Sunday, 3 May 2015

Three Hinckley Pubs

The entries for Hinckley in my 1979 copy of CAMRA's Real Ale Guide to Leicestershire & Rutland give a clear indication of the stranglehold Burton brewers had on the towns many pubs. Most were owned by Marston's, with the mighty Bass conglomerate providing the only other choice in town. The later 80's edition of the guide reads much the same, and I recall with some fondness the (relative) excitement of finding a pint of M&B Mild at the now closed Castle Tavern when the Leicester CAMRA branch were in town.

Hinckley now has its own CAMRA branch, and thankfully things have moved on a bit since then pub-wise. Which is not to say there isn't still plenty of Marstons beer about the town (Bass now seems to have become a rarity), with the lower strength Marston's Bitter still a good drink in my view. The national Wetherspoon chain helped break the mould, and since then there has been a slight, but welcome relaxation of the Burton monopoly in the town.

The former Skittle Alley at the Railway Inn
The Railway Inn (above) has certainly benefited from this recent relaxation, and is now in the hands of the excellent Steamin' Billy Brewery Co. The Railway was a popular Marston's house in its day, but had fallen on hard times despite the obvious catchment of rail passengers from the station across the road. This decline in 'railway pubs' and 'station hotels' seems to be a feature of many towns, the pub closest to the station so often a terrible disappointment to travellers where it could, and certainly should be one of the best. Quite why this might be is a mystery to me, but in the right hands many of these unofficial station buffets have been very successfully revived by forward thinking owners, and such is the case with the Railway Inn.

If I'm honest, the decor of the Railway's lounge bar doesn't appeal to me, but the bar is a real delight, and it's great that the multi-room layout has been retained and even expanded under the current owners. The bar manages to achieve a thoroughly traditional feel whilst being light and airy, bright and inviting to all. It makes waiting for a train a real pleasure, which is exactly what a station pub should do. The bar features a Darts Board, and there are regular Poker Nights on Sunday. Sadly the skittle alley, possibly the last of its kind in Hinckley town, has now been converted to dining.

The wider Hinckley area has a number of pubs which are listed by CAMRA as having important heritage interiors. This includes two in the town itself, one of which is the excellent Greyhound (above & below), located at the top end of the town.

The Greyhound has always been a treat for lovers of good pubs, retaining its traditional multi-room layout of three rooms radiating from a central servery. But like the Railway, the Greyhound had been allowed to whither on the vine by owners Marston's. Quite why Marston's are still in the pub trade is beyond me, they seem to have little idea or interest in the future of their ever-shrinking pub estate. Thankfully, there are still a few in the licensed trade who take a keen interest in our pub heritage and the unique culture which surrounds it. People like local pub hero Louise Lavender who now runs the Greyhound free of Marston's disinterest and neglect, and has set about revitalising the pub as a true asset for Hinckley drinkers.

It's a quiet oasis from the busy high street, a pub for conversation or quiet contemplation over a pint and the newspapers. The front bar area has a Darts Board, but sadly the skittles are long gone from the Greyhound.

A short walk out of town brings you to the Holywell, a pleasant enough 1920's Marston's pub, but one which is currently 'between licensees' so perhaps not at its best. A large, busy, one-room pub with all the usual pub game staples, including Darts and Pool, and the relative rarity of a traditional Skittles Table.

The pub was until recently a stalwart of local league skittles play, but currently finds itself without a home team. The Skittles Table is available for casual play, but usually resides in the marquee at the rear of the pub and requires moving indoors by the staff. Not such a big job given that this old 'Peppers' table has been augmented with a sturdy set of wheels.

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