Monday 16 July 2018

Heartland heritage – Part 2

This is the second half of my account of our Digbeth heritage pub crawl on Wednesday 11 July – see here for the first one.

The Anchor
Having eaten our lunch in the Big Bull’s Head, washed down with Diet Coke and keg beer, we crossed to the south side of Digbeth High Street to reach the Anchor. This is another full National Inventory entry, again with the characteristic plan of L-shaped public bar in the apex and smaller lounge/smoke room at the rear. A significant difference here is the retention of a head-height wood and glass partition dividing the public bar in two, which is a very rare survival. There was a sensibly limited range of three cask beers of differing styles – Wye Valley Bitter, Hobsons Twisted Spire and Titanic Chocolate and Vanilla Porter – all from breweries in the greater West Midlands area. I had the Wye Valley, which was pretty good. Guns’s’Roses were again playing on the sound system, albeit this time from their earlier, classic era.

The Old Crown
The plan had been for the next call to be the Old Crown, a magnificent Grade II* listed half-timbered building that claims to date from 1368 and to be the oldest extant secular building in Birmingham, although it now looks stranded amongst more modern buildings and vacant sites. We were aware that the interior didn’t match up to the exterior, but on entry we found the only cask beer to be Hobgoblin, which was being served in plastic glasses, presumably as a response to the crowd of football fans hogging the bar. The consensus was therefore to give it a miss and move on.

The Wagon & Horses
The Wagon & Horses was reached by passing under both the main railway viaduct, and another branching off it at an angle which was thought to be something of a “line to nowhere”. It stood at the furthest extremity of the route from the city centre in a real backwoods area of small workshops and car breaking yards. The pub consists of a front public bar and a more comfortable lounge set back at the right, reached through an archway. We received a friendly reception in pretty much all these pubs, but the warmth of the welcome from the barmaid here particularly stood out. The beer range consisted of Doom Bar, Ringwood Boondoggle and Hobsons Old Prickly, so named because a donation is made to hedgehog preservation from each pint. I don’t think anyone tried the Doom Bar, but the other two were in good nick.

The Ruin
As we were a pub down due to not having a drink in the Old Crown, the suggestion was made that we call in the Ruin which was roughly on the way back. This is a pub of more modern style situated in a similar industrial backwater, which we reached by cutting through the premises of the former Bird’s Custard Factory. I’m not sure if it is a conversion of an old street-corner pub, but it certainly looks like one. It has a modern, stripped-back, bare-boards feel rather different from the heritage pubs we had visited, but nevertheless offers a variety of congenial spaces around the central bar. There were two cask beers available, Oakham Citra and Sharp’s Atlantic, both of which were good, although we were told by the barman that they would have additional beers from local breweries at the weekend.

The White Swan - this is a stock photo; all the others are my own taken on the day
With the kick-off now only a couple of hours away, we made our way back to the White Swan, which we had passed before as it didn’t open until 4 pm. This was the third full National Inventory entry of the day, with a long public bar and a smaller, cosy lounge. It was now filling up for the football, but we found some seats at the far end of the bar, which has a particularly magnificent long, carved counter. Here we met up with the legendary figure of “Cooking Lager”, proving to the assembled company that he was an actual person and not just a figment of the imagination. He informed us that our planned final stop, the Spotted Dog, wasn’t going to be opening that evening, so the White Swan would be our final call. There were two cask beers on the bar – Banks’s Amber Bitter and Marston’s Fever Pitch. Everyone had the Amber, which was on excellent form and for me undoubtedly the beer of the day.

I left the pub just as the match had kicked off for the fifteen-minute walk back to New Street Station and my train home, which was considerably quieter than it normally would be. I got back in time for extra time, but as it turned out it was not to be England’s day.

In summary, an excellent day out, in which I visited seven pubs entirely new to me, including three full and three regional National Inventory entries. Virtually all the beer was good, and as always the company couldn’t be faulted. However, there was one less positive note. Clearly visiting these pubs on a Wednesday lunchtime prior to a major football match wouldn’t show them at their busiest, but it must be said that, in all except the White Swan, our party of six at least doubled the number of customers. Hopefully the ongoing regeneration of Digbeth is going to generate more trade, and more love, for them, as on that evidence you have to question whether they can enjoy a bright fututre.


  1. It was a great day out and the first time I've had nine pints in a session in many years. I ended up watching the first half of the match at Dig Brew, but that ninth pint finished me off (there was nothing wrong with the beer) so caught a taxi and saw the rest of the game at home.

    You are right about The Ruin; when I first took a photo in 1998 it was Horan's Tavern and subsequently became The Floodgate and The Eagle before its current incarnation. For even more history go here -

    I hope to make other trips as and when I can 'get away'.

  2. Sounds like a great day. Glad you took in The Ruin as something a little bit different and hopefully more people will go to these cracking boozers. Couldn't agree more with you about the Wagon & Horses - worth going on a match day too for 'characters!'

    Life After Football

  3. It was an honour to meet heroes. The who save pubs. The men who sacrifice all to potter around ropey pubs and keep 'em going.

    I quite liked that old man pub I met you all in. Nice cold pint of bitter. I would not have tried it otherwise as no one else was drinking it. Glad I did.

    1. I recall recommending it to you, but only so that you wouldn't end up drinking the lager. I'm glad I did. But why do you look at what everyone else is drinking rather than drinking what you like?

  4. Yeah the Old Crown normally has a couple more ales on than that. Large beer garden too at the back by a well, and the pub has expanded into a café area next door.

  5. The Stafford Mudgie19 July 2018 at 11:13

    "Our party of six at least doubled the number of customers" but maybe these usually busy "open all day" pubs had word that we were on our way and their regulars either stayed at home or went to city centre pubs for the afternoon instead.

  6. One small correction: I had the Doom Bar in the Wagon & Horses, as I'd already had the Hobsons Old Prickly in the Eagle & Tun. It was better than some, but well short of the best I've had of this ubiquitous beer.

    As I recall, the Banks's Amber had just gone off when we arrived at the White Swan, so we had the first half dozen pints out of a fresh barrel. Definitely beer of the day, and obviously far better than the keg beers I had in the Big Bulls Head, the Town Crier (a local inventory pub), the Clink (a newish bottle-and-craft bar I stumbled across) and in the Dig Brew brewery tap.

    I made it back to Sheffield and almost home without anyone telling me what had happened in the football, though someone at New Street station showed me a replay of the England goal on their phone before I got on my train. The eerie quiet as I walked through Sheffield city centre and well within earshot of the big screen on Devonshire Green told me it had not been England's night, but I still watched the highlights on TV when I got in. (It reminded me of that old Likely Lads episode "No Hiding Place" - no smart phones in those days, of course.)

    1. The Stafford Mudgie26 July 2018 at 12:13

      Mention of the Likely Lads reminds me that in the Affairs and Relations episode there's definitely a Youngs cowl on the bar of the Dipton Mill Hotel near Hexham where they're staying. I never saw keg Youngs in London during 1973 or '74, although it did exist, and in Northumberland is most odd. And with what looks like a ram in it it wouldn't be the John Young brewery of Musselburgh closed by Whitbread in 1969.


Comments, especially on older posts, may require prior approval by the blog owner. See here for details of my comment policy.

Please register an account to comment. Unregistered comments will generally be rejected unless I recognise the author. If you want to comment using an unregistered ID, you will need to tell me something about yourself.