We’ve spent a week in St Ives most summers the past 15 years, and over the last few years it’s become more interesting for beer drinkers, with the Hub Bar, Rum and Crab Shack, and Bird and Beer catering for the less traditional tastes, and the Spoons and Pilchard Press micro pub offering perhaps the best selections of real ales from local breweries. We’ve visited every open pub and bar, but each year have also located a few more of the closed pubs, until we’ve reached a point we’d have to live locally and conduct more intensive research to find any more. So here’s a round up of the pubs of St Ives, past and present.
Beer & Bird
The most recent addition to the beer scene in St Ives, next door to the Castle Inn, Beer and Bird is a restaurant and bar run by the owners of Johns off license further along Fore Street, and only opened a couple of months ago.
It has easily the most extensive bottle and can list of any of the St Ives pubs, but also a decent selection of draught, with three cask and five keg when visited – we had good pints of Firebrand Equinot and Black Flag Simcoe Amarillo Pale.
The Castle Inn is our favourite of the traditional pubs in St Ives and probably the one most often in the Good Beer Guide. Dimly lit, with a low ceiling, black beams, slate floor, barrels and maritime items dotted about, and tables with cast iron stands. On the most recent visit, beers were Skinner’s GTA, Sharp’s Own, Greene King Abbot Ale, and Brains SA on cask, with another from Brains served by gravity.
While waiting at the bar, I observed an American order two halves of Fosters then leave a tip, a generous one judging by the pleasantly surprised look on the barman’s face. Three German women, seeing this exchange, ordered cream teas and then they too left a tip on the bar. I leaned forward to see what riches the barman had been gifted this time. Ten pence.
The Golden Lion is an 18th century pub, rebuilt c.1899. Old photos show the penthouse projecting from the front of the previous building, there for the benefit of fish-hawkers.
In a directory for 1823, one Samuel May is listed at the Golden Lion. By 1830 he was at the Union Inn and by 1844 at the Castle Inn where he remained until at least 1856. In 1881 a John Reynolds was at the Golden Lion – a couple of years later he too had made the move along Fore Street to the Castle.
These days it’s a traditional two-bar pub, the front bar the much busier of the two, with a small but well kept courtyard garden at the rear. Skinner’s Betty Stogs and Wells Bombardier Gold seem to be regular, with Bath Gem and Young’s Special on guest.
The Hain Line is the first Wetherspoon pub in St Ives, opening in 2012 in what was formerly the location of Isobar (previously Elbow Room), a cocktail bar and club. Good selection from local breweries (Tintagel, Cornish Crown etc) alongside the obvious Spoons regulars. Small secluded courtyard at the back.
The Hub bar has become the place we tend to visit first and most often for drinks in St Ives, and we’ve had some some of the best beers here from breweries like Black Flag and Wild Beer Co. On the most recent visit though, every beer was from Harbour Brewery, with the exception of one cask from St Austell’s small batch range. Now, we like Harbour’s beers, and the Hub’s house beers have always been brewed by Harbour, but it would be a shame if the choice was limited to only their beers (this may have been a one-off). The upstairs balcony offers some of the best views over the harbour, and the large portions of food (good veggie burgers and fries) have left us satisfyingly overfilled on each occasion.
Johns Wine & Spirits Specialists (off license)
Always a decent place for Cornish beer, over the past few years it has increased its range and embraced craft beers from all over the world. Still, most interesting are the range of cans from Cornwall’s more progressive breweries like Black Flag and Verdant.
Kettle N Wink
The Kettle N Wink is the bar of the Western Hotel, a building listed as C18-19, formerly the White Horse before becoming a St Austell Brewery hotel in the mid-19th century. St Austell brewery own another hotel in St Ives, the nearby Queen’s Head, but the Kettle & Wink feels more like a pub than a hotel bar, separated as it is from the main hotel, below street level. It has live music every night, and seems to always have Tribute and Proper Job plus another guest.
The Lifeboat Inn is the largest of the pubs, and the one most geared towards serving food to families. Originally a fish cellar and salt house, it was converted into the Harbour Sale Auction Room in 1883 eventually becoming a pub when the lease was bought by St Austell Brewery in 1963. It was extended into an adjoining restaurant in 1998, a year after the brewery bought the freehold. Generally very busy, especially on Sunday lunchtimes or when sport is being shown on the big screens. Beers on were Tribute, Trelawny and HSD, with Korev on keg. Some of the tables at the front offer good views over the harbour, but failing that there are now a couple of seats outside the front door, although you have to have your beer in plastic to sit there.
Pilchard Press Alehouse
Opened in June last year, in what used to be a pilchard press but more recently was converted to office space. On opening it could claim to be Cornwall’s only micro-pub, but will have to settle for being Cornwall’s first micro-pub after others opened in Redruth and Newquay shortly after. It’s not easy to find – down a narrow alley renamed Alehouse Yard just along from the Lifeboat – and there’s not much room to sit, so it pays to get there early.
Initially with limited opening hours, it’s since extended them, but still sometimes closes “when the beer runs out” on Sundays. We visited on a Friday, a day after six new beers had been put on, but were disappointed the Black Flag Fang, one of my favourite beers, and the Harbour IPA had already run out. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the Cornish Crown Helter Skelter, and St Ives XPA and Harbourside, served from the cask on a stillage consisting of an old wooden beam running behind the length of the bar.
A granite faced, listed building, the Queen’s Head Hotel, or ‘Queens’ as it now seems to be named, has been owned by St Austell Brewery since 1966. It recently seems to have changed its name from the Queen’s Head Hotel to ‘Queens’, discarding the pictorial inn sign for something more bland, and claims to be “St Ives’s only gastropub”. I’ve not eaten here, so couldn’t comment on the food, but for a drinker this could be the dullest pub to spend time in as the bar is food oriented and lacks character, even if the beers, Tribute and HSD, are okay.
Rum & Crab Shack
The Rum & Crab Shack opened in March 2013 above a shop that used to be the Copper Kettle cafe and Wimpy bar; the menu sign was salvaged and hangs in the gents, showing Wimpy’s classic Cornish dishes such as Shanty Salad and Cheese-egg Bender.
Most of the L-shaped room is a restaurant, but the bar area is a nice enough place, with good views and a small selection of cask and keg, on this occasion a decent Cornish Crown Helter Skelter and a Dortmunder Union pils. Unfortunately I was caught out by the Portland Craft Beer Co. American Ale, an insipid beer that turns out not to be brewed in Portland USA by an American brewery, but in Manchester by Molson Coors. Fortunately, there are some good cans in the fridge including Verdant and Cloudwater.
The Sloop Inn claims to be one of Cornwall’s oldest inns, dating from 1312, although I’ve yet to come across the source for that date, and the present building is listed as C17-18, with a date stone of 1645 incorporated into a late 19th century element of the building. Inside can be quite atmospheric on the rare occasions it’s not busy, with its low beamed ceiling and slate floor, always quite dark inside, with only small windows giving views out to the harbour. Despite the unexciting range of drinks – most of the bar given over to cider with Doom Bar and 2 guests, Ghost Ship and Dartmoor Jail Ale, the only real ales – it’s still the best place for sitting outside at the front and watching the world go by (where the ‘world’ mostly consists of a stream of cars inching their way along the harbour front, the narrow street packed with unsuspecting holidaymakers presenting pasties and ice creams to sustained attacks from the incessant Herring Gulls).
St Ives Brewery Cafe
Opened in March 2016, the new home of the St Ives brewery has a cafe with panoramic views over St Ives Bay, and a brewery gift shop. It’s at the top of the long, steep hill that leads from the “1000 space” car park down to the seafront. No draught beer, but bottles can be enjoyed on the terrace area overlooking the town.
The Three Ferrets, formerly the ‘Grub Pub’, is often referred to as the local’s pub in St Ives, a rough & ready drinkers pub, but that’s its unique selling point. If visitors are looking for somewhere to take the family for a meal and some local beer, this isn’t the pub – it doesn’t serve food, although you can bring your own in, and it’s not most people’s idea of a family friendly pub, but also tellingly it’s the only one of the pubs where I’ve not seen Cornish beer served; for the past few years that I’ve made notes, Timothy Taylor Landlord and Fuller’s London Pride have been the two real ales.
We popped in at 6pm for a pint of TT Landlord, and sat on the upholstered bench seating around the edge, watching some of the already well oiled locals totter around the one-room bar in circuits, one showing off the flashing soles of her light-up trainers to anyone whose attention she could get, a chap attempting to play pool but missing sitters, another enthusiastically greeting his friends with the traditional Cornish welcome “Alright my lover”.
The Union Inn is listed as mid C19, while the street directories show a succession of members of the Johns family from at least 1831-1873 – John Johns, followed by Joseph Johns and finally Mrs. Mary Johns. Regular live music, and there are plenty of old photos of St Ives on the walls. Beer was Doom Bar and Betty Stogs.
St Ives Museum
The St Ives Museum at Wheal Dream has some photos of the old pubs, and a display case with bottles of Newquay Steam Beer.
A couple of pubs have closed in St Ives over the past few years. The Penbeagle Croft has been converted back into a house and there is a planning application to turn the Sheaf of Wheat into flats. Going further back, there is a long list of pubs and hotels that have existed in St Ives – West Penwith Resources has the most comprehensive list; I’ve only found mention of one former St Ives pub that isn’t on that list, the Old Bear Tavern:
At St Ives in October 1753, after John Stephens had been installed as mayor, an entertainment and handsome dinner were given at the Old Bear Tavern (Douch, 1966).
On the Wharf, The Sloop Inn was previously flanked by two other pubs – The Globe to the left and the White Hart to the right.
The former Globe was still a Wimpy until as recently as 15 years ago, but is now Pels café/takeaway. At the front is Doble’s Wall, erected in late C18 by Mr. Doble, then licensee of the Globe to protect the property from the sea, as it is partly below ground level. A watercolour by James Abbott Whistler, ‘Penthouse of the Public House, St Ives, Cornwall‘ c.1883/4 shows men on the wall outside the inn. It is still there, although a gap has been cut in it.
The White Hart Hotel, on the other side of the Sloop, existed into the early 20th century, and although the building, like the Globe, has been much altered, some of the ornate facade still remains.
Further along the Wharf, the Ship Aground, also known by the wonderful name ‘Sloop on the Firesands’, may have been one of the few pubs to refer to wrecking, “this desperate trade which rarely found any commemoration on inn-signs”, and a name which was “happily succeeded by that of the Lifeboat” in St Ives (Douch, 1966). The ground floor of the former pub is now the United Fishermens Co-operative Society shop, while the upper three storeys have been converted into a holiday cottage. We looked inside the shop but couldn’t see any evidence of its former life as an inn, although apparently an old fireplace and old beams still exist, hidden by chipboard.
Nearby, is a place Matthews (1892) suggests was a “ruinous tenement which has the reputation of being the oldest house in St Ives”, Carn Glaze, which used to be an inn. It apparently fell down at the end of the 19th century, but a house of that name still exists at Carnglaze Place, although it doesn’t look particularly old, so may be a new building on the site, rather than the old house rebuilt.
Labour in Vain
Until recently this former inn, now split into two properties, of which the present Labour in Vain is one, had a reproduction of its inn sign outside. This showed “a white woman with a black boy in a bath, attempting to scrub him white” (Coal, 1957; cited in Douch, 1966). Presumably this has been removed so as to not cause offence. The property, now holiday accommodation, can be found on Victoria Place, in the maze of back streets just up from the Wharf.
Apparently also known as the fighting Victory, “from the fights which frequently occurred both inside the house and in the street”. It is now holiday accommodation, and has a plaque of a ship on the wall; its inn sign showed “a man-of-war under sail on one side and at anchor on the other” (Couch, 1966).
Matthews (1892) says that “nearly opposite” John Knill’s House was the Britannia Inn, “now two dwelling-houses” This could refer to several properties, but numbers 57 and 59 look most likely, and 59 has a deep cellar visible from the street.
On Fore Street “on the corner of Court Cocking”, although it’s not clear which corner building was previously the beer house of this name. “Its landlord was fined in January 1874 for selling tobacco without a license” (Douch, 1966).
George and Dragon
The George and Dragon, a 15th-century inn, formerly stood on the west side of the Market Place, facing the church tower, but was demolished in 1887 to make way for new shops. It seems it was a respectable place:
Its patrons (all respectable men with no nonsense about them) often asserted that the George was not a drinking house, and never would be a drinking house… the George and Dragon inn was an institution little inferior, in the public estimation, to the parish church, or the justice-room over the Market House.
The inn is associated with a grizzly story. In 1449 during the Catholic Rebellion, John Payne, the mayor of St Ives, was captain of the rebel army. After defeat, he retreated to St Ives, which was soon visited by one of the King’s representatives, who was entertained by the mayor at the George and Dragon (although Matthews has it as “the old house which was afterwards called the George and Dragon inn”).
The story runs that a little before dinner Sir Anthony Kingston took the Mayor aside and whispered to him in the ear that an execution must be done that day in the Town, and therefore required him that a pair of gallows should be made and erected against the time the dinner should end. The Mayor was diligent to fulfil this command, and no sooner was dinner ended than he demanded of the Mayor whether the work was finished. The Mayor answered that all was ready. “I pray you,” said the Provost, “bring me to the place.” The Mayor therewith took him friendly, and beholding the gallows he asked the Mayor whether he thought them to be strong enough. “Yes,” said the Mayor, “doubtless they are.” “Well,” said the Provost, “get up speedily, for they are prepared for you.” “I hope,” answered the Mayor, “you mean not as you speak.” “In faith,” said the Provost,“ there is no remedy, for you have been a busy rebel.” So presently the Mayor was hung up.
In 1949 on the 400th anniversary, a bronze memorial plaque was fixed to the external wall of the the Sacred Heart and St Ia church on Tregenna Hill.
Also facing the Market Place was the Red Lion on the corner of St Andrew’s Street, which burned down at the end of the 19th century and is now the site of a memorial garden opposite the church. There were two other pubs on St Andrew’s Street – the Star and the Blue Bell.
The Star was just down from the Red Lion on St Andrew’s Street. It’s possible the first building on that side of the road was the former Star, at least it appears similar to the pub on an old photograph; if not, the present building must have adjoined the Star.
Matthews (1892) describes the building of the former Blue Bell: “The first-floor projects somewhat over the room beneath, and is upheld, on the side fronting to the street, by two slender stone pillars with circular mouldings round the capitals”. This has to be the building further along St Andrew’s Street shown in the photo above. A house two doors down is called Bluebell, so it’s possible that was the extent of the building.
Duke of York
The Duke of York was on “Fore Street (High Street), later Lloyd’s Bank” according to west-penwith.org.uk. Presumably this refers to the building which was still Lloyds until recently, but has closed and remains empty.
Sheaf of Wheat
A former St Austell Pub on North Terrace that has been boarded up since closing early in 2015. A planning application to convert it to flats was posted in the window last year, but this year the building still remains empty and untouched, and looking ever shabbier. Whatpub described it as a “Welcoming 2-bar pub on the edge of the town centre, popular with locals and tourists alike, the roomy public bar features a pool table and TV screen, the tastefully refurbished lounge bar/restaurant retains its access to a small beer garden”. There’s really no chance this will ever be a pub again.
A former freehouse further out of town, according to Whatpub, it was a “large well-appointed pub converted from a guest house, itself converted from two cottages by a pools winner.” Also known as the Penbeagle Croft, as it was apparently built on the site of a crofter’s property on Penbeagle Hill. It closed a couple of years ago and has been converted back into residential accommodation.
A club from the 60s, tucked away near the Island just off Porthmeor beach, it closed in 2008 and the building has now been converted into holiday flats with no visible clues as to its former life. Beer Talk remembers going to Pegg’s in the 80s and 90s, but not anything about the beer selection, which is probably a blessing.
Shire Horse Inn
Another club Beer Talk visited to see live bands, not a bar I know anything about but sounds like the kind of place I would have visited had I been to St Ives during the rave years. On the outskirts of St Ives, it was demolished c.2015, but there’s an amusing article about it in fermented news.com.
Badcock, W. (1896) Historical sketch of St. Ives & district
Douch, H. L. (1966) Old Cornish Inns
Matthews, J.H. (1892) A history of the parishes of St. Ives, Lelant, Towednack and Zennor in the county of Cornwall