts to customers in the dining room which left us room to enjoy the settle by the fireplace.
I believe the Farmers' Arms has been run by the same family for a quarter of a century so they have seemingly found a formula for turning a profit. Tucked away in the middle of a fairly remote part of Worcestershire, this cannot be an easy task. It is possibly the reason why the interior has not had a makeover - and thank goodness for that. Too many rural pubs have had the 'contemporary' refit or some trendy knobs have stripped back the place to basics in order to serve pretentious food on slates and in wire baskets whilst playing a Norah Jones soundtrack. Here, however, there was joyfully no music - just the sound of quiet conversation.
If I am honest, if I had walked into the Farmers' Arms in 1976 it would probably have looked fairly similar to today's pub. At one time this was deemed highly unfashionable as updates of the post-Rock'n'Roll era tended to be a bit awful. The servery here is characteristic of this but now benefits from some level of à la mode pastiche. The middle section has a darts area and Shove Ha'Penny board but I am not sure how often these are used. Nice to see these pub games still in situ though. And onto the main agenda ... the beer. Hook Norton is the main order of the day and the Hooky and Old Hooky were both excellent. Lovely in fact. The pub's Wye Valley Butty Bach was also superb. They were also selling Battledown Pale Ale but I found the Old Hooky too good to switch. Back in the day you could have supped Wickwar beers in here. We rather fell in love with the Farmers' Arms and will be routing some cycle rides towards Birtsmorton more often. The pub's inn sign has the coat-of-arms of the Worshipful Company of Farmers bearing the motto "Give us our Daily Bread," most apt here for this is a pub in which to pray for the Great British Tavern. At least we enjoyed our beer at the Farmers' Arms - the pro-peloton missed out on this essential drinks zone.
Tuesday September 12th 2017
Following on from an enjoyable visit to Lancaster on our Coast-to-Coast cycle ride in 2015, we thought we would return to this historic port for a deeper exploration of the area. For starters we had heard that the Ship at Overton had re-opened, a treasured pub which was thought to have been closed for good but saved by a local artist. And then there was the Limeburners' Arms at Nether Kellet which we had previously visited on the one day of the week [Monday] when the place is shut. This is widely regarded as a total pub classic and, on peering through the windows, we were convinced we had found another example of pub heaven. As luck would have it, the day we had set aside for these two pubs was horrific. 70mph gales and sideways rain coming in from the Irish Sea forced us to leave the bikes in the hotel and adopt a wet weather programme. There is plenty to see and do in Lancaster so the walking and drinking was excellent. We had read that Ye Olde John O'Gaunt sold Titanic Plum Porter as a regular ale and, being as this is one of our current favourite cask ales, we thought we would check it out on this wet and windy day. Lo and behold, they had the mighty porter on tap. We only had a couple of this delicious beer as we thought we would be able to nip back at any time for a top-up. However, despite popping in several times over the next few days the pump clip was not in evidence again. Damn. Even more frustrating was the fact that the Three Mariners had the Plum Porter on their upcoming beers chalk board but, despite constantly checking to see if it had been put online, we departed Lancaster without another drop of Titanic's flagship brew. Mind you, plenty of other excellent beers were available in both of these pubs.
Well, if there had not been a pub named in honour of the Flandrian who became the First Duke of Lancaster then I would have been disappointed. William Shakespeare famously penned a speech of the Ghent-born brother of the Black Prince in which he says: "This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars ... This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England." He may have been referring to his favourite perch within this excellent Lancaster boozer. OK, the place is not quite that old but the lovely Edwardian windows masquerade a historic building that stretches back on a narrow burgage plot.
The walls of Ye Olde John O'Gaunt are lined with some lovely, and often evocative, black-and-white photographs of musicians who played here during the tenure of an earlier licensee, a man who was clearly passionate about music. Many appear to be of jazz artists though other genres clearly made it onto the agenda. The pub still hosts live music these days. Up to seven cask ales are served in what we found to be a most congenial atmosphere. A must-visit pub on your Lancaster town trail.
It would be nice if Ye Olde John O'Gaunt at Lancaster displayed a colourful hand-painted signboard but at least this sticker is better than no sign at all. One of the most popular inn signs in Great Britain is that of the Red Lion, which evolved because of John of Gaunt who, during the fourteenth century, was the most powerful man in England. Born in Ghent in 1340, he was Duke of Lancaster and fourth son of Edward III. Gaunt is a corruption of his birthplace. In 1359 he married his cousin, Blanche of Lancaster, and was created duke in 1362. His wife died in 1369 and in 1372 he married Constance, daughter of Pedro the Cruel of Castile, and assumed the title King of Castile - though he failed by his expeditions to oust his rival, Henry of Trastamare. Before his father's death, he became the most influential personage in the realm and was thought to have ambitions for the crown. He opposed the clergy and protected Wycliffe. The young King. Richard II, distrusting him, sent him in 1386 on another attempt to secure a treaty for the marriage of his daughter Catherine to the future King of Castile. After his return to England in 1389 he reconciled Richard to his [John's] brother, the Duke of Gloucester, and by Richard was made Duke of Aquitane and sent on several embassies to France. On his second wife's death, he had married in 1396 his mistress, Catherine Swynford by whom he had three sons, legitimated in 1397. Henry VIII descended from the eldest of these. However, he was not a competent general and he became increasingly unpopular amongst the ordinary people. When Wat Tyler led an insurrection in 1381 it was John of Gaunt's palace that was destroyed.
Tuesday September 12th 2017
Incredibly, Lancaster's Tourist Information Centre, despite being staffed by friendly people, does not have an architectural town trail for its Georgian buildings. I find this shocking because the old port has an incredible amount of structures created by the wealth of the slave trade. They do have a Lancaster Heritage Trail leaflet which is interesting but rather basic and lacking detail. We combined this with a leaflet for the town's World War One walking trail. For just £1 they did have a copy of a Maritime Trail by Nigel Dalziel and April Whincop. This was published in 1989 and there were only two booklets on display - reduced now to one as I picked up a copy. This is an excellent introductory text for any visitor to the city. Another plus is a free Cask Ale Pub Guide, a colourful leaflet put together by Lancaster Northern City of Ale. This helped us identify a few places worthy of patronage. So, armed with several leaflets blowing around in the gale force winds, we headed to Penny's Almshouses in King Street. The gateway to this quadrangle of cottages suggests a construction date of 1720 but the building style harks back to an earlier period. You can quietly walk through the gardens to the chapel which is lovely. The complex was later funded by the adjacent Assembly Rooms. Erected in 1859 but enlarged in the late 19th century, this building features a central entrance with a semicircular Tuscan porch mounted on semicircular steps. The ground floor has been modernised and has a number of craft traders and antique sellers plus a café but the first floor assembly room has a musicians' gallery carried on two wooden Tuscan columns. The front panels are decorated with Chinese Chippendale fretwork design.
From the Assembly Rooms we continued towards the castle and turned up Market Street. This is a slightly blurry image of the Robert Gillow. I was just taking my camera out of my pocket to take a photograph of this pub when, in the corner of my eye, I spotted a rare American car rolling down the road. Consequently, I had to rush to get both car and pub in the shot. I have no idea of the vehicle's make or model but it looked pretty cool as it glided by. The premises stands opposite the King's Arms Hotel. The latter, a building featuring some lovely architectural detail, has a blue plaque informing visitors that Charles Dickens stayed here in 1857 and 1862 with the author's remark "They gave you Bride Cake every day after dinner." What the plaque fails to tell visitors is that Dickens did not stay in this building as the hotel was rebuilt in 1879 in the Northern Renaissance style. Eagle-eyed tourists will spot an inscription on the third floor which reads: Established AD1629 Rebuilt AD1879.
The Robert Gillow is an interesting place to visit. Apparently, Hyde's Brewery took back the lease from the landlord Mark Cutter as they wished to place more emphasis on their beers. However, the bar which was converted from a retail shop in 2007 and formerly known as Elliot's, still stocks a wide range of bottled beers and craft ale on keg. Up to 100 bottled beers are available and are detailed in a booklet on each table. In addition, the bar has five cask ales on sale and, during our visit, featured two beers from Bateman's so I am a little confused about the focus on Hyde's product. There were some pretty interesting beers on the eight keg lines and I settled for the Portland Craft Beer Company's Stout Porter, though I believe it is brewed at Molson Coors. Anyway, it proved to be a decent daytime session beer. We did not eat here but they seem to focus on shared platters. The trendy interior is a reasonably good drinking environment and the atmosphere is positively warm. I took this photograph during our daytime visit when the place was fairly empty but we returned the following evening when it was quite the opposite. Incidentally, the bar's current name commemorates Lancaster's famous furniture-making firm established by Robert Gillow around 1729. His trade with the West Indies during the 18th century is a key part of Lancaster's links to the slave trade. The pre-owned furniture you see here are not examples of the company's work. Fancy if it was furnished by Gillow's, now that would be a trendy bar!
Back on China Street we paused to look at The Pub, a large edifice that formerly traded as the Castle Hotel. Erected in 1901 on a site once occupied by the Bay Horse, this former outlet for Yates's Brewery of Ardwick, is currently Lancaster's biker and rock venue. They do stock a range of real ales but if, like us, you stick your head in during the middle of the day, you are greeted by a vast cavernous empty space. Things get more lively in the evening when the rock-oriented jukebox gets cranked up. It is even louder at the weekend when the pub hosts live music. It is a far cry from the old days when the Lancaster Soroptomist's Club used to meet here and stage their raffle over a luncheon! This was back when Mrs. E. M. Rainbird was the proprietor. When she left in 1934 an auction was held for the hotel furnishings and catering requisites. This included circular dining tables in walnut and mahogany, a 50-hour long case clock, an antique ormolu display cabinet, and a grand pianoforte. All of which suggests a refined dining experience when the jukebox was probably loaded with Al Bowlly records.
Wow! when you enter this shop on China Street your sense of smell receives a massive hit with the aroma of coffee and tea. As coffee and tea merchants, this business was established in 1837 as the Grasshopper Tea Warehouse by Thomas Atkinson. The business remained in the Atkinson family for many generations. When founded, Thomas Atkinson would have purchased coffee through Lancaster's trade with the West Indies but, following the port's decline, would later source ingredients from Liverpool and Bristol. You can witness the roasting of coffee beans in the shop and browse other goods which includes beer!
This building on the corner of China Street and Church Street was latterly known as the Duke of Lancaster but was formerly the Black Bull Hotel. The sandstone building was erected at the turn of the 20th century and probably designed by Austin and Paley, the Lancaster firm that seemed to be involved with every new building in the city and around The Fylde. The corner features paired windows on each floor and rises to a round turret at roof level with a dome above a cornice, and topped with a spike finial. An important venue for the town, many a wedding reception was held at the Black Bull Hotel. The pub was at the forefront of the Lancaster jazz scene in the 1950s. A former licensee, D. H. Weston, owned a bi-lingual parrot. The 30 year-old South American bird could speak in Spanish and English. The Black Bull Hotel was at the centre of a scandal during the Second World War when Robert Dixon, an army staff-sergeant major, bigamously married the licensee Christiana Watson in 1943. He had told the publican that he had buried his former wife in the Red Sea en-route from China. He was subsequently found out and charged in court.
The Judges' Lodgings is thought to be the oldest town house in Lancaster. It was, as its name suggests, used to accommodate judges who travelled to Lancaster to preside at the Assizes held in the castle. Built in 1630, the house was originally the home of the Governor of the Castle. In the 1970s the building was converted into a Museum of Childhood but also displayed a collection of furniture made by Gillow's. This company's original offices and workshops are to the left of the Judges' Lodgings. Established around 1729 by Robert Gillow, this firm is an important reminder of Lancaster's slave trade as the business once traded goods for quality mahogany wood from the West Indies. The wood was used to manufacture high quality furniture which was then exported around the world via Lancaster's port.
Lancaster Castle was still being used as a Category C Prison until 2011. Given the state of security these days, this probably meant that inmates could nip out for a paper, put a bet on in the bookies and enjoy a quick pint in Wetherspoon's before popping back to the nick for dinner. The castle, built on the site of a Roman fort, has its origins in 1093 when Roger de Poitou, a cousin of William the Conqueror, built a motte and bailey castle on the site. The Pendle Witches were tried at Lancaster Castle in 1612 - if only they knew a famous beer would one day be named in their honour. Another very famous prisoner was George Fox, the founder of Quakerism. Around 200 executions took place at Lancaster Castle, 43 of them being for murder. Old Ned Barlow was responsible for 131 of the executions.
We wandered along a footpath behind the Priory Church to reach St. George's Quay. My two photographs of the George and Dragon are slightly out of sync because it was not until we returned from a cycle ride around The Fylde two days later that we had the opportunity to enjoy a drink inside the pub. This historic boozer does not open its doors until 4pm so we were disappointed not to be able to visit during our walking tour of St. George's Quay, one of the most interesting parts of Lancaster. The neighbouring Wagon and Horses has extended opening hours so I have combined a discussion of the two houses in one place - which sort of makes sense.
This photograph shows the George and Dragon in relation to the old warehouses on St. George's Quay, along with the magnificent Custom House. The huge monolithic columns of the Custom House were each hewn from massive stones sourced from Damasgill or Mainstones Quarry at nearby Ellel. The veins within this stone creates a wonderful effect.
Home to Lancaster's Maritime Museum, the Custom House has been described as the finest example of Palladian architecture in the north-west of England. Built to replace an earlier Custom House and making a bold display of Lancaster's growth and prosperity during the slave trade period, the Custom House was designed by Richard Gillow and completed in 1764. With the decline of the port, the building's role was transferred to Barrow-in-Furness in 1882. At the height of Lancaster's colonial trade, only London, Liverpool and Bristol could lay claim to more shipping activity.
The warehouses along St. George's Quay were erected for Lancaster's merchants who made their fortunes directly or less explicitly from the slave trade. More than 29,000 Africans, mainly from Gambia, Sierra Leone and the Windward Coast were transported by Lancaster vessels during the mid-late 18th century. The warehouses were used to store traded goods such as timber, sugar, spices, rum and cotton. One of the leading family businesses involved in the colonial trade was Gillow's furniture and cabinet-making firm. It was Richard Gillow, son of the founder, who designed the new Custom House which operated between 1764-1882 when the port went into decline. The Custom House, which later served a variety of roles, was restored by Lancaster City Council in the early 1980s and opened as the Lancaster Maritime Museum in 1985.
Lancaster suffered severe economic decline in the early-mid 19th century, a situation exacerbated by the collapse of the town's two major banks, and this inhibited the redevelopment of the quayside in subsequent years. Once decaying buildings have since been restored to their former splendour and Lancaster boasts some of the best-preserved Georgian architecture in England. Walking around St. George's Quay, it is easy to envisage the thronging port in its halcyon days. This environment heightens the allure of the two surviving pubs.
Before venturing into the George and Dragon, take a look at the building to the left of the pub. It is one of the extreme examples of a building that settled during construction. Erecting tall heavy buildings on Lancaster's soft soggy soil has always been problematic. The adjacent crooked house has an incredible lean which lends great character to the façade.
One of the problems for the George and Dragon is that it is out on a limb for those wandering around Lancaster's real ale taverns. It is a lovely little boozer but I fear that it isn't doing enough trade. However, it is hard to see how the amiable gaffer can boost trade or at least attract more custom. Mind you, there is some new development further along the estuary and perhaps the pub can benefit from a new local community. The historic warehouses have largely been converted into apartments so it is to be hoped that the residents support their local boozer.
The George and Dragon is an attractive late 18th century building. One sad loss is the old glass window installed by Yates's Brewery of Ardwick. The pub claims to have best beer garden in Lancaster and I wouldn't argue with them being as The Castle and Priory Church form a stunning backdrop. We are always keen however to soak up some of the pub's history by parking ourselves inside the building. Benefiting from some improvements, the interior of the pub remains very traditional and is a very nice drinking environment. The walls feature some fabulous photographs of old Lancaster including some of the quay area.
I was slightly taken aback that the gaffer hails from Bloxwich. He is perhaps the most congenial persons to originate from the Mossley estate! He keeps his cask ales in decent nick and we enjoyed Joseph Holt's Two Hoots and Elgood's Beer Goggles. We did not get to meet his dog which is apparently a darling - the George and Dragon is one of the few dog-friendly pubs in the locality.
Where the George and Dragon was once an outlet for a local brewery, the Wagon and Horses [the name has lost a 'g' along the way] has a track record of selling beers from further afield. It was once part of the tied estate of Hartley's Brewery of Ulverston. These days the beers hail from Stockport as it is a Robinson's house. In recent years the company have invested in major improvements and it now has a contemporary interior not really conducive with the building's façade. The original pub on the left was extended into a neighbouring property and an extension was added to the rear of the property in 2008 when the Wagon and Horses became much more food-oriented. If pub grub is not for you I am told that the adjacent French restaurant is very good so you could combine a little va-va-voom with some fine Robinson's ales.
Undertaking a town trail is thirsty work. Or at least that is one excuse we rolled out for nipping into another pub after our exploration of the old port area of Lancaster. Another massive shower of rain may also have played a part of us seeking solace and comfort in the Three Mariners. Whatever, the decision to venture into this old tavern was most judicious for they have a mighty fine range of beers.
A couple of years ago this place was operated by Mitchell's of Lancaster but I noticed that there is a Robinson's sign on the frontage now. The Stockport brewers must have granted a free-of-tie lease because the beer choice in the Three Mariners is both varied and interesting - the only downer for us being that the Titanic Plum Porter was only detailed on the upcoming chalk board. We returned again two days later but this mighty beer had still not come through the beer lines. Oh well. The alternatives were however quite excellent, especially as they had Titanic Stout available. The fairly strong New Zealand Pale Ale from the Hawkshead Brewery was also superb. If anybody is allowed to brew with New Zealand hops then it has to be this microbrewery's Kiwi head brewer Matt Clarke. And a mighty beer it is too and, on the evidence of this, deservedly a multi-award winning ale.
Service in the Three Mariners was excellent via the friendly leftfield dude behind the servery, always busying himself whilst conversing with customers young and old. Formerly known as the Red Lion and the Carpenters' Arms, the Three Mariners is, according to the pub, "one of only two sites in Britain with an original gravity-fed cellar, and the only one to be cooled by a natural spring seeping through from the castle rock." The cobbled road in front of the building is all that remains of Bridge Lane, the thoroughfare that the pub fronted in days of old. The medieval bridge which the lane's name references was demolished in the late 18th century to facilitate the passing of ships into Lancaster's developing port. Fragments of the old bridge have been seen when the water is low. Indeed, a section of the old bridge survived until the mid-19th century and was shown on Victorian maps of Lancaster.
The Three Mariners dates from the late 17th century though some claim that a tavern has existed on the site since the 1400s. Certainly, the pub is one of the oldest surviving vernacular buildings in the city, though it was extended in the 19th century, and restored in later years. As the Carpenters' Arms, the house had a shocking reputation in the 19th century. In 1849 the licence was only renewed after the owner had "got rid of all the disorderly characters who occupied the upper part of the premises." In the same year the publican, Charles Swithenbank, was summoned for allowing prostitutes to gather in the pub. In earlier times, it is claimed that prisoners at the castle were given their 'last drop' at this public-house before their execution. Certainly, these days one should not wait to draw one's last breath before visiting the Three Mariners, a key part of Lancaster's pub heritage and real ale trail.
Following our very enjoyable visit to the Three Mariners we wandered around the area known as Green Ayre. This covers most of Cable Street and the bus station. The buildings erected on this alluvial land have been subjected to damaging floods over the generations. This did not put off the town's merchants who built elegant properties, some of which remain facing the bus station. Brockbank's Shipyard was located down Water Street and must have been quite a sight during the period when the firm built more than 120 vessels. Most of these were specifically constructed for the West Indies trade through which Lancaster's merchants prospered. One can also imagine the number of taverns that existed at Green Ayre to serve thirsty shipbuilders. With the advent of steam vessels, it is no surprise that Lancaster was involved in the production of engines and the Phoenix Foundry stood where Halford's and others have modern shop units. The other side of Phoenix Street was once occupied by the Green Ayre Saw Mills.
Separating the saw mills from Gillow's large furniture works is the narrow Sugar House Alley where refining took place with sugar unloaded at the wharf built by the Quaker merchant John Lawson. The Yorkshire House on the corner sells real ale and has table football. We continued up the alley into St. Leonard Gate and along to the Grand Theatre which dates back to 1782. Now the site of an adjacent car park, the Black Cat once stood a few doors from the theatre. The building housing the old Shakespeare Inn on the opposite side has survived. From the theatre one can meander along Lodge Street to walk past the Old Brewery of Lancaster on Brewery Lane to the Golden Lion on the corner of Moor Lane.
The Old Brewery at Lancaster can be seen here in a dilapidated if not derelict state. The buildings are in what has become an area scheduled for redevelopment so it would seem that the city may lose this important brewing landmark. However, there has been a campaign to save the building for other uses. Littered with ancient springs, the area around Stonewell was once the nucleus of Lancaster's brewing and tanning industries. Rosemary Lane was once known as Stinking Lane and one can only imagine the pong before subsequent gentrification of the locality during the Georgian era. The Old Brewery, which is thought to date from 1669, was owned by John Proctor in the late 18th century but sold in 1817 to the Walker family of Preston.
Mrs. Agnes Walker was the owner until October 1833 when it was disposed of to William Townley of Blackburn. In 1817 Messrs. John and William Jackson were tenants. The premises were later sold to Messrs. William Jackson and William Yates in March 1848. George Jackson, William's brother, was more of a retailer and became a highly successful wine, spirit and porter merchant. Both William and George would serve as Mayor of Lancaster and the family became highly respected in the town. The son of a timber merchant, William Yates hailed from Cockerham. The partnership with the Jackson family proved successful and was formalised in 1878. The company bought a number of public-houses and continued to develop a tied estate. The company was registered in 1923, the year that they acquired Frederick Cornforth's brewery in Lancaster. Yates and Jackson continued production at the Old Brewery until 1984 when the company was acquired by Thwaite's.
The Blackburn firm sold the Old Brewery to Mitchell's of Lancaster who switched production from their Central Brewery to this site in Brewery Lane. This company was founded by William Mitchell at the Black Horse in Common Garden Street before moving production to the New Inn on Market Street in the late-1870s. Through marriage the business passed to the Barker family and has remained with them since. Mitchell's ceased beer production in 1999 and concentrated on the retail side of the business. However, in 2008 they acquired the York Brewery and sell these brands within their tied estate.
From the Old Brewery it is a very short walk to the Golden Lion on the corner of Moor Lane. I guess if you are seeking out a glass of Moorhouse's Pride of Pendle then this is the pub you should be patronising. Along with three other real ales, the Golden Lion sells the Burnley-brewed golden amber premium bitter as a regular beer. And the reason for selecting this pub for your Pride of Pendle is because, according to a plaque on the front of the building, the Golden Lion was the pub where the Lancashire Witches are reputed to have taken their last drink on the way to Gallows Hill on August 20th, 1612. Another board on the frontage states that the "Golden Lion pub, dating back to 1612, was the last Watering Hole for condemned criminals making their way to Gallows Hill to be executed in times gone by. It seems that some liked the beer and decided to return. Sitings of a 'nun-like' figure have been reported on several occasions which would correspond with the pub's history, as those travelling past The Golden Lion on the way to the Gallows would have been accompanied by a nun. One other story, is of a tee"total saddler who refused his last drink whilst on route to the Gallows. If he had accepted his drink he may have been saved, as the messenger bearing his pardon arrived minutes too late." Naturally, some of this stuff is pure myth but lurking within the stories are perhaps a few fragments of truth. It is thought that an older pub stood on this site and, being close to the edge of Lancaster, was perhaps the final hostelry on the way up to Gallows Hill.
The building you see today is not of such great antiquity but does date from the late 18th or early 19th century. The house does however have its own tragic story. In March 1908 Henry Postlethwaite, publican of the Golden Lion for 18 years, attacked his wife Elizabeth and cut her throat with a razor before killing himself by hacking his own throat. The publican's wife later died in hospital. It was reported that the couple, both with farming interests, were prosperous and had lived together happily but both were suffering from influenza. The publican, who was bed-ridden, was thought to be depressed. It was claimed that he "had lost his reason, and committed the deed in fit of frenzy."
Dating from the early 1960s, this is a fabulous photograph of the Golden Lion. I do not know the name of the photographer but it forms part of a collection of old Lancaster slides passed on by Michael Bolton to Graham Hibbert who has scanned them all for his Flickr pages. The collection of images are fantastic are offer a lovely glimpse of life in old Lancaster. There is another slide of the Golden Lion with more detail of Moor Lane. There was much more housing and shops back in the day. The architecture of the building suggests that the Golden Lion was originally on the corner and that the pub was extended into the property next door. Note the art-deco stained-glass window advertising Lion Ales. The Golden Lion once formed part of the tied estate of the Lion Brewery at Coniston Road in Blackburn. In the late Victorian period this brewery was owned by Nuttall & Co.Ltd., a firm that had acquired the Little Harwood Brewery Company operated by James Beardsworth and H. S. Whalley. This firm had a tied estate of 172 tied houses when they were taken over in 1927 by Matthew Brown & Company Limited of Preston. Although this company had been based in Preston since 1830, they transferred production of beers to the Lion Brewery in Blackburn. Matthew Brown's went on to become a very large brewery concern and were eventually taken over by Scottish & Newcastle Breweries Ltd. in 1987 by which time the Lion Brewery was supplying around 550 public houses. Despite fierce opposition the Lion Brewery was closed in 1991.
These days you can enjoy a range of beers in the Golden Lion. I believe that four of the hand-pulls are devoted to regular beers and there are also two guest ales on sale. It is a nice pub with plenty of interest on the walls including some old pub photographs from Lancaster. You can even delve into the locally-made pie and peas if you are feeling hungry. Oh, and it is doggy-friendly too. Good stuff.
We had enjoyed a really good day traipsing around Lancaster and visiting some of the city's pubs so, after recharging our batteries at the hotel, we ventured out for the evening, firstly to get some nosh. Based on a few decent reviews online, we headed up to the canal to take a look at the menu inside The White Cross, a large food-led restaurant/bar within a warehouse conversion. Admittedly, as veggies, it is hard to find a pub menu with which we get excited. We do not expect too much but the food offer here was a disappointment. They sell a lot of different beers, perhaps a dozen, but not one single dark ale. We tried four of the beers but nothing really moved us so we decided to move on. I must just mention that one of the young women behind the bar had a certain pizzazz and if I were a pub operator I would have head-hunted her as a manager. She was full of energy, engaged with the customers in a friendly and professional manner, had an air of authority and was constantly busy. She stopped for a second when pulling through a new beer in order to bid us a good evening.
We walked along the canal in the dark - not that it is that dark in a city - to another waterside hostelry. The rain was persistent but added to the allure of the waterway. The Water Witch, created within an old stable block alongside the canal, is named after a famous packet boat that could, by changing horses every four miles, make the journey to Preston in around 3 hours - rapid transport back in the day! Finding a new lease of life as an inspection boat, the Water Witch survived until the 1930s. The beer choice was restricted to beers from the York Brewery plus a guest ale. Other handpulls had the pump clips turned around. The beer was alright so we stuck around for a meal rather than walk around in the rain looking for something better. The linguine dish was fairly tasteless so I ordered more parmesan to liven things up a bit. However, it was impossible to perk up such a bland sauce and totally overcooked pasta. The Water Witch was virtually empty and I was not surprised that the White Cross was doing more business. The above photograph was taken when we visited this canalside pub two years earlier when our experience was a lot better.
Our disappointment with the canalside pubs was soon forgotten after visiting the Tap House on the corner of Gage Street and Mary Street. This place has had a number of names in recent times but for most people this building is the Fat Scot. The house has traded as the Fat Scot since the early 19th century and the pub even has a Facebook page for those sharing memories of drinking in the Fat Scot during the latter half of the 20th century. I imagine that many of those who remember the sticky carpets and Mitchell's beer do not approve of the pub in its current guise. However, time marches on and the interior is now rather trendy. Personally, I think the layout and refurbishment of 2012 is a decent drinking environment. Indeed, the pub claims to "provide customers with an exceptional drinking experience - though they are really talking about the superb range of real ales and craft beers stocked behind the servery.
Unsure of what to order at the bar but fancying a dark IPA we were guided by the Tap House's manager Jeremy Bethell. Hailing from Leeds, he proved to be quite a beer sommelier and seemed to possess a wealth of knowledge on the current craft beer scene. He is also a cyclist and keen music fan so we had plenty of conversation. He even talked me into buying a can of beer - and it was rather good. A decade ago if you had said to me that I would order a tin of beer I would have laughed - how the world of craft beer is turning our world upside down! It was a relatively quiet weekday evening in the Tap House and, consequently, we were able to hog Jeremy during our visit and he really did enrich our experience in this rejuvenated tavern.
When Mrs. Carter was the landlady of the Fat Scot in December 1845 she was robbed by Patrick Clancey, a soldier of the 36th Regiment of Foot who had been billetted at the pub. He suddenly decamped, along with £9 in money belonging to the landlady. Superintendent Wright went in hot pursuit of the thief but lost trace of him in the streets of Lancaster. However, the long arm of the law seemed to stretch a long way in those days and the same policeman apprehended the soldier during the following month - in Sunderland. Not Sunderland Point a few miles away but Sunderland in County Durham! Clancey was brought back to Lancaster and tried at the Spring Assizes at The Castle. He was sentenced to ten years' transportation and was bundled onto the Mariney transport ship. However, the audacious infantryman escaped from the ship when it was docked at Gravesend and he was not seen or heard of again.
Wednesday September 13th 2017
If you are seeking a quirky drinking experience in Lancaster look no further than Merchants 1688 on Castle Hill. The pub - if one can actually call it a pub - makes for a great combination when visiting the castle. Indeed, I thought that the cellars may have been connected to the fortification but apparently the subterranean premises were used by merchants trading in wine imported and unloaded at the nearby quayside.
One enters Merchants 1688 into a long room dominated by the servery. The photograph above shows one of several barrel vaulted cellars in which drinkers and diners sit amid what can only be described as contemporary furnishings and decoration. This, for me at least, is a failing because the only sense of history is the curved bare brick above. These vaults are not conducive to hatching a cunning plan but rather more handy for discussing the Sainsbury's shopping list [other supermarkets are available folks but Sainsbury's is only a short distance away at Green Ayre!]. If the art prints were scrapped in favour of old wine or brandy-related images it would go a long way to authenticating the customer's perceptible experience. Creaky old furniture would also serve better in these vaults, once used to store wines behind iron railings.
On the positive side the bar stocks a great range of real ales, many of which are sourced locally. There is a house beer produced by the Old School Brewery at Warton Crag. Oh, I remember cycling, laden with heavy panniers, up a steep hill there! It is just around the corner from the George Washington pub. There was also a fairly local beer from the Tirril Lakeland Brewery named Merchant's Summer Ale. A bit further afield, but not a million miles away, there was a pale ale from the Allendale Brewery, another microbrewery regularly supplying this tavern. I would have liked the stout from just down the coast at Lytham Brewery but this was tantalisingly not available despite the pump clip being on display. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the Haka New Zealand Pale Ale all the way from Stafford. Based on our experience, the beer quality at Merchants 1688 is excellent. We may have been well served to eat here on the previous evening rather than endure the meal served at the Water Witch. There is seemingly a lot of attention to detail regarding the sourcing of ingredients. The bar also serves fresh ground coffee based on a unique blend which is flame roasted just down the road at Atkinson's of Lancaster. So, Merchants 1688 ticks a lot of boxes - they just need to get a grip of the interior decor.
The Borough was the one Lancaster pub that we pre-planned to visit and, consequently, reserved a table via their online booking system. Hooray! The website actually works. Mind you, once we arrived at the pub we could see that things seem to be well organised and the place has an air of running like clockwork. Of course, most establishments have their hiccups behind the scenes or can creak under pressure when the going gets tough, but The Borough seems to chug along like a well-oiled machine.
The Borough is located in Dalton Square, once lined with elegant homes of prosperous Lancaster merchants and dignitaries. Some of these houses remain though modern buildings have been inserted and look rather incongruous amid the splendour of the Georgian and Regency-period frontages. The busy Thurnham Street detracts from the original planning design of the square. The southern end of Dalton Square is dominated by the Town Hall; the site of this Edwardian civic building was once occupied by two large residences dating from the late 18th century. The building housing The Borough, is a little later and erected in 1824 on the site of Friarage Coffee House.
Two doors away at No.5 is the former residence of the merchant Jacob Ridley. This pre-dates The Borough by almost two decades - not that Jacob Ridley remained next door. The merchant, who also operated an armed vessel named The Neptune out of Glasson Dock, went bankrupt in 1811. His house, along with other properties such as his counting houses and offices in Monmouth Street, were auctioned at the Royal Oak Inn. Even his pew at St. Anne's Chapel was put up for grabs.
Around the time that the building that became The Borough was erected, the space between it and the former Ridley residence was in-filled. Though on a modest scale, the style of this smaller property was matched to its neighbours. During the Edwardian period this house was occupied by the tobacco manufacturer William Verity. His family had been involved in tobacco production since the early 19th century on a site later occupied by the Bank of Liverpool. Also during the Edwardian period the building housing The Borough was the home of the Scottish-born physician and surgeon William Cavan Hamilton. These well-to-do families were able to employ a housemaid, cook, a nurse for the children ãla Mary Poppins and other domestic servants.
The composition of Dalton Square changed when construction of the Town Hall started in 1906. The building was financed by Lord Ashton who brought in the distinguished architect Edward Mountfield to design the imposing edifice. Noted for his Baroque-style, he had previously designed the Old Bailey, along with the town halls at Battersea and Sheffield. A massive memorial to Queen Victoria took pride of place within the gardens of the square. The Edwardians saw fit to include only two women, George Eliot and Florence Nightingale, among the fifty-three people depicted on the lower sections of the memorial.
The property now known as The Borough was later used by the British Legion before the building, furniture and fittings were auctioned in June 1924. As a working men's club, the building was later known as the Borough Club, possibly on account of its close proximity of the Town Hall and the overspill of council offices into neighbouring residences. I have read that a former mayor once lived in the property. The building eventually evolved into a public-house known as the Borough of Lancaster before being converted into a Yates's Wine Lodge known as The Blob Shop, a 'blob' allegedly being the nickname in Lancashire for wine lodges.
In 2006 the building was taken over by Martin and Hannah Horner and the couple upgraded the interior and invested in new bedrooms to create a stylish hotel. Along with brewer Rory Walker, they also launched a microbrewery in 2013 - this was a key reason for us visiting so we could sample their beers. These were originally brewed in the cellars of The Borough but the largely-vegan beers proved so popular the brewery was moved to premises in Brook Street. Rory Walker has since started racking up awards for his ales, including a SIBA bronze award.
The Borough is often referred to as a gastro-pub so we feared being served two mouthfuls of food presented in arty fashion on a slab of slate. However, rather than being up its own arse, the rear dining room is more down-to-earth and serves a wide range of reasonably-priced meals. What I mean is that they are a notch up in pub food standards and so we were quite happy to pay around £15 per plate for a nicely-presented meal on a proper plate. There were a few interesting vegetarian options and we really enjoyed our dining experience. We tried all the Borough beers that were available and these were also highly quaffable.
The Borough is more than a pub and restaurant however. They host regular comedy nights and other themed events. I am not surprised that The Borough was voted "Best Pub in Lancaster 2016" by the readership of the Lancaster Guardian.
The photograph below, taken inside The Sun, shows three young women busying themselves behind the bar. It is my fault for not capturing the pose they were offering a few seconds before. I had to pfaff about waiting for another customer to walk past and the moment was gone. However, they were all smiling and laughing for a camera shot and this exemplified their demeanour during our visit. Whilst remaining professional and providing excellent customer service, they were cheery in their work. This made our visit to The Sun all the more enjoyable and yet it also highlights the ephemeral nature of a pub experience. The following evening we nipped in for another beer and were served by a bloke who was a bit of a grump and it rather put a dampener on our mood. The pub serves an excellent choice of real ales and I asked if they served tipple boards, those little trays with which you can sample four third-pint glasses of beer. They do not but it was the manner with which he dismissed my enquiry and his rather offhand conduct that I found most annoying. And there you go - despite what the pub had to offer, on one night it was great and the next it was so-so. That's life for you!
Our second visit to The Sun would have been enriched if the barman had inherited some of the customer service afforded by a previous publican. In the summer of 1783 Henry Addison placed an advertisement in the local newspapers in which "he presents his respectful compliments to the gentlemen and tradesmen, passing through Lancaster, and to the public in general, and informs them that he has entered upon the Sun Inn at Lancaster, and fitted it up in an elegant and convenient manner for their reception, and is provided with servants of undoubted good character. Those who are to favour him with their company may depend upon every attention in his power, to make their abode agreeable and pleasant." Oh how the publicans of old promised the ultimate pub experience. Henry Addison would, however, have found pleasure in the manner of the young women who made our first visit to The Sun most agreeable.
Today, The Sun is geared towards a similar business model to that of The Borough at Dalton Square in that it offers a wide range of beers, pub food of a higher standard than many, and quality rooms for those staying overnight. Moreover, where the Dalton Square pub is the flagship of the Borough Brewery, The Sun showcases the beers produced at the Lancaster Brewery, the main attraction for us of course!
The Sun does not have the perceived elegance of The Borough's front room and the wide open space suggests that vertical drinking is the order of the day at busy weekends. They have made the most of their neighbouring burgage plot by extending the dining room so that, like The Tardis, the pub is much bigger than it appears from Church Street, a thoroughfare that has its origins from the Roman occupation. The adjoining Sun Street was widened and developed in the 18th century and has retained many of its Georgian properties, many of which were once retail shops. From Market Street one can enter Sun Street from a narrow ginnel which opens out in front of the Music Room, a former folly in the ornamental gardens of the Marton family. Built in the manner of a triumphal arch around the 1730's, the architectural style of The Folly evokes the Roman occupation of Lancaster.
The Sun Inn, one of Lancaster's historic taverns, was built on the site of Stoop Hall, a rather grand Tudor Hall. Indeed, in the early 18th century the pub was known as the Sun Inn on Stoop Hall. The building was once much larger but reduced in size when acquired by the Carter family who were responsible for the redevelopment of Sun Street during the 1780s. This saw the loss of a bowling green to the rear of the building. A public-house where the romantic painter Turner once stayed, the Sun Inn was a key meeting place during the 18th century. It was another Turner, a publican named Stanley, who operated the hotel during this period. Like Henry Addison, he stated that those "who pleased to favour the Sun Inn with their company may depend upon a diligent attention to their commands and everything suitable for their entertainment is provided." Now, there's a publican who would have been delighted to serve my beers with a tipple board.
So, if we were not eating in a pub where were we enjoying a nose-bag? Well, there are a couple of veggie places to eat in Lancaster. During our stay we used The Radish in New Street on several occasions for the wonderful porridge breakfast. We enjoyed a lunch in the Roots Café on George Street but once we discovered the Whale Tail we were hooked. Delicious food, friendly staff, a nice vibe as most of the city's leftfield use both this café and the Single Step Wholefoods shop on the ground floor. I am posting a photograph of the specials board - great food at reasonable prices. Top stuff!
This is a wrap on our Lancaster experience. However, if you are interested in the cycle ride we enjoyed from Lancaster and around The Fylde click here or on the photo below.
Friday September 29th 2017
Last night we had a tremendous night out in Acock's Green. The morning after the night before has me wondering about such a statement. But my memory is not playing up and, yes, I can confirm we had a great night out in Acock's Green. Of course, it was the excellent company that made it such good fun. Everybody was on good form and the beer, funny anecdotes and jokes flowed freely. Of course, a beery fun night out is impossible to put into words - you'll just have to believe me that it was a hoot.
We made our way to the Birmingham suburb named after the Acock family via a direct train from Cradley Heath. The £3.50p return ticket is a bargain. The venue was the Inn On The Green, a massive inter-war building on the main roundabout. Formerly called the New Inn, the fortunes of this gargantuan Ansell's boozer have been turned around by Brendon Daly who has sub-divided the building into three business operations. In addition to a live music venue the CAMRA award-winning pub has a specialist craft beer shop managed by Roberto Ross, a beer master sommelier who seems to have his finger on the pulse of everything new in the world of UK, European and World Beers.
The Bottle Shed was staging a tap takeover by the Sheffield-based Lost Industry Brewery who had a range of their beers on sale whilst the two brewers were guests for the evening. They pottered around nattering with the punters and seemingly enjoying themselves in Brum - we had to explain regional boundaries whilst attempting to elucidate where the Black Country is. I do not think they are any the wiser but one of them did let slip that he was born in Chesterfield so we spent the rest of the evening ribbing him about his lack of Yorkshireness.
We had entered the Inn On The Green via the main entrance so rather inevitably got sidetracked by the range of ales on offer in the pub's main bar. Adopting the tactic of moving up to the stronger craft beers later in the evening, we delved into the cask ales which we were able to take into the Bottle Shed - all the money goes into the same pot I guess. The Bottle Shed is a bit trendier than the pub and you are surrounded by bottled beers in fridges and on open shelves. One criticism I would level at this otherwise excellent beer boutique is that the customers could do with a menu of tasting notes and beer background. Of course, we have the expertise of our sommelier host to draw upon but when the place gets busy his font of knowledge is not always available.
All of the cask ales in the pub were in very good order. It was my first experience of the Thousand Trades Brewing Company, a relatively new microbrewery established by Paul Scriven at nearby Hall Green. His Arts of Teleforce Oatmeal Stout was lovely and I found myself drawn to the hand-pull on several occasions. I was mixing this with the Silhill Brewery's Hop Star which was quite excellent. This is also brewed locally in Catherine de Barnes. I have to fess up here and admit to staying on these house beers rather than wade into the stronger craft ales like some of our party. I did move up to the stout produced by Lost Industry which, though pleasant enough, could not match the magnificence of the Twisted Barrel stout - another awesome beer from Coventry tucked away in the corner of one fridge but liberated by myself for an extreme pleasure hit.
Armed with the Express and Star's weekend supplement we staged a Boys vs. Girls quiz and roped in Roberto to balance the numbers - I had to keep checking up on him browsing his phone for answers! The quiz takes ages as each subject or question can send somebody on a funny story or memorable anecdote. In my experience a long quiz generally equates with a really entertaining evening and this one took a few hours. Of course, us three Black Country blokes thrashed the opposition with our superior general knowledge.
As the evening marched on we ramped up the ABV somewhat until we reached the pinnacle of Lost Industry's triple-hopped Streets in the Sky, a brew which features a mind-blowing 26g of hops per litre of beer. Some thought this was fantastic but I need more balance in a beer. The Belgian brewers can deliver a mighty hop kick with a balance of malt and sweet flavours but, for me at least, this one was simply too harsh on the palate. If I am totally honest I was not too enamoured by the beers featured in this Sheffield tap takeover which is why I found myself returning to the locally-brewed hand-pulls. I think Roberto clocked me at the other bar a couple of times but I have to go with my taste buds. The beers I tried from the Bottle Shed's fridges were great but you do have to go armed with lots of cash if you intend to avoid the main bar. I am not saying this place is over-priced ... it is just the way the market is within the craft beer world. But hey, let's not get negative because we were having a smashing time.
Inevitably, as the evening progressed our behaviour degenerated so by the time the Lost Industry brewers appeared with apples for a photographic competition we were well on the way to idiocy. I enjoyed a triumph with one of my jokes which in itself an achievement as I am crap at telling jokes. Tears were rolling down faces and folks were choking on their beer. Hooray! My old friend Tony couldn't have been too pissed up for he managed to juggle the apples without crashing into the beer fridges.
Although we were camped in the Bottle Shed I was mightily impressed with the atmosphere in the main bar at the Inn On The Green where everyone was enjoying their Friday night. They even play darts in this pub - something of a surprise these days but great to see. Alas, it was time to head to the railway station. We had twenty minutes to spare until the next train so we nipped into the neighbouring Great Western where the raffle was being drawn by a regular called Maureen. If I had been sat on a bar stool I would have fallen off as it was hilarious to hear her f-ing and blinding whilst reading out the ticket numbers. The Great Western, a boozer that was famously advertised for sale at just £1 in 2009 and closed for a spell a couple of years ago, is what you would call a rough-and-ready locals pub - and I loved the atmosphere in here. It would be terrible to see these last bastions of sketchy boozing going for good.
And so us yam-yams fell onto the train and were wheeled off back to the Black Country having enjoyed a terrific night out in Acock's Green.