Cambridge Pubs – Petersfield

“It will ruin the character of a quiet neighbourhood” complained the naysayers, what with all those “customers making merry outdoors beside neighbours’ gardens”, “diners carousing”, and “the ‘nightmare’ of clattering pots and pans, clanking dishes, slamming pantry doors and whooshing dish-washers – all to the sound of toilets flushing”. You’d think a soup kitchen for the incontinent was being proposed for the grounds of a Benedictine monastery. Instead, the plans were simply to turn a former backstreet pub back into a pub. Heaven forbid!

Petersfield

The White Hart and the rest of Sturton Street existed by at least 1874, around the time the Corn Exchange was built, with one Richard Fuller probably the first publican, also listed as a grocer, there for about five years before it first changed hands. Over a century later, It closed in 2003 and reopened the following year as the Backstreet Bistro, primarily a restaurant but with a couple of handpumps. Last night, after 13 years as a bistro, it opened its doors as a pub again. Five handpumps state the intent to be a pub first and foremost – Adnams Ghost Ship, Nene Valley Big Bang, Tring Hummingbird, along with Cambridge Brewhouse Night Porter and King’s “fair play” Parade – with Beavertown Neck Oil, Adnams Mosaic, Lagunitas and Cambridge Brewhouse Pale and Dry Stout on keg along with a couple of lagers. That said, no doubt food will be a draw, and although the menu wasn’t yet being served, some tasty hors d’oeuvres were handed out.

Petersfield

It’s a classy place, pitched at the kind of locals who can afford to own property here rather than the railwaymen, carpenters and bricklayers who once populated these terraced streets, but no doubt some “carousing diners” will see it gets a few knocks and spillages and soon develops a more lived-in feel. The fine wooden fixtures and plush furnishings, large L-shaped bar, wine bottle ceiling and complete overhaul of the layout suggest it’s seen significant investment.

Petersfield

Nice to see plenty of old Cambridge photos on the walls, and some breweriana from Dales Brewery which once brewed on nearby Gwydir Street. As for the worry of acoustic nuisance, the impeccable taste in music – Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Canned Heat – couldn’t be heard outside the pub, and on leaving only a murmur of conversation was audible – earlier I stood in the courtyard and the conversation was punctuated by the sound of passing trains, so it’s not quite the “quiet neighbourhood” some residents claimed.

Petersfield

Now I’m not without sympathy for the concerned residents, even those that moved in nearby when the premises was a pub and were now complaining they didn’t want to live near a pub. Nobody wants the potential for “nuisance incidents… accompanied by other nuisances” on their doorstep. But if they were interested enough to visit last night, they might not be weeping and gnashing their teeth so much today. The feared nuisance and “BIGNESS“, as one anxious resident put it, weren’t evident at all. What the residents have on their doorstep now is one of the most impressive refits of a pub I’ve seen. Perhaps they’ll even come to like it.

Petersfield

Cambridge Pubs – Bath House

Previously the Bath Hotel, it’s listed as a 17th century building, extensively altered in the 18th century, and later extended. In the early 70s it underwent renovation as it was converted into a Beefeater Steak House. Sham timber-framing was removed from the exterior, but the interior restoration revealed 16th century panelling and an old stable wall, and “magnificent fireplaces”, with craftsmen adding reworked Cambridge bricks and “oak timbers from a Petersfield house which date from 1050”, according to a newspaper article. Upstairs, ceiling beams and old floorboards were restored, the interior apparently resembling “a French wine cellar” – by the late 70s it had become Christie’s Wine Bar. When it reopened in March 1975, it was said to have a “Dickensian atmosphere” with a Micawbers Bar, Jem Larkins Bar and, upstairs, “a more spartan ‘Uncle Tom’s room’ where those who miss the old pub atmosphere will feel most at home”. What became of this first floor? It’s now converted into toilets and staff rooms.

Bath House

Glimpse of beamed ceiling in first floor corridor to toilets

By the early 90s it was a Hogshead pub with up to 10 beers on handpump plus 3 on gravity, including Brakspear Special, Whitbread Boddington Bitter and Castle Eden Ale. By the late 90s a change of Hogshead ownership from Whitbread to Laurel has resulted in “a reduced range of beers and the regrettable loss of small brewery offerings – this used to be a regular outlet for City of Cambridge beers”. Now the pub is in Green King’s hands with the predictable beer range – on when visited were GK IPA, IPA Reserve, Olde Trip and Yardbird, plus Redemption Pale. I had a pint of BrewDog Punk IPA from the keg offerings which included Blue Moon, Hop House lager, Leffe Blonde, Guinness and all the usual lagers. The interior was sanitised, the once “magnificent” fireplaces appeared to have been made into seating alcoves, what could be seen of the floorboards, exposed beams and brickwork was somewhat obscured by TV screens and flashing fruit machines, while the modern tiling around the bar appeared to be the same as at the Prince Regent, another Greene King pub.

Bath House

For the first time this year I saw someone actually using a fruit machine – Million Pound Drop – a woman who didn’t look like a millionaire, but claimed to “always win on this” as she explained how it worked to the barman who’d gone over to stand and watch – when he went to serve a customer she carried on talking to the machine. Meanwhile her boyfriend, dressed in camos and with eyes so wide they looked about to pop, was restlessly shuffling about. Two old gents stared silently into the menu for longer than it would take to read it twice through. I didn’t recognise any of the pop music and it wasn’t loud enough for Shazam to identify – small mercies.

Bath House

Sources:
Cambridge Evening News, 3.3.1975
Payne, Sara. (1983) Down Your Street

Cambridge Pubs – Alma

Dark wood low stools with red upholstery – you only get those in proper pubs. Pubs where the closest you get to ‘craft beer’ is a handmade pump clip. Pubs with a dartboard and framed photos of sportsmen in action with mud and/or blood on them. Pubs like the Alma.

Alma

“To someone, somewhere, oh yeah, Alma matters” sang Morrissey, who would no doubt have had the Linda McCartney veggie burger with chunky chips and a side salad, had he visited. The Alma clearly does matter to many, it was so packed I couldn’t even see the bar on the Friday night I attempted to visit the other week, so I turned and left. I’d rather that than an empty pub (I had to return at a quiet time to reach the bar and take these photos, quiet time being 4pm on a Monday – I’ve yet to find a pub busy at that time, when they’re open at all). Rugby matters to the Alma, the inflatable Guinness goal posts around the door were a giveaway. Music matters too, it’s been a live music venue for decades, and now has one of Cambridge’s best open mics, the Sunday Songsmith Sessions, run by a songwriter called Ezio who’s so good they named a band after him.

Alma

It was originally the brewery tap to the Alma Brewery, which brewed from 1835, becoming the Alma Brewery after the battle in 1854 during the Crimean War, and in 1880 was brewing a XX ale and a Best. Brewing seems to have ceased by 1909 but the pub took the name Alma Brewery, a name it carried into the 90s, after being extended and restyled in 1972, reopening with footballing landlord Jackie McGugan, ex-Cambridge City captain (I know at least one other ex-City player went on to run a pub in Cambridge, but that’s for a later post). The pub had previously been extended in 1937 when two adjoining terraced houses were incorporated into it. In 1982 it had another extensive refit, reopening as a free house under the control of CAMRA investments (a short-lived venture that also took on the Salisbury Arms) with landlord Nick Winnington at the helm, a chap perhaps best known as the Monster Raving Loony candidate when landlord of the Cambridge Blue.

Alma TryThis being a “rugby and real ale pub”, visited during the 6 nations, the pub had a couple of themed beers on – their own Alma badged ‘Try’ (presumably brewed by Greene King?), and Greene King Grubber – along with the ubiquitous Greene King IPA and other beers I can’t recall but which included Moorhouse’s Premier Bitter, of which I had an acceptable pint. There are also the usual lagers and of course Guinness.

AlmaI remember at one time there was an old red telephone box in the middle of the pub, used as an aquarium for a solitary fat fish, both sadly gone. Nevertheless, despite successive refurbs, the interior of the pub doesn’t appear to have changed much over the twenty or so years I’ve known it, perhaps it’s largely as it was since the refurb in 1990 after it was damaged by fire – wooden floorboards, low ceiling, old photos and a sign from former owners Ridley’s on the wall, dartboard on a raised area to one side of the bar, red pleated bench seats, dark wood low stools with red upholstery. It’s been kept in good shape but escaped sanitisation. It’s also the only Cambridge pub I’ve had flyers from, pushed through the letterbox on several occasions over the past few years, and I live almost a mile away, but it matters to the Alma.

Alma

Cambridge Pubs – Calverley’s Brewery Tap Bar

It’s almost three years since we were first invited down to the brewery to sample Calverley’s first beer, a solid Best Bitter that was good enough to win the Mill’s Battle of the Brewers later in April, and go straight to the Cambridge Beer Festival the following month. I was impressed then and have been since, a brewery that seemed to hit the ground running and has consistently hit the spot. Last year they opened the brewery tap for on-sales, housed in the same buildings as the brewery, Victorian gault brick workshops and garages, tucked away by the railway line at the end of Hooper Street.

Calverley's

Despite the bleak weather, we were lured out by the promise of three keg and five cask ales, all now unfined, including a sweet satisfying saison and a mangoey mosaic pale. We were the only ones in there when they first opened at 6pm. Within 30 minutes the small candle-lit tap room and adjoining seating area were packed with a mix of locals and visitors, some with carry-out containers queuing for off-sales, others seated with food from Joe’s Tacos street kitchen outside. “There’s a party of over 50 coming tomorrow” said founding brewer Sam, “we’re going to need to expand soon”.

Calverley's

Currently there is an outbuilding for the overflow of customers, but they’re considering other venues they could carry the concept to, serving small batch beers in small, cosy tap rooms in Cambridge. It will be difficult to find a venue quite as snug as the current one, and it’s been amongst the most enjoyable and reinvigorating evenings since embarking on this endeavour to visit all the pubs and bars in Cambridge.

Calverley's

Cambridge Pubs – Castle Inn

The pub dates back to the 1740s when it was known as the (Three) Horseshoes, becoming the Old Castle and eventually the Castle Inn (not to be confused with the Castle on St. Andrews Street). A pub guide from the 1970s describes it as a two room pub, “the blackened beams festooned with antiquated copper, brass and pewter utensils”. It was purchased by Adnams in 1994 from Allied Breweries and was renovated, extending into the neighbouring building, opening the upper storey to enlarge the area for drinking and dining, and adding a patio area at the rear against the Castle Bank. There are now about five different drinking areas downstairs and three more upstairs, plus the two-level patio.

Castle Inn

In 1990 it was described as “an unpretentious, easygoing pub”, its CD jukebox considered to be one of the best in town, “loud in the evening”, and with a good collection of rock posters, including “the celebrated indictment of Jim Morrison”. It still felt unpretentious and easygoing on this visit, the music playing softly, as befits a Sunday afternoon, an eclectic mix of jazz, Sam Cooke, and the El Michels Affair. The pub these days has more illustrious musical connections; incumbent landlords the Halsey family include John Halsey, a drummer perhaps best known as Barry Wom from The Rutles.

I’ve always found the Timothy Taylor Landlord to be a very enjoyable beer here (I’m struggling to think of anywhere* else in Cambridge that has it regularly), and I thought I was just unlucky on the last few occasions I’ve visited and it’s not been on. Again on this visit there was no sign of it, so I asked when it would be back on, only to be told it was no longer being served here.

It was a bombshell. I was shocked. And stunned.

Unfortunately, it seems it proved to be a troublesome beer that didn’t keep well. I should add, it’s not the first time I’ve heard this said just recently – I know another Cambridge pub that’s found TT beers “don’t travel well”.

In the absence of Landlord, I had a very enjoyable pint of Adnams Nordic Red Ale ‘Longboat’. Other beers included Adnams Ghost Ship, Southwold Bitter and Lighthouse, with Blackshore, Ease Up IPA and Mosaic on keg – a line up one might expect with the Castle Inn being an Adnams owned pub, the only one in Cambridge, and the brewery’s westernmost until they took on the Bridge House in London c.2002.

A pub for over 270 years, having outlived so many other beerhouses and inns that existed in Castle End, the Castle Inn has proved to be a living legend that will live long after other living legends have died.

Castle Inn

Cambridge Pubs – Earl of Beaconsfield

I’m now a third of the way through visiting every pub and bar in Cambridge this year (actually, I’m nearly half way through, I just have a backlog of blog posts). One of the motivations for this endeavour was that I’d have to revisit pubs like the Earl of Beaconsfield, pubs I know are good, but rarely make the effort to visit, inertia keeping me to a handful or so of pubs in the city. So, on a freezing evening with the drizzle unconvincingly dressed up as snow, I made the effort and went over the railway bridge to the wrong-side-of-the-tracks that is Romsey Town.

Earl of Beaconsfield

The pub dates back to around 1889, but appears to have been rebuilt c.1931. Well-trod floorboards lead to the L-shaped bar, where I wasted no time ordering an Adnams Mosaic. There’s regular live music at the Beaky and plenty of music memorabilia and instruments dotted about, along with metalwork tree branches on the walls, but I chose a quiet night, happy to just have a quiet drink.

The two resident cocker spaniels kept me amused. With tails wagging, each new customer was greeted and sniffed, and they took it in turns to jump on the leather seats and sit next to me patiently waiting for a fuss, favourite toys held tightly in their mouths.

Earl of Beaconsfield

There’s a wonderful effigy of the earl on the corner of the building, which appears to be based on a portrait taken in 1878 by British photographer Cornelius Jabez Hughes, and which this photo doesn’t do justice.

Earl of Beaconsfield

But which this one does a much better job of:

Earl of Beaconsfield
Earl of Beaconsfield © Ben Sutherland, under Creative Commons Licence

Disraeli beers:

Cask – Adnams Mosaic, Moorhouse’s Ice Witch, Robinsons Magnum IPA, Woodforde’s Wherry, Doom Bar.
Keg – Backyard Brew Shed Head (Carlsberg’s attempt at craft beer apparently)

Cambridge Pubs – Prince Regent

Another pub I haven’t been in for a while, and one I’m not expecting much from, but it turns out to have an okay-for-Greene-King beer range, and is pleasant enough for a pint – especially as it’s here I track down a beer I’ve been hoping to come across again since finding out it was on the GK guest beer list – Sharp’s Sea Fury, brewed to the same recipe as Sharp’s Special but rebranded. Very nice it is.

Prince Regent

Also on the bar are Exmoor Dark and Moorhouse’s Premier Bitter, and on keg I’m surprised to see Camden Hells alongside Punk IPA, and the usual suspects like Peroni, Hop House 13 and East Coast IPA. It’s busy at 6pm with plenty of food being ordered. What used to be a three bar pub comprising of a public bar, a lounge, and a smoke room, has now been opened out and extended, although there are raised railed areas either side of the front entrance. There’s a low beamed ceiling throughout the older part of the building, with floorboards and tiles around the L-shaped bar. The piped music (I recognise Gabrielle Aplin but have to Shazam the likes of Jessie Ware etc) is partly drowned out by the struggling aircon unit I’m sat near. A conservatory at the rear leads to an outdoor seating area that you could say “backs onto Parkers Piece”, but more realistically just offers a narrow view of the traffic along Gonville Place.

The pub and the street are apparently named after the visit to Cambridge in 1815 of George IV, then Prince Regent, although he was only passing through, didn’t even come near this area, and is not known to have returned. Despite the tenuous link, there was also a George IV pub on East Road and a George Street named after him, neither of which exist now. It’s surprising the name endured for this pub, considering how unpopular he was as a king. Anyway, until about three years ago the pub sign used to show a colourful portrait of said prince, but this has been replaced by the bland design Green King have been rolling out across the city, just a green board with what looks from a distance like a squiggle, but on closer inspection is the truncated signature of George IV. Why that was considered an improvement I’ve no idea.

Prince Regent

Sources:
Gray, R. (2000) Cambridge Street Names, Cambridge University Press