Thursday, 25 April 2019

The Tudor, Leicester (closed)

Everards are a family brewer who seem to appreciate the value of their pub estate, and more often than not approach refurbishment and renovation with a sensitive touch.  It so happens that they are also the custodians of many of the traditional Skittle Alleys which have survived in the Leicestershire area (sadly, many more have been lost over the years). The game of Table Skittles is a little more widely spread in Leicester, though much less common than it once was. The Tudor play the game in the local Notts Skittles League, as well as fielding a team in the local Pool League. I have yet to get to the bottom of why a Leicester based league is named after another city entirely, and one where the game of Table Skittles is almost unknown now. One possibility is that the league originated at the Nottingham Oddfellows Club in Leicester.

The view from the Mot.
The Skittles Table is located in an upstairs function room, making it possible to permanently fix the Mot to the floor. The cast iron Mot, which would otherwise be a serious 'tripping hazard' in a public bar, is usually removable, with several holes drilled in the floorboards for easy positioning.

2019 Update: Not long after I posted this, Everards Brewery instigated a refurbishment of The Tudor which was by then flagging somewhat as a business. Although the pub is located in an area of dense housing on the very edge of the city centre, wide scale demographic change has meant that few in the area seem to be regular pub-goers, and of those that do like a pint, the more traditional aspects of The Tudor, the ones that appeal to drinkers like me for example, were clearly not to the taste of prospective locals.

In 2017 the pub finally closed its doors, and as can be seen in the photo below has had all its external signage removed. The images below show the current state of The Tudor indoor and out, and the future of the pub is far from certain. The whereabouts of the Skittles Table is not known, though hopefully it has been moved to another venue in the city for league play.


Friday, 19 April 2019

Wellingborough - Pt.2

The Little R'Ale House

I've noticed a welcome, and frankly long-overdue revival of station taps and railway pubs of late. By which I mean pubs that were built to service the needs of travellers when rail not road was the principle mode of transport for just about everyone and everything.

All but the tiniest rural Halts and modern-day Parkways came with an accompanying pub, inn, or licensed hotel. Sometimes just a humble boozer built to refresh and accommodate the men who constructed and worked on the rail network, but also many that were purpose built for passengers, and with all the facilities and grandeur of a mainline station. Even after the massive contraction of the rail network in the 60's, practically every town and many of the larger villages still had an open railway pub, often surviving long after the associated station had closed.

Of those that are still associated with a working station, it's perhaps puzzling that so many had fallen so far from grace toward the end of the 20th century. Despite the fact that many of these station pubs continue to occupy a favoured position, with a steady stream of custom literally walking past the front door for much of the day, it became something of a rule of thumb for me that the pub closest to the rail station would invariably be one of the very worst in town! Run-down, slightly dodgy of clientele, and certainly not the best beer on offer. Quite why the pub and brewing sector so comprehensively neglected this part of their estate, pubs that we might regard as a banker for steady trade, remains something of a mystery to me. Complacency is probably the answer.

How things have changed though. Starting with the revival of a handful of historic Refreshment Rooms in the north of England, and more recently taken up by a few of the more enterprising small and regional brewers, the Station Hotel in Hucknall being a good example. Some of the latest entrants to the station pub market are micropubs, refreshment rooms in the old sense given that most are truly micro in size and therefore limited by necessity to offering just good beer and cider, and perhaps a few snacks.

The Little R'Ale House micropub couldn't be any more of a railway pub if it tried. Located adjacent to platform 1 of Wellingborough Station, it makes an ideal waiting room for northbound services on the Midland Mainline, which is how I tend to make use of its cosy single bar-room. Housed in what was once an ammunition store, it's a beerhouse specialising in locally brewed ales served direct from the barrel.

The principal custom of The Little R'Ale House is, perhaps unsurprisingly, travellers on the busy route to and from London St Pancras, including a loyal band of commuters who pop in at the end of the day for a pint and a natter. What's perhaps more surprising given its location out of town is that the pub also has a loyal band of Wellingborough locals, even to the point of including a team in the local Darts League.

If there's one thing you generally won't see in a micropub, it's a Dartboard (or a skittle alley for that matter!), the diminutive nature of this category of boozer usually making a Darts throw impractical. It's to the credit of the owners that they've found room in their little pub not only for a Dartboard, but a whole range of other pub games. Dominoes, Cards and Cribbage Boards are available, Shut The Box, a Pin Bagatelle, and most impressive of all, a mighty Sjoelbak Table. The photo above shows this sizeable game in its usual position in a corner of the room, but when the weather permits, it can be found in use in the small beer garden at the front of the pub. That's right! The Little R'Ale House even has an (appropriately micro) beer garden for the Summer months.

The Queens Head

I must have driven past The Queens Head literally dozens of times over the last few years without ever feeling the need to pop in. Not that it didn't appeal to me, more that the short walk out on the 'wrong' side of town (the opposite side to the rail station) meant I never quite got to it. The opening of the nearby Little Ale House micropub has changed all that, and I'm now a regular visitor to the 'wrong' side of town for it's diminutive charms and great local beer. It was a conversation in the aforementioned Little R'Ale House that finally spurred me to cross the road and try the Queens Head out for size. Apparently the pub had recently taken delivery of a Bar Billiards table...

My first visit to the Queens Head was on a typically slow weekday afternoon, which is the perfect time to get to know a pub without the distraction of a crowd of locals. I must say, I felt slightly embarrassed that it had taken me this long to visit the pub, as traditional community locals go it's comfortably one of the best in town, even the beer range is better than most. I think I'd always imagined the pub as a modernised, opened out single-room affair, but this couldn't be further from the truth. In fact I doubt there's another pub in Wellingborough with such a rambling multi-room interior. The main bar area is carpeted and built for comfort, a more basic public bar area is where the Bar Billiards Table can be found, and there's an adjoining area for the pubs well-used Dartboard and televised sport, as well as a separate Pool Room to the rear of the pub.

The Wellingborough & District Bar Billiards League remains reassuringly static at around eight teams playing on five tables in the town, but in common with most pub games leagues, venues have come and gone over the years. The latest to fall by the wayside is the Rising Sun, a pub I'd singularly failed to gain access to on a couple of occasions recently, and which I now know I'll never achieve given that the pub has closed for good. A great shame as it was one of the last in the town centre with a Northamptonshire Skittles Table. It's the Bar Billiards table from the Rising Sun that now resides in the bar of the Queens Head.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Red Lion, Brixworth, Northamptonshire (Currently Closed)

Sometimes a blog post just gets away from you, which has sadly been the case with the Red Lion in Brixworth. I posted a single solitary photo of the pubs skittles table (below) way back in 2011, taken on my first visit to the pub following a pleasant Summer afternoon walk from nearby Pitsford Reservoir. I tried all three pubs in the village that day, the Red Lion being the most down-to-earth and all-round attractive to me, and the only one with any significant games interest at the time.

The WT Black & Son Skittles Table was set up ready for play in the games area adjacent to the public bar. I spent an hour or so 'practising' my throw on the table, and remember being pretty self-conscious about it because every time I hit the front (quite a common occurrence for a novice like myself) the hard boxwood cheeses came flying back and clattered very noisily on the tiled floor.

The pub was unusual in that the beers were from the Hook Norton brewery, something of a rarity in this part of Northamptonshire. The bar itself was as honest and traditional as they come, nothing fancy, just cream painted wood and simple furnishings around a matchboard fronted servery. It was the kind of traditional bar room that you could easily lose an afternoon in, and quite why I didn't take any photos of it remains something of a mystery to me. I don't recall anything about the plusher lounge bar, and left planning to return and do the pub justice at a later date...

The next time the Red Lion came to my attention was later on that year, when the pub made local headlines for all the wrong reasons following an outbreak of fire at the pub. Thankfully, nobody was seriously hurt during the incident, which started in that lovely bar and caused widespread smoke and heat damage, but I guess it could easily have spelled the end for the pub right there. Thankfully the owners felt otherwise and the pub reopened a short while later.

The photos here were taken six years later. I recall that the pub had been refurbished shortly before the fire, and this is reflected in the smart appearance of the games area, which now featured a Table Football (still no photos of the bar area, sorry!). The tradition of the Sunday afternoon/evening in-house skittles tournament is something I've come across at other Northamptonshire pubs, indeed my own local often had an informal game of 'Killer' in the bar, a lengthy competition which roped in practically everyone in the bar at £1 a head, 'winner takes all'. I can't remember if the pub was fielding a team for league play around this time, likely it would have done at some point given the popularity of the game in this part of the county. Once again, I left with an intention to return and document the pub a bit more extensively...

Fast forward to 2018 and the Red Lion is closed, on the market, and as is often the case with pubs like this, being hawked by the agent as a prime development opportunity. An opportunity that serial pub destroyers the Co-operative Group haven't missed, and who later that year applied to demolish the pub and build a new Co-Op store on the site. This application was rejected by the Parish Council and subsequently by Daventry District Council, though sadly the reasons given have little to do with retaining the building as a pub.

The current state of the Red Lion, Brixworth is shown below, a hazy pic through a gap in the curtains the closest I've got so far to photographing that bar room. Given their track record at other community pubs like Broadleys in Hereford, I've little doubt that the Co-operative Group will appeal the planning refusal, and it remains to be seen what the future holds for the Red Lion.