Book review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
Real Heritage Pubs of the North-West: Pub Interiors of Special Historic Interest edited by Geoff Brantwood. CAMRA. £7.99
You might begin at The Currock. There’s two full-sized billiard tables – the last ones to be found in a pub in Carlisle – and there’s a game of table bowls, which is just like the outdoor game except it’s played on a table and the biased bowls are rolled down a chute. Geoff Brantwood reckons: “This is almost certainly the last pub in the country where you can play the game of table bowls.” It is still played in clubs in the city. The Currock has still got its Victorian bar, now painted purple, and its dado panelling around the walls, but like so many other old public houses, it has lost much of its former glory.
Carlisle, of course, has its State Management pubs. In their day, they led the way in changing the culture of the public house. Carlisle was used “as a test bed for the theory that excessive alcohol consumption could be controlled and reduced through the design of the places where drink was sold and consumed.” The Cumberland Inn remains the “least-altered” of the state-managed pubs. It was built in 1929-30 by Harry Redfern at a cost of £13,678. There’s been much opening-out and refitting, but the Tudor Revival style ambience is still conveyed by the fielded panelling and the stone fireplaces.
The two little-used bar rooms upstairs are now The Royal Outpost Restaurant and they remain much as Harry Redfern intended that they should be. “Both rooms have original bar fittings, excellent fireplaces and panelled walls with gilded inscriptions in praise of modest drinking. Above the panelling are painted cartouches and vine motifs with jugs and glasses over the fireplace.”
The Redfern, named in honour of the Scheme’s architect, but designed by his assistant, Joseph Seddon, has lost much of its original interior. “The counter in the public bar has been extended and there has been much wall removal between the right-hand front room and that behind (originally known as the tea and smoking room). However, there “is still much to cherish”.
And looking around at other pubs in the county, there is still much to cherish. The Pheasant Inn is commended for the “atmospheric public bar of the fine old Georgian coaching-inn”. There is “a wondrously old gas fire”.
The Blacksmith’s Arms in Broughton Mills still has a stone slab floor and it retains many features which indicate how this fine old Lakeland inn was converted from the original private house.
The “charmingly old-fashioned” Howtown Hotel has a cosy Residents Bar with a leaded screen and a Victorian counter. Its proudest possession is an antique till which takes several rings to record each transaction.
Penrith has two very special pubs. The Agricultural Hotel, built over two hundred years ago, still retains its “Victorian shuttered and panelled serveries, but, sadly, in the late 1990s “there was a major refurbishment which opened up the pub.”
Dockray Hall is an even older inn. It was built in the fifteenth century for none other than the then Duke of Gloucester, who was later known as Richard III. It became an inn in 1719 and there is still sixteenth century panelling and a seventeenth century stone fireplace.
Cumbria has had some fine public houses. Many were people’s palaces, fine buildings incorporating the finest and often most flamboyant design of their day. As business places they have had to change with the times, but this timely book may help us to cherish some of the old pubs which remain in the county and elsewhere in the North-West.
You know what you have to do. The rest is up to you. Cheers!