Monday 12 August 2013

Then and Now

A couple of years ago, I found my old copy of The Best Pubs Around Merseyside published in 1990 by six local CAMRA branches: Merseyside, Southport, Wirral, Chester and South Clwyd, Central and North Cheshire and South East Lancs, just after the Beer Orders had been announced but before they had been implemented. In December 2011, I looked at how the Liverpool pub scene was then. Here is a quick look at how the pub scene in Southport and the surrounding area has altered.

The Scarisbrick Arms, Downholland - now a bistro.
The general comments about breweries I made in the previous post apply here too, but in 1990 there were no breweries in the Southport and West Lancs area. Now there are two: Southport and Burscough breweries. Good news, unlike in Liverpool which was then mourning the pending closure of Higsons, the city’s last brewery.

Tetley, Whitbread and Matthew Brown seemed to be the main pub owners in the town, at least as listed in this guide. No Greenalls pub is listed, even though I do remember several; perhaps the compilers shared my low opinion of that brewery. All those breweries have closed since the guide was published, although Tetley is still brewed under licence in Northamptonshire. There were also a couple of Bass and John Smiths pubs. Guest beers were almost non-existent, the exception being the Baron’s Bar in the Scarisbrick Hotel which was selling Boddingtons Bitter, Ruddles County, Tetley Bitter, Theakstons Best Bitter and a guest beer, but in most other pubs you'd be drinking the house beers. The Barons Bar is noted today for a range of around eight real ales, but in 1990 the choice it offered seemed exceptional.

Several pubs have gone: the Blowick was demolished a few years ago and replaced by a thatched pub locally called the Thatch; the Herald is being converted to accommodation; the Plough is due for demolition (see previous post) and the Two Brewers has been converted to offices. This last pub was in fact a training pub for Tetleys and Walkers, hence the name. I recall that Charlie Oliver, the licensee of the Old Ship Inn, a Walker’s house which was my local at the time, received an award from the local CAMRA branch. I commented that I expected he was pleased about that; he said yes, but was also a bit embarrassed about it because the Two Brewers was the official training pub, and in theory it should be the best Tetley or Walker house in town.

The guide refers to the Fishermens Rest, which was selling McEwans 80/- at the time, but wrongly calls it the Fishermans Rest (singular), even though the picture of it clearly shows the correct name. This pub was subsequently a non-real ale pub for at least 20 years, but in the last few years has gained credit for serving four real ales, usually from regional breweries. I told the interesting but tragic story how the pub got its name here.

The Guest House, my current local, is listed as serving Higsons Bitter and Mild and Boddingtons Bitter, and I often used to call in for the Higsons Bitter, my favourite beer at the time. It now serves up to 11 real ales. 

In West Lancs, the Railway Tavern in Hoscar sold Jennings Bitter and Tetley Mild and Bitter; it closed recently. In Burscough, the Royal Coaching House is listed as selling Boddingtons Bitter. This pub degenerated into a real dive and was then closed for a couple of years. It was reopened a few years ago by Mike McComb, completely refurbished and is now the excellent and successful Hop Vine, home of Burscough Brewery, thus contradicting the commonly heard suggestion that pubs close because demand has disappeared. Not necessarily: what's on offer is just as important.

The Scarisbrick Arms, a canalside pub in Downholland, was then a Greenalls house, and was described as “very much food orientated”. Only recently did it stop being a pub and is now a bistro. The Halsall Arms just down the road is now a financial services office. The future of the Legh Arms in Mere Brow is currently uncertain (see previous post), but at the time sold Higsons Bitter and Mild and Boddingtons Bitter. The unusually named Snig’s Foot in Ormskirk sold real Burtonwood Bitter on electric pump; unfortunately, it was renamed Disraeli’s quite a few years ago, but the last time I was in there a year or two back it had a real ale from Ringwoods.

This last pub reminds me that, although handpumps had by 1990 made a big comeback (they had become quite an uncommon sight by the 1970s), there were still pubs serving real ale through electric pumps. An example listed in Southport was the Volunteer Arms, then as now a Thwaites pub, which kept its electric dispense until comparatively recently, causing some drinkers to assume that it sold no real ale. 

In general, the descriptions tend to be quite short: one exception was the Ship Inn (which has in recent years been renamed the Ship and Anchor to avoid confusion with the Old Ship Inn) in Southport, which was describes as a “Traditional style, back street boozer. A real example of what was once a common sight – a proper no-nonsense pub. Note the ‘Walkdens’ windows which are a reminder of a long since gone Birkdale brewery. Coal fire, food most of the day, families welcome.” Sadly, since then, the pub has been ripped out, with the Walkdens windows no doubt ending in a skip, and vandalised into a modern style that didn’t suit the building at all. There have been some attempts to restore its traditional form, but with limited success. It was the last entirely unaltered pub in Southport, and while it certainly needed cleaning up, it shouldn’t have been destroyed in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to appeal to the youth market.

In common with the Liverpool section, the compilers don’t approve of noise: “no canned music”, appears quite a few times, with variations such as “free of canned music”, it notes that the Baron’s Bar is “popular with young people” and tuts disapprovingly that it has “loud music”.

The last pub I’d like to mention is the Windmill in Southport. In those days it sold Matthew Brown and Theakstons beers and was described as a “Large friendly pub in the town centre. Large outdoor area, occasional entertainment, barbecues in summer, families being welcome. Lunchtime meals.” That description remains quite accurate today, and the pub still sells Theakstons beers, including XB. The licensee who had the pub at the time the guide was written is still there, and I’m fairly certain that he is the only licensee in the Southport and West Lancs area who has been continuously in the same pub since then.

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