10 Years Ago Today – Before The Smoking Ban

I took this short video clip on June 30th 2007, in the pub I lived a few doors down from, the Chequers in the South Cambridgeshire village of Orwell. It shows one of the locals and the publican at the time, smoking inside the pub on the last day before the smoking ban in England came into force, making it illegal to smoke in all enclosed work places.

The Chequers, licensed since 1815 and the last of several pubs in the village, survived the smoking ban. In 2012 the pub was put up for sale by Punch Taverns for £500k, an asking price suited to its current status as a highly-rated gastro pub, and is now in new hands. I moved back into Cambridge shortly after this video was taken, and haven’t yet been back to the village, but have often wondered what effect the ban had on Pete, the elderly local in the video; whether he continued drinking there, standing outside when he wanted a smoke, or if he started drinking from home where he could choose whether to smoke indoors. Perhaps he even gave up smoking, though that seems least likely, and in any case I doubt much thought was given to the effect on people like Pete, as the primary aim of the legislation was angled as protecting employees from second-hand smoke. In that regard, it seems inevitable beer gardens will be next in line for a ban, so if the likes of Pete did continue drinking in pubs, no doubt their enjoyment of a cigarette outside will soon be curtailed. So, while I appreciate ten years of not smelling of smoke after a visit to the pub, I doubt it’s something Pete would celebrate.


Heritage Pubs – Pot Kiln, Frilsham

Pot Kiln, Frilsham

We passed through West Berkshire and stopped off at the Pot Kiln, a pub with an historic pub interior of regional importance. The pub and much of the village were built from the tiles and red and grey “grizzle” bricks made at the Pot Kiln, which operated until 1939. The kiln was located at the top end of what is now the car park, and closed down as part of the blackout regulations, over fears it would act as a beacon for enemy bombers. Parts of the building are mid-16th century, with the remains of an older building under the beer garden, although it has probably only been a pub since the late 1800s.

Pot Kiln, Frilsham

In 1995 the West Berkshire Brewery started brewing in a 5-barrel plant in a converted building at the rear of the pub, although the brewery has since expanded and moved to a site just down the road in Yattendon. The pub serves 4 cask ales from the brewery, and a craft keg from the brewery’s “Renegade” offshoot.

Pot Kiln

Good Beer Guide 1997

As recently as twenty years ago, the pub apparently still retained four small bars, since altered and opened out, with a food offering that only extended to hot filled rolls a couple of days a week.

Pot Kiln, Frilsham

Despite now being a gastro pub, with the kitchen run by TV chef Mike Robinson, the pub somehow retains the feel of an old beerhouse, the bar facing the entrance being the old tap room.

The original pub room is reputed to be the one with the bare wood floor at the rear right, which was in use until 2007 but is now used for storage by the current food-oriented owners. They removed the wall that created a tiny tap room as you enter and the present public bar on the right. Tap room area has a red and black quarry-tiled floor, old counter and dado panelling. The public bar area has a counter possibly 30 or so years old, dado panelling of similar age, brick fireplace of similar age, some old low basic benches.

Although only a stones throw from the M4, the beer garden offers a peaceful place to watch Red Kites soaring over the surrounding fields and woodland, on the side of the fabulously named Valley of the Pang. There’s probably no finer place to enjoy a Maggs’ Magnificent Mild, although Mr Swift’s Pale Ale seemed to be the locals’ preferred tipple, and benefitted from being cooler, not being given a chance to warm in the pipes on a day when temperatures were in the mid-20s. The locals here could easily be discerned from the visiting walkers and cyclists, as they invariably arrived in obligatory Land Rovers accompanied by obligatory Labrador Retrievers, and in this privileged setting, just down the road from the family home of the Duchess of Cambridge, one stood complaining what was most wrong with this country were people on benefits who did nothing. It was enough to make one choke on one’s muntjac ragu (well, vegetarian pesto and goat cheese pinwheel in our case)

Pot Kiln, Frilsham

However, it was more than made up for by the friendliness of the bar staff, and couldn’t spoil the pleasure of drinking the Brick Kiln Bitter, brewed especially for the pub, in the grounds of a pub ranked sixth in the UK’s top 10 pubs by The Sunday Times last year and named the pub with the prettiest walks in Britain by no less an authority than the Daily Mail. Plans have been approved to replace the dining room extension, renovate and extend the kitchen, convert “dilapidated” outbuildings into guest accommodation, and renovate an adjacent cottage, and although these will no doubt be sympathetic to its surroundings, it’s probably a pub to visit now before it moves further from its origins as a kiln-workers’ beer house, and more towards its aspirations as a “country pub and game restaurant” with guest accommodation.

CAMRA Pub Heritage
West Berkshire Council

Cambridge Pubs – Hot Numbers

Hot Numbers

Another venue just got added to the list of places to get a beer in Cambridge. Hot Numbers, an independent coffeeshop and roastery on Trumpington Street, became the latest yesterday evening when they cracked into their first keg, serving De Molen Hop & Liefde at a ‘happy hour’ price of £2.50 a half.

Hot Numbers

Drinks are ordered at the counter and brought to your table; there are a couple of tables outside at the front, and a courtyard at the back. As they only have half pint glasses, frequent trips to the counter were made to keep topped up on this great session beer, sweet caramel malt mingling with subtly spicy citrus hops – hopefully they’ll have De Molen permanently because I think the Pint Shop is the only other place in Cambridge serving their beer with any regularity.

Hot Numbers

Formerly Martin’s Coffee House, where in the booth seating such culinary delights as spaghetti in butter could be enjoyed, it closed in 2013 after a long-running dispute over the lease with Cambridge University. The following year it reopened as Hot Numbers’ second site; perhaps the original site on Gwydir Street will soon start serving keg beer to add to its current selection of bottles and cans…

Cambridge Pubs – Cambridge Union 1815 Bar

Cambridge Union beer garden

The other day we were counting how many Cambridge pubs have beer gardens with real grass, and could only come up with a handful of them*. There’s one we forgot, and it’s hidden away behind the Round Church, down an alley off Bridge Street, right in the historic centre – the beer garden to Cambridge Union’s 1815 Bar. This was a private members’ bar until 2015 when it was granted permission to open to the public, so it’s no wonder we’d overlooked it.

Cambridge Union 1815 Bar

The bar is named after the founding year of the Cambridge Union, although the Victorian Gothic building it occupies wasn’t opened until 1866, and the bar is in an additional wing added two decades later in 1886. It’s a large room with wooden floors, a high ceiling with chandeliers and fairy lights, full length windows, and furnished with leather chairs and Chesterfield sofas. The walls are lined with signed photographs of famous guests; while many pubs claim tenuous links to highwaymen and embattled kings, the Union Bar has probably served some of the most famous names of the past century, no doubt witnessing late night debauchery from the likes of Stephen Hawking, ‘top’ Buzz Aldrin, and the Dalai Lama. Well, Stephen Fry at least.

Cambridge Union 1815 Bar

It probably also has one of the cheapest pints of real ale in Cambridge, not counting the Wetherspoon’s and various Greene King IPA and Doom Bar promotions, with Marston’s 61 Deep Pale Ale at £2.50 a pint. We also had the Pilsner Urquell at a less reasonable £8.50 for a pint and a half (£3 for the half!).

Cambridge Union 1815 Bar

There’s a surprisingly decent range of cans and bottles too.

Cambridge Union 1815 Bar

It has the kind of opening hours that would keep retiredmartin suitably entertained, sometimes closing “in periods of low demand and private functions/parties, specifically during exam term”, while it “may close at 2am rather than 1am Thursday-Saturday in periods of high demand”, making it one of the classier late night drinking venues. It’s the rare ‘real-grass’ beer garden that’s the main draw for us though, well worth a visit during this equally rare prolonged spell of weather good enough to enjoy it.

* Forthcoming post will round up Cambridge’s real-grass beer gardens

Cambridge Pubs – King Street Run

King Street Run

“This could be Cambridge’s most unchanged pub”, suggests @NHS_Martin, and I think he’s probably right. It has hardly changed since a refurb over twenty years ago, and not many Cambridge pubs can claim that. It’s also one of the most architecturally interesting buildings on King Street, the north side of the street having suffered badly from the blight of 20th century redevelopment. The pub is grade II listed as a late C18/early C19 building, with Corinthian pilasters either side of the main entrance, and a balustraded parapet along the roof edge.

Horse and Groom

John Rich, who was at the Horse and Groom in the 1880s

Formerly named the Horse and Groom, an advert from the 1880s boasted large and well-fitted billiards rooms; it still has a billiard table, along with two pool tables, in a large room on the first floor.

King Street Run pool

in the 1970s it was described as a two bar pub, with a “cheerful, lively” public bar “the venue of the older generation”, and a “remarkably clean” saloon “where the young people seem to gather”; evidently this wasn’t a view shared by all, with the Varsity student handbook claiming “the beer is foul, the bar dirty and the landlord unpleasant”. By the mid 1980s it had been refurbished by Whitbread and renamed in honour of the drinking contest that took in the six pubs that existed in King Street in the 50s, along with a couple of others just around the corner (neither of which still exist as pubs, while one of the King Street pubs, the Earl Grey, has since closed and is now an Indian Restaurant). It was described as “extensively demodernised with simple furnishings” and two coal fires, served excellent ‘English’ food, and hosted a popular weekly folk club where guests apparently included Ewan MacColl and his wife Peggy Seeger.

King Street Run bar

By 1994 it had briefly reverted to its original name, the Horse and Groom, but still retained its “pleasingly simple” decor, with the ominous comment that a new licensee had just taken over and was “planning some changes”. This is when, behind the elegant facade, a “Tut ‘n’ Shive” alehouse with “intentionally gimmicky decor and fittings” transformed the traditional pub into one “packed with young people drinking real ale”. I was one of them, and although I’d been in Cambridge a few years by then, I only remember the King Street Run as that “fun pub”, so no doubt the transformation was what first enticed me, and a packed house of other young drinkers, to gather there.

King Street Run backgammon

And yes, those gimmicks – the rope bridge (since removed) to the ladies toilets, the doors that opened the wrong way, upside down tables (and a wheelbarrow, if I remember correctly) on the ceiling, a whisky still display, a large first floor overlooking the ground floor bar through netting – these things did distinguish it from the “old men’s pubs”, as did the newly opened Fresher and Firkin on Mitchams Corner (latterly the Tivoli, since burned down).

King Street Run

That it had the best jukebox was also a major draw, and it was known as a grunge pub; it’s still referred to as grungy, though for reasons other than music. It was just along the street from the Cambridge Arms (now d’Arrys), another pub packed with young drinkers, and too-young-to-drink-ers, back then.

King Street Run

Quotes written on the wall, such as “Woof bark… donkey”, date the refurb for anyone that remembers Charlie Chuck from the early 90s.

King Street Run

It’s years since I last came in here, and perhaps over a decade since I’d been upstairs, so I took the opportunity to have a good look round while it was almost empty. It was quite a nostalgic trip to find it so unchanged, and remember the crowds of people drinking to a soundtrack of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Brit-pop. Meanwhile, on this occasion the jukebox played Teenage Fanclub and Supergrass. It was like stepping back in time.

King Street Run

We drank up our Guinness Extra Cold (I couldn’t see anyone on the cask Trooper or Doom Bar, and didn’t fancy a lager), and walked outside. A woman was standing in front of the pub with her kids, posing for a photograph. “This is where me and your dad met” she told them as they smiled for dad’s photo. We weren’t the only ones tripping on nostalgia it seems. This pub might be considered grungy, in the grimy sense, to some, and I’ve walked past it hundreds of times the past few years and thought the same. But now I realise what a unique pub we have here in Cambridge, and was surprised how fondly I felt about it. This really “could be Cambridge’s most unchanged pub”. Visit it before it changes.

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?

Cambridge Pubs – Corner House

Corner House

A pub that in the 1970s had “numerous diversions, including an electronic tennis machine”, and in the 90s “the Twin Electric Quiz Game”, now has “free to play consoles and games, 3 stations permanently set up to play on over 35 consoles and thousands of games including Megadrive, N64, NES” etc. Once an electronic games pub, always an electronic games pub. That said, it no longer has the “excellent bar-billiards table”, nor the “comic seaside postcards” or “red leatherette chairs lined in a neat row against the wall”, which apparently gave the impression “one has accidentally stepped into a dentist’s waiting-room” in the 70s.

It’s more appealing inside than its location might suggest – worn wooden floorboards and benches, a fireplace in the public bar, a refurbished lounge the brighter of the two rooms. Part of the public bar is set up for live music, and I’ve come here a few times to see bands. I suppose that’s when I’m most likely to return, when it’s busier, because it wasn’t at its best late afternoon, with just three other drinkers, who I’m guessing were regulars, sitting mostly in silence.

Corner House

Despite the pub looking spruced up, it’s on possibly the most dismal road in Cambridge, a stretch of industrial units and a ‘leisure park’, concrete as far as the eye can see. The Corner House was built c.1930s, before the south side of Newmarket road was largely purged of residents, on the site of an older pub, the Butchers Arms. At one time, on the opposite corner of River Lane stood the Brickmakers Arms, and on the opposite side of Newmarket Road, the King William. Now the opposite corner of River Lane is the site of a demolished Renault showroom, while on the opposite side of the road, a Travelodge and a Premier Inn tower over the busy road junction. Still, at least they provide more trade for the pub.

Corner House

Anyway, what this pub’s electronic games collection really needs – what every pub really needs – is Barrel Pong.


Credit: The International Arcade Museum