Monday, November 10, 2014

Give It Up For Lenton

For my first proper excursion since I returned to the wonderful city of Nottingham, I decided it was high time that I made the effort to get out to Lenton and explore the available drinking dens, something I'd been planning for a rather long time and am now pleased to say that I have finally achieved. This seemed as good a place as any to begin my regular trips again. I intend to make these trips at least every fortnight to begin with, going back into regular weekly visits once money becomes more stable, Having regular days off certainly helps with the planning. Anyway, to Lenton!

Originally a separate agricultural village, Lenton became part of the town of Nottingham in 1877, when the town's boundaries were enlarged. Nottingham became a city as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria in 1897. The name Lenton derives from the River Leen, which runs nearby. Lenton and its mills on the Leen get a mention in the Domesday Book in the late 11th century: 'In Lentune, 4 sochmen and 4 bordars have 2 ploughs and a mill'.

Lenton Priory was founded in the village by William Peverel in the 12th Century. A Cluniac monastery, the priory was home to mostly French monks until the late 14th Century when was freed from the control of its French mother-house, Cluny Abbey. From the 13th Century the priory struggled financially and was known for its 'poverty and indebtedness'. The priory was dissolved in 1538 as part of Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries. Following dissolution, the priory was demolished and the lands passed through private hands. The Priory Church of St. Anthony is thought to incorporate elements of the chapel of the priory's hospital. In 2005, Lenton celebrated the nine hundredth anniversary of the foundation of Lenton Priory. The centrepiece of the celebrations was a special festival held in the grounds of Priory Church of St. Anthony on 21st May, 2005.

King Henry II granted permission for the priory to hold an annual fair on The Feast of St. Martin: November 11th. Lenton Fair originally ran for 8 days before being extended to 12. The fair caused numerous disputes with the mayor and burgesses of the town of Nottingham as no markets could be held in the town during the period of the Lenton Fair. In return, the people of Nottingham were given special rates to hire booths at the fair. The Fair continued after the demise of the Priory, though its length was gradually reduced. Its emphasis slowly changed and it was described as a horse-fair in 1584 when servants of Mary, Queen of Scots attended. By the 17th Century, the fair had acquired a reputation as a great fair for all sorts of horses. In the 19th century, it was largely frequented by farmers and horse dealers. The Fair finally ceased at the beginning of the 20th Century.

From the closure of the priory in 1538 until the 18th century, Lenton was primarily a rural agricultural village. In the 1790s, the Nottingham Canal was constructed, passing through the village. This led to industrialisation and population growth, with a number of factories being built and the population increasing from 893 to 3077 between 1801 and 1831. The area known as 'New Lenton' was developed on agricultural land separate from the village to accommodate the expanding residential and industrial needs, both of the village and the town of Nottingham. As with many other villages surrounding Nottingham, many of the residents were involved in the manufacture and trade of lace. Both the University of Nottingham and Queen's Medical Centre are in Lenton.

For such a small area, Lenton has quite a history and a number of interesting pubs as well. It was into this backdrop that I immersed myself on a surprisingly pleasant November afternoon. My first location on this particular endeavour was the Waters Edge. Named after its convenient location on the bank of the Nottingham Canal, the Waters Edge is a part of Castle Marina Retail Park and is operated by Greene King under its Hungry Horse arm. This means that it has a large emphasis on food but the bar itself is very well stocked. The building is very square and has two entrances, a main entrance in the adjoining car park and an entrance direct to the bar that faces onto the canal. Internally, the layout is large and square with a wide variety of seating including booths, high tables and chairs, lower tables, a canalside area of large picnic tables and some more lunge-chair like contraptions decorated with faux cow skin. The large, central bar is horseshoe shaped and provides service to 3 sides. Th bar is brimming with lager and cider taps but also includes 2 handpulls offering IPA and Old Speckled Hen. I decided on IPA as a nice opener to the day. This did not go according to plan however as the member of staff that served me was either unable to read or couldn't tell the pumps apart and poured me Old Speckled Hen instead. It's times like this that i wish I wasn't too polite to complain. The saving grace was that the Old Speckled Hen was well kept. That's not the point though. If the bar staff don't know what they're doing, it makes you wonder what else might be wrong. The beer was OK though and I was in a good mood, helped by the fact that the weather was better than you would expect for a Tuesday in November. I pulled up one of the aforementioned cow-skin chairs and enjoyed my pint, whilst watching a very cute toddler intermittently try and get behind the bar. Say what you like about Nottingham, we do get them drinking young.

My next destination was a little bit of a walk away, over the nearby Abbey Bridge, the bottom of which is currently a maze of road works and traffic cones, due to the still ongoing construction of new tram routes which will eventually be finished sometime this century. Amongst the mess and the construction machinery sits the White Hart. The White Hart originally began its life as Lenton Coffee House back in the eighteenth century when premises of this type were very popular. An area across Nottingham Park was a bowling green for customers of the coffee house. Original mounting blocks, believed to date from this period are still present outside the main entrance to the pub. There are a number of grisly incidents associated with this building, most notably in 1793 when an unpopular republican named Thomas Paine was hanged from a tree branch in the village by a group of men, following a mock trial in the prison that once stood behind the inn. The executioners then retired to the building following their exertions. The White hart is named after the royal badge of King Richard II, although when it was first named is not clear. The prison in question was the Court of the Honour of Peveril and had an awful reputation. It was the job of this court to investigate debtors and if they were found guilty, they were simply locked up and left destitute with no clothing or food. Until 1316, this court was held in the Chapel of St. James in Nottingham, before relocating to the Shire Hall and then the White Hart, where it remained until 1849. These ghastly events are believed to have left their impression upon the fabric of the building. A dark figure has been spotted by staff around the building and the sound of disembodied footsteps has been heard on upper floors, attributed with no clear evidence, to a jailer. The White Hart also sits on part of the site of the original Lenton Priory and archaeological evidence of this has been found beneath the foundations. Henry VIII originally tried to close in 1534 but the monks were able to resist until 1538 when access was finally gained. In punishment, 8 monks were hanged. All of this history is well hidden beneath the cream exterior and its tall windows. The interior is plush with lots of seating. One corner includes a pool table and the bar is roughly central and J shaped. There is a glass cabinet in the centre of the pub containing old photos and memorabilia from the local area. The bar features 3 hand pumps, offering Abbot Ale, Old Speckled Hen and Goddard's Scrum Diggity. Being a fan of Goddard's brewery, especially as they're based on the Isle of Wight which is very close to my neck of the woods, I went for the Scrum Diggity (4.0%), a golden ale with a mild, hoppy aroma, a nice citrus and biscuit balance on the palate and a dry finish. It was very tasty and i pulled up a chair in the window, enjoying the mid-afternoon sunshine and soaking up the atmosphere.

Next on my list was the first of 2 pubs that I was especially looking forward too. Tucked away down nearby Priory Street is The Boat Inn. This is a traditional pub with original stained glass windows to the front. Inside, the place is packed with memorabilia and breweriana, mostly of a nautical theme including an entire wall in the smaller of two rooms decorated with photographs of sailors. The Boat is currently run by Angela and Tony Cooper, assisted ably by their dalmatian Pongo. The earliest reference to the Boat is in White's 1832 Nottingham directory, which also lists Richard Widdison as landlord. The Boat was licensed as a beerhouse which meant that beer and wines could be dispensed but not spirits or strong liquour. This class of public house had only recently come into being following the passage of the Beerhouse Act of 1830, so in all probability, it was Mr. Widdison who launched The Boat. In January 1838, local newspapers reported a tragedy. For many years, Mrs. Widdison had suffered from an illness that saw her branded a lunatic. This required her to be kept confined in an upstairs room at The Boat. One evening, a servant carrying food up to Mrs. Widdison, found that the room was on fire. Despite Mr. Widdison's frantic efforts to douse the flames, he was unable to save his wife whose body was discovered burned to a cinder. An inquest was unable to determine whether or not the fire was an accident. The Boat was put up for sale in 1884 and eventually sold for £1,325 although papers did not reveal the buyer. Home Brewery bought the pub in 1916 and it was rebuilt in 1922-23. In the 1970s, the pub was restructured to give the layout as seen today. The pub is arranged into 2 rooms, one featuring the bar and a smaller room to one side, containing a dartboard. The toilets are situated to the rear of the smaller room. The bar sits to the left of the main entrance and includes 6 hand pulls. One of these is out of use during my visit but the others feature Doom Bar, Hobgoblin, Bombardier, Deuchars IPA and their own Boat Inn Quaffing Ale. I began with a pint of Hobgoblin and took a seat on a long sofa in the smaller one whilst I absorbed my surroundings. The Hobgoblin on this occasion wasn't the best. It had more than the slightest hint of vinegar, a suggestion that the barrel may have been close to going. Whilst I dealt with this unfortunate turn of events, I overheard the landlady chatting to some regulars, where I was able to glean yet more historical information about the pub. Apparently, the Boat sits on the site of the former abbey church and contains a wall at the back of the garden that is original and listed as part of the former abbey grounds. Having finished my sadly sub-standard Hobgoblin, I relocated to a spot at the bar in hopes of learning more, biding my time with a pint of Doom Bar, which was excellent. I also took the opportunity to befriend the resident dalmatian, who was very friendly.

With time drawing on, I still had one more location to visit. This was a place that Matt had been raving about and badgering me to go too for months so I was prepared to make the effort to finally break my duck and visit The Johnson Arms, situated back on the main road and behind the rear entrance to QMC. Originally known as The Abbey Tavern, The Johnson Arms is named after the man who purchased the premises in 1904. Unhappy with the original layout, he chose to demolish the existing buildings and build new ones, a task he began in 1912. He submitted new plans to the council consideration and these were accepted, changing very little over the years, even after the pub was purchased by Shipstones in 1953. When Grace Sanders, the long serving landlady, retired in 1981 after 34 years at the helm, Shipstones and their appointed successors decided to modernise the pub, by way of removing internal walls, repositioning the bar and a full internal refit. The garden took a lot longer to redevlop as planned alterations had to be put back when the initial refit went overbudget due to important work that was required on the foundations. The huge pear tree at the centre of the garden has been there at least since the time of Abbey Tavern and is the pub's crowning glory. The pub is very popular with students, employees of nearby businesses and hard-working staff at the nearby hospital. My first visit had certainly been long in coming and it was worth the wait. The traditional exterior gives way to a split level interior, with a raised area to the left hand side and a standard seating area to the right. The bar sits roughly central and includes 6 hand pulls. One is not in use but the others feature a wide range, in this case Doom Bar, Welbeck Abbey Henrietta Grande, Abbeydale Deception, Dancing Duck Dark Drake and Adnams Southwold Bitter. I was instantly drawn to Deception (4.2%), pale, with a dry, hoppy aroma a citrus taste and a fruity aftertaste. I'm very glad that I finally made the effort to come out to The Johnson. The atmosphere is one of comfort and welcome and there is a painting of an exploding TARDIS on one of the walls which made the experience all the more exciting.

I spent a while here, enjoying my pint and the surroundings, pleased that I can do this kind of thing again. In the end, as always, it was time for me to make my weary way home. Eyes slightly glazed, head slightly foggy, but overall very content, I made my way out into the encroaching November darkness and wandered back into town for my bus. My opinion of Lenton is two-fold. Firstly, the amount of history for such a small location is remarkable and this is emphasized in the history and atmosphere of its fine pubs, the majority of which are welcoming and homely. Secondly, the area as a whole is one of interest and I'm wondering how many people have never been for a closer look. It's definitely worth making the effort to explore The Boat Inn and The Johnson Arms at the very least, even for a one off. On a personal level, I will definitely go and visit these particular venues again. Hopefully, once the infernal tram works are eventually complete, more people will take the time to investigate this small area of this fine city. It's worth it, I promise you that. I apologise again for the lack of photos in this edition. I',m using a different laptop that I haven't quite got to grips with. Fingers crossed, after my next excursion, which I intend to be next week, I'll be able to provide visual records of these trips on a regular basis. Until then, keep drinking! Cheers!