Thursday, 26 April 2012

Heritage pub under threat?

Good evening all,

      the above headline is perhaps a journalistic own goal, as it is based on fear and supposition and negative expectation. A bit like a shabby tabloid headline penned by an sad, heavy drinking, chain smoking tabloid journalist grubbing around for the latest Daily Mail scare story about nothing of interest to the rational minded.

However, it does have its roots in a serious subject. As many of you will have noticed and probably if you live in Yorkshire already posted about, the Victorian gem which is the Bath Hotel in Sheffield is to be taken over by Thornbridge Brewery  (I bet it hasn't or won't be bought by Thornbridge, they don't own pubs lest we forget). Discussion at a high level beer meeting in Harrisons 1854 last night seemed to lean towards dismay, anger, surprise and worry. I have yet to meet (only two days after I heard the news albeit!) anyone with anything positive to say about this latest change of, erm, well, again ownership may be misleading, stewardship... (?)

Aside from obvious concerns about price, inherent pretentiousness, the idea that they might buy in cheap as dishwater Italian lager and sell it as a premium product (my personal worry, difficult to explain am afraid, but for legal reasons I must make clear this hasn't happened!) ) and the lack of guest beers to grace the bar, my specific and justifiable worry is that they will ruin the interior.

To those of you who don't know or appreciate the Bath's interior, it is an intact 1930's refit complete with beautiful tiled and glazed bar and a glorious back room snug with original seating. It won the CAMRA/English Heritage pub design award in 2003 for the sensitive restoration of its original features and refurbishment (which may not be the right term) of the paintwork and upholstery to give a level of reassuring,  plain finesse which the pub retains and presents admirably.

The live music is free, the food is simple and inexpensive, the bar staff are helpful, the fixed seating is elegant simplicity, and the beautiful brown tiles and dark wood frame of the bar, with the eye catching black and white diamond tiled floor, sets off the scene perfectly. There is, quite frankly, nothing to be gained by change, even of the colour scheme. There is certainly, nothing worthy of loss or removal by an incoming manager, tenant or partnership.

The magnificent bar at the Bath Hotel

Lets not forget of course, this is a Grade II listed building. Its listed on the merits of its architecture, and presumably because of its intact unspoilt interior. Only a fool would want to change the set up to stamp their "mark" on the building, only arrogance could sanction any watering down, bastardisation or ruination through modernising of such pristine pub stock.

So would anyone really be so ill-advised?

Well, having been in a number of Thornbridge run pubs I note a rather unsavoury love of pastel greys and light browns. A more cynical chap might muse over the prevalence of the shades watered down despair and troubling "movements". Light wood is great, in a restaurant, especially one searching a modern look. Its also great in newer pubs, or one with tired and sorry interiors requiring a revamp, or a touch of lighting up, to make it less dark and depressing. But spend one minute in the Bath Hotel and you know that's not required. Or warranted. Or wanted.

As usual I am behind everyone else covering this - have rightly (but infuriatingly!) beat me to a post on the subject, the link for which is here , and I'd encourage you to have a look. It seems Thornbridge have made assurances about the surfeit of other brewers beers, but I think the crucial point, and the biggest threat here, is the way they treat the interior.

A wildly unjustified, unsympathetic alteration to its character would be a travesty. No amount of expensive but usually good draught real ale and slightly more expensive bottles is going to soften the impact of a cack handed meddle with the layout or fittings. Lets hope Thornbridge prove themselves to be responsible sensitive stewards by retaining what sets this pub apart from most others in Sheffield and indeed South Yorkshire - its place on CAMRA and English Heritage's National Inventory of Unspoilt Pub Interiors.

I have never been a regular in a pub taken over by Thornbridge - although I went from time to time into Trippets, which was to be fair, far better decorated prior to being Dada. I don't like many aspects of the dour grey branding of the Hallamshire House, nor do I really appreciate the (initial at least) food  prevalance at the Coach and Horses in Dronfield and the Cricketers (albeit a food venue already), but I haven't been a regular in any pub subject to Thornbridgefication. Except now.

Thornbridge have form, and that's why lovers of this unspoilt interior should be concerned.

And finally, I should point out that, ironically, my first taste of Jaipur, when it was really good instead of OK (perhaps credit to it being slightly hazy), was in the Bath Hotel.  The very best pint I had of it was at Archer Road Beer Stop. Lets hope that I will be able to eclipse even that magical cask in the place I tried it first, and leave the Thornbridge owned Bath Hotel with a positive bitter taste in my mouth.

Wee Beefy

P.S - here is the link to the Heritage Pubs National Inventory entry for the Bath Hotel


  1. When I did an article referring to the Greystones, I said "pity the photo was taken when the exterior was still in primer".

    I really do abhor pubs painted in pastel shades.

    1. I don't mind, if its in context - by which I mean, if its a new build, or conversion form another use. This on the other hand, is Sheffield's finest inter war interior, and a cracking pub to boot. So what are they hoping to "improve" or even acheive by taking it over!?

  2. Fine work, WB. Matt from Thornbridge was saying on Twitter that very little will change - hopefully that'll mean the interior as well as the pint.

    I've added a link to this post from mine.

    1. Thanks Pete, I have to say, Blogger stole my comment - off my own blog!? Cheeky...

      Anyhoo, I (had said) that the importance of the Bath can't be underestimated - that it is such a magnificent survival is worthy of credit on its own, but given South Yorkshire's councils unwillingness to preserve any historic or architecturally significant buildings its all the more amazing.

      We have precious few pubs of this kind in South Yorkshire, and none of compare in Sheffield, and I think that the (on reading back) slightly wobbly delivery of my point is perhaps reflective of how passionately I feel about the Bath.

      Update to follow later.

  3. Er, I fail to understand the point here. One. Grade 2 pubs often become left behind and rotting with no people buying them and then neglected.

    2. Let them live and breathe and have someone with a bit of sense buy them, preferably whom sells good beers too.

    3. Surely as they are Grade 2 they won't be changed too much, just faithfully repaired and restored.

    4. Technically, Thornbridge have saved those pubs which we should celebrate. The Wenlock Arms could do with some help too and John is a world class cellarman.

    1. Sheffield is not Chelmsford Tom & there are other local brewers I would trust to do a good job with the Bath Hotel ahead of Thornbridge. Sheffield Brewery, Bradfield, Brew Company and so forth.

      The Bath Hotel is different from the other Thornbridge aquisitions in that it's already a very good pub, not an awful pub like the Highcliffe was before Thornbridge came in and turned it into the Greystones.

      Personally I wish that Thornbridge would look more towards Derbyshire for their aquisitions rather then the South-West of Sheffield.

    2. I think you may have failed Thomas, yes.

      As T_I_B points out, this is a cracking pub already, there is no "rescue" to undertake nor revamp required. The significance of this interior far outweighs any designs Thornbridge may have on making a mark on the pub or improving it.

      None of the pictures you paint, whilst relevant in a wider historic interior context apply to the Bath (already faithfully repaired and restored as per point 3). And Thornbridge haven't bought it - as any fule kno, Thornbridge don't buy pubs.

      Re your last point, which Wenlock?

    3. The Wenlock being referred to is almost certainly the Wenlock Arms in London, an excellent real ale pub, but I'm not sure if it's still open or if it's due to be demolished.

      I don't think Thornbridge would take that one over as

      1) It's too far down south for Thornbridge right now.

      2) The Wenlock is not in a nice area of London and Thornbridge have a track record of preferring the more upmarket areas for their pubs.

      Personally I think that it might be a good idea for Thornbridge to look more towards Chesterfield and the Peak District for new aquisitions.

    4. I went to the Wenlock Arms in Hoxton a couple of times, its (was?) a cracking pub but like you I thought its days were numbered. If Thornbridge want to make an impact elsewhere I agree Chesterfield could be a good place. Or the Smithfield in Derby.

      I'd love them to buy and reopen the Ball on Main Road Darnall. Their affluent area plan wuyld have to be abandoned but it would show them being interested in selling beer to a whole different demographic. If it isn't rescued soon it'l either fall down or become a religious acquisition. The very worst fate for a pub, followed by becoming a supermarket....

    5. I featured the Ball in Darnall on Closed Pubs here.

      The problem with Thornbridge expansion is that only in a reasonably affluent urban area will you be able to run a pub where lots of customers will come specifically for the beer.

    6. Yeah, probably true, unless its city centre you also need to have affluent persons to shoulder the prices - the Greystones USP is bands and beers, both of which are expensive examples thereof.

      Which is why the suggestion of a Derbyshire venue makes sense, since like it or not Derbyshire, especially rural areas, is pretty damned expensive already.

  4. By the way, silly old blogger won't let me reply to you T_I_B...

    So thanks for articulating a good point. I have an update for you all later on having spoken breifly to Brian last night.

  5. I really enjoyed reading this article, and found it quite informative. And especially the part about the popularity of the heritage brass. Thanks for sharing! I generally prefer heritage brass to heritage brass and would recommend it to all.