This week, on the first of the month I might add, I made my out to a destination that has long been in need of a thorough examination. Conveniently, there happens to be a direct bus route from my location in Clifton out to the place in question making it all the easier to pay it a visit. The subject of my explorations this week was Arnold and the nearby suburb of Daybrook.
Arnold is a market town, unparished area and suburb of the city of Nottingham, in the English ceremonial county of Nottinghamshire. It is to the north-east of Nottingham’s city boundary, and is in the local government district of Gedling Borough. Since 1968 Arnold has had a market, and the town used to have numerous factories associated with the hosiery industry. At the time of the 2011 Census, Arnold had a population of 37,768.
Areas within Arnold include Daybrook, Woodthorpe, Redhill and Killisick.
Arnold was referred to as ‘Ernehale’ in the Domesday Book of 1068; this former name meant ‘place frequented by eagles’ or ‘the valley of eagles’.
‘A History of Arnold’ (1913) by Rev. Rupert W. King and Rev. James Russell explains the etymology of Arnold’s name thus:
‘Heron-hald’, meaning the corner of the forest where Herons (large birds) live. Which becomes over the centuries since 500 A.D. by ‘lazy’ pronunciation, Eron-ald, thence Ern-old and Arn-old.Due to the local topography Arnold can never have been a haunt of eagles, because they inhabit areas of rocky outcrops, which have formed cliffs; the nearest such location being Creswell Crags, some 20 miles (32 km) north-west as the eagle flies, although the fish-eating White-tailed Eagle (also known as the ‘Erne’) could have caught fish in the River Trent, which lies 4 miles (6.4 km) south-east of Arnold, on the other side of the Mapperley Plains ridge. These eagles would then have flown north-west in the evenings to roost in the ancient woodland area now known as Arnold. The Anglo-Saxon migrant-invaders, when they arrived along the River Trent from the Humber Estuary c. 500 A.D., would certainly have seen these eagles—which measure 66–94 cm (26–37 in) in length with a 1.78–2.45 m (5.8–8.0 ft) wingspan—flying northwest in the evenings and appropriately named this roosting location ‘Erne-Halh’ or ‘Erne-Haugh’, meaning ‘Eagle’s nook’ or ‘Eagle’s corner’.
Arnold is surrounded by a circular ridge from the north-west around to the south-east and raised ground to the west. The town’s bowl-like topography may have given it the etymological feature ‘-Halh’ or ‘-Haugh’.
Arnold was a centre of the framework knitting industry in the 19th century. It was the site of the first framebreaking incidents of the Luddite riots, on 11 March 1811, when 63 frames were smashed. The Luddite riots were a workers’ response to decreasing pay, standard of living and conditions of employment in the industry as a result of changing fashions decreasing demand for their style of hosiery.
The town’s most notable landmark is probably the Home Ales brewery building in Daybrook, usually referred to as the ‘Home Brewery’. Founded in 1875 by John Robinson, the brewery was famous for its trademark Robin Hood logo on beermats. The brewery remained independent until 1986, when the family owners sold it (along with 450 public houses owned by the brewery) to Scottish & Newcastle for £123million. Scottish & Newcastle gradually ran down production, for example by subcontracting Mild brewing to a rival brewery in Mansfield, resulting in the eventual closure of the Daybrook building in 1996. Home Bitter is still brewed under contract at Everards in Leicester, although many of the public houses that used to serve it now sell Theakston’s beers instead.
Dating from 1936, the current Home Ales building is now officially known as ‘Sir John Robinson House’ and houses more than 30,000 square feet (2,800 m2) worth of county council offices. It is located at the junction between the A60 (Mansfield Road) and Sir John Robinson Way, and its architect was Thomas Cecil Howitt. The Grade II listed building’s illuminated ‘Home of the Best Ales’ sign was altered to remove the word ‘Ales’ and to include the logo of Nottinghamshire County Council. The three-storey building has an unusual ‘putti frieze’ by sculptor Charles Doman along the front wall which depicts groups of putti involved in the brewing of beer. Three designs are repeated in an ABCABC / CBACBA pattern. The reliefs are in a 2:3 proportion and are white casts. ‘A’ depicts a drinking table; ‘B’ shows barrel-making; and ‘C’ illustrates the stirring of the brew—all allegories of the brewing process. The famed decorative ironwork gates and railings are contemporaneous and form part of the listed building.
45 minutes after getting on the bus, I had arrived in Daybrook full of excitement for the day ahead. I had an excellent provisional itinerary laid out so I was looking forward to seeing what this particular area had to offer. Having arrived roughly quarter of a hour before my first planned location was due to open, I changed tack slightly with the intention of doubling back later on. Walking up Mansfield Road, past the imposing brewery building, I made my way towards the first pub of the day, albeit the second on my initial list. Sat by the side of the road, opposite a church and next to a Premier Inn is The Old Spot.
This former coaching inn was once a Home Ale tap house but is now operated as part of the Fayre & Square offshoot of Greene King. Inside, there are multiple dining and drinking areas split over several small levels with a main bar to the front and a smaller bar to the side. Part of the pub is known as 'The Saddlery' as this is the area where horses were tethered during the pub's original incarnation. The door to this area, which is also original, can still be opened. The décor is one of higher ceilings, lower beams and bare brick columns with photos of Nottingham throughout. In terms of beer choice, the bar offers 2 handpulls, on this occasion featuring Greene King IPA and Shipstone's Original. I opted for the IPA to start the day off and pulled up a chair at a small table in one of the raised dining areas. The beer was as well kept as you'd expect and refreshing after my bus journey. As I finished the first of many pints for the day, the pub was beginning to slowly fill with diners. It was at this stage that I took my leave.
I retraced my steps from The Old Spot, making my way back to where I had got off the bus, passing on the way the Abdication micropub (sadly closed on Mondays and Tuesdays). Directly opposite the bus stop, perched on the junction with Thackerays Lane, is The Vale.
The Vale is a Grade II listed building designed by Thomas Cecil Howitt, architect of the aforementioned brewery building. It was built in the 1930s as a Home Ales Brewery hotel and was then extended in the 1960s. Now a pub, the 2 single-storey wings house a lounge bar, and a public bar which is used as a function room. With its Art Deco style windows and wood panelling, the Vale is a well preserved and classic piece of 1930s architecture. The interior of the pub is just as classic as the exterior with lots of nods to its previous life under Home Brewery. The bar is loosely divided in 2 by a supporting pillar and a door that leads to a small dining area. Each side of the bar includes 3 handpulls, totalling 6 overall and 5 of these are in use when I arrive. My choices are Fuller's London Pride, Sharp's Doom Bar, Castle Rock Harvest Pale, Adnam's Broadside and Belhaven 80 Shilling. Having been informed that the 80 Shilling has just this moment run out, I decided on a pint of Broadside and sat down at a high table opposite the bar, over which hangs a large TV showing Sky Sports. The beer is perfectly kept and the atmosphere in The Vale is comfortable and welcoming. One could almost be forgiven for wanting to stay here all day but, sadly, there is lots to do.
The next part of my trip had me venturing down nearby Nottingham Road and into Arnold town centre proper. It was a very blustery and unsettled day so it was best to keep my head on into the biting wind whilst I got my bearings. Having made my way past the McDonald's and then the Sainsbury's, I spotted my next stop a little further ahead. Conveniently close to a pedestrian crossing and in close proximity to another pub I was visiting later, is The Greyhound Inn.
Operated by Enterprise Inns, this former problem pub has been granted a new lease of life thanks to the current management and a £105,000 refurbishment in mid 2014. Internally, the pub has 2 rooms divided by the square central bar and internal doors. The seating areas are large and relatively open plan and the walls include guitars hung up, an indication of the pub's reputation for live music. There are a number of TV screens as well as a dart board and the pub seems strangely busy for a Monday afternoon, perhaps reflecting its renewed popularity. 2 of the 4 available handpulls are in use, offering either Doom Bar or Tribute and so I opted for the latter, which proved to be a good choice. I sat on a long bench along the back wall of one of the rooms, underneath a TV showing Sky Sports News as I enjoyed what was an excellently kept beer.
The next pub was quite literally a stone's throw away, separated from The Greyhound by a road junction and traffic lights. It was time to visit the local Wetherspoon's, The Ernehale.
This interesting looking building sits on the street corner just up from my previous stop. The name is taken from the name under which Arnold appears in the Domesday Book. Inside, the standard Wetherspoon's layout is prevalent with a large dining area across the main section and a small split level rise to more tables and a long bar at the back. The toilets are upstairs, fitting the strange Spoons tendency to have them on a different floor to everything else. The bar boasts 12 handpulls, 3 of which feature real ciders, in this case Weston's Perry, Old Rosie and Weston's Twist. The other 9 feature a wide choice of beers including the standard offerings of Abbot Ale, Ruddles and Doom Bar. The rest of the choice are Nottingham Brewery Erne 'Ale, brewed especially for the pub, Kelham Island Best, Kelham Island Mr. Red, Gadd's Dog Bolter, Tring Colley's Dog and Thwaites Flack Catcher. Excited for the chance to use the first of this year's batch of discount vouchers, I chose the Colley's Dog (5.2%), a strong yet drinkable, dark ruby beer with a long, dry finish and overtones of malt and walnuts. It's certainly a very delicious drink and, at this stage, my day out in Arnold was shaping up very well indeed.
Before long, it was once again time to move on so I made my way down towards the main high street in search of my next stop. I had intended to next stop at the Cross Keys but I quick inspection revealed that none of their ales were ready so I was forced to come up with a back up plan. Thankfully, there was one nearby in the shape of a bar/pizza place known as Eagle's Corner.
Fully refurbished in September of last year, the Eagle's Corner was previously a pub known as the Horse & Jockey but now specialises in quality hand made pizzas with the kitchen area in an open plan style that allows customers to see their food being prepared. The inside is very modern with lots of booths for seating as well as TVs and a fruit machine. The 2 beers on the L shaped bar are provided by Caledonian Brewery and, on this occasion, are Flying Scotsman and Eagle's Ale. The Flying Scotsman was my tipple of choice and it was very good indeed. I was pleasantly surprised by the Eagle's Corner. I would normally be against the conversion of a pub but this has been done tastefully and respectfully without the overall effect being too garish. The continued presence of real ale is also a massive plus and definitely adds to the appeal.
Next up was on the places that I had specifically made this trip for. Situated on Front Street in the centre of the town is another addition to the burgeoning Blue Monkey portfolio, this time with a twist: The Coffee Grinder.
Formerly a pub known as the Lord Nelson and more recently the Bazaar coffee shop, the Coffee Grinder is the latest acquisition for Giltbrook based Blue Monkey brewery. Known in the trade as a 'chameleon pub', this unique amalgamation offers coffee all day from 9.30am and serves alcohol from midday. The 2 styles of venue have been merged together well inside, with a large coffee machine taking up some of the bar, whilst the other is given over to 6 handpulls all featuring Blue Monkey's excellent beers (as you'd probably expect). As with all of their venues, well behaved dogs are welcome and there is also a wide selection of real ciders and keg beers. Ale-wise the beers to choose from on this day are Ape Ale, Infinity, BG Sips, Sanctuary, 99 Red Baboons and Guerrilla. I went for one of my favourites, Infinity (4.6%), a satisfying golden ale brewed with US Citra hops. I always love Blue Monkey pubs. With their chilled out atmosphere and emphasis on excellent beers, it can definitely be said that they know what they're doing.
My next location looked set to be the highlight of the trip. Further along Front Street, on a corner opposite some flats is the recently crowned Nottingham Cider Pub of the Year 2015 and National Cider Pub of the Year 2015, The Robin Hood (And) Little John.
The popularity of the pub title is believed to stem from an old rhyme:
'You gentlemen and yeoman good,
Come in and drink with Robin Hood.
If Robin Hood be not at home,
Come in and drink with Little John!'
An inn of this name has stood in Arnold for nearly 250 years. Situated at the corner of Church Street it is first recorded in 1765 and is quite possibly, Arnold's oldest surviving pub. The Robin Hood (AND) Little John became a major coaching inn being the centre for coach travel, collection and delivery of goods and the local bus stop. It has extensive cellars cut into the bed rock of Arnold and, as part of the cellar system, there is an area said to be a cock pit. The pub reopened in August 2014 through a partnership between Lincoln Green Brewery and Everard's of Leicestershire under the 'Project William' scheme. This pub is a real gem. The interior has retained much of its original charm, with the central bar being accessible from 2 sides. There is a 'cider wall' which has helped it to win the aforementioned titles and the bar also boasts and impressive 10 handpulls, 9 of which were in use on my visit. The majority of the beers are from Lincoln Green, in this case Tuck, Hood, Sherwood, Little John and Major but there are also guest beers. At the time of my visit these are Revolutions Fairy Tail of Yorkshire, Everard's Tiger and Maypole Little Weed. I was obviously going to try a Lincoln Green beer though so, after some deliberation, I went for Sherwood (4.4%), a very well hopped extra pale ale. As I was enjoying my pint, I was joined by Emili who was meeting me to discuss a job opportunity (for her, not me) and her Collie x Lurcher Grace. This pub also boasted the strangest incident of the day when a man with an accordion began randomly playing, and was then heckled by a toddler before he resorted to the weirdest version of Wonderful Tonight that I'd ever heard. It was at this point, that it became time to move on.
Emili had decided to accompany me to the next pub and was happy to lead the way to the Sizzling Pubs owned premises. Situated back on Mansfield Road but this time in the suburb of Redhill, is The Ram.
The pub was fairly busy when we arrived and this made sense as it was now early evening. With Emili restricted to the outside smoking shelter due to a combination of Grace's presence and the fact that it was freezing, I made my way inside to peruse the offerings. The pub is large and relatively open plan with lots of seating areas and tables tucked into small corners. The bar runs lengthways down the main room and features 6 handpulls. Of the 5 in use, 4 were doubled up with Bombardier and Doom Bar and the 5th featured Greene King IPA. Clutching a pint of Bombardier and a Guinness for Emili, I made my way back outside. It was clear that this is very much a food driven pub but the beer was tasty all the same. After a few minutes, Emili bid me farewell and headed home but not before Grace pretty much took me out. I finished my pint in the relative warmth inside the pub before I made my way to my final stop, conveniently located next door.
Having not heard much about the last pub on my list, I wasn't sure what to expect. Undeterred however, I made my way to the Waggon & Horses.
Another pub to have undergone a recent upgrade, this now falls under the remit of the Pub People Co., who have a great track record at maintaining pubs in the local area. The interior has the feel of a traditional ale house with wooden beams and an olde worlde appearance but still retaining some strappings of modernity. The seating is located in front and to the left of the central bar and the pub is also dog friendly, evidenced by the arrival of a very cute boxer shortly after I arrived. All 5 of the handpulls are in use and they offer a good mix of beers, on this occasion Dancing Duck Waddle It Be?, Blue Monkey BG Sips, Caledonian Golden XPA, Courage Director's and Wells Bombardier. Having not tried it before, I instantly decided on the Waddle It Be? (4.5%), a pale ale brewed with 5 different New World hops, providing a complex mouth-feel with intense fruity flavours of oranges, peaches and blackcurrants and a spicy, black pepper kick. It also has a great aroma and good bitter balance making it very drinkable!
As I sat there with the last third or so of my pint, the time had come to reflect on the day's activities. I'll admit that I hadn't been entirely sure what to expect from a trip to Arnold. The places I expected good things from (The Vale, The Robin Hood, The Coffee Grinder) more than delivered in all the right ways and there were also some pleasant surprises thrown in (Eagle's Corner, Waggon & Horses). It seems that this part of Nottingham is hiding some gems for those who are prepared to make the effort to get out this way and it's a definite reward to do so. Trips like this are voyages into the unknown which can either be a damp squib or a journey of discovery. This is definitely one that falls into the latter category.