Cambridge Local Inventory of Historic Interiors

Dobblers Inn

CAMRA’s Pub Heritage Group maintains an inventory of historic pub interiors, to protect and promote the dwindling stock. There are two tiers in the pub preservation hierarchy; a national list of the most important interiors, and a regional list of pubs that despite the alterations to them still have significant value. Three Cambridge pubs are included in the second tier – the Champion of the Thames, the Free Press and the Portland Arms (which only has some regional importance apparently). I propose a third tier, of pubs with interiors that have ‘local’ importance. This would include pubs that might not have exceptional or significant historic value, but have nevertheless either avoided the most severe refurbishments, or still retain features that distinguish the pub amongst the local stock, features that would be a loss locally if they were destroyed. Like the national and regional inventories, it would also be a way to track those that do get removed or destroyed.

A few examples:

Dobblers Inn – What might be regarded as one of Cambridge’s few remaining ‘classic backstreet boozers’ (I won’t define that, it just feels that way), with a piece of carpet I believe dates back to the late 80s. I mention that, not because it’s ‘dated’ – quite the opposite – but I do believe it’s important; if that piece of carpet goes, a potentially thirty year old piece of pub history is lost!

Eagle – Yes, I know its been much altered and extended and refurbished, and it’s already a grade II listed building, but I’m not sure that protects the RAF bar ceiling, covered in the ‘graffiti’ of British and American WWII pilots. The listing might protect the timber framing and the open gallery, but no mention is made of that ceiling, which would be a considerable loss.

Radegund – A pub that should be recorded as having lost one of its distinguishing features; its ceiling also had graffiti on it, this time the names of staff and regulars, including members of college rowing teams, but all were removed when the ceiling was raised during a refurbishment in 2015.

St. Radegund ceiling

St. Radegund ceiling covered in ‘graffiti’ prior to refurb

So, here’s the start of a list of Cambridge pubs that don’t make the national or regional inventory, but I think have interiors or features of local importance, each with a short sentence justifying its inclusion. Pubs whose features are protected by their listed building status aren’t included; this means, for example, the Pickerel doesn’t make this list as its ancient beams are already protected. I’ll update the list with others I remember and any suggested inclusions, and as and when interiors are lost.

Alma  Although much altered, still retains the feel of a classic backstreet boozer
Carpenters Arms Plaque with Lacons brewery falcon set into wall
Dobblers Inn One of the few other remaining ‘classic backstreet boozers’ in Cambridge, with a piece of carpet I think dates back to a 1987 refurb(?)
Eagle RAF bar ceiling is covered in the graffiti of British and American WWII pilots
Elm Tree A rare wet pub, so has thankfully escaped gastro refurbishment
Flying Pig “Organic and haphazard poster museum and art gallery, among its many other irreplaceable qualities” (see comments)
King Street Run Still retains some features from its ‘fun pub’ refurb of the mid-90s which gave it a rope bridge (since gone) to the ladies toilets, upside down tables on the ceiling and doors that opened the wrong way (such fun!). Went from being considered fun to tacky and now, I suggest, should be considered worth cherishing. A unique interior.
Live and Let Live Relatively ‘untouched’ as Cambridge pubs go, despite refurbishments. Although the gas lighting no longer works, it’s been there for decades
Panton Arms In one room beer is served from a recessed hatch (I can think of only one other pub, the Free Press, with a similar feature), while outside the former brewery gates are still present
Salisbury Arms Has early Cambridge Beer Festival posters. These reappeared after going into storage during a recent refurb, but it would be good to keep an eye on their whereabouts in the event of another refurb
Six Bells Okay, another classic backstreet boozer, but I maintain the number of these is dwindling, and that the interior of this pub is a good example of one left to develop character
Snug (East Road) If a pub like the Fountain can have its leaded windows ripped out, then the row of arched windows of the former Boat Race/Waggon and Horses, should be regarded as worthy of protection
Snug (Lensfield Road) The statue of the eagle, from its time as the Spread Eagle pub, still stands above the door
Travellers Rest The weathered brick arches and dark wood beams (apparently from an old mill in Lancashire) were added when it was refitted in 1982. I think it would be a loss if they were removed

And here are some pubs that have relatively recently lost some features of interest (not intended to be a list of closed pubs, just ‘lost’ features)

Former Cambridge Arms (now D’arrys)  A refurbishment years ago trashed the interior of this pub which had kept many features and memorabilia from the fomer brewery (the present owners have done a good job of trying to uncover some remains of the brewery)
Cambridge Blue Refurbishments lost “the snug, the open fireplaces in both bars, and real grass in the garden” (see comments)
Fort St George After a 2008 refurb it was noted “the biggest crime is the wrecking of the snug, formerly one of the most characterful pub rooms in the area with its old panelling, high-backed settle-benches and ring-the-bull” (see comments)
Fountain (now Novi) Leaded windows and the interior were ripped out under previous refurb
Green Dragon A refurbishment a few years ago shamefully threw away a wooden case containing some personal items of a local who some years ago left the pub to row home in his boat and was found drowned the following morning
Radegund A ceiling featuring graffiti (names, jokes etc) from locals and staff was removed during refurb in 2015
Former Swan The former Swan pub at 77 Norfolk Street, now a residential house, still had a swan signboard on the wall until a couple of years ago when it was removed and the building repainted
Tram Depot The mezzanine level, with furniture including repurposed cast iron Singer sewing machine tables, was removed during refurb in 2000
Waterman An interior that might have been considered ‘dated’, but was unusual for having escaped a gastro refurb, has now succumed. No doubt it will be much improved when it reopens later this year, but it still feels like the loss of an interior of local interest (fortunately the Star Brewery logo on the front gable has survived)

What other features of pub interiors have been lost recently, and what others deserve a mention as being of current local importance?


10 responses to “Cambridge Local Inventory of Historic Interiors

  1. A good idea, a good list. Particularly agree on the unchanging King Street Run. Think you should add Pint Shop though, a rare example of a pub where one’s beer is still ordered and paid for by one’s butler, and the ultimate “folly” of the Grain Store.

    • I think you might be right, further to our conversation, that the King Street Run could be Cambridge’s most unchanged pub. I’ve been in again tonight for a good look around, and it’s almost unchanged from when I first visited 25 years ago. Extraordinary. Of all the Cambridge pubs, I would probably urge people to visit the Run now just in case it changes anytime soon.

  2. Under ‘lost features’ I would add the snug at the Cambridge Blue, and the open fireplaces in both bars. And real grass in the garden.

    Of local importance, of course, is the organic and haphazard poster museum and art gallery that is hosted by the Flying Pig, among its many other irreplaceable qualities.

    Didn’t the Fort St george have its old snug ripped out in a recent brutal refurb?

    I’m sure others will occur to me.

    • Thanks for the suggestions Steve, spot on – I’ve updated the list accordingly (although, despite several visits to the Fort recently, I’ve failed to notice the condition of the snug)

      • “The Fort St George on Midsummer Common Cambridge has reopened after a refit and the results are truly dismal. The biggest crime is the wrecking of the snug, formerly one of the most characterful pub rooms in the area with its old panelling, high-backed settle-benches and ring-the-bull. It’s now just any old little room.”

        ALE 334, May/June 2008

    • Oh dear, that really is dismal, presumably trashed to make more space for dining, so more people can wait an hour or two for food.

      I’ve also added the mezzanine level at the Tram Depot, I do miss that.

      I suppose the Green Dragon signs also qualify – I guess it’s too late for many of the better signs there’s been, especially the ones replaced by GK recently.

  3. Many years ago, when the Prince Regent was a multi-bar pub and didn’t go all the way through to Parker’s Piece, it used to have a featureless square bar, the only interest in which was a display of really early cricket memorabilia, including a couple of curved bats which I think went back to the 18th century. These disappeared during one of the refurbishments, probably in the 1980s. I assume they were nicked and sold by someone who noticed that no-one seemed interested. Who owns the stuff in pubs is often unclear. Some seem to be included in what the licensee sells on, some seem to be seen as their personal property. Some, of course, belong to the bloody customers. I had to follow after one departing landlord and demand our quiz trophy back.

  4. PS As regards the destruction of the Fort St George, it reminded me that on various Sunday afternoons in the days before all-day opening, I took part in lock-ins at the FSG and found myself playing “strip ring the bull”. I wonder if that is a game that has ever been played anywhere else in England.

    • Ring the bull was a feature in the Salisbury arms and l believe the Queens head at Newton. On another note the snug at the blue was less than 20 years old when we took it out and unfortunately the fire place had to go when we replaced the loos. They may have been original but they where a bit pongy and had to go! Sorry 🙁

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