A guide to some of the licensed premises that contribute enormously to Britain’s renowned pub culture. Most of them have featured in some form in publications such as The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, written – and researched – by Alastair Gilmour
Do your Antiques Roadshow aspirations soar at the sight of the back bar with its line-up of toby jugs, Victoria and Albert porcelain figurines and a caravan of loping elephants? Are 40 bottles of malt and 30 Irish whiskies sparkling in the sunshine an utter delight? Do you long to rub your palm along the Cuban mahogany bar-top, die to press the keys of the Victorian brass till, or warm your backside over one of three black-leaded, tiled fireplaces?
First things first – choose one of the five cask ales on the counter, all from local microbreweries, then you can take time to examine dozens of photographs of old regulars, the Durham Miners’ Gala, and 19th century paintings of highland cattle, stags at bay and swooping eagles with added Victoriana shoehorned into what wall space is left.
The full-time beer is Big Lamp Bitter (3.9% abv), an ale from Newcastle that shows off a fine balance of hop and malt, while a regular rotating selection includes the remarkable golden, softly fruity Jarrow Rivet Catcher (4.0% abv) and Wylam Gold Tankard (4.0% abv), a sharply flavoured, citrus-influenced beauty from Northumberland.
In The Victoria window seat, four dominoes players click and clack away the afternoon, their concentration and passion convincing observers it should be an Olympic sport.
The grade II-listed Victoria – virtually untouched in 115 years – is a three-roomed idyll with six letting rooms. Its Family Department and Sitting Room, dripping with even more V&A memorabilia, speak of long-lost parlours. The timber flooring has been worn so smooth in parts it looks like linoleum, while the varnished wood panelling, shelving and mirrors blend with floral wallpaper in costume drama proportions.
There is no television, no music and no food (unless crisps and pickled eggs are your thing) and the pub’s effect on a soul is such it’s said one customer was so moved he lingered over three pints – and he’d only come in to ask directions.
Landlord Michael Webster has been in The Victoria since 1974 and bought the pub outright in 1995 after owners Scottish & Newcastle announced they had plans to alter it. He was determined to keep his pride and joy in Victorian attire.
“Pub companies pay fortunes to turn their places into something like this,” he says. “This is as it’s always been.”
It may operate in a time warp, but Olympian double-sixes and multiple awards are thoroughly today. The Victoria is weathering well; long may she reign.
*The Victoria, Hallgarth Street, Durham DH1 3AS (0191 386 5269 victoriainn-durhamcity.co.uk)
+44 (0)7930 144 846
VICTORIA INN, DURHAM CITY
When a barman’s first job of the day is to fill coal into a zinc bucket, you’d be right in thinking you’re somewhere rare. The red-brick and sandstone Victoria Inn in Durham is indeed precious.
It has no external signage save for a small a swinging board, while a couple of coach lamps and a row of pansy-profuse window boxes indicate “pub”. But step inside and drink in 1899.
There’s almost too much to adjust to.
IT'S ABOUT EVERY AGE GROUP
More than ever we need pub owners with the vision and determination to do something that will persuade people to venture out on a wet Tuesday when Holby City might seem the better option. We have plenty of them around the North East and the better ones are doing very well, thank you very much.
Entrepreneurial publican Dave Carr is one such chap.
Meet and Drink writer Alastair Gilmour regularly conducts beer events throughout the UK and internationally – tours and tastings that have included a platform suspended 30 metres above the River Tyne and a real ale festival in a Moscow nightclub – and was for several years on the judging panel of the Pilsner Urquell International Master Bartender programme. [READ MORE]
+44 (0)7930 144 846