Cambridge Pubs – Devonshire Arms

A mid 1870s pub, likely the first building on Devonshire Road, formerly named the Midland Tavern, commemorating the Midland Railway that brought trains to Cambridge from Kettering. It obviously slaked the thirst of the builders, as Devonshire Road was gradually laid out over the following two decades, and of the railway workers. It seems it was very successful, since in 1889 the Railway Mission Hall was built three doors down, no doubt for the spiritual salvation of the workers from the perils of drink.

Devonshire Arms

It’s an oddly shaped building, only one and a half storeys high, and it wasn’t until the 1970s that the two-storey extension was built to the rear when the pub was under the ownership of Tollemache & Cobbold Breweries on Newmarket Road. In that decade a pub guide amusingly described it as a “dark & shady establishment” adding, in words that still ring true today, “although the decor is rather shabby, this was one of the liveliest pubs in the area”. It seems to have remained a laid-back, alternative kind of place for decades. Back then it had “rock bands most Wednesdays, reggae and soul disco every weekend” and was apparently a hang out for punks. It was a bit of a dive when I first visited in the early 90s, by which time it had become the Devonshire Arms, drawn by the dub reggae still played there; a rasta I knew at the time swore he’d witnessed a late night game of dominos where the stakes kept being raised until finally one player bet his house keys… and lost!

In January 2010 it was refitted and reopened under the ownership of Milton Brewery, the first of their three Cambridge pubs. It still attracts more of an alternative crowd and has a relaxed atmosphere, with occasional live music and an annual chilli sauce competition (there’s a warning on some of the pizzas, which used to include one loaded with ghost chilli sauce and suitably named the ‘Johnny Cash’). As you might expect, Milton’s own beers are well represented with 5 cask ales covering a range of strengths, from the sessionable Justinion and Sparta through to the likes of Marcus Aurelius and Mammon, both over 7% ABV – there aren’t many pubs in Cambridge that regularly have that span, most don’t venture beyond 5%. There are also a couple of guest ales, and on keg Moravka, an unpasteurised Czech style lager brewed in the Peak District, is permanent and has recently been joined by Milton’s craft keg offshoot, ‘Beach Brewery’ Waikiki. It’s one of the closest pubs to the train station, and I think it’s unlikely to be much affected by the forthcoming opening of a Young’s pub there – the Dev is more than just a place to get a drink; it’s a lived-in boozer with almost 150 years of character engrained in its walls, with a good crowd of regulars, something a new-build with more transient trade will struggle to match.

Devonshire Arms

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3 responses to “Cambridge Pubs – Devonshire Arms

  1. Malcolm Nicholls

    I don’t remember punks using the Midland, it was a reggae pub with a West Indian customer base.

  2. Excellent pub, but I’m not a huge fan of Milton beers. They’re ~alright~ but no better.

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