Tuesday, 28 April 2015

A Norfolk Village

All Saints Church, Swanton Morley
Swanton Morley is a large village, situated in the heart of Norfolk. It is 18 miles from Norwich and is located centrally between the market towns of Dereham, Swaffham and Fakenham, with Dereham being the closest at three miles away. Its origins go back to Anglo-Saxon times; "Swanton" being derived from the Old English for “herdsman's enclosure”, whilst the "Morley" part of the village name, refers to Robert de Morli, who held the lordship of the manor in 1346.

My interest in the village dates back to the early 90’s, when my parents moved there from Kent, following my father’s retirement from the Royal Mail. I obviously made regular visits to this Norfolk village, following their relocation there, but over the course of the past four months these visits intensified as my mother’s health deteriorated. Sadly she passed away at the end of February, but I have been back up to Norfolk several times since then to visit dad and check up on how he is coping with living on his own.

The most recent visit was last weekend, and I am pleased to report he is looking better than I have seen him for a long time; this I despite the Alzheimer’s which is starting to play havoc with his short term memory. What I want to write here though is a piece about Swanton Morley’s two pubs, particularly as I was able to visit them both on my most recent trip. This is something I have not done for a long time, so it was good to renew my acquaintance with them both.

Swanton Morley is a classic example of a liner village; that is it is long on drawn out. At one end is 14th-century All Saints Parish Church, a large “wool church”, typical of many in East Anglia, built as a statement to demonstrate the wealth of the area, which was derived from the wool trade. Just down the hill from the church is Darby’s, a pub which was originally a pair of 18th century farm cottages, before being converted into a pub in 1988. It is named after Ann Darby, the last person to farm from the site.. At the other end of the village is the close, where my parents’ bungalow is situated, and it is at this end that the 17th Century Angel Inn can be found.

Darby's Freehouse, Swanton Morley
Because of its proximity to my parents, I have spent more time in the Angel than I have in Darby’s, but I can safely say I like both pubs. On this recent visit I stopped off at Darby’s first, prior to visiting dad as I wanted to grab something to eat, after my journey up. (Dad has carers who pop in three times a day to make sure he is up and dressed, and to take care of his meals. As my arrival coincided with lunchtime, I decided it would be best to let him enjoy his midday meal uninterrupted; hence my decision to eat out).

Darby's is a typical Norfolk building, and the pub retains many features of the original farmhouse, such as exposed brick walls and an inglenook fireplace. There are tractor seats for barstools, farming memorabilia and plenty of stripped-pine tables and chairs which help create a real rustic feel. I arrived at around half twelve, before the pub started to get really busy. I grabbed a table close to the door, but not before I’d perused the range of beers on offer and ordered myself a pint.

Inside Darby's
My attention was drawn to Lacon’s Legacy; a beer from a brewery which I had read quite a bit about, but had not had the chance to sample before. Lacon’s Brewery was situated in Great Yarmouth and was established in 1760. By all accounts the brewery was pretty successful, but in 1957 the directors made the fatal mistake of selling 20% of the company to Whitbread (them again!). Eight years later, Whitbread bought Lacon’s outright, for £3.2 million and in 1968 shut the brewery down. And there the story might have ended had it not been for the determination of a few individuals and a member of the original Lacon’s family.

Back in 2009, after being intrigued by the presence of Lacon’s emblems on a variety of buildings dotted around the Yarmouth area, Mick Carver, managing director of Lowestoft-based drinks distributor JV Trading, started work to secure the rights to the Lacon’s name and associated intellectual property. After negotiations with Whitbread’s successors, AB InBev, he succeeded in this aim, and was also able to obtain the brewery's original yeast strains which had been stored at the National Collection of Yeast Cultures in Norwich,  for nearly half a century.

A modern brewery was set up, nestled within a historic courtyard. It was named the new Falcon Brewery, after Lacon’s iconic falcon emblem. Acclaimed head brewer Wil Wood was recruited and worked alongside William Lacon, son of the last Lacon family member to work at the brewery, in order to create an exciting range of handcrafted ales using the original Lacon’s yeast. 

The brewery was relaunched at the Norwich City of Ale Festival and Great Yarmouth Beer and Cider Festival in May 2013. Three new permanent beers were launched: Encore, Legacy and Affinity, and the company plans to extend the beer range to include some original Lacon’s recipes. My pint of Legacy was excellent, and one of the best beers I have had for a long time.

Lunch, but not a "Proper Pie"
I had of course, stopped off at Darby’s for lunch, so I ordered myself a beef and ale pie, served with mash potato and seasonal vegetables. The meat was nice and tender and the whole thing most enjoyable, even though it wasn’t a proper, pastry-encased pie.

I decided on further beer before leaving. My eye had been drawn earlier to Old Codger, a 4.0% beer from Tom Wood. I asked for sample, but as it wasn’t the dark, old ale I was anticipating, I opted instead for a half of Afternoon Delight, from local Norfolk brewer, Beeston. It was enjoyable, but not as much as the Lacon’s. Like many pubs in the locality, Darby’s dispenses its cask ales by gravity, from a temperature-controlled room behind the bar. The pump-clips adorning the non-operational hand-pumps are merely there to inform the customer as to what beers are on offer.
Angel Inn, Swanton Morley
As mentioned earlier, I am a lot more familiar with Swanton Morley’s other pub, the Angel. This pub is an attractive timber-framed building which was built in the 1610 by one Richard Lincoln, an ancestor of former US President, Abraham Lincoln. It was later refaced with brick in the 19th century. 

The present owners are long-standing CAMRA members, and as well as offering a range of well-kept cask ales, the pub hosts a beer festival each year at Easter. Inside, there is a large  and spacious main bar, complete with real fire, a dining room serving food lunchtimes and evenings (not Sun eve), plus a small games room with pool and darts. The extensive garden includes a bowling green, and the pub is home to a thriving bowls club.
Angel Inn
I would describe the Angel as much more of a locals’ pub than Darby’s is. The latter seems to attract more passing trade, as well as service personnel from the nearby Robertson Barracks. Despite this I have always received a friendly welcome from the landlord and the regulars in the Angel and this, combined with its proximity to dad’s bungalow, prompted my sister and I to walk dad down there for Sunday lunch.

There was no roast available, but I did have a pretty reasonable burger and chips. Dad’s ham, egg and chips looked especially good, as did my sister’s tuna and salad baguette. To drink, I enjoyed a couple of well-kept pints of local Norfolk favourite; Woodforde’s Wherry. Hop Back Summer Lightning was also available, and I understand from the pub’s website, that this is a regular beer at the Angel. Much as I like it, Summer Lightning is not a lunchtime pint, so I purposely avoided it; especially in view of the drive back to Kent later that evening.

This visit to the Angel rounded off my mini-tour of Swanton Morley’s pubs, but before ending, it is worth recording that until quite recent times, the village boasted a third pub. The Papermakers was a quite small pub, over-looking the village green; almost in the shadow of the church. I did venture in once, not long after my parents moved to the village, but if the Angel could be described as a locals pub, then the Papermakers was doubly so.
The now closed Papermakers Arms

I don’t recall that much about it, but I did manage to find a photo of it, on the Norfolk Pubs website. I am not sure when exactly the Papermakers closed, but given the state of the pub trade today, I would imagine that this third pub was just one too many for a village, even of the size of Swanton Morley. If I lived in the village, I would be quite happy to drink in both the Angel and Darby’s; after all, not everywhere has such a choice!


Martin, Cambridge said...

Good to read you've had good beer here Paul. I also rated both pubs when visiting a few years back, and the village is quite characterful for Norfolk (not a fan of the flatlands !). Agree on quality of Lacons, but have struggled to get a worthwhile pint of Wherry anywhere for some time.


Paul Bailey said...

I’ve warmed gradually to Norfolk over the years, Martin, although I still prefer neighbouring Suffolk. As you will have gathered, I was impressed with the two pubs in Swanton Morley, and I have to say, even though Wherry is not my favourite beer, the couple of pints I had in the Angel were spot on. (I imagine the pub shifts a lot of it!).

Stonch said...

Another great post, Paul. You make me want to visit the places you write about and I love the way you integrate a lot of brewery and pub history into your posts.

Stonch said...

Another great post, Paul. You make me want to visit the places you write about and I love the way you integrate a lot of brewery and pub history into your posts.

Paul Bailey said...

Glad you enjoyed the post, Jeff. I’ve been enjoying reading yours, especially since you re-appeared on the blogging scene.

Your posts on walking in Franconia have really whetted my appetite, and I must do a few of the walks you describe before I get much older.

Unfortunately number one son (and usual companion on beer trips), isn’t that keen on walking and has bad memories of getting stranded in the middle of nowhere. See http://baileysbeerblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/roppelts-keller.html for further details.

Neville Grundy said...

It all sounds very nice. Pity it's a bit too far for me to nip down from Merseyside for a lunchtime pint.