Obviously times and fashions have changed, and in Carlisle as everywhere else the traditional intimate, compartmentalised interior layouts have largely been swept away by drastic knocking-through. I recently spent a few days in the city, so thought it would be interesting to take a look at what remained of what were once considered model pubs.
The twin towers of the Citadel immediately outside the station mark a dramatic contrast in Carlisle city centre. To the north, where the main shops are, it’s a dignified, genteel county town, but to the south, along Botchergate, it’s a garish, youth-oriented fun strip. Indeed, such is the level of revelry that Botchergate is closed to traffic on Friday and Saturday nights. Remember that Carlisle is sixty miles from the nearest big city, so if you’re going to have a night out, you’ll be doing it locally.
Rather marooned on Botchergate between the city’s two Wetherspoons is the Cumberland Inn (illustrated above), of which CAMRA’s heritage pub site says “Built 1929-30 to designs by Harry Redfern, this is the least altered of the Carlisle & District State Management Scheme pubs.” It has a narrow, dignified but rather austere Tudor-Gothic frontage in stone, which widens out further back. While some internal walls have been removed, it retains extensive wood panelling and a number of distinct areas which still give much of a flavour of how it once would have been. Apparently the two upstairs rooms, which are now occupied by a separate restaurant business, are even less spoilt.
However, the drawback is that its actual pub offer is pretty dismal. On the beer front, it has nothing but a selection of mainstream kegs, while various dubious entertainments such as karaoke and discos are provided. Maybe that’s what the location demands, but it seems completely out of keeping with the surroundings. I couldn’t help thinking that it would do much better, and be more true to its origins, as a Sam Smith’s pub. I had my annual half of Guinness, which reminded me that the promise is always better than the reality.
North of the Citadel on Lowther Street in the more sedate part of the city centre is the Howard Arms. This is a Victorian pub with a distinctive tiled frontage that was internally remodelled under State Management ownership. Some opening out has occurred, but it still has distinct lounge and public sides and a variety of areas surrounding the central servery. It also has that vanishing species – a jukebox. There were two cask beers on, one of which was a pretty decent drop of Theakston’s Best Bitter. It can’t be said that Carlisle is one of Britain’s great pub towns, but the Howard Arms is one of the most congenial in the central area.
The last pre-war pub to be built by the State Management Scheme was the Redfern Inn, named in Harry Redfern’s honour but actually designed by his deputy Joseph Seddon, which actually did not open until 1940. It stands in the suburb of Etterby, a mixed residential area about a mile and a half from the city centre on the north bank of the River Eden. It’s a long, low, brick-and-timber building in an Arts and Crafts style that wouldn’t look out of place in the Weald of Kent.
The interior layout, with extensive wood panelling, looks pretty traditional, but in fact a comparison with the plan in Basil Oliver’s book shows that the counter has been greatly extended on the public side, while on the lounge side the two rooms have been amalgamated and a new serving counter added. The pub originally featured a bowling green at the rear, but this has been out of use for some years and is now slated for redevelopment as housing, although as yet this hasn’t actually happened. It’s another pub where the offer doesn’t really match up to the surroundings, being just an ordinary, slightly down-at-heel local where the only cask beer available was, slightly bizarrely, a rather past-its-best drop of Brakspear Bitter.
Another pub with a bowling green is the Magpie in Botcherby on the eastern side of the city. This is in an inter-wars council estate and fits more into the mould of “estate pub” with a distinctive white-rendered design with prominent gables. It has experienced something of a chequered history, falling into the hands of Oakwell Brewery and then being closed for period before being bought and brought back to life by Sam Smith’s, who also, to their great credit, have restored the bowling green to use.
The interior layout seems little changed from the plan in the book, with the only significant alteration being replacing the off-sales area with a passage through from the public bar to the “smoking room”. Indeed, this room and the adjoining “tea room”, with the ladies’ and gents’ toilets on either side of the entrance porch, seem largely intact, so it’s a surprise to see that the pub doesn’t even feature as a regional entry on CAMRA’s National Inventory. Like many Sam’s pubs now, it has no real ale, but their keg range is much more appetising than that in a pub like the Cumberland Inn, and my OBB was decent enough.
While their original interiors may have been swept away by modernisation, there remain many architectural reminders of the State Management Scheme. For example, just a few doors down from the Howard Arms on Lowther Street is the rather grand Apple Tree, while on the main road north to Scotland is the Coach & Horses, which has appeared in several past Good Beer Guides. The scope of the scheme extended a fair distance beyond Carlisle itself, and you can still see examples of distinctive SMS architecture in places such as Gretna, where the round-arched doorway of the Hunter’s Lodge is a distinctive Redfern feature.
It’s a shame that so few pub interiors remain to remind us of this unique episode in the history of the British pub trade, but sadly wholesale internal destruction has been general across the whole country. Meanwhile, we should celebrate what is left, and in particular the Redfern Inn deserves to be cherished as a memorial to the work of the great pub architect.
Incidentally, while I was in Carlisle, I took a look inside the giant ASDA on the north side of the city next to Junction 44 of the M6, but didn’t see any specific signs of catering for booze tourists from north of the border following the introduction of minimum pricing. This convenience store and off-licence in a prominent position in the centre of Dumfries had closed, but far be it from me to draw a connection between the two.