almost all credit, at least in terms of inspiration, must go to Pete Green from the world of writing. His post yesterday about his nearest boozer the Olde Heavygate Inn, and its conversion into housing, against the backdrop of its venerable age, struck a real chord with me. I have written about the pub before, but I feel I need to contribute to the story further since it was my first ever, proper, local.
I should start by saying I think it closed in 2011. I posted about it in February 2012 after reading in Beer Matters that it would not reopen.
I also recall the start of 2011 saw endless upheaval and changes of managers, some of whom couldn't seem to sell beer, some of whom couldn't settle, some of whom were hired hands brought in to keep a pub open without any other long term benefits. Either way it was a sorry procession of empty promises, desperation and mismanagement on the part of the Pubco, Greedy King. Ultimately they will have made a tidy sum on the sale of the building. And pissed away a huge irreplaceable body of history into the bargain.
I went to school with a lass called Louise Parkes and she lived at the pub when her Dad Ron, ran it for absolutely years. It was a very popular pub around 1991, which is when I first started regularly going in, and continued to be so until Ron left, and for a while afterwards. Yet, its rate of decline was breathtaking, especially when you consider it could have been avoided had Pubco greed and shortsighted meddling not been allowed to prevail.
The nearest pub then was the Florist, probably 10 minutes walk, The Prinny, maybe less actually, or down to one of the South Road boozers, one of which has now gone the way of the Heavygate. So it was in a good position, surrounded by housing and virtually on one of the busiest bus routes in the city, with car parking on the front. It had history, it had character, and it had no right being neglected.
It also had the distinction of being central to several benchmarks in my drinking career.
First of all, I supped in there when I was perhaps, technically, a little bit too young to do so. I got the impression that the opinion of the landlord was, if you looked about the right age, and you didn't cause trouble that was OK. I think that is ostensibly a very sensible approach (although that may be undermined by some of what I have written later on!). The only time I ever pushed my luck was when I was 19 and brought in "younger folks" and bought them drinks. This rightly attracted a reprimand. I took it on board, and never repeated the trick.
The Heavygate was a regular venue for huge bonfires on, well, bonfire night, and so was one of the first pubs I ever remember going to as a child. I'm sure plenty of kids from my school were taken to the pub by their parents to watch that same spectacle.
There always seemed to be a good atmosphere, whether it was a celebration, public holiday or a damp Tuesday in January. It was usually busy (more so later on), the pints were served in maseev glasses that held 650ml (it seemed) and in direct contrast to the rather demure atmosphere and advanced years of some of the regulars, the jukebox featured Firestarter by Prodigy. I remember some old guy looking up from his paper when me and a mate put it on for the the 3rd time in a row, and him saying"I quite like this. Its got a very good pace to it". I swear to this day he wasn't being sarcastic.
The Heavygate was also the only pub I ever took my Canadian cousin Graham to, and advised him not to give the landlord a tip unless it was sage advice, and the first place I chose to take a lady on a date. I'm sure Catherine Skidmore was blown away by the brown decor and smell of fags and a jukebox with all of four decent tunes on, whilst I supped pints of Kimberley Classic, then in a piece de resistance, after 7 or 8 pints, threw up on my para boots whilst she waited for a taxi....
The Heavygate is also the first place I tried Sheep Dip whisky, the last place I bought a pint of Snakebite, the only place a man in his late fifties asked me for a fight (or indeed a person of any age or gender), the first place I had a lengthy session, the first place I broke a glass (when "helpfully" tidying up whilst a bit drunk) and the first pub I ever actually suggested to anyone that we went in for a few pints.
My final memory is going in one night about 21.45 with Carlos, and finding the lounge (which the CAMRA Good beer guide unfailingly stated for all of its 15 or something years of entries "features potted plants" ) was being used for a private party. There weren't many folks in the right hand side but the jukebox was working and it was no doubt about £1.40 for a pint of the Kimberley Classic, so we settled down with drinks and set about supping.
As it got late we were still getting served, not by the landlord I recall but by new staff, but by now the other right hand folks had left. Having reached a natural physical barrier (Kimberley was very bloaty I recall) we dawdled through our last drinks for an hour before the landlord came through and said "I didn't realise you two were still here!". It was about 3am. It appeared we had been served by other party guests who assumed we were friends of the family so hadn't mentioned we were there...
With such a useful training role in my drinking experience, its really sad to see it being vandalised now, after serving so many pints and customers. I don't think it had to close. I think it maybe had to change, but not in the way it did prior to finally shutting down.
My last memory, probably from April 2011, was of being in with davefromtshop, sat in the chasm of loneliness that was the sad pastel coloured modernity of the newer right hand room, staring out at an unkempt car park whilst really crap music blared out of the radio to precisely nobody, and the barman stood outside smoking. I knew then that things were not looking promising. I wasn't even surprised when it was sold for housing. Just disappointed and annoyed.
Shame on you Greedy King.