New book Britain's Best Real Heritage Pubs is a reminder of the rich history of brewing - and drinking - in the West Midlands. Graham Young reports.
It was with some trepidation that I opened CAMRA’s National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors.
The handsome publication weighs in at 286 pages... and I wondered how many would be dedicated to drinking establishments in the West Midlands.
But the Campaign for Real Ale group has done the region proud because Birmingham, with eight and the Black Country’s 10 means we have got the third highest number of priceless pubs in the country after inner London and Greater Manchester.
Barely 0.5 per cent of the nation’s stock of 50,000 pubs was eventually considered for the book which was looking for interiors which had not been significantly altered since the Second World War.
The guide is testimony to more than two decades’ work by CAMRA’s Pub Heritage Group, volunteers determined to record Britain’s historic pub interiors.
“Members frequently get a ribbing with ‘it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it – ho-ho!’,” writes Geoff Brandwood in his acknowledgements column. “In fact, no-one has to do it and, if the group had not taken up the task, it is highly unlikely any other body would have done so.”
A father of three and now 68, retired Geoff is originally from Bilston.
He joined British Steel when it was nationalised in 1967 and then worked selling steel tubes as a commercial manager for Stewarts & Lloyds.
Now based in London, he has turned his love of architecture into a publishing career during retirement, with the beer element of this book an added bonus given that he’s personally visited all 270 featured pubs.
“You can see things in your mind and what you are trying to do,” he says.
“When I saw the book, I thought: ‘Yes, this has got everything I wanted it to do, to bring these places to life in an accurate way’. Nobody has to do it, but you want people to read it and to understand the pubs a little bit more. I feel very satisfied.”
The features which excite him throughout the book include original bars, tiles and bar-backs.
Pubs like the Anchor and White Swan, both in Digbeth, and Villa Tavern, Nechells, were “very often embellished with lavish internal tilework”.
Among those designed by James & Lister Lea was the Bartons Arms in Newtown.
Described as “one of our most impressive fin de siècle (turn of the century) pubs”, it dates from 1900-01.
Its retained features include “the Milton Hollins tiling, a great staircase-hall with a large pictorial tiled hunting scene and the loosely Jacobean style, stone and red brick exterior, with shaped gables and a tall clock tower”.
Digbeth’s 1902 Anchor pub still has its original counter and bar-back, making an L-shaped servery, with heating pipes running along the foot of the counter.
Geoff notes: “The windows are interesting, with Art Nouveau-style in the upper parts, plus geometric-patterned glass in the lower ones”.
Over at the White Swan, this pub still retains its original floor plan and extensive tile decoration.
If anything, Geoff’s favourite tipple is cider.
“I’m a reasonable beer drinker with the rest of them and the growth of cider is a remarkable story,” he says.
“I think we are in a golden age of drinking, there is so much choice. But you can’t value heritage until you’ve lost a good proportion of it. We’ve lost some wonderful pubs in Birmingham and you have to wonder: ‘What are we doing to ourselves?’
“Pubs won’t be built like these ever again so they should celebrate what they’ve got and make the most of it. Some do thrive knowing they have heritage.”
The list of nationally important pub interiors is available online, along with a database of pubs holding special regional importance, but which have not made the national list. See www.heritagepubs.org.uk
* Britain’s Best Real Heritage Pubs by Geoff Brandwood (CAMRA, £9.99) will be published on May 6.
* Bartons Arms (Grade II listed), Newtown
* Anchor (Grade II listed), Digbeth
* White Swan Digbeth
* Red Lion Erdington
* Rose Villa Tavern Jewellery Quarter
* Villa Tavern (Grade II listed), Nechells
* Black Horse (Grade II listed), Northfield
* British Oak (Grade II listed) Stirchley
Black Country Pubs
* Romping Cat (Grade II listed), Bloxwich
* Turf Tavern (Grade II listed), Bloxwich
* Shakespeare (Grade II listed), Dudley
* Old Swan (Ma Pardoe’s) (GradeII listed), Dudley
* Waggon & Horses (Grade IIlisted), Oldbury
* Manor Arms (Grade II listed), Daw End
* Beacon Hotel (Grade II listed), Sedgley
* Britannia (‘Sallies’), Dudley
* Horse & Jockey Walsalll Vine Wolverhampton