The Good Beer Guide was first published in 1972, the year following the founding of CAMRA, to help drinkers find pubs serving real draught ale, “because the majority of Britain’s brewers have been pursuing a policy of robbing the public of its already limited choice”. That first issue was just 18 pages stapled together, a provisional list put together by a small number of volunteers prior to the commercial publication of a much more comprehensive guide, and as a result only featured one Cambridge pub, the Cambridge Arms. There was no guide in 1973, but the printed guide arrived in 1974 and has been updated every year since. This is the first part of a series of posts looking at the Cambridge city pubs that featured in the guides across the decades, how they were described and what became of them, beginning with a look at those in the 1970s editions.
The Cambridge Arms, the only Cambridge pub in the first Good Beer Guide, was to have a remarkable run, featuring in the first 14 consecutive editions before dropping out never to return. The entry in the 1974 edition is probably my favourite, noting that landlord John Perry, a CAMRA member himself, was “a fervent anti-keg man who believes firmly in traditional methods of dispensation”! A Greene King pub, it served their bitter and mild; a member from those early days once explained to me that at the time “if you walked into a pub that had Greene King beers, you thought you’d reached the promised land”. It dropped out of the guide after the mid-80s, and subsequent rebrands as The Brewery and the Rattle and Hum threw out the collection of breweriana and any traces of the former Cambridge Brewery. Now d’Arry’s restaurant and bar, although primarily a restaurant it does welcome drinkers and offers a single real ale, named George Scales Best Bitter as a link to its brewing past.
The only other branch pub in that provisional list was the Wheatsheaf in Duxford. Sadly, this “classic village pub” then serving Abbot, Rayment’s Mild and Bitter, closed as a pub in December 2017.
The first printed guide contained a further five Cambridge pubs alongside the Cambridge Arms.
Ancient Druids: A Charles Wells pub on Fitzroy Street that appeared in the guide twice, in 1974 and 1975, but was demolished in 1981 to make way for the Grafton shopping centre development. A new pub of that name was later built on nearby Napier Street – more on that when it comes to the 1980s guides.
Bun Shop: The 1974 guide contained the sole entry for this pub which once stood on St Andrew’s Hill Street, off Downing Street roughly where the back of John Lewis is now. Described as a “workingman’s pub”, it was demolished later that decade for the development of the Lion Yard shopping centre. The Bun Shop name reappeared on King Street by the early 90s when the King’s Arms was renamed, with the sign apparently showing a picture of the old pub on it initially, in the building now known as the Cambridge Brew House.
Cricketer’s: 1974 saw the sole appearance of this pub in over 45 editions of the guide. Unlike others, it escaped demolition and closure, and now serves arguably the best Thai food in Cambridge alongside up to three real ales.
Elm Tree: In the first three Good Beer Guides in the 1970s, my 1976 copy has a poignant amendment – a line through the name of the pub, which in that year suffered a tragic fire from which landlord Peter Gowing didn’t escape. Reopened by the following year, it would be 1985 before its next appearance in the guide, though it’s the pub with the third most appearances, including the current 2018 edition.
Mill: Appearing twice in the 70s, it then went over a decade before reappearing in the guide renamed as the Tap and Spile. The Mill has been in the past five guides, including the current edition, since reopening as the first of the City Pub Co venues in Cambridge in 2012.
Green Dragon: The first of six new entries in the 1975 guide, described as a “beer drinkers’ pub with strong local support”, it had a run of eleven consecutive appearances before dropping out in the mid-80s, since when it’s made only four further appearances.
Panton Arms: Described as an “excellent pub” in 1975 and as an “attractively modernised Victorian pub” in 77, nevertheless it’s only made five appearances in the guide overall, and none in the last 25 years.
Red Lion, Cherry Hinton: A lovely old 16th-century timber-framed building, complete with large inglenook fireplace and low beamed ceilings. Appeared five times between 1975 and 1985, but somehow hasn’t made it back in over 35 years since, although I enjoyed a great pint of Timothy Taylor Landlord on my visit.
Snowcat An estate pub that opened at the end of 1959, named after the tracked vehicles used in the expedition that completed the first overland crossing of Antarctica in 1958. Noted for its unusual method of dispense from a “cellar” in the first floor via transparent pipes to taps on a bar that was over 40ft in length, it was later renamed the Grove but eventually closed, becoming the Cambridge Gurdwara Sikh community centre in 2013.
Unicorn: Cherry Hinton: A “down-to-earth” pub making its first of eight appearances, serving “the best mild in Cambridge” according to the 1984 guide, sadly by 2011 it was closed and boarded up, deemed unviable by Greene King and facing redevelopment. However, though no longer a pub, the building survived and is currently occupied by a “coffee house, eatery, bakery, grocery” called Cofifteen.
Weathervane: Opened in November 1959 just a few weeks before the Snowcat, the estate pub now known as the Med made its first and only appearance in the guide in 1975. Currently an outlet for Turpin’s Brewery, the award winning local brewery based in Pampisford, perhaps its chances of making the guide again have never been better.
Bakers Arms: One of three new entries, the “friendly and cheerful” Bakers Arms made eight consecutive appearances before it dropped out, and hasn’t appeared in the past 35 years. After several refurbishments in recent times, including the bizarre and short-lived boxing themed “Noble Art’, it was renamed the Duke of Cambridge in 2014.
Dew Drop: The first entry in the guide for the “local’s town pub” that has since made more appearances than any other Cambridge pub, appearing in 36 of the 46 guides, and has enjoyed the longest consecutive run by appearing in every single guide from 1990 to the current edition, including all but one year since 1987 when it was renamed the Cambridge Blue.
Granta: The “pub in a picturesque setting” surprisingly hasn’t been back in the guide since its run of eight appearances in a row ended after 1983.
Meanwhile, village pubs the Pemberton Arms in Harston, “excellent locals’ pub” the Fox and Hounds in Weston Colville, and the Hoops in Great Eversden, a pub described by Roger Protz in 1987 as “the epitome of a thriving village local”, all featured in the guide; none have survived as pubs.
Cross Keys: One of only two new entries in 1977, the “small, friendly” split-level pub made the last of its seven appearances in 1986 before closing as a pub in 2009; it’s currently the Japas sushi restaurant. I remember the landlord in the early 2000s had what you might call a challenging sense of humour; a newly-wed friend of mine moved to a nearby street and went to the pub for the first time, proudly asking for a pint for himself and a half for the woman who had just become his wife. “Well” the landlord is claimed to have said as he looked her up and down, “if that‘s what you ended up with you can have these on me”!
Salisbury Arms. After being closed for a few years, it had reopened the previous year as one of the short-lived CAMRA Investments pubs. According to the guide “prior to reopening in 1976 only three breweries provided real ale in Cambridge, but this increased to ten under its new ownership”, with the likes of Samuel Smith, Bateman, Adnams, Bass, Elgood, Hannan, Marston’s and Ruddle’s available, complimented by “possibly the largest selection in the country of bottle-conditioned English and Belgian beers”. Despite increasing the number of breweries available to twelve by 1979, it failed to appear in that year’s guide(!) and has only appeared in five of the past thirty-four.
While there were no new entries for the city in 1978, “popular village local” the Jolly Brewers in Haslingfield, an “excellent local with lots of atmosphere” was in the guide for the second of four consecutive appearances. In 1980 Jack and Ivy Wallwork retired after 29 years at the pub, and it was closed for good by the following decade.
There were five new entries for Cambridge city pubs in the 1979 guide:
Free Press: The first appearance for the pub which has since had the second most entries overall, appearing in 33 of the 46 guides. The pub was closed and the interior gutted at the end of 1975 as it awaited demolition as part of the area’s slum clearances. Thankfully it was decided the pub could be retained after all, and after a period of renovation it reopened in February 1978, serving Greene King XX Mild, Abbot and IPA, as it still does; perhaps the only pub in Cambridge that still has the mild on permanent, and it is worth seeking out.
Jolly Millers: A once “lively pub overlooking the river” at the mill pond facing the Granta pub, the Jolly Millers closed as a pub in 1981. Latterly an Indian restaurant, it has been closed since it suffered fire damage in August 2016; sad to see a former Good Beer Guide pub in a prime location standing empty.
Queen Edith: The youngest of the three estate pubs to appear in the 70s guides, the Queen Edith opened at the end of 1961. It made two appearances, then dropped out of the guide until a new build pub of that name was built on the car park of the previous pub; that pub, Milton Brewery’s third in the city, has already featured in the guide twice since it reopened in April 2015.
Royal Standard: A “Lively, friendly town local” making the first of nine appearances, “with ‘real’ sandwiches and jellied eels” in 1980! A pub that hasn’t been in the guide since 1988 and which looked lost for good when it was converted to an Indian Restaurant in 2007; when that closed in 2011, it served as a charity shop while awaiting its likely fate of redevelopment for housing. However, it reopened in 2015 and it’s surely only a matter of time before it makes the guide again.
Spade and Becket: A “modernised pub with a pleasant riverside garden”, making the first of seven appearances over an eight year period. The name refers to Fenland peat cutting tools; peat was sent to the nearby quayside and stored in a riverside building called Sedge Hall, which stood there until 1924. Peat was used as fuel by the Cambridge Colleges and by bakers to heat their brick ovens (Enid Porter, Fenland Peat, 1969). Formerly the George and Dragon, the Spade and Becket became the Rat and Parrot, before the handsome building in an enviable location closed in 2004 to become La Mimosa restaurant.
Meanwhile, “excellent village local” the Tree in Stapleford was in the guide. The pub closed in 2013 and there has been a fight to prevent it being turned into housing, with a group campaigning to turn the Tree into a community hub.
A total of 22 different Cambridge city pubs appeared in the guide in the 1970s, and 15 of them are still open in some form and serve real ale, albeit in a new building on the same site in the case of the Queen Edith. The next post will walk through the GBG pubs in the 1980s, which saw nine Cambridge pubs make their only appearance, while over a third of all the pubs that featured in the guide during that decade have since closed…