Yesterday I spent the evening in some of Gloucester’s less glamorous pubs: the Dean’s Walk, the Park End and the Golden Heart in Tredworth. I visited with fellow pub enthusiast and CAMRA’s Tippler editor, Geoff Sandles.
The Dean’s Walk is slightly different to the other two in that it is an enthusiastic rugby pub and on match days it puts on real ale and gets packed out with large men in red and white shirts. Other than that, all three pubs are very similar in that they appeal mainly to locals and regulars.
These are not pubs that CAMRA types would usually trouble themselves with as, apart from the exception with Dean’s Walk, they do not sell real beer. They are also not pubs which attract the casual visitor or tourist: both the pubs themselves and their customers can be a bit rough around the edges and therefore intimidating to non-regulars.
But this is a shame because what all of these pubs have in abundance is character. Unlike the more glamorous or fashionable places, where trade is usually transitory, here the customers have often been coming for years. They know each other and they know the landlord or landlady. They have a real sense of community.
Another thing that these pubs all have in common is interesting history and architecture. Again the Dean’s Walk is a bit different – the origins of the pub are probably older than the other two, but it was destroyed by fire and re-built in 1980. You wouldn’t know it to look at it though; the interior is wonderfully rustic with old beams and a big brick fireplace.
The other two pubs date back to the industrial revolution, when Gloucester’s population boomed following the arrival of the canal and the railway. Both were purpose built as pubs by the brewers; the Park End by Mitchell and Butlers and the Golden Heart by Godsell & Son. Both are superb original examples of pub architecture.
As you may know from my previous blog and subsequent Citizen article, the Park End is likely to be demolished in the near future. There is currently around a year left to run on the lease, but planning permission has been granted to pull it down to build houses and flats. It was this that inspired our visit as we wanted to take photographs before it was too late. You can see these in my last blog
The former landlady, Beth, (the lease is now held by her son) was only too happy to talk to us and show us around. During our conversation we got to talking about where the regulars would go once the pub was closed. It is a bit of a walk, but there are several in the High Street in Tredworth (the Golden Heart being one), or in the other direction, perhaps Baker Street on Southgate Street.
“Or the Linden Tree,” I said, “that’s nice.”
Beth looked at me and struggled to express her response in a sufficiently politically correct way. “Well,” she said, “the Linden Tree is very nice, but it’s not really for our regulars.”
The thing is, pubs like the Park End are for working class people. They are basic, no frills sort of places where they go to relax and mix with other working class people and can get a bit boisterous if they want to without anyone looking down their nose or complaining.
And surely this is what the British pub, traditionally, is all about. Originally an all male preserve, they were places where working men could go to socialise and let off steam. The most fondly remembered pubs all tend to be of this sort: the pubs of Clapham and the lower Westgate Street for instance. It is only really since the war that women started frequenting pubs and more recently still that they started serving food in any meaningful sense of the term.
The Park End regulars don’t want to mix with ‘nice’ middle class people sipping Merlot or pontificating over the merits of a pint of Old Codger any more than those people want to mix with the loud and vulgar working class hoi polloi, and fair enough: each to their own.
I am only too pleased to see the increased diversity in pubs and, I hold my hand up, I am normally firmly in the middle-class-pub-drinker category. The trouble is, it always seems to be the working class pubs that fall victim to the bulldozer and pubs should not be allowed to become an entirely middle-class preserve.
If we get rid of all of the rough and ready working class pubs we are not only destroying some wonderful architectural pub heritage, we are also destroying a traditional part of British culture.