Last night the Pint Shop opened its doors for the first time for a preview evening, prior to the launch on Monday 4th Novemember, the first entirely new pub in Cambridge for over ten years. Inspired by the proliferation of beer houses that followed the Beerhouse Act of 1830, the Pint Shop aims to be a relaxed, intimate place for great beer and simple food, and first impressions suggest they’ve got this spot on.
Expectations had been building since the beginning of the year when the Pint Shop name first popped up, but the promise of a “craft” beer bar in Cambridge was taken with a pinch of salt – after all, we’d been here before with the Cambridge Tap having twice tried and failed to open at the train station, around which time Brew Dog was said to be sniffing around Cambridge, although this too came to nothing. However, in August any doubts were dismissed when the location for the Pint Shop was finally revealed, a handsome three-storey building just off the Market Place in the city centre, an area short of good beer.
We visited prior to the refitting and were shown around what were then empty offices while Rich and Benny waxed lyrical about their vision. It wasn’t hard to see how the former stuffy offices could become a bustling beerhouse, and a few things in particular piqued our interest – glimpses of original fireplaces and features, albeit partly concealed, the potential of the large cellar, and perhaps most of all, the surprise of an outdoor patio area at the rear of the building – in the centre of Cambridge, a quiet, secluded spot we wouldn’t have known existed (and that would be much improved with a trellis of hops!)
During the renovation, the fireplaces were uncovered to expose marble fireplace surrounds, carpets ripped up to reveal parquet floors, original shutters and fine doric columns refurbished, and walls knocked through to form a spacious front bar and cosy snug.
But back to the beer. Earlier in the year we’d met Rich to hear more about the plans over a few pints. It was clear by then that it was more than a pipedream, and the kind of beers being enthusiastically discussed were exactly the kind of beers that Cambridge lacked – beers from the likes of Magic Rock and Buxton that seemed to have passed Cambridge by on their way to London. Fast forward to today, and although this isn’t by any means the first time great beer has been served in Cambridge, the beer selection currently sitting in the cellar includes some of the best being brewed in this country today, with the likes of Buxton Axe Edge and Kernal IPA soon to appear amongst the ten keg and six cask lines. Unlike the original beer houses, there’s also an array of gins, with Adnams Copper House as the house gin.
On the preview night we were treated to a free bar featuring Kernel Table Beer, Rogue Dead Guy, Adnams Dry Hopped Lager and Old Ale, Marble Pint and Oakham Asylum – all in good nick and served with zeal by an impassioned team. More than the beer itself, the enthusiasm of the staff is what impressed – the previous week spent on a crash course of beer and gin tasting, food pairing and cellarmanship, clearly paying dividends.
For a place with the slogan ‘Meat Bread Beer’, it was not unexpected that the bar snacks being served were mostly unsuitable for vegetarians, but the food seemed to be going down very well for others. Although snacks will be available in the bar area, what was especially welcome was the separation of the main dining and drinking areas, with dining rooms at the rear and on the first floor, avoiding the situation in some pubs where tables in the main bar sit ‘reserved’, empty and free of discouraged drinkers.
It also helps that the building itself has such a great ambience, with plenty of original features and nice added touches – a foot rest running the length of the bar, ledges for drinks in the outside alley and along the corridors, a chalkboard for the essential details of the beer – they all added up to a great first impression and it lived up to it’s promise as a place I can see myself visiting often, drinking a variety of good beer. I’ll raise a glass to that.
A History of No. 10 Peas Hill
The present building, “an unusually ambitious house” with “giant pilasters and a Doric stone frieze” (Pevsner, 1970), was originally a merchant’s house built c.1830, perhaps earlier, which would make it contemporary with Cambridge’s Bridge of Sighs. During its lifetime it has been a bank, Toft’s cabinet makers, Mary Cullum’s lodging house, Francis & Co solicitors (the oldest firm of solicitors in Cambridge, now merged with Mills & Reeve) and most recently an office for the University administration and records. At the time it was built, it would have stood facing the Bell Inn, since demolished to make way for extensions to the Guildhall, now the site of the Tourist Information Centre. The Three Tuns also stood on Peas Hill by St. Edward’s passage, a tavern frequented by Pepys who “drank pretty hard” there, it too has been demolished.
Although this is the first time the building has been a pub, two “well known inns, the Talbot and the Dung Hill Cock (afterwards called the White Hart)” once stood either side of the present Pint Shop site, the White Hart recorded from at least 1572. A Dunghill Cock was a rooster, and dung hills would have been common on the streets of Cambridge, especially around the market place – as recently as 1850 the superintendent of the Fire Brigade which stood near the Guildhall complained to the mayor of a “dunghill at the back of the Corn Exchange which leaks into the engine room when it rains”! In 1575 regulations were made to clean the streets twice a week, with orders that “Innkeepers or others who kept more than four horses or bullocks must only deposit muck or dung in the highways when the carters were about to call” (Reeve, 1976)
The Augustine Friary
The Pint Shop stands on what was the north side of the Austin Friary from c.1289 to 1538. Although the buildings were cleared away after the disolution, part of the refectory and the gateway fronting Peas Hill remained standing until as late as 1789, then used as the lecture room of the professors of botany, the former friary grounds forming the first University Botanic Gardens c.1760. Behind the Pint Shop, excavations of the present Arts School cellars revealed fragments of the Augustinian Friary.
Peas Hill was an area of Saxon occupation from c. 8th century. Although the ‘hill’ isn’t so evident today, it was originally on a ridge of higher ground, the gradual levelling up of the lower ground over centuries having covered the contours – from the Pint Shop to the river at King’s College, the ground level slopes down about twenty feet.
It became the site of the fish market in 1579 when an ordinance of 12 February provided that “all the fresh-water fish and sea fish brought to the town and all the common fishmongers which usually have stood in the market over against the new shambles shall from henceforth be sold on the Pease Market Hill and have and keep their standing there” (History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely, 1959). The Fish Market was important, and “dealt in a great variety of fish: salmon, Colchester oysters, as well as mackerel, herrings, sprats, eels, jacks, and other freshwater fish” (Conybeare and Griggs, 1910). The fish market continued there until 1949. The name ‘Peas’ may be a corruption of ‘pisces’, Latin for fish.
Peas Hill was the scene of the Town vs. Gown riots of April 1534 and the Battle of Peas Hill on November 13th 1820 (Elton, 1958). These tensions were aggravated down the centuries by the legal privileges accorded the university, which gave it an extraordinary dominance over the town. (Bayliss, 2006)
There are a quarter of an acre of tunnels under Peas Hill which were fitted out and used as air raid shelters for 400 people during the War.
They damp tunnels were wired for electricity, lavatories were installed, wooden seats fitted in the tunnel recesses, and oil lamps were kept close at hand in case of emergency. People used the shelter during daytime raids, some sleeping down there when there was night bombing, while ‘Roadsters’ used them every night to sleep. The first Cambridge tunnels dug under Peas Hill were used as wine vaults and one is blocked off by a wall of wine bottles cemented together. (Mike Petty, Looking Back)
Parts of the Pint Shop cellars do appear to form part of those tunnels, and should the need for shelter arise, this is where I’m heading.
Highways & Byways in Cambridge – Conybeare and Griggs, 1910
Outside the Barnwell Gate – H.P. Stokes, 1915
The Augustinian Friary in Cambridge – Cranage and Stokes, 1918
By-ways of Cambridge History – F.A. Keynes, 1956
Star Chamber Stories – G. R. Elton, 1958
History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely, 1959
Cambridgeshire – Niklaus Pevsner, 1970
Cambridge – F.A. Reeve, 1976
Cambridge Street-Names – R. Gray and D. Stubbings, 2000
Town and Gown – Sarah Bayliss, 2006
Looking Back – Mike Petty