Cambridge Pubs – Clarendon Arms

A two bar pub, the right hand room with floorboards and half timbered walls is laid out for dining, while the upper part of the main bar has a stone flagged floor, the lower level leading to a nice courtyard which mercifully contains a wall mounted patio heater that smokers queue to stand under at this time of year.

Clarendon Arms

While drinking a pint of Hadrian Border Tyneside Blonde, I notice a lot of Greene King IPA is going through the pumps, so decide to have one myself. It’s a beer I’ve never taken to, save for memorable pints at the Hoops in Barton where a former landlord, the late Dave Saby, knew how to keep it. I’m pleasantly surprised though, I can see why it sells well here.

Clarendon Arms

The pub appears to have begun as a one room pub, later extended into a neighbouring cottage. Claims it existed since 1812 seem unlikely, even though a previous landlord told me he’d seen the deeds which apparently gave that date. It stands on what used to be the grounds of Clarendon House, a classical mansion designed by William Wilkins, built in the 1820s and owned by Charles Humfrey, a Cambridge-born architect, banker, and sometime Mayor. He was responsible for some of the earliest development in the area, including Orchard Street in about 1825, but ran into financial difficulties in 1845 and died a few years later. It was around this period that Clarendon House was sold off and demolished, and the area further developed into the existing layout of streets. This suggests to me that, as Clarendon Street was built across what had been the grounds of Clarendon House, it was probably named in memory of it, although the “Arms”, and the naming of the neighbouring Earl Street, would link it to George Villiers, the 4th Earl of Clarendon from 1838-1870. By my reckoning, the pub has been here since at least 1850, though it’s unlikely it was much earlier – it isn’t shown on Baker’s accurate map of 1830, when the area was still the grounds of Clarendon House.

Still, whatever its origins, it’s outlived two other pubs on Clarendon Street – the Crown & Sceptre on the corner of Earl Street, now a veterinary surgery, and the Two Swans on the corner of Orchard Street. Long may it continue.

Clarendon Arms

Cambridge Pubs – Cricketers

For the past few years the Cricketers has focussed more on food than beer, with part of the pub becoming the Luk Thai restaurant, but drinkers are still welcomed in the front bar. It’s the Thai food that’s the main draw here though, so real ales are sensibly limited to just a couple of offerings from Greene King, which at least ensures good throughput. Now, Cambridge has two pubs that specialise in Thai Food, and for me this is the better one chiefly because, unlike the other, the vegetarian curries here contain tofu (although you may have to request no fish sauce), and it’s made the effort to have the restaurant part look like a Thai restaurant. On this occasion I had cask GK East Coast IPA, and it was in good condition but I’m just as happy having the usual Staropramen with my meal.


I haven’t sat in the more pubby front bar for a number of years, but I used to visit often in the 90s to make use of the large pool table, since gone. Also gone is the lovely old pub sign, based on an illustration by Robert William Buss of a cricket match between All-Muggleton and Dingley Dellers, intended for Charles Dickens’s first novel, the Pickwick Papers. Before the current licensees took over, previous managers had given it a refurb and a name change (briefly renamed the First & Last) in 2011. During the refurb, I enquired what would happen to the sign and was told it would just be thrown away, so if I wanted it I could have it when it got taken down. A week or so later, noticing the sign was no longer hanging, I went to claim it. “It’s not here mate, either the builders nicked it or it got thrown in the skip”. Not untypical of the carelessness with which pub artefacts are treated during refurbs, especially Greene King pubs it seems.

The Cricketers pub sign

The previous pub sign, discarded in 2011

But anyway, the current licensees aren’t to blame, and it has at least reverted to the Cricketers, with a sign showing a cricket match, this time from an oil painting by John Haskins – the pub is close to the once famous cricket ground on Parker’s Piece, and former landlords have included members of the famous Haywards cricketing family, three of whom played for England. They’ve also made much better use of the enclosed beer “garden” and added a Thai style pagoda. And the food’s good – did I mention the food?


Cambrdge Pubs – Champion of the Thames

Summed up in a sentence by a 1970s pub guide which says simply “Beautiful old pub. Ask for draught Abbot Ale”.

Back then it was served straight from the cask on a stillage behind the bar, but still today this pub is regarded as serving the best Abbot Ale in the city. Naturally, that’s what I go straight for. A pint is poured and held up to the light. “It’s the end of the barrel – have a taste and see what you think, and if it’s not to your liking I can get you a pint of any of these” says the barman, gesturing to the IPA, Westerham Bulldog, TT Boltmaker, and Hadrian Border Tyneside Blonde. Can’t say fairer than that, but in any case, it tastes fine to me and I stick with it. But then it gets good throughput here – I know at least one local who on his own could probably get through a cask every few days. On keg, alongside the usual suspects, was Leffe Blonde and a Punk IPA about as good as I’ve ever had it.

Champion of the Thames

Time must have stood still here for decades, because another 1970s pub guide comments “the pub has obvious connections with rowing, but on our visit the trade was almost entirely local and tended to be mature”, which was true on this evening too. An old gentleman, dressed like a sea dog in a thick cable knit jumper, was sat as close to one side of the fire as the coal scuttle was on the other, his beard within singeing distance – at one point he got so warm he even took his cap off.

A grade II listed building with a tiled mansard roof, the interior has a low ceiling, probably chiefly responsible for its reputation as one of the smokiest pubs before the ban, oak panelling, rowing memorabilia, a tiled floor in the public bar and floorboards in the snug or lounge bar, and is on the National Inventory as having an historic pub interior of regional importance.

Both small bars are wood-panelled with Victorian counters and bar backs, fixed benches (with modern leather upholstery in the right hand bar) and rare part glazed partition wall between the two rooms. On the right a former fireplace has been converted into a tiny seating alcove. The etched windows, showing the Champion in action, are marvellous but not original having been smashed and replaced a number of times (the pub lies on the notorious “King Street Run”) but the ‘Public Bar’ one is old.

There’s also a nice small triangular walled courtyard at the rear that will seat three at a push, and which WhatPub amusingly flags as a Pub Garden. “Well, there is a tree” a woman says, pointing to the potted plant.

There are three doors leading into the public bar, although only one, the front door, is in use. The other two are either side of the fire – one at the corner of the building leading onto the street, and another that leads out into the side alley. To me that bears the hallmarks of having once served a small ‘bottle and jug’ off-sales room – similarly, from the alley down the side of the nearby Free Press pub, a blocked up doorway can be seen that would formerly have been the entrance for off-sales.

Champion of the Thames

A sign on the corner of the pub bears the description (complete with the capitalisation)

This HOUSE is dedicated to those splendid FELLOWS who make DRINKING a pleasure who reach CONTENTMENT before CAPACITY and who, whatever the DRINK, can take it, hold it, enjoy it and STILL remain GENTLEMEN

This is typified by the following overheard exchange between a couple of such gents:

“Do you want another gin?”
“Yeah, go on, I’ll have another”
“Good, it’s your fucking round”

Cambridge Pubs – Burleigh Arms

Following one former brewery tap, the Panton Arms, with another, the Burleigh Arms, former brewery tap to the defunct Star Brewery. Cambridge Breweries (Flood, 1987) says the brewery was founded here on Newmarket Road c.1822, on land purchased from James Burleigh, a carrier and landowner, and the brewery tap appears to be recorded from the 1830s – an underground passage ran from the brewery direct to the pub cellar. Brewing ceased in 1972, leaving Cambridge without a brewery for a while, and although the brewery was demolished in the early 80s, the Burleigh Arms remains. In the 1970s it had a public bar and a themed “galleon bar”, full of nautical equipment and model galleons. In 1983 the Cambridge News reported that the Burleigh Arms had reopened after being closed for six months while the frontage was rebuilt and the interior refurbished. In an attempt to go up-market, it had a 1930s theme with a pianist playing period music, and it was noted “Its profusion of potted plants gives a further touch of atmosphere”.

Burleigh Arms

The themed bars of this Charles Wells pub have long gone, and in 2014 it was overhauled again when present licensee Steve Murphy took it over as sister pub to the Old Spring. It’s really smart and clean, and they’ve managed to turn part of the car park into a large outdoor seating area, a pleasant surprise we only discovered last summer.

There were three real ales on – a nice drop of Wadworth Swordfish, Young’s Special, and Wells Eagle, along with keg offerings Young’s London Stout (which has become my default beer in Charles Wells pubs), Wells Dry-hopped Lager, Erdinger Weissbier, Amstel, Kirin and Estrella. Piped music was unchallenging – The Script, Mumford & Sons etc – and all the place lacked was a few more people, but it was early on a Monday evening. It’s a nice place, quite a large pub with a raised seating area in each of the two bars, and feels light and airy owing to the numerous large windows, but as we’ve learnt, a profusion of potted plants might give a further touch of atmosphere.

Burleigh Arms

Cambridge Pubs – Panton Arms

Panton Arms

Well here’s another pleasant surprise. I haven’t been here in years, and my memory was of a nice courtyard but an interior that was too bright, and beer too bland for repeat visits. I was expecting to quickly down a Greene King IPA and then move on, but this pub is much improved. Dimly lit by a few lamps dotted about and some candles on the tables – so dimly lit I can’t make out the coins in my hand so pay with a note, then can’t distinguish what change I’m given. The public bar has a maroon painted wall which absorbs most of the available light (probably intentional – there’s a rolled up projector screen above it) but there is a fire in and it feels cosy enough, especially for those seated on the sofas facing the fire. In the public bar, beer is served from a recessed hatch (I can only think of one other Cambridge pub, the Free Press, that has a similar feature), so it’s to the larger saloon bar to view the beer range.

Panton Arms

In the 1970s it was described as a three-roomed pub, which included a small “jug and bottle” bar with four seats, probably a remnant from its origins as the tap house for the defunct Panton Brewery. Now there are only two rooms, so presumably the jug and bottle bar was subsumed by a refurbishment at some point. The beer line up when visited included Moonshine Cambridge Pale, which I went straight for, Wadworth Bishop’s Tipple, and of course the ubiquitous GK IPA. On keg, Meantime Pale and Punk IPA add some interest, along with GK’s own Yardbird and the usual lagers.

Panton Arms

It’s not currently the best weather to enjoy the large courtyard, even though there’s a wrought-iron shelter at one end, but it’s a very pleasant place in the summer, with a tree providing shade on the few days it’s needed. The courtyard used to be the site of the Panton brewery. Cambridge Breweries (R.J. Flood, 1987) says a brewery was founded here by 1869 when Charles Lloyd Davis moved from a brewery in Earl Street (yet their appear to be records of a Panton Brewery earlier that century). It was sold to Barnet Beales in 1887 – one of his daughters married Frederick Dale who went on to found Dale’s Brewery on Gwydir Street. Ten years later the brewery was acquired by Messrs. Harold Bailey, son of Frederick Bailey of the Star Brewery, and Herbert Tebbutt, who transferred his business from the Granta Brewery. With that rich brewing heritage, it become an award winning brewery, advertising its “Gold Medal Ales”. The brewery estate also owned many pubs in the city, including the Free Press, Granta, Green Dragon, Kingston Arms, White Swan, and of course the adjoining brewery tap, now the Panton Arms. In 1925, the brewery was taken over by Greene, King and sons – the large iron gates to the courtyard bear the name – and by 1958 brewing had ceased and the brewery was demolished less than ten years later. Thankfully, its tap house is still here to enjoy. But whatever happened to Greene and King?

Cambridge Pubs – Travellers Rest

A Whitbread ‘Beefeater’ pub, the Travellers Rest is a mid 19th century roadside inn, apparently on the site of a much older inn. It has been significantly altered and extended over the years, and it’s difficult to appreciate its character, overwhelmed as it is by the large Premier Inn built next to it. But get close up and face on to it, and it’s really quite a handsome building of Cambridgeshire gault brick, with sash windows on the upper floor and a hipped tile roof.

Travellers Rest

The pub is an unlikely survivor. In 1961 Lacon’s brewery wanted to demolish the pub and erect another one further back so a petrol filling station could be built in front of it. Earlier still, in 1909 attempts were made to extinguish the license owing to it being “very remote from police supervision” and “frequented by people of bad character and with a married woman living there in the guise of a single person”. Its almost 2 miles from the city centre and a mile from the next pub, and I expect this might be one least frequented by Cambridge residents, drawing its trade mainly from the adjoining Premier Inn, although maybe it is a food destination for some – the menu helpfully points out that among the accompaniments one can have with a steak, the béarnaise sauce is vegetarian. It turned out to be much easier to reach than I’d presumed – a Citi 5 or 6 bus from the centre gets there in less than 10 minutes, and runs every 10 or 15 minutes for most of the day.

Travellers Rest

Despite the alterations, the bar in the original part of the building still retains some character, mostly from the weathered brick arches and dark wood beams which came from an old mill in Lancashire and were added when it was refitted in 1982. There’s also a large fireplace dividing up the raised level at the front. The walls have colour photos of Cambridge on them – I couldn’t find the old picture of the pub shown on Tripadvisor, and added to the bottom of this post. The only real ale was Doom Bar at £3.50 a pint (I would have tried the keg Tetley’s Smoothflow but it was so smooth the attempted pint consisted entirely of foam), accompanied by the usual suspects, Guinness and lagers. The piped music was firmly rooted in the 80s – Nik Kershaw, Suzanne Vega, and Tina Turner’s wretched attempt to destroy Ann Peebles’ I Can’t Stand The Rain, which had me hastily finishing my Doom Bar and running for the exit. On the way out, I took a moment to explore the multi-level layout of the restaurant extension, and was pleasantly surprised – I feared the whole place would be devoid of character, but ended up glad to have taken the time to visit. It doesn’t help that the entrance has been relocated to the side, so first and last impressions are of a large, ugly Premier Inn leant up against a small pub. It looks nicer on old photos. They always do.

Photo of Travellers Rest courtesy of TripAdvisor

Sources – Mike Petty, Cambridgeshire Collection

Cambridge Pubs – Punter

I’m now a quarter of the way through my challenge of visiting and writing about all the pubs and bars in Cambridge this year, and at last a pub that makes me ask myself “Why do I not drink here more often?”. And then, after a couple of drinks, “Why do I not drink here all the time”. I’ll endeavour not to use this phrase again, but it really is a gem of a pub.

A former coaching inn called the Rose and Crown, dating back to at least the 1840s when there was a wheelwright’s yard, a brewery, and stables which still exist and have been converted into “the barn”. The Rose & Crown retained that name until it went through several name changes from the early 1990s, becoming first the Town and Gown, then by 2003 the Rope & Twine, the Sino Tap the following year, eventually settling on the Punter, its name since 2007.


“Where’s that moose from?”
“It’s a talking moose?!”

In its present incarnation it’s one of those rare pubs that manages to gain a reputation for good food without alienating drinkers or losing its pubbiness (that’s a word, right?). It looks larger on the outside than it feels inside, despite the original two-bar layout having been opened out to a single space, but the multi-level arrangement offers plenty of snug areas to settle in. The walls are crossed with black painted beams, covered with pictures, the back wall in William Morris wallpaper, and there’s a hotchpotch of furniture where no two chairs look the same and candles are on every surface. The fairy-lit courtyard leads to the converted stable block “the barn”, a separate room for group bookings, swish enough for weddings and the like. I was expecting Adnams Broadside to be on the bar as it always has on previous visits, but was pleasantly surprised to find local brewery Turpin’s Cambridge Black, alongside Oakham Punter (Citra in disguise), both excellent, plus Ghost Ship and Doom Bar.

This pub features in my walking tour of the past and present pubs of Castle End, and if you step outside you can see several former pubs and get an idea of just how well served this area once was – the Merton Arms was directly opposite until 1988, next to that the Oyster Tavern (now the Chop House), across the yard the Borough Boy, and so on. The Punter itself would have closed in the early 1900s when it was still the Rose and Crown, had the quick-witted landlord of the time not successfully argued for the renewal of the license. He kept it open and ran it for a further forty years. So when visiting the Punter, raise a glass to David Henry Salisbury, who played his part in making sure it’s still here to enjoy.