It’s an ill wind that doesn’t have a silver lining – or something like that. Anyway, I’m delighted to be able to give you a chance to see and hear Nick Sharpe of the St John’s Tavern, Archway, North London, give one of the most passionate expositions on the British pub, its present and its future, that I’ve heard. What I particularly enjoy about Nick’s views on pubs is that they are clearly rooted in a love of pubs’ past, without being fetishistic about it: he’s running a 21st century business at the St John’s Tavern, he delights in being able, thanks to help from English Heritage and his local council, to reflect some of the pub’s 19th century origins in the renovations that have been carried out, but he’s not about to turn it back into the multi-bar warren it would have been when it opened, because we no longer live in a society where Public Bar Man never mixes with Saloon Bar Man.
Click on the video you’ll find here, ignore (sorry) the first two minutes 45 second of the video – Jack Adams is a nice guy, but he’s a better interviewer and video maker than presenter, go and make a cup of tea, take the top off a bottle of beer or something until he’s finished – and then come back and listen to Nick talk with feeling and depth about pubs, about why he did what he did with the St John’s Tavern, and what he would like to do with it if his pubco would just let him.
If you want to see what the pub looked like at its Edwardian peak, go here and click on “Renovation”: you’ll see the magnificent lamps Nick talks about. From a beer historian’s viewpoint, the boards on the outside of the pub advertising “Bass & Co’s Pale & Burton Ales” (regular readers of this blog will know that pale ale and Burton Ale are two very different beers), and Watney’s Imperial Stout and “Pimlico Ales” (those would be mild ales, almost certainly, brewed at the former Watney’s brewery, which was halfway between Buckingham Palace and Victoria Station) suggest what was popular in North London at the time: I remember my grandfather Alf Donno, who was born in 1890 and grew up in Crouch End, about a mile and a half from the St John’s Tavern, telling me that he and his pals would search out pubs selling Bass, in the (probably correct) belief that it was of much higher quality than the local brews.
The video of Nick is available because the Pub History Society had to cancel its conference, for which it was made, when several speakers dropped out: their ill wind is our silver lining. There’s another important conference on next month for those interested in Britain’s beery past, called “The Last Drop: England’s Surviving Brewery Heritage”. It’s been organised by the Brewery History Society, which is promoting the report on preserving England’s brewing heritage put together by Dr Lynn Pearson (author of the excellent British Breweries: An Architectural History) and the Brewery History Society as part of English Heritage’s Strategy for the Historic Industrial Environment. It will be discussing what can be done to save and enhance what’s left of the evidence of our brewing past,and attempt to identify priorities for future action, it’s at the National Brewery Centre (the Bass Museum/Coors Visitor Centre as was), Horninglow Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Saturday 12 March, it starts at 10.30am, it costs £24, and you can download a programme and booking form here. For anybody reading this with roots in the Newark area (hello, Ron), among the talks is one titled “Two Newark Breweries: Applying Conservation Philosophies to Adaptive Re-use”, by Rebecca Lamb.