|the flag of Cologne|
|a white whippet looks on in bemusement|
Früh Kölsch definitely wins this taste-off even with its stiff competition. In some bars in Cologne it’s served directly from an oak barrel and soaks up some of its woody flavours too. I’m looking at the Eurostar’s website now………
|The Black Lion faces The Blue Anchor. Despite appearances, they’re both private housing|
As far as public houses are concerned, its heyday was back when it was a stagecoach town reaping the custom of travellers coming in and out of London. For the pubs that endured into our Elizabethan age, it’s more a change of culture at a societal level that’s closing public houses as well as breweries opting to sell stock to the lucrative housing market . This essay will be in two halves: this post will focus on the closures and the loss historically and into the present day. The second half will be about the future possibilities, as the more I see things evolve, the more I wonder if some of it isn’t a change for the better. I’ll write about beer resurfacing in different public milieux.
At the end of the nineteenth century St Albans lost a pub which, if it had survived, might’ve been one of the most famous historically. It was apparently in its doorway that the Duke of Somerset was slain in 1455 in the first battle of the War of the Roses. Shakespeare alludes to it in Henry VI part II. His nemesis Richard Duke of York says:
|These harpoons are absolutely everywhere|
If you go to any of the streets leading off St Albans’ main drag and rotate 360 degrees, you’ll see harpoons sticking out of the sides of buildings. Most of them will have been pubs – the signs would’ve hung from them. These empty pikes aren’t the only clue to the city’s ex-public houses; you need only look at the names of yards, streets and even shopping centres. Close to the site of The Castle was St Peters Brewery. Though long gone, its presence is reflected in the Maltings Shopping Centre built on what was once its malting floors. One of the yards backing onto it is Half Moon Yard named after the Half Moon pub. The little alleys that cut through the Tudor buildings to the market place are also named after boozers like Queens Way (Queen’s Hotel), Lamb Alley (The Lamb) and Boot Alley (The Boot). Gloriously, that last pub is still going strong. Through to French Row, St Albans’ second shopping centre – Christopher Place – is named after The Christopher Inn. A 15th century pedestrian arch still survives with a hoofed and particularly front-heavy stone grotesque guarding one end.
|A bound 15th century grotesque|
In the 19th century the trade was driven by competition between the Verulam Road Brewery and St Peter’s Brewery. The two families – Searancke and Kinder – eventually had their businesses subsumed into even bigger concerns; proof that brewery takeovers are nothing new. Both were purchased by Adey & Whites which in turn was acquired by Flowers. It was then ingested by Whitbread. Just think of Russian dolls.
|Every Wednesday and Saturday is market day in St Albans. The large building is the town hall|
The first swathe of closures in St Albans was actually attributable to the railway replacing horse-drawn traffic from 1858 onwards. Prior to that, the inns used to rely on the punters being literally ridden in from out of town. It wasn’t just ale and board for the travellers that was required but for the nags too.
|The age-warped but beautiful structure of what was the Tudor Tavern|
With regards to the Tudor Tavern (which genuinely is from Tudor times), its loft spaces alone have been converted into several restaurants so maybe the chain will wish to apportion some of its seating, bar and cellar space to good beer some time soon. After all, when I walk past, the tables are never full – maybe that’s an omen. It would be a shame to ever lose those stone elephants, though.
|An ancient coaching inn on Sopwell Lane|
One of the best preserved coaching inns in the country is at the corner of Sopwell Lane and Holywell Hill. It’s a private dwelling now but was once The Old Crown Inn. A bit further down the lane stands The Goat. What was former stabling is now an italianate patio beer garden. Another famous example is on Verulam Road. It was formerly The Verulam Arms (not to be confused with another Verulam Arms a block away – see part 2). In 1835 Queen Victoria and her large retinue stayed and had lunch there on their way back from Scotland to London. In this case, the body has remained intact as it’s been converted into something that benefits the many rooms and is even more essential to a community than a pub – a nursing home.
On some houses we are also left with some antique stencilling and artwork. Now a private house, what used to be The Vine on Spicer Street still has a painting of a bunch of grapes above the door. The pub was originally leased by Gentle’s Yard Brewery just around the corner – a micro before the term existed. Still on the wall in fading letters: Benskins Fine Ales & Stout – this was the brewery that later took it over. Benskins hailed from nearby Watford and was once Hertfordshire’s biggest brewer. The brand name was used up until the early 1990s but actually belongs to Heineken now.
The below image is of a house in Tyttenhanger Green on the outskirts of St Albans. Historically it’s infamous. In the mid 1970s it boasted 18 cask ales at a time – possibly the only pub in Britain to do so. It was an early CAMRA destination in the days before people bothered too much about drink-driving. As you can see, it was called The Barley Mow and its once glowing illustration panel is fading away. The figures on it, just discernible, are ghosts. Instead of a welcome to walkers, if you attempt to wander down the public footpath that runs past its right flank, you’ll be funnelled into an ever narrowing squeeze by a row of parked cars before two massive Rottweilers launch themselves at you. Just a flimsy fence separates you from them. Scrambling out of the other end of the tight bottleneck you’ll come out at the A414 where traffic thunders past at 80 miles an hour. It’s one of the most unpleasant twists to a countryside walk imaginable.
One of the things most in contrast to my previous Ghost in the Shell essay about St Johns Wood is how many ex-pubs in St Albans have become houses or housing. Away from the big cities, this seems to be the default reversion. As well as The Barley Mow and Vine, I could also mention the Blue Lion, the Duke of Marlborough, the Black Lion, the King Offa, the Crow, the Blue Anchor and the Camp. The last two were McMullens tied pubs.
|Not just a pub but 6 other businesses. The view from the balcony isn’t worth it.|
Referencing the area’s Roman heritage, the Camp was situated on Camp Road. It was tied to McMullens whose pubs have been sold in their droves over the past few years as a house sale is worth much more in the short term. Last year, there was a concerted effort by CAMRA to save The Camp. It was given ACV status but planning has been given for the structure to be pulled down and be replaced with a block of flats as no buyer has been found. I regret not getting involved as I thought there wasn’t the custom to sustain it. I went in twice. On both occasions me and my dog were given a friendly welcome but I couldn’t help but notice how empty it seemed apart from the several men at the bar. They looked like they spent their lives there. Even if it seemed me signing the petition would’ve made no difference, I’m conscious that if everybody took that view, stands would never be made. A brawl took place at the bar on its closing night as a group of morons decided to settle old scores. That didn’t help its cause either. I walked back there for the photo and couldn’t help noticing that the boards in the windows look like the pennies on a dead body’s eyes.
|What used to be the Camp|
If this post ends on a depressing note, I hope the follow-up post will act as its uplifting counterfoil.