Spring is in the air at last, so what better time to try and get the blog back up to more regular publishing levels. I took a bit of a gamble with my chosen location this time around but everywhere deserves a fair representation where ale is concerned. Last week, with a day off at my disposal I decided to brave the pubs of the Radford area, to see what, if anything, they have to offer.
Radford is an inner-city area of Nottingham, located just outside the city centre itself. It is bounded on the south by Lenton and Nottingham City Centre, and comprises around 600 acres (2.4 km2) of land.
St. Peter's Church, Radford was given by William Peveril to Lenton Priory. The church was rebuilt in 1812 at a cost of £2,000. The Wesleyan chapel, was built in 1805, and enlarged in 1828. In September 1878 a chapel was built on St Peter's Street by the United Methodist Free Churches at a cost of £1,900. It was closed due to declining membership and income in June 1947 and purchased by the Evangelical Free Church. Radford Registration District (RD) was created on 1 July 1837 on the introduction of Statutary registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths (bmd) - and was abolished, and absorbed into Nottingham RD, on 1 July 1880.
The area has a large ethnic minority population (mainly West Indian, African, Asian and increasingly Polish), and accordingly, there is a large number of specialist food and retail shops catering to specific cultures. Due to the relatively cheap nature of housing in the area (and the large number of old Victorian properties converted into flats and bedsits). Radford has a large student population, most of whom attend the nearby Nottingham Trent University and University of Nottingham.
Radford was the home of Raleigh Industries once the world's largest bicycle producer, Players cigarettes and Manlove, Alliott & Co. Ltd., inventors of incinerators for waste disposal. It provides the backdrop for much of Alan Sillitoe's book Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Numerous scenes from the film of the book which starred Albert Finney, were shot in Radford.
Radford is one of the more well known areas of Nottingham but normally for the wrong reasons, despite its extensive history. I was hoping that nothing untoward would occur during my exploration of this particular area. Having made my way into town by bus and a brisk walk from the city centre, hoping to dodge the incoming thunderstorm, I headed towards my intended first destination, the Colonel Burnaby on Hartley Road.
It was here that I hit an early snag. Although the pub appeared to be open, as evidenced by the open front door and a sign that at least attempted to be welcoming, there didn't appear to be anyone home. The interior lights were off and most the pub appeared to be in darkness. I have an innate fear of entering ominous places alone and this is bettered by a slightly more logical fear of being knifed by strangers. Given the evidence, it seemed best to give this location a miss, at least until I could muster back up. Luckily, my next location was just down the road. Situated parallel to the Castle Retail Park is The Pheasant Inn.
This tidy, pleasant-looking building on Prospect Street gave me hope. The interior is roughly square and symmetrical in general layout. There is an entrance to either side of the front windows, both of which bring the drinker through to the main bar area. There is a dart board to one side of here and a pool table to the other. The central bar faces some high backed booths with plaques dedicating these to dearly departed regulars. The bar is well stocked with spirits and lagers and includes 4 hand pulls. Unfortunately, during my visit, none of these are in use. The pub is well kept and well presented, the atmosphere is relaxed and landlord and regulars are very pleasant. Despite this, I can't help but feel that the hand pumps are wasted and could certainly add to the popularity of what is a very nice venue. Although disappointing from an ale drinker's perspective, my spirits my lightened by the bar staff try to decide whether or not I am over 25 (sadly, I am) and by the present of a very cute, very friendly small dog which appeared from the upstairs region of the pub shortly before my departure.
So far, it had been an oddly disappointing afternoon. However, I was not about to give up. I was determined that things couldn't be as bad as they seemed. Thankfully, my next location proved me correct.
Next up was a place that I'd intended to visit for quite a while. Renowned as the tap house for Nottingham Brewery, my next stop was The Plough.
Dating from the 1700's The Plough is famously mentioned in Alan Sillitoe's novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. The main entrance takes you to a choice of 2 internal doors which take you to opposite sides of the square central bar. Upon entering, I opted for the right hand door, not really for any reason but I had to start somewhere. There is seating around the edges of both rooms, as well as small tables and some high bar stools. The 10 hand pulls are divided between both sides of the bar, 4 on one side and 6 on the other and one of these is not in use during my visit. All but one of these beers, as you'd expect, come from the associated brewery which is behind the pub. The 4 on the side I have chosen are Rock Mild, EPA, Legend and Rock Bitter. On the opposite side, the pumps boast Regal, Bullion, Broadway Reel Ale, Sooty Stout and Clark's Blonde which is the guest. I decided to begin with a pint of Legend as I was thoroughly parched by this point. The Legend was in excellent condition and went down very well indeed, reflecting everything that is good about the beers from this fabulous local brewery. I thought it was only fair to try a second pint here and I was feeling adventurous. I opted second time around for the Sooty Stout. This is a fabulous beer, full of complex aromas and smoky, hazy flavours. It is essentially like drinking smoke, with all of the tangy and woody undertones that you would expect. I didn't want to leave here in any hurry but time was getting on and I still had another couple of locations left to visit. Hoping to dodge any impending rain showers, I made my way down towards the next stop, passing student flats in what used to be the old Raleigh bicycle factory and the White Horse pub, now unceremoniously converted into a café. My journey now took me out to the other end of Radford, emerging on Derby Road. Originally a farmhouse and a pub since at least 1810, I was now at The Three Wheatsheaves.
The picture above is not a reflection of the current appearance as the pub appears to be undergoing renovations as the result of a recent takeover. The signage out front has been taken down temporarily and there is evidence that painting has been, or soon will be, taking place. The interior of the pub is a mix of modern and traditional features with the bar to one side in a reverse J shape. Of the 3 handpulls on the bar, 1 is in use and this is offering Caledonian Edinburgh Castle. This is a copper coloured ale with a soft flavour of hops and an overall sweet finish. Despite the lack of choice at the time of my trip, the landlord seems to be preparing for an increase in ale volume as a number of pump clips are being stored behind the bar, presumably for when the renovations are completed. I'm prepared to give this particular pub the benefit of the doubt pending another investigation. It's nice to see that the new landlord is still prepared to make the most of his ale pumps once everything is up and running again. If done properly, this could be a venue to watch.
Last on my itinerary for the day was further down Derby Road, in the shadow of Queen's Medical Centre. Operated under the Flaming Grill brand, my last destination was the Rose & Crown.
Behind the trademark orange and black exterior is a large, expansive interior around a W shaped bar which occupies an area of the back wall. The pub is geared around food and the amount of seating on offer reflects this, consisting of low tables and high plush booths. There are lots of TV screens and a projector, focused on showing live sport. The bar includes 4 hand pulls, half of which are in use, providing Castle Rock Harvest Pale and Wells Bombardier. The Bombardier is very well kept and that is always good to see. Taking a seat at a high table facing a TV screen on which Sky Sports News is playing, I reflected about the ups and downs of my Radford recon. The quality of Radford's pubs for the discerning ale drinker is a reflection of the area as a whole and probably suffers as a direct result of the area's unsavoury reputation. However, this does not mean it is all bad. The fact that Nottingham Brewery, and its tap house The Plough, can thrive in this area is a testament to how times are changing. It will be interesting to see how the ale scene develops here. All being well, The Three Wheatsheaves will continue to provide ale once its refurbishment work is complete, offering a good alternative for ale drinkers in the area. If The Pheasant can also make better use of their ale pumps then an area that initially appears to be a little bit of a real ale wasteland (The Plough obviously excluded from this), may begin to show signs of turning into an unlikely haven.
Although I do keep saying it, I fully intend to update this on a more regular basis with areas far and wide making an appearance, including my first ever trip to Wales and a return to the West Country. This year looks set to be another good one ale and I intend to monitor that as best as I possibly can.