THE SUN INN, BEAMISH MUSEUM, COUNTY DURHAM
According to the newspaper I’m reading as a pint chaser, there is “alarming news from Salonica”. The Pope’s health is improving, and Worth’s corsets – “unsurpassed for elegance” – are 12/6 a pair. It is quite an old newspaper.
It’s dated 1913 and I’m surveying the day’s events in order to savour the historical ambience of The Sun Inn at Beamish Museum, County Durham, even further.
The pub – like the rest of the award-winning open-air attraction – is time-warped in the era just before The Great War. It sits among a clutch of buildings that constitute the Town, itself a short walk from the Pit Village, the Colliery, the Farm and the gentrified Pockerley Hall. Across the cobbled street, a Cooperative and a motor dealer also bring Victorian and Edwardian Britain alive with well-briefed, costumed staff escorting visitors down from trolley buses and trams.
The Sun Inn closes every day at 4pm – it’s a pub with no regulars, but thousands of visitors – so I’ve got bags of time to sup my way through three beers from the Stables Brewery, brewed (at risk of labouring historical references) only 40 chains distant. Beamish Hall (3.8% abv), a traditional best bitter with toffee and green apple notes, is a belter of a starter. Silver Buckles (4.4% abv) first reveals grapefruit aromas then biscuit flavours, while an ascent to the dark and mysterious Bell Tower (5.0% abv) finds a complex ale swirling with whiffs of chocolate and coffee. Food is a drove of pork pies inside a glass-covered cake stand. Thankfully fresh, not Edwardian.
In a previous life, The Sun was the Tiger Inn in Bishop Auckland before being rebuilt, stone by stone, on its present site in 1985. It is small, two-roomed, and utterly delightful. Porcelain jugs gleam, brass rails shine, and mirrors advertising John Walker & Son Kilmarnock Whisky shimmer, while a portrait of jockey Fred Archer peers across to ten-stone-ten bricklayer and bareknuckle boxer Tom Sawyer, who would fight anybody at any weight. Antlers from a variety of beasts and display cases of stuffed birds fill remaining spaces alongside Jake’s Bonny Mary, a whippet with nine handicaps to her fleet-footed credit in races as far apart as Newcastle, Carlisle and Cowdenbeath.
“Is it 1913 prices, then?” asks a customer, rather more in expectation than hope. Starch-collared, waistcoated staff run a sweep during busy periods as to how many times the question will be posed. At the Co-op hardware store, brown-overalled workers play a similar game with “fork handles”.
A coal fire tinkles in the pub’s Family Room and also in the Select Room where you’d pay a bit more for discretion and upholstery, although the public bar’s beautifully sculpted benches are surprisingly comfortable.
Bell Tower appeals as I scan the news – Sheffield Wednesday top Division One and Lord and Lady Knaresborough “have arrived in London for the season”. Blayney’s whisky is 24 shillings a gallon. At that price, put me down for 1913.
*The Sun Inn, Beamish Museum, County Durham DH9 0RG (0191 370 4000 www.beamish.org.uk)