Saturday, 11 August 2018

State of decay

A few years ago, I wrote a piece about the State Management Scheme in Carlisle and the surrounding areas, which was introduced in 1916 at the height of the First World War as a means of curbing excessive alcohol consumption amongst munitions workers in the area, and ended up enduring until 1971. During the inter-war period, the scheme’s architect, Harry Redfern, was responsible for remodelling a number of existing pubs and building entirely new ones, following the “improved” model of pub design which sought to reduce “perpendicular drinking” and encourage a more civilised and female-friendly atmosphere. These pubs were widely regarded as outstanding examples of enlightened pub design, and the scheme merited an entire chapter, together with numerous floor plans, in Basil Oliver’s Book The Renaissance of the English Public House, which was published in 1947.

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.

21 comments:

  1. The Stafford Mudgie11 August 2018 at 09:28

    I'm never sure to what extent there was "excessive alcohol consumption amongst munitions workers in the area" at the height of the First World War - and whether it might all have been exaggerated by the Temperance Movement that has now been replaced by 'the Health lobby' and blown out of all proportion by the popular scaremongering newspapers of the day.

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  2. Professor Pie-Tin11 August 2018 at 10:22

    Botchergate.
    It sounds like the incompetency scandal that finally removes Theresa May from an office she is spectacularly ill-equipped to occupy.

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    1. Any ideas for Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma Gate in York, professor?

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    2. The Stafford Mudgie11 August 2018 at 14:28

      Prof,
      I wouldn't want Theresa running a pub near me so maybe she's best staying where she is.

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    3. Professor Pie-Tin11 August 2018 at 18:06

      @Timbo.
      That's easy.
      Tory MP in Miss Whiplash scandal.

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    4. Ah, Cynthia Payne, wasn't it? "...Payne first came to national attention in 1978 when police raided her home and found a sex party was in progress. Men paid with luncheon vouchers to dress up in lingerie and be spanked by young women. Police found 53 men at her residence, in varying levels of undress, which included "a peer of the realm, an MP, a number of solicitors and company directors and several vicars". A cartoon in the press at the time, according to Sarah Baxter in The Sunday Times, "showed a vicar in bed with a prostitute, confronted by a policeman. 'I demand to see my solicitor,' said the vicar, 'who is in the next bedroom'..."

      How did you know he was a Tory, PPT?

      Staffo. Ey up, just think of the fun you'd have, reminding her of that exit poll...

      But we digress.

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    5. The Stafford Mudgie12 August 2018 at 01:30

      I expect the peer of the realm, MP, solicitors, company directors and vicars all went to public schools, not that I'm sure what all this has to do with Carlisle pubs.

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    6. IIRC it was either Lindi St Clair or Natalie Rowe, both of whom had connections with Tory Chancellors.

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    7. Aye, right. It's a better story and all. The news was quite jolly in those days.

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    8. The Stafford Mudgie4 October 2018 at 01:07

      P P-T,
      Despite having never had any allegiance to a political party, and so being impartial, I am NOT going to be drawn into commenting about Theresa May on a blog about pubs.
      However, this time last month as I walked past Harold Wilson’s old holiday bungalow – nicely situated between the Bishop & Wolf and the Old Town Inn although he used the Scillonian Club – I remembered that the division between rich and poor was the least it’s ever been in Britain when he left office and I realised that a third of Britain’s pubs have closed since 1976.
      I remember when I turned 21 in 1976 not just that there were more pubs than now but that they were well used by a wide range of society with nearly all working men having the disposable income for a couple of pints even if just at weekends. And the commonplace separate Public Bar and Lounge meant that pubs better catered for a diverse clientele.
      Now though, sadly, all too many, including those on the dreaded zero hours contracts, feel they can’t afford anything other than ‘supermarket’ plonk while the new rich are only to be seen in gastropubs. The millions in between might use high street ‘barns’ or the new family dining pubs, especially at weekends, but that leaves thousands of proper old pubs struggling to get much custom and, with the big pubco’s costly leases and beer, becoming unviable.
      I am certainly not suggesting that there wouldn’t have been pub closures had the Tories not been in power for 26 of the past 42 years. Many of the changes in British society since 1976 would have occurred no matter which party was in power.

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  3. That was a decent read. I don't know how effective the measures were, 'cos in 1918 a munitions factory exploded in Chilwell, killing 132 people. Whether alcohol was involved doesn't seem to be known.

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    1. The Stafford Mudgie11 August 2018 at 16:08

      Timbo,
      The neo-Prohibitionists would love us to think that alcohol was quite likely the cause of any accident causing loss of life but the truth is that there were dozens of other possible causes for the 1918 munitions factory explosion in Chilwell that killed 132 people.

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    2. That was kinda my point, Staffs. Don't think I know any neo-prohibitionists tho, so couldn't say what's going on in their heads really.

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  4. Always been puzzled as to why it only occurred in Carlisle. There must have been other locations with high concentrations of munitions workers.

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    1. The difference in Carlisle was that a massive new explosives factory had been built at Gretna, which attracted itinerant workers from all over the country. As Basil Oliver writes in his book, "By 1916 the population of Carlisle had risen by 20,000 over the pre-war number, and for all these extra workers no adequate housing facilities were available, one of the results of which was that excessive drunkenness was rife, and had become unmanageable." In short, it was like the Wild West.

      Having said that, it's had to avoid the conclusion that, as suggested by TSM, it was something of a stalking-horse for wider State control of the liquor trade.

      Those who tend to go a bit misty-eyed about the SMS overlook that one of its first acts was to close down about half of all the pubs it took over.

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    2. The Stafford Mudgie12 August 2018 at 09:21

      So, that's it, it was "no adequate housing facilities" and not drunkenness that caused the problem.
      And a stalking-horse for wider State control of the liquor trade might have been a Daily Mail front page - eighteen years before their "Hurrah for the Blackshirts" headline - with a photograph of a munitions worker vomiting in Botchergate but no mention of him drinking just two pints before using a Chinese takeaway that was very soon afterwards closed down for seriously breaching food hygiene regulations.

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  5. Fascinating article Mudgie..good work
    Beermat

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  6. The Stafford Mudgie14 August 2018 at 21:38

    I had two weeks attending a Ministry of Defence course between Carlisle and Gretna and stayed in the Woolpack Inn at Carlisle. I certainly wasn't "inadequately housed" in that Jennings pub but when away from home there's the tendency to spend the evening getting round a few pubs. That was in February 1985 and before I became interested in historic pub interiors and so regrettably I didn't properly appreciate the State Management Scheme pubs.

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  7. By coincidence I have just spent the weekend in Carlisle, which is a favourite city of mine, and tried a few of the pubs. I was not impressed! The city is crying out for decent pubs and microbars. We started at the Beehive on Warwick Road for something to eat - this is a Greene King pub and was reliably clean and efficient, the food was good but the hand pulled beer limited to just Abbot Ale. This was in good condition but isn't a favourite of mine. Then to the Howard Arms. I'd been here before and it's a lovely pub, but I found it run-down and shabby compared to previous visits, and my Theakstons Best was lacklustre. Also, it had a "Lease This Pub" sign outside. More average beer at The Apple Tree, a pub which reminded me of the entertainment lounge at a holiday camp. The Sportsmans Arms had the worst beer of the night, as well as the most unfriendly staff. The Boardroom was pretty good and in splendid surroundings next to the Cathedral. This pub reminded me of a Robinsons pub, in that it was fairly empty but you could see that a lot of big brewery money had been spent on it. Best pub of the night was The Kings Head, which had a varied selection of good, hand-pulled ales and staff who knew about the beer. It was also packed out! The owners of the Kings Head have another bar a few streets away called "The Fat Gadgie". This was a good micro type pub, but unfortunately all the hand-pulled beers (and I only drink hand-pulled beers in pubs) were of the pale, highly-hopped sort. The garish, youth-oriented Botchergate was great Wild West style fun; somebody was being thrown out of almost every pub and bar we walked past! A large gate at the top of the street closed it off to traffic, I've always wondered what this gate was for - is it really there because of the drinking? The Wetherspoons on Botchergate was an utterly horrible dark and seedy disco scene from hell, I made my excuses and left! I'll be back to Carlisle though.

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    1. Yes, as I said Carlisle is far from the best pub town in the country. I agree that the King's Head is probably the best pub in the central area. The Fat Gadgie is a pretty typical modern craft bar which to me comes across as rather soulless and lacking in comfort. The Sportsman's wasn't up to much - poor, expensive beer, and a grudging welcome, which is a pity because it's a nice building in an attractive location.

      I presume the point of closing Botchergate to traffic is to stop vehicles colliding with drunken revellers spilling out of the pubs.

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  8. A great read that, sadly, illustrates why Carlisle is such a poor city for beer, with a couple of notable exceptions. Another decent example of SMS pubs is the Carlisle brewery owned Spinners Arms at Cummersdale, just on the western edge of the city and doable by bus, during the day.

    The Cumberland is a truly tragic example of 'right pub, wrong place' & yes, Botchergate is closed at weekends due to too many problems with drunken revellers versus traffic. When you look at how small towns like Chorley and Leyland etc have boomed with their micropub scene, I do despair at my home city.

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