Cambridge Pubs – Portland Arms

For years I only really thought of the Portland Arms as a music venue. I’d grab a pint and head straight to the music room at the back without really paying attention to the bar areas on the way. Then on one occasion I arrived at the pub early with some time to kill before the band came on, and only then sat long enough to soak up the atmosphere and have a good look round. There are wooden seating bays along the front from where you can admire the original 1930s wood panelled walls and bar counter, and the stone fireplace. The saloon bar and seperate public bar are worthy enough to be regarded as an historic pub interior of some regional importance (some?).

Portland Arms

The building itself dates from the 1930s, replacing the Scales Hotel (which itself was previously named the Portland Arms), and was designed by the architect Basil Oliver, whose other works in Cambridgeshire include the former Rose and Crown on the corner of Newmarket Road and East Road (still standing but no longer a pub), and the Red Lion in Grantchester. It’s only a few years ago that Greene King were set to allow developers to knock the Portland Arms down to accommodate the redevelopment of the area into flats, generously offering a replacement pub which would fit nicely into the new block of flats and provide “a much higher level of modern facilities“. Ungrateful campaigners influenced the rejection the plans, denying the rest of us the pleasure of drinking in a block of flats with all those “modern facilities” we could have been enjoying, whatever they are (no doubt the same campaigning killjoys who have so far succeeded in preventing developers from bulldozing the Flying Pig and giving us the office block we’d prefer to be not drinking in – luckily the developers caught them off guard by demolishing the neighbouring Osborne Arms before cleverly claiming they were ‘unaware of the need for conservation area consent’).

Anyway, back to the Portland… as well as the music venue at the rear, there’s a nice courtyard with some covered seating, or as the pub’s website describes it, a “courtyard garden with a Tiki theme, it features an African hut” – now geography isn’t my strong point, but Tiki… African..?

Portland Arms

Worth mentioning that Greene King XX Mild wasn’t on and is no longer permanent here (apparently it still appears regularly on rotation) – the Free Press is the only Cambridge pub that always has it, so far as I know. There were a few GK beers including Uncle Sam and Belhaven Smoke Stack Stout, but I ended up having Leffe Blond.


6 responses to “Cambridge Pubs – Portland Arms

  1. Possibly the pub I use most often due to the Green Mind gigs. Like you I’ve admired that saloon bar, if it was in a non-music venue it would be more appreciated.

    Cask beers have been very average (though not bad),so we’ve ended up with the Nene Valley cans recently; not sure what I’ve got against GK/Belhaven. Leffe clearly a wise choice too !

  2. Ah yes, now you mention it there were cans of Nene Valley Release the Chimps in the fridge, probably a good choice when I visit again

  3. My granddad was landlord of the Portland, from before its transformation from the Scales Hotel to the Portland, to 1950. When the pub was rebuilt, one half was knocked down and rebuilt and the family lived in the other half, then they moved into the new bit and the remaining old part was demolished and rebuilt. It had to be done like this so it could remain open and keep its license!

    • Hi Lois, that’s fascinating, I didn’t realise it kept serving beer to keep its license throughout the transformation!

      So far as I can work out, The Scales Hotel was originally called the Portland Arms. It was renamed the Scales’ Hotel by George Scales, son of the brewer who had the Scales Brewery on King Street. The younger George Scales became publican of the hotel c.1881. He was only there for a few years and by 1888 it in was in the hands of the Rowell family, who kept the hotel until at least 1913. When the Scales’ Hotel was rebuilt by brewers Barclay, Perkins & Co. Ltd, who had bought and closed the Scales brewery in King Street in 1926, the name returned to being the Portland Arms.

      At least, that’s my interpretation of the records. I’d be interested to know if you have any further information – thanks for commenting.

      • Thanks! I had a sketchy idea of the history so thank you very much for filling in the details! Did you know there were stables behind the pub and some of the ‘young gentlemen’ from the university kept their polo ponies there? One of them was prince Chula of Siam as it was then, and he had a drinking trough for dogs put up – it’s still there across the road from the pub – he also put them up elsewhere, we came across one in Cornwall!

  4. I imagine you are aware of its current position nestled into its somewhat imposing Student Castle surroundings? An aesthetic assault to behold! And of course you must also be aware of this little news morsel…

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