Saturday, 17 November 2012

Unspoilt Cheshire

There has recently been some discussion on the blogs of Paul Bailey and Wee Beefy about Rodney Wolfe Coe’s list of the “Classic Basic Unspoilt Pubs of Great Britain”. Most of these are (or were) in remote rural locations, and the county of Cheshire is, by and large, too close to the major conurbations to give truly unspoilt pubs much chance of avoiding gentrification or being turned into commuter residences.

However, a couple did survive into the CAMRA era that would probably have qualified had they hung around for a bit longer. Both are in the 1977 Good Beer Guide but are missing from the 1979 edition.

The first was the Bird in the Hand at Kent Green, just off the A34 south of Congleton. This is described as “unspoilt, simple and homely canalside pub with a beer-only licence”, and served Burton-brewed Worthington Best Bitter on gravity. I believe this one closed in the late 70s.

The second was the Crown, situated here on the junction of the A49 and A51 at Four Lane Ends just south of Tarporley, a surprisingly prominent location for a basic unspoilt pub. This is described as “a fine, unspoilt old pub” and served McEwan’s 70/-, also on gravity. The Guide says “usually closed at lunchtime: closed all day Sunday” which hints at a slightly shambolic operation. This later was gutted and extended and became an identikit dining pub called the Red Fox; it is now an Indian restaurant as shown on the picture.

Unfortunately, I was too late on the scene to be able to experience either of these, although I did once turn up at the Crown one evening with a group of friends only to find it closed.

There were two other largely unspoilt pubs in Cheshire that I did get the chance to visit. One was the Boot at Boothsdale near Kelsall, which I wrote about here. This was a tiny, basic two-roomer in the middle of a terrace of cottages up a cul-de-sac, serving Greenall’s beer on gravity. Now, sadly but inevitably, extended, knocked-through and given over to dining.

The other was the Holly Bush at Little Leigh on the A49 south of Warrington, an ancient half-timbered cottage pub with a basic interior featuring plain wooden wall benches and quarry-tiled floors. There was no bar as such; the handpumps (dispensing Greenall’s again) were against the wall in a small room next to the main parlour, and beer was served through the top half of a door that opened separately. This had the kind of boisterous rustic atmosphere rarely encountered nowadays – I remember going in one Sunday lunchtime and one customer announcing to the assembled throng that he had been “shittin’ yeller” that morning. After being threatened with closure, ownership changed hands and again it went over to food in a big way and was extended at the rear. Much of the original fabric is still there, but it feels like a museum piece rather than a living pub. Note the sign advertising “ensuite rooms”.

Cheshire still has a couple of pubs featuring on CAMRA’s National Inventory that, while remodelled at some time during the 20th century, still give the feeling of stepping back into a bygone era – the Traveller’s Rest at Alpraham and the Commercial at Wheelock. And there are two more (also on the NI) that retain their historic fabric largely intact, but again have now largely embraced a dining format – the White Lion at Barthomley and the Harrington Arms at Gawsworth. The latter has now been extended at the rear into former living accommodation and, while it still retains a highly characterful parlour with quarry-tiled floor and long tables and settles, I once witnessed a group come into the pub and a young woman say that she didn’t want to sit there because it was “grotty”.

To my mind, a pub only truly qualifies as unspoilt in Mr Wolfe Coe’s terms if it continues to be run with something of a disregard for the commercial realities of the modern age. Sadly, that is becoming more and more difficult and rare.

Incidentally, while I was researching this post I came across this site of Olde Worlde Pubs in Cheshire. It’s a bit out of date (for example still showing the late lamented Railway at Heatley), and has one or two surprising omissions, such as the aforementioned Traveller’s Rest and the Hatton Arms at Hatton, but is still well worth a nose round. Strangely, however, it doesn’t make any mention of the beers sold.

11 comments:

  1. Martin, Cambridge17 November 2012 at 22:47

    I met the wonderful Mr Coe once in the Red Lion in Snargate (Kent), and even that completely unspoilt classic seemed to have made a few too many concessions (e.g. vending machines)to the 20th Century for his liking.

    Many of the pubs on his list would have been closed down by Government officials if not beaten by the death of the octagenarian landlord. There are probably more pubs left in Northern Ireland that meet his criteria.

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  2. Thank you for confirming the term "unspoilt" means "unimproved" . An old fashioned grotty shithole unsuited for today's more discerning punter and seemingly adored by bearded types for reasons unknown.

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  3. I'll have you know I am completely clean-shaven, Cookie!

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  4. Ah yes, Cookie, the mentality that thinks it would be an improvement to demolish Bramall Hall and build an estate of bijou executive residences.

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  5. "There are probably more pubs left in Northern Ireland that meet his criteria."

    Ah, but one of his criteria was "availability of real ale".

    There are one or two keg-only pubs in GB on the National Inventory that otherwise would have qualified, like the King's Head at Bootle in Cumbria.

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  6. An even bigger improvement to put a spoons there. Tellies with rolling news, beer & burger offers, clean bogs. Maybe even a Tesco Express & a Costa coffee. I'd be more likely to visit.

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  7. An even bigger improvement to put a spoons there. Tellies with rolling news, beer & burger offers, clean bogs. Maybe even a Tesco Express & a Costa coffee. I'd be more likely to visit.

    An even bigger incentive to leave them as they are !!

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  8. "the county of Cheshire is, by and large, too close to the major conurbations to give truly unspoilt pubs much chance of avoiding gentrification or being turned into commuter residences."

    You could put forward the same argument about Kent, given its proximity to London, and yet whilst we don't qualify for the same number of full NI listings as Cheshire, we do have more than three times the number of historic pub interiord of regional importance. We also have two entries on RWC's famous list.

    We have of course suffered from gentrification, but that is sometimes the price that has to be paid for the survival of these pubs.

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  9. Very little of Cheshire is beyond 40 miles from either Manchester or Liverpool, whereas quite a lot of Kent is further than that from central London.

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  10. By gentrification do we mean fewer fights and less chance of being glassed?

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  11. Curmudgeon, when comparing the two counties I had forgetten Liverpool, mind you it probably is best forgotten (only joking!), and thinking only about Manchester. On the basis of what you are saying, Surrey would be a better county to do a like for like comparison with Cheshire, rather than Kent. (Surrey yields 12 pubs with pub interiors of regional importance and no full NI listings).

    Cookie, "fewer fights and less chance of being glassed?" - I don't know what sort of pubs you do your drinking in?

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