Sunday, 10 May 2015

Gate Inn, Awsworth, Nottinghamshire

The drinking corridor at the Gate Inn
Junction 26 of the M1 is probably best known to us 'Midlanders' as the (in)famous IKEA junction. The heavy industrial past of the area around the Erewash Valley may not be immediately obvious to visitors now, but it's still possible to get a taste of it in some of the areas largely unspoilt 'locals' pubs, of which there are thankfully still quite a few.

Pubs like the Gate Inn at Awsworth, a classic village local built to serve the needs of the local mining (and brewing!) community. A pub rich in heritage and a haven for local tradition, as well as being an award-winning outlet for local and national real ales. It's also yet another example of a pub rescued by enthusiastic licensees following years of neglect and under-investment by a large-scale brewer.

When local brewers Hardys & Hansons sold out to Suffolk super-regional Greene King, the historic Kimberley Brewery, and latterly much of its pub estate, became surplus to requirements. The Gate Inn closed for a time, and that might well have been that had it not been for the enthusiasm and drive of Kim Boldock and Stephen Fox, a couple who saw a future for the pub where the out-of-touch bean-counters at Bury St Edmunds clearly couldn't.

It's an all-too familiar tale, depressingly so given the number of well-loved and important community pubs that lumbering giants like Greene King still own. The sadness turns to anger when accountant-run businesses like this refuse to give people like Kim and Stephen a chance, preferring to sell their assets off to developers, ending any chance that their own failures might be turned around (as with the New White Bull at Giltbrook for example). It seems there's a limit to how many success stories like the Gate the big-boys can stomach.

And the Gate Inn is very much a success story. Since reopening in 2010, Kim and Stephen have made a special feature of their real ales, taking advantage of the large cellar at the pub and a growing demand for characterful craft-brewed ales. The total for different beers which have passed over the bar reached the 1,000 mark just three years after re-opening, the ever-changing beer range inspiring locals to brand the recently refurbished front bar (below) 'The Sweet Shop'!

It's not just about the beer though. The Gate Inn is the kind of traditional multi-room boozer that lends itself well to a wide range of social activities, ensuring the pub remains at the very heart of the community it serves. The patio beer garden has had an extensive makeover, with a rooftop terrace adding to the summer potential. Inside is a work in progress, but already many of the facilities have been brought up to modern standards, all the while with an eye to retaining the essential heritage of the building, no IKEA-inspired makeover here! A quiet snug exists to the left of the entrance, the hallway forming an increasingly rare example of a traditional drinking corridor. Plans for the future include opening up long-closed fireplaces, a 'new' room created where an old room once existed, and generally restoring the interior to how it would have been in its prime.

Prior to Kim and Stephen arriving at the pub, the Skittle Alley had been converted to a smoking shelter. Responding to requests by local Long Alley Skittles players, the alley has now been reinstated, and thanks to other alterations at the pub, is now effectively an indoor alley. This means that play can comfortably continue year-round, the local team playing in the Nottingham League, and Border Skittles League which is drawn from venues with covered alleys in both Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.

Already there's a skittles cup at the pub, proudly displayed in the spacious trophy cabinet mounted above the heads of the lucky regulars in the 'Sweet Shop'.

Skittle alleys are, and certainly need to be, versatile spaces. The Gate Inn already has a well-appointed function room, but pub skittle alleys of all types often fulfil this purpose. The length of an alley also makes it an ideal venue for the little-known pub sport of shooting.

Competitive small-bore rifle shooting was actively encouraged as a sport toward the end of the 19th century, largely as a result of the poor standard of shooting observed during the Boer War, and continues in many leagues throughout the country to this day. Bell Target and paper target shooting even occurs within the public areas of some pubs, with special arrangements of steel pipes and automatic target changers to facilitate a match safely.

The Shooting Gate Airgun Club is a self-contained competitive shooting club which meets on Sunday evenings in the skittle alley of the Gate Inn.

Tradition of a different kind finds a home at the Gate Inn, being the meeting place for the local Black Pig Border Morris side.

1 comment:

John Penny said...

Great to see Mark and well reported.