Sunday 11 November 2012

The Classic Basic Unspoilt Pubs of Great Britain

Back in June a letter appeared in  CAMRA's "What's Brewing" newspaper, written by one Rodney Wolfe-Coe. Mr Coe informed the readership that after 36 years membership. he was resigning from CAMRA  His principle reason for doing this was the campaign's "dash for obedience to the gods of electronic communication,"  a subject in which he had no knowledge and even less interest. He claimed that the heritage and tradition which CAMRA used to stand for had been swept away in the rush to embrace modern technology, and that even the Branch Events page in "What's Brewing" was guilty of this, as often there were no addresses to which members could write to and few proper phone numbers – "just more electronic wizardry" 

Whilst accepting he may have a point, it is particularly sad to see such a long serving and distinguished member leave in this fashion. I say distinguished because Rodney Wolfe Coe was probably instrumental in establishing CAMRA's National Inventory of Unspoilt Pubs, albeit in his own somewhat maverick fashion. It is obviously an area close to his heart, as he ended his letter by stating that for the past 19 years his principle interest had been the National Inventory. 

To elaborate further, back in the late 90's, reports began circulating amongst some of my friends about a list of unspoilt, classic pubs. Entitled “The Classic Basic Unspoilt Pubs of Great Britain” the document purported to be the UK’s definitive list of such pubs. Ir was was even mentioned in the newsletter of the Brewery History Society,  an organisation of which I was a member at the time. The person responsible for compiling this list was none other than the aforementioned Mr Coe, someone who's name was not totally unfamiliar to me. This is because it had been mentioned in the  acknowledgements to the 1984 edition of Real Ale Pubs in Kent, where special thanks had been given to Rodney Coe "whose unstinting devotion to the promotion of Real Ale had led him to visit every licensed premises in the  County of Kent.".  This had  proved invaluable to the compilers of the guide, particularly in those areas of the county where CAMRA activists were thin on the ground.

I had never met Mr Coe, and still haven't, but it was evident that the list was compiled with the help of a number of people whom I refer to as the "CAMRA Railway Fraternity". A good friend of mine is a member of this group, and several colleagues of his assisted Rodney Coe with his researches.  I was perhaps a little envious of them. Being railwaymen, of some years standing, they all qualified for free or reduced rate rail travel; something that enabled them to visit pubs in the far-flung corners of the kingdom at minimal cost. It would cost me a small fortune to visit such places myself, hence my envy. However, it was through the aforementioned friend that I eventually obtained a copy of Rodney Coe's list, and for that I am grateful. 

I came across my copy of this list last week, whilst sorting through some old papers. It is in the form of a simple folded A5 sheet  and its full title is "The Classic Basic Unspoilt Pubs of Great Britain - 5th Edition",  published in 1998. There are just 21 pubs listed; an earlier edition, published in 1994,  that I managed to track down online totalled 32. It is worth reproducing part of the introductory text to this noteworthy publication:

"This is not just another list of the Classic British Pubs. Many existing lists rely totally on other people's findings. This list is different in that the compiler has personally visited over 140 pubs that possibly warranted inclusion in a definitive list.

Apart from the obvious criteria of being Classic, Basic and Unspoilt, all the pubs in this list normally sell Real Ale (there are an estimated half-dozen others which do not sell Real Ale and for which, regrettably, no place can be found in this publication). Many of the 140+ visited have been "Improved" or found to be just not worthy of the description -  Classic, Basic and Unspoilt. Sadly, many others considered for listing have closed since "inspections" began in May 1993.

The compiler therefore feels that this could be regarded as the definitive list of  "The  Classic, Basic and Unspoilt Pubs of Great Britain". Others may disagree - especially with the star ratings."

So what of the pubs themselves: 
(apologies for the wonkey columns; Blogger wouldn't allow me to align them properly)

Derbyshire                    ELTON                                   Duke of York
East Riding of               SKERNE                                 Eagle
East Sussex                  HERSTMONCEUX                Welcome Stranger
Gloucestershire             CHELTENHAM                     Bath Tavern
Gwynedd                     BETHESDA                            Douglas Arms
Kent                             SNARGATE                            Red Lion
Oxfordshire                  STEVENTON                         North Star
                                    STOKE TALMAGE                Red Lion
Powys                          HAY-ON-WYE                      Three Tuns
Walsall                          BLOXWICH                          Turf Tavern

Herefordshire               KINGTON                              Olde Tavern
Leicestershire               MEDBOURNE                        Horse & Trumpet
Oxfordshire                  STOKE LYNE                        Peyton Arms

Camarthenshire             LLANDOVERY                      Red Lion
Gloucestershire             AMPNEY ST PETER              Red Lion
Northumberland           NETHERTON                         Star
Pembrokeshire             PONTFAEN                            Dyffryn Arms

Devon                          LUPPIT                                   Luppit
Kent                             COWDEN POUND                Queens Arms
Shropshire                    HALFWAY HOUSE               Seven Stars

Herefordshire               LEINTWARDINE                   Sun

                        and, thus, probably still the best pub in Great Britain.
Fourteen years on and I wonder how many of these pubs are still trading? I regret to sat I have only visited two of them - the Queen's Arms at Cowden Pound and the Red Lion at Snargate. Both of these pubs are in Kent, with the Queen's Arms probably only a dozen miles from where I live. Unfortunately it only has limited opening hours, given the advanced years and recent bout of poor health Elsie, is long serving licensee. One doubts for is survival, especially in its present form, when Elsie finally decides to cal it a day.

The Red Lion, on the other hand, probably has a more assured future as Kate, the daughter of long serving landlady Doris, has taken over the day to day running of the pub, together with her partner.. Furthermore, unlike the Queen's Arms, which is owned by Admiral Taverns, the Red Lion is a free house.

News of the other pubs on the list would of course be most welcome, as would thoughts on how classic, basic or unspoilt these pubs still are.


In 1997 CAMRA published, for the first time, its own list of Classic Pubs. The list appeared in that year's Good Beer Guide, and was a complete listing of all the pubs on the campaign's inventory of national treasures. Titled "Pubs to Save - CAMRA's National Inventory of starred pubs, historic gems which must be preserved."


Curmudgeon said...

I've done four - the Duke of York, Three Tuns, Olde Tavern and Sun. I once tried to get in the Seven Stars but it was closed.

It would also be interesting to see the keg-only pubs of similar type.

ChrisM said...

The Star at Netherton is still trading (just), open very restricted hours. It's very basic, just wooden benches around the outside of a room, a few tables and stools, outside toilets, and beer served straight from the cellar.

We visited a pub called the Falcon in Arncliffe (original location of Emmerdale Farm, apparently), in the Yorkshire Dales. I'm surprised this isn't in the above list, as for me it fits all the criteria - small, basic rooms, cask of beer on the floor served into a jug. Can't imagine it's changed much over the past few decades!

Ed said...

Thanks for posting this, I'm currently reading Ian Marchant's 'The Longest Crawl' and it mentions the Three Tuns as being on a list of unspoiled pubs but doesn't say what the other ones are.

John Clarke said...

"I say distinguished because Rodney Wolfe Coe was probably instrumental in establishing CAMRA's National Inventory of Unspoilt Pubs"

He wasn't actually; this was the initial idea of Dave Gamston on what was CAMRA's Pub Preservation Group and is now the Pub Heritage Group.

Paul Bailey said...

John, I didn't perhaps phrase my point about RWC's influence on CAMRA's NI all that well.

What I was trying to get across was that his researches, along with those of others, were the inspiration for CAMRA to get behind pub preservation in a serious way.

wee beefy said...

I've been a bit N.I obsessed for a while now, and have only managed to not visit 5 on this particular list.

And the Falcon at Arncliffe is excellent, but I suspect would more likely meet RWC's criteria than the rather more scientific CAMRA/English Heritage assessment. Frustratingly, the Queens Arms is a N.I pub I have only ever stood outside....

Mark said...

The Horse & Trumpet, Medbourne has been an upmarket restaurant for several years now. The Three Tuns, Hay-on-Wye was refurbished extensively following the death of the owner.

wee beefy said...

I posted a more detailed/useful response to your query on my blog at the end of the following post at (address only am afraid!)

Apologies for shameless plug.


Cooking Lager said...

unspoilt? Is this a euphemism for "unimproved" ? basically saying its the same shit hole it always was and no one has bothered to put in a clean inside toilet or wipe the tables?

Paul Bailey said...

Thanks for your response, wee beefy. I have posted my own detailed reply on your own blog, but basically I just wanted to say here you have obviously conducted a great deal of research of your own in this field, and I look forward to browsing back through your posts, as soon as I get a bit of spare time.


Paul Bailey said...

Cookie, there's nothing wrong with an outside bog, so long as it's clean.

Unimproved, means unspoilt, but definitely NOT a shithole!

Basic, means exactly that. No frills and no nonsense, and dare I say it no fizzy pop!!

Paul Bailey said...

I would like to thank everyone who has responded so far for their comments and updates on these unspoilt, classic gems. I hope to do a follow up in the not too distant future, detailing some of my own researches in this area, but in the meantime please keep the information flowing in.


Martyn Cornell said...

I'm sure he's a great guy and has contributed a great deal to the campaign for good ber and unspoilt pubs, but when I read of someone who must be my age complaining about emails as "electronic wizardry" I'm afraid my reaction is: "Prat".

Paul Bailey said...

Agreed Martyn, but unfortunately I know several other similarly-minded dinosaurs within CAMRA.

David, Little Omenden Farm and Nursery said...

This post prompted me to Google the wonderful Dun cow at Billy Row in County Durham. Unfortunately it shut back in 2008, but I remember it from the 1970's, when it was a classic Pennine isolated pub, with settles, flagged floors and a range pumping out unadulterated heat.As I recall it sold Cameron's beers, a rarity in mid 70's Durham-including the much maligned Malt Ale,which I in fact enjoyed, having a soft spot for low ABV beers.

Anonymous said...

(this might not wrap nicely! )
Derbyshire ELTON Duke of York possibly
East Riding of SKERNE Eagle Dead
East Sussex HERSTMONCEUX Welcome Stranger ?
Gloucestershire CHELTENHAM Bath Tavern Dead
Gwynedd BETHESDA Douglas Arms nra?
Oxfordshire STEVENTON North Star Still going
Powys HAY-ON-WYE Three Tuns restaurant
Walsall BLOXWICH Turf Tavern possibly, going in 2007

Herefordshire KINGTON Olde Tavern still trading
Leicestershire MEDBOURNE Horse & Trumpet restaurant
Oxfordshire STOKE LYNE Peyton Arms perhaps

Camarthenshire LLANDOVERY Red Lion opens only occasionally, in doubt
Gloucestershire AMPNEY ST PETER Red Lion GOOD
Northumberland NETHERTON Star limited opening
Pembrokeshire PONTFAEN Dyffryn Arms still going 2010

Devon LUPPIT Luppit nra?
Kent COWDEN POUND Queens Arms still?
Shropshire HALFWAY HOUSE Seven Stars dead

Herefordshire LEINTWARDINE Sun
large extension - atmosphere gone IMO

Paul Bailey said...

Thanks for the update, anonymous. The only one of these pubs I can report on, with any degree of accuracy, is the Queen's Arms, Cowden Pound, aka Elsie's. Limited opening times at present, and relying on regulars to help behind the bar and carry out the cellar work. How mush longer it will carry on like this is anyone's guess.

martyngs said...

I was in The Sun in Leintwardine recently and whilst it has had a modern extension (complete with new loos!) the front two rooms of the pub are still unspoilt. They don't do food, so you order from the (very good) chippy next door and they bring it round to you.
I have a copy of the 1994 list (No 89) and I have visited three pubs on that list - but not for several years - a good excuse to go again. Those are the Luppitt Arms in Devon and Tuckers Grave and Seymour Arms in Somerset. All were pretty good and certainly unspoilt!
Will report back!

Anonymous said...

Red Lion in Ampney long gone …