Friday, 11 January 2013
A Brief Foray Into Clubland
On Wednesday night our local CAMRA branch were guests of Leigh Village British Legion Club. We rarely get the opportunity to visit private clubs, but their presence on, and contribution to, the real ale scene is something that is often under-estimated.
Leigh is a picturesque, typically Kentish village that can trace its origins back to the 12th Century. It is situated three miles to the west of Tonbridge, and six miles south of Sevenoaks. It has its own station on the Tonbridge to Redhill line, which is handy for occasions such as the one I am about to describe. Until quite recently, as well as the Legion club, Leigh boasted two pubs, but unfortunately one of these (the Bat & Ball), closed a couple of years ago leaving just the Greene King-owned Fleur de Lis. The latter was not our prime destination on Wednesday, although we did call in there later, on our way back to the station.
Ian, one of our local members, lives in Leigh and is also a member of the Royal British Legion. It was at his suggestion that we held our first branch social of 2013 at the club. Nine of us turned up, including our chairman and secretary freshly returned from the 40 degree heatwave that's been gripping southern Australia. Nine is not a bad total for our branch, and Ian signed us all in as his guests, although we had taken the precaution of bringing our CAMRA membership cards along just in case they were needed. Three cask beers were on offer; Larkins Traditional, Harvey's Best plus guest beer Westerham Grasshopper. All were in fine form and very competitively-priced. at £2.45-£2.55 a pint. I stayed on the Harvey's for the whole evening as, much as I like Larkins Trad, at 3.4% the beer was a little on the thin side for drinking on a cold January night. Also, whilst I enjoy Westerhan beers in general, I find Grasshopper unpleasantly bitter - certainly it is my least favourite out of Westerham's wide stable of beers.
The Legion Club itself is housed in what looks like an old school building, which itself lies at the rear of an old Victorian chapel (the former Evangelical Free Church) which now forms Leigh Village Hall. Apart from ourselves there were only a handful of other people in that night, so our presence must have provided a welcome boost to the club's coffers.
A few members had to leave to catch the 22.20 train, but those of us living more locally were able to stay an extra hour for the last train. As mentioned above, we called in at the Fleur which, like the Legion, just had a small number of people in. Three Greene King beers were on sale; IPA, St Edmund's and Rocking Rudolph. I opted for the St Edmund's, which was pleasant enough, but not as good as the Harvey's. It is a while since I last called in a the Fleur and I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. The former two bars have been knocked through into one, but the pub still has the feel of a two-bar local.
During the course of the evening conversation inevitably turned to the subject of clubs and what other ones there were in our branch area. Most of us were familiar with the Constitutional Club in Tunbridge Wells, which has hosted a couple of Kent Regional Meetings in the past, but Tonbridge also has its own Con' Club and I remember that as serving cask beer 20 years or more ago, which was when I last set foot in the place. Tonbridge in fact, has lost two clubs within quite recent memory, these being the Working Man's Club (old joke - there aren't any "working men" left in the town any more!), and the Whitefriar's Press Club. (For readers unfamiliar with Tonbridge's past, the town was once an important "print town", and Whitefriar's Press were one of the largest employers, locally. The club actually survived the works by a couple of decades, but as members gradually passed away, so did the club, and its former spacious premises in Avebury Avenue have now been converted into a number of retail outlets).
We did however speculate amongst ourselves that the Legion Club in Leigh may have been responsible for the recent closure of the Bat & Ball, given the steep differential between the low prices charged by the club, and those which pubs are obliged to ask for (about a pound more!). Our resident member certainly thought this a likely scenario and described how the "Bat" was once home to the village's sports teams, whilst the "Fleur" was where people went for a quiet drink. Now, the sports teams drink in the Fleur, and many of the latter's more thoughtful drinkers have de-camped to the Legion.
Leaving these issues aside for another time, Wednesday certainly proved an interesting and enjoyable evening, and helped to open our eyes as to what goes on outside the world of pubs.