Sunday, 19 February 2012

Legendary houses that sparked my interest in unspoilt pubs

Good evening browsers,

  I was going to post a comment on the Boak and Bailey blog (see: Boak and Bailey answer a query about traditional pubs.) but, as is usually the case, I only really go on tinterweb in the late evening, likely at gone 22.00, by which time the beer blogging community has got in there and made most of the worthwhile salient points, and the blog authors, have, gawd blezzum, most likely gone to bed. Or the pub. Usually, if you find a comment of mine on a blog post, its number last. People have already moved on by the time I've dragged my sorry arse on to the topic....

So, this time, I thought, No! I'm not going to be Billy no follow ups.

Instead, I'm going to tell you something that I was inspired to think about by reading the comments in the above post, which has formed the cornerstone of my endless search for amazing pubs over the past 20 years.

End of Memory Lane

When I was 18, maybe 19, WF took me on a day out, or rather a hastily arranged afternoon and evening out, to that Manchester. We were to have a walk in Daisy Nook country park, and hopefully climb the tower at the very top. There was snow on the ground and it was cheerlessly cold as we set out from a dark car park which was crying out to be locked on our return, or the scene of a car theft. Great.

We yomped through the park in fading light roughly following the river for some part, but we had taken a little longer to arrive than anticipated and it soon became clear we wouldn't reach our destination. Besides which said edifice wasn't lit so it seemed unlikely we would get access to the tower at all. We returned to an intact car and drove towards the top of the hill. Wee Fatha mentioned a pub he hadn't been to in decades which was really unspoilt and well worth a visit. Even at my tender late teensage,  I had got used to this phraseology. Usually we arrived at a private house. Or a car park. But ever so rarely, very occasionally, we would hit pay dirt. And we did then.

Colliers Arms

The Colliers Arms at Mossley was a legend. Certainly to anyone who knew it - certainly to my Dad who took me there about 20 years after his last visit, and absolutely, to me. I was bowled over by this time warp, this enchanting oddity, this echo of the past. This treasure.

Basically, we turned down a mostly surfaced lane which became a track and then a path. Before the road stopped, on the right, was a cottage, with a low light outside, and a dark almost unreadable sign across it. There were 3 vehicles parked at the lane end with their lights on. People were having a pint in these vehicles. As we parked up amidst a sea of potholes and track lakes, someone got out of one of the cars and said "evenin" as he headed to what looked like an outhouse. He wasn't of course. He was off t't loo.

We entered through a door with another sea like puddle in front of it and I thought we had gone into an adjacent house. A bell sounded, I think, and we saw a corridor to our right. WF reckoned there was a room down the end, but couldn't remember the location of the bar. As we pondered in the dim light the landlord came out of a door on our right.

Apart from saying hello, I kept quiet because I was a bit slow taking this all in. WF on the other hand didn't even blink an eye when the landlord opened up a stable door to his kitchen (you know, whats it called, a two piece door? You get the picture) and proceeded to inform us that Toby light was the beer of choice. There was a font or possibly a handpull (it seems unlikely you could have got cask light, but there you go) on the kitchen side, which me and WF both got a pint from, and being a yoouv, I had to get crisps as well. These were kept in his kitchen cupboard.

Once we were served, and having established that he'd been forced to stop using the room down the corridor because it was too cold, we  were led into the living room. He cleared some personal mail and some newspapers off a large table and we sat down with him to watch TV. As you do. So as not to make the experience too incongruous WF set off on his trademark detailed breakdown of our route so far, and to come, and tried, with encouragement but resigned lack of confirmation form the landlord, to recall exactly when he had last been in.

Meanwhile I recall it was something like That's Life that was on, but that's impossible to be sure of, and I  didn't really know what I should be doing in this alien environment. So I thumbed through the Radio Times. Meanwhile, The beer was grim and the crisps had more salt than a Utah lake but I didn't care. I knew I was going to have to remember every last detail of this visit. And I think I managed it.

After we left, one of the blokes from the car came in for a sit down, and there were still two left outside supping a pint at the wheel. Its probably a heinous crime, but thinking logically, they were parked up on the pub premises. Really they were in the beer garden. No-one was driving with a pint in one hand. So I guess that was OK... Later we went to the Vale Cottage in Gorton and a rough as you like Holt's pub where we were roundly mocked for having a half. I just wanted to buy a half for under 50p. But to be fair I'd had my highlight already.

Grand old Duke of York

From this point on, I wanted to visit pubs that the very occasion of going in was like a magical story, a yarn in the making. In fact, originally, I even named this blog after my interest in just that type of pub experience, and just that type pf pub.

To tenuously draw you back to the Boak and Bailey link, I should explain that at no point was I going to mention a closed pub ( we went back to the pike about 3 years ago and the pub had been closed a while then) in response to their hosted questions bout homely, traditional hostelries in the UK. I was however reminded of a list of Britain's unspoilt pubs that I had. Now you may think this is another subtle hint about the National Inventory (see my Friends and Links page), but its not.

Although, that and various descriptions in copies of the GBG have been my planning apparatus, it was on my first visit to the brilliant Duke of York at Elton in 1999, (above) some 6 years later, that I was handed a pamphlet by a one time visitor that listed his choice of the finest basic unspoilt pubs in Britain. The thing is, I still have that list but its in a box of paperwork somewhere I guarantee.

So imagine my delight about 3 years ago at finding that someone had hosted the most recent list (updated in 1994) on the internet. I can see from the web version that I had a more up to date version, probably reflecting the author's continuing research, and the fact that some of the pubs on the link below had shut, such as the incredible Hop Pole at Risbury, and the Maenllwyd, at Meidrim in Carmarthenshire. (its not been a pub for a long while, but here is a pic I found on Geograph, submitted, if not taken, in 2007 : Geograph picture of the Maenllwyd Inn, Meidrim.  He had also, by that stage, added the Duke of York, and the fabulous Turf Tavern in Bloxwich. Just to throw you off the scent, below is a picture of a pub that isn't on the National or this inventory...

Anyhoo, here is the link of the Internet copy: Classic basic unspoilt pubs of Great Britain 1994 . Given that the authors own introduction suggests that he only started his research in 1993, its perhaps not surprising that some truly brilliant hostelries are missing from the list, although he does claim that he only includes those selling real ale, which regrettably bars some of the more basic entries, and he doesn't appear to have ventured into Scotland, for instance to the Fiddichside Inn at Craigellachie.

Gems to find

Either way though, this is a truly fabulous list, and in some ways, because its not purely architectural as the National Inventory is, its a more vibrant and interesting list, and its very personal attributes are what make it such a treasure.  I'd love to think that if RWC was still trawling the UK for examples of basic pubs he or she'd have come across the Butchers Arms at Reapsmoor, Staffordshire, Milbank Arms at Barningham in Co Durham or the redoubtable Cider House in Defford, Worcestershire or the 3 day (maybe only 2 ) a week opening Royal Cottage at a remote crossroads on the Staffordshire Moorlands, (although I concede, he or she would have had to relax their no real ale rule in all but the Butchers!)

Its a sad tale that so many of the pubs on that list and later and which could have been inlcuded have now closed. I note that the Maenllwyd, which I never had chance to visit, was a listed building from April 2002. It seems very surprising then that it was allowed to be converted into  a house. Since that list was compiled,  The Red ion, Stoke Talmage, the Horse and Trumpet, Medbournbe, the Buck and Bell Long Itchington, the Slip Inn Inn, Barras, and the Queen Adelaide Snelston Common, even the Lodge or Bill and Ben's above Stretton in Derbyshire, have all closed. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

So if nothing else, whether you recognise any of the places on the list, or which I have described, or even if you don't, I can't recommend a better use of your time than to do a modicum of research on the tinterweb, and go out and visit an unspoilt pub today.

Happy hunting!

Wee Beefy


  1. Hi wee Beefy ,
    do you know the opening hours/times/day ! for The Royal Cottage? looks a gem. May try it on a drive out along with the Quiet Woman and the Butchers Arms.
    If thats possible!!

    1. Hello, sorry I missed this.

      You'll need a car, end of. The Butchers is only 10 minutes from the Royal Cottage, best accessed from Longnor and opens at 18.45 (allegedly!) so go there first. Leave at 19.55 and drive over Morridge to the Royal Cottage for about 20.05 (wait fpr light or knock if no sign of opening). Then head off when ready through Longnor to Crowdecote (packhorse!) and left up to Earl Sterndale - they open about 19.00. Good luck!

  2. Oh, jusdt though as well! The Royal Cottage is only open Friday and Saturday from 20.00, may close early. And closed in fog.....

  3. Hi Beefy.

    Just found your blog while looking for information on the Cider House at Defford. Must say, very impressive. I am a bit of an unspoilt pubs fanatic, and am in the process of seeking out some of these amazing old places, before they disappear. Two questions, 1 - Where is the photo of the amazing looking bar in the middle of this article from, I must know? 2 - Is the Royal Cottage defiantly still trading, as I frequently find myself at Ilam, not far away, and have heard tell of this amazing old place, but assumed it had closed for good? The evident recent appearance of a new sign on the front of the building though, makes me think otherwise. If it is still a pub, I will endeavour to get up there next time!

    1. Apologies for the anonymous thing, haven’t got any of the other account types!


    2. Hello Jacob, always good to hear from a fellow inventory fan.

      The top 2 pics (not sure if you meant middle as in of the post, literally, or the middle pic) are of the Duke of York in Elton (open 20.30 til 23.00 everyday but 12-15.00 Sundays, last I heard) and the bar at the Royal Cottage.

      Since you ask, I hope it is trading, but I haven't been since October, and last time I went past when it should have been open (20.00 til not sure, Friday and Saturday only) it was closed. There is a folk night last Friday of every month so if that is still advertised on the web all should be well.

      I'd also try the Red Lion at Waterfall if you're out Ilam way - open all day Sat and Sun and from 18.00 otherwise, but again, that;s a few years out of date. Or, if you can ctach it evenings, the Yew Tree at Cauldon.


  4. Thanks Beefy. (Sorted the anonymous thing)

    Yes, I know and love the Yew Tree at Cauldon, had many a grand old evening in that most unique of establishments. Although Landlord Alan had a stroke around this time last year and while he had made a full recovery, opening hours have been reduced to evenings from 7 only. On the plus side, it seems his granddaughter and other relations are doing most of the actual running of the pub, so he may be bringing the next generation on to take over someday. Do hope so.
    Will defiantly try and get up to the Royal Cottage then. The fact they have gone to the trouble of putting up a new pub sign clearly has some intent behind it! It was recommended in an old (1988) and highly amusing work entitled ‘The Quest For the Perfect Pub’ by Charlie and Nic Hurt, two aristocratic journalists who loved amazing old pubs and were from, oddly, Castern Hall just above Ilam. The Royal was then kept by an old girl called Olive and sounded utterly amazing from the description, so I am glad to hear it is (sort of) still going. I can recommend the book though, if you haven’t got it, as it was written around the time amazing old taverns were being trashed or closed in their droves, makes some interesting and heartfelt points and sheds some light on some old gems around the country, some gone, some mercifully still thriving. For instance, they talk at length of the Queen Adelaide at Snelston Common and the French Horn at Rodsley close by, which was another farm house pub. The book had very small print run though, as the legal department of the then Whitbread Brewery took tut with some of their unflattering comments and sued the publishers, effectively killing the book. Shame as it’s a classic ‘Boys Own’ pub adventure and an interesting account of recent pub history.

  5. Sounds fascinating, will have a look!

    Never made it to the Adelaide, due to procrastination, so most frustrating. Am hoping to head out to the Royal Cottage in the next month so hopefully one of us will get.

    An old couple in the Olde Gate in Brassington told me of a pub in one of the villages between Uttoxeter and Ashbourne - not sure it was Rodsley but if not that makes two! And if you want a current open example I suggest Luppitt Inn at Luppitt in Devon or the Duke of York at Elton Derbyshire, or same at Leysters Hereforshire. All amazing survivals.