Tuesday 28 March 2017

Fair exchange

Last weekend I had an overnight stay in Stourbridge, Worcestershire. It may not seem the most likely tourist venue, but in fact it had been arranged for a pub tour of the Black Country, which unfortunately had to be cancelled at short notice because the mother of the chap organising it had been unexpectedly rushed into hospital. However, given that the weather forecast was good, I thought I might as well go ahead and do a bit of sightseeing on my own account.

On Friday afternoon I enjoyed an excellent drop of Batham’s in the Plough & Harrow at Kinver, where I made the acquaintance of Max, who was happy to just sit there quietly while his owner had a pint. I was told he’s a “golden doodle” – a cross of golden retriever and poodle.

Afterwards I visited the nearby Holy Austin Rock Houses, some of which were inhabited into the 1960s, and may have been Tolkien’s inspiration for hobbit holes. A nice place to be on a sunny Spring afternoon, but I couldn’t help thinking that the National Trust have a bit of a cheek to charge £5.50 for admission. Not that it bothers me as a Life Member.

In the evening I popped into another Batham’s pub, the Royal Exchange, which is only a few minutes’ walk from Stourbridge town centre. This really is a splendid little establishment that takes you back to how pubs used to be. The exterior view even exaggerates its size, as in fact all the “pub” part is to the left of the main door – a public bar at the front, a small lounge further back and a beer garden. It was pretty busy, although I managed to squeeze into a seat. Despite it being a cold evening, there were still plenty of groups with smokers in the beer garden.

It was striking how at least 80% of drinks were pints of Best Bitter, something rarely seen nowadays. It didn’t disappoint either, and nobody could complain that it wasn’t “pulled through”. Perhaps predictably, the clientele was weighted towards middle-aged and elderly blokes, but there were younger people too and a fair proportion of women. There were several middle-aged couples just enjoying a drink, another sight becoming increasingly rare. This view of the public bar is little changed now apart from the absence of ashtrays.

It can be hard to put your finger on it, but it’s certainly noticeable how the character and clientele of pubs vary between different parts of the country. There are plenty of excellent pubs around here, but it’s hard to think of any wet-led ones that would have quite that mix of customers and single-minded focus on beer.

I had visited both of these pubs before over thirty years ago. Back then, each also had a Simpkiss pub not too far away – the Old Plough at Kinver and the Waterloo on the west side of Stourbridge - both sadly now long gone. The Waterloo is now the Bangla Touch restaurant.


  1. How about Sam's houses? The one I know best - the Malt Shovels in Altrincham - has very much that kind of clientele in my experience.

    1. Not that familiar with the Malt Shovels, but the two Sam's pubs in Stockport have a more downmarket clientele than the Royal Exchange. Also the Malt Shovels is a town-centre pub, whereas I'd say the Royal Exchange, although only a short way across the ring road, is predominantly a local.

  2. The Blocked Dwarf28 March 2017 at 18:02

    "there were still plenty of groups with smokers in the beer garden."

    You misspelt 'turn coats' and 'quislings' :P

  3. Simpkiss – now there’s a name from the past. Bought by Greenall Whitley and the brewery closed overnight. It was said that the beer which was still in the fermenting vessels, was poured unceremoniously down the drain.

  4. Batham's pubs serve excellent ale (which doesn't change every five minutes) at reasonable prices in pleasant surroundings. I can't begin to imagine why they're so popular :)

  5. Hi I see you've been down my way... I drank my first beers in the Bathams' Royal Exchange - under the table after three if I remember right... The Bathams Plough and Harrow in Kinver is where I was conceived (Gramps was the landlord and my folks lived upstairs) - claim for fame eh! - The Waterloo in Wollaston is pretty much where I grew up beer wise and it's so sad for me to see it's now yet another un-needed restaurant. Incidentally, another local brewery: Enville Ales, has revived a "Simpkiss" beer. Enville also used to brew a truely amazing ginger beer.


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