Sunday, 21 August 2016

Selly Park Tavern, Selly Park, Birmingham

Large red-brick boozers like the Selly Park Tavern are still a relatively common sight throughout Birmingham and the West Midlands, albeit that many are sadly no longer trading as pubs now. Built at a time of rapid urban population growth in areas of heavy industrialisation such as the West Midlands, with a resultant strong growth in trade for local breweries. As thirsty workers swelled their coffers, brewers were keen to expand their businesses to meet demand, often through mergers and acquisitions which created major regional brewing concerns. They were also keen to put some long overdue investment into what was often seen as a chronically neglected pub estate. A pub estate that was invariably the preserve of male drinkers, and often with a reputation for intemperate behaviour, perhaps even lawlessness.

Pubs built during this pre-war period were designed to move the trade upmarket, with many of the older backstreet beerhouses de-licensed and closed down for good, often with strong encouragement from local licensing authorities. No expense was spared on the interiors, with local craftsman creating fashionable designs in leaded glasswork, polished brass, and fixtures and fittings crafted from the finest imported hardwoods.

Built in 1901 by Holder's Brewery Ltd as the Pershore Road Inn, latterly the Selly Park Hotel. The pub lies in a suburban area of Birmingham's industrial and commercial sprawl, an area which still retains something of it's independence from the city thanks to several areas of surrounding parkland. Holder's were an important local brewing concern and their logo crops up in pubs all over Birmingham, most notably at the fabulous tile-clad Craven Arms on Upper Gough Street. The brewery was subsequently bought out and closed by Birmingham's brewing powerhouse M&B, and the pub is now owned by Ember Inns, a pubco created from the old M&B estate. Refurbishment and alterations have all-but obliterated the pubs original internal layout, but there are still a number of distinct areas within the large open-plan interior. The Holder's logo can still be seen in stonework at the front of the building, and in an attractive leaded glass window on the rear staircase (below).

The Selly Park predates the trend for what has become known as 'improved' pubs by several years, yet there are indications that the pub adopted at least some aspects of this inter-war style of pub building. These 'improved' pubs were designed to offer recreation and refreshment for all of the local community, with a multitude of individual rooms designed to appeal to different tastes and social classes. This often extended to the inclusion of a large first-floor function room, or concert/dance hall, and provision for one or more of the more genteel games of the day such as Billiards or Lawn Bowls.

Of course most of these grand turn of the century pubs have now lost their multi-room layouts (the Selly Park Tavern is no exception), victims of the late 20th century obsession with knocking everything through to one large easily managed space. But the Selly Park is unusual in that it has retained not only its Bowling Green, but also what was probably a later addition of a fully functioning Skittle Alley.

The skittle alley occupies a separate (listed?) building at the rear of the pub, which a local newspaper feature on Birmingham's better known skittle alley at Moorpool suggests was originally built to house one or more Billiard Tables. It's hard to know just how popular and widespread the game of skittles would have been in Birmingham, but there are certainly records of other alleys, including at pubs in nearby Selly Oak and Harbourne, and there was at least one league to manage competition, the Birmingham & District Skittling League. The only formal competition for skittles that now remains in Birmingham is an in-house league at the aforementioned Moorpool Skittles Club, but the alley at the Selly Park Tavern sees regular use for Skittles Nights and private functions.

To the rear of the pub is what was once a common sight in the Midlands, and one of the classics of the movement to 'Improve' pubs, the neat square of a Bowling Green. Crown Green Bowls is the game played in the Birmingham and West Midlands area, and the green at the Selly Park Tavern has the pronounced rise in the centre which is a feature of this version of bowls. Unlike Lawn Green Bowls where play is down numbered 'rinks', players launch their woods from all directions across the crown which makes for a much less sedate, sometimes loud and fast-paced game. Many of these Bowling Greens have been lost from pub sites, and many that do survive are no longer owned by the pub itself. This one is still attached to the pub, and leased to the local club. The pub itself has a pretty decent range of real ales these days, so what better way to spend a summer afternoon than spectating a game on the Selly Park Tavern's Bowling Green, or maybe an evening of skittles in what is probably Birmingham's last dedicated pub Skittle Alley.

1 comment:

John Penny said...

Thrilled that your detective work has turned up this pub with skittles Mark. Up until now I was convinced Moorpool was the only one in Birmingham, which of course is not skittles as we West Country folk know it. What other pubs with skittles can you find I wonder? - or perhaps one with a game we believed to be lost and gone forever...