Friday, August 11, 2017

A Grantham Gallimaufry

This week, I ventured into the fine county of Lincolnshire for its first appearance in this blog, in order to investigate a place that has become synonymous with Thatcher, Newton and manufacturing but is now more known for its recent upsurge in its real ale scene. I speak of course of Grantham, which lies a mere 30-40 minute train journey across the border from Nottingham.

Grantham  is a market town in the South Kesteven district of Lincolnshire. It straddles the London to Edinburgh East Coast Main Line railway and the River Witham and is bounded to the west by the A1 main north–south trunk road. Grantham lies about 23 miles (37 km) south of the city and county town of Lincoln, and about 22 miles (35 km) east of the city of Nottingham. The resident population in 2014 was estimated as 43,117, excluding the adjacent villages of Great Gonerby and Barrowby.
Grantham is notable for being the birthplace of the former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher, for having educated Isaac Newton at its King's School, for having the first female police officers in the United Kingdom (Edith Smith in 1914), and for producing the first running diesel engine in 1892 and the UK's first tractor in 1896.

Grantham lies close to an ancient Roman road. It was the scene in 1643 of Oliver Cromwell's first win over Royalists during the English Civil War, at Gonerby Moor.
The origin of "Grantham" is uncertain, although the name is said probably to be Old English "Granta+ham", meaning "Granta's homestead". It appeared as early as 1086 in the Domesday Book in its present form of Grantham, but was also recorded variously as Grandham, Granham and Graham. The place name element grand could possibly mean "gravel".
The name of the town is the origin of the Scottish surname, now often used as a given name, Graham.
Late neolithic vessels from a burial were found at Little Gonerby, in the north of the town, in 1875. A number of flint blades have been found, including from near Welham Street to the south-east of the town centre and from near Barrowby where a macehead has also been found. At Little Gonerby a neolithic settlement site was discovered with finds of pottery and flints.
There have been a number of finds of flint and stone tools including palaeolithic hand-axes, from the Cherry Orchard Estate, to the west of the town centre, and from near North Lodge on the hill top south of Barrowby. Mesolithic flints have also been recovered from the Cherry Orchard Estate as well as from sites to the west of Great Gonerby
To the north-east of the town centre a Bronze Age bucket and urn cemetery, with cremation burials and ploughed-out barrows, has been recorded. Bronze Age flint scatters have also been found in several places, particularly on the higher ground near Barrowby. At Saltersford a Bronze Age ingot and a rapier were found. There are also several ring ditches on the higher ground above Saltersford.
According to the Chronicles of Raphael Holinshed, Gorbonianus, a legendary King of the Britons built Grantham between 292 and 282 BC.

The Domesday account notes Queen Edith having 12 carucates to the geld, with no arable land outside the village. She had a hall, two carucates and land for three ploughs without geld, and 111 burgesses. Ivo had one church and four mills rendering 12 shillings, and eight acres of meadow without geld. The lands of Bishop Osmond were described: "In Londonthorpe ... is land for two ploughs. This land belongs to the church of Grantham. In Spittlegate, St Wulfram of Grantham has half a carucate of land to the geld. In Great Gonerby, St Wulfram of Grantham has 1 carucate of land. There is land for twelve oxen."
On 4 December 1290, the funeral cortège of Eleanor of Castile, accompanied by her husband King Edward I, stopped at Grantham on its way from Lincoln to Westminster Abbey. An 'Eleanor Cross' was later erected in the town, although its precise location has not been identified.
In 1363 "The Castles, Manors and towns of Stamford and Grantham" were granted to Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York, and fifth son of Edward III of England. The question has been raised as to whether Grantham House was the site of a castle, however, no such site has been reliably identified. The street name "Castlegate" cannot be traced further back than the 17th century. There are references to a Hospital in Grantham as early as the 1330s.
Grantham received its Charter of Incorporation in 1463.

The town developed when the railway came to the town. The Nottingham Line (LNER) arrived first in 1850, then the London line (GNR) – the Towns Line from Peterborough to Retford – arrived in 1852. The Boston, Sleaford and Midland Counties Railway arrived in 1857.
The town received gas lighting in 1833. The corporation became a borough council in 1835. Little Gonerby and Spittlegate were added to the borough in 1879. The town had been in the wapentake of Loveden, and the town included three townships of Manthorpe with Little Gonerby, Harrowby, and Spittlegate with Houghton and Walton.
Grantham Golf Club (now defunct) was founded in 1894. The club continued until the onset of the Second World War.
Until the 1970s the housing estates west of the town centre were green fields. Green Hill, on the A52, was literally a green hill. In July 1975 the National Association of Ratepayers' Action Groups (NARAG) was formed in Grantham by John Wilks, its Chairman, being a forerunner of the TaxPayers' Alliance.

Grantham is notable as being the first place in the world after London to recruit and train women police officers. Grantham was the first provincial force to ask the newly formed Corps of Women's Police Volunteers to supply them with occasional policewomen, recognising them as particularly useful for dealing with women and juveniles. In December 1914 Miss Damer Dawson, the Chief of the Corps, came to Grantham to supervise the preliminary work of the women police. The officers stationed at Grantham were Miss Allen and Miss Harburn. In 1915, Grantham magistrates swore in Mrs Edith Smith, making her the first proper policewoman in Britain with full powers of arrest.

I arrived in Grantham shortly after 11am and quickly got my bearings. Leaving the station, I made my way through a pedestrianised housing estate which eventually led me out onto a main road and from here it was a short walk to my first destination of the day. Situated on a corner of 2 traffic routes, my first stop was the Tollemache Inn.

Image result for tollemache inn grantham

The first of 2 Good Beer Guide listed pubs on this trip, the Tollemache is the first Wetherspoons to feature in this blog for a few weeks at least and seemed like a good place to start the day's exploration. One of the first Wetherspoons pubs to be opened outside of London, this occupies the former Co-Op building and is a former CAMRA pub of the year. Situated next to the Museum and Arts Centre, this year marks its 3rd consecutive year in the GBG and deservedly so. There is a statue outside the building of the 19th century MP, the Hon. Frederick Tollemache, after whom the pub is named. The interior is laid out in a reverse L with 3 separate entrances, all to the front that lead to an open plan bar area with high tables and chairs and a few small booths in one corner. To the rear, a small flight of steps leads down to a more traditional dining area and the door that leads to the inevitably upstairs toilets. The bar is adorned with 15 hand pumps, in 3 banks of 5, 14 of which are in use at the time that I stop by. Available on the day are Ruddles (x2), Abbot Ale (x2), Sharp's Doom Bar, Adnams Broadside, Nottingham EPA, Nottingham Tolle Tipple (brewed exclusively for the pub), Newby Wyke Black Squall, Newby Wyke White Squall, Newby Wyke Bear Island, Oldershaw Bullion, Milestone Cromwell Bitter and a draught cider, Polgoon Cornish Cider. After a moment's deliberation in the face of so much choice, I eventually opted for the White Squall (4.8%), from Newby Wyke Brewery, which is based in the town itself. This is a blonde hued beer with a hoppy aroma. There are generous amounts of hop well supported by a solid malty undercurrent. This leads to a increasingly bitter tang towards the finish. It's a very tasty beer indeed and it's a good way to start the day. It's also a good way to dry off on what is a thoroughly inclement and miserable day weather wise!

My itinerary for the day had been arranged in such a way that there was little walking time between pubs and I wouldn't stray too far from the station. And so it was that my next location was up the road a little way, noticeable thanks to an unusual feature. Renowned for the only 'living' pub sign in the UK, my next stop was The Beehive.
 Image result for beehive inn grantham

Dating back to the 18th century, this is a two roomed pub most famous for the beehive of South African bees that has existed in the tree out front since the 1830s. This is a unique feature and a point of interest for which the pub is worth seeking out. A terraced beer garden is located to the rear of the pub. Inside, the bar is central with seating around the walls of the main room and a smaller room next door that includes a pool table and a second entrance. 2 of the pub's 3 hand pumps are in use when I arrive, shortly after opening time, offering a choice between Bear Island and Oldershaw Great Expectations. In hopes of keeping things varied, I went for the Great Expectations (4.2%). I was unfamiliar with this beer, from another Grantham based brewery but it turned out to be a pale, gold beer with rich, citrus hops. I took a seat at a table opposite the bar and absorbed the ambience of this cosy place, which features photos of old Grantham decorating the walls as well as a few bits of memorabilia. I was pleased that I'd made the effort to find this place, for the living sign alone but the beer made it even more worthwhile. 

Stop number 3 on the day's trip was a short walk away. Situated on Vine Street, very close to the church of St. Wulfram, is the Blue Pig. 
Image result for blue pig grantham

One of only 2 half-timbered buildings left in the town, the building that is now the Blue Pig, dates from Tudor times and is a survivor of the disastrous fires that swept the area in the 1660s. It was first mentioned as an inn in a trade directory of 1846, when the landlord was Richard Summersby. It then passed into the ownership of the Manners family, whose family crest gives the derivation of blue in the name of this and several other pubs in the local area. A recent internal refurbishment has been sympathetic to the age and appearance of the building. The pub is cosy and divided into a number of small areas with a central bar serving 2 separate rooms. Exposed brickwork and original beams are prominent throughout. The bar features 6 hand pumps, 5 of which are in use, with one being Old Rosie cider and the ales being Timothy Taylor Landlord, Wells Bombardier Burning Gold, Morland's Old Speckled Hen and St. Austell Proper Job. My original choice for the Proper Job was scuppered slightly as the barrel was just being changed over so I went instead for the Old Speckled Hen which was very well kept and went down very easily. I spent my time here perched at a high table just off from the bar. This is a great little place which has managed to retain lots of its original character over the past few hundred years. If reports are to be believed, more than just atmosphere has been retained in the building. The pub made local news in recent years following reports of an apparition seen by the landlady. According to her description, the figure was of a man dressed in red, with a red handkerchief but minus a face seen in the bar area in the early hours of the morning. This is believed to match the description of a previous landlord. Whether this is the same entity that has been responsible for knocking drinks off tables when there is nobody nearby is unclear but it's easy to see why this place may be haunted given its age. 

Next up saw another short walk to the second of the Good Beer Guide listed pubs on the day's list. Located on North Street, opposite a supermarket car park lies a pub that has developed a well deserved reputation for good, local ales. I had now arrived at the brilliantly named Nobody Inn.

Image result for nobody inn grantham

Previously known as the Joiners Arms and locally known as Eddie's, this is a superb example of a well run independent pub. The pub has been in the Guide for a number of years and is a frequent winner of Pub of the Year awards, with the most recent accolade being in 2015. It is very popular with both drinkers and sports fans with multiple TV screens able to show multiple events in the case of a fixture clash. The bar sits parallel to the front of the pub with the entrance in one corner. A large, fake spider web with accompanying arachnid takes up space on one wall and old beer pumps decorate various parts of the building alongside other breweriana and old photos. The toilets are hidden behind a bookcase so, if you are visiting, give yourself extra time to find them or come in with an empty bladder. Beer-wise, 5 of the 7 handpulls are in use with 2 of them given over to ciders from Broadoak (Lime and Chilli) and Snail's Bank (Strawberry and Lime). The remaining 3 feature Doom Bar and 2 beers from Newby Wyke in the shape of Sundowner and USS Winston S. Churchill. Sundowner was a new one on me and, eager to try more offerings from this very good brewery, I gave it a try. At 4.4%, this is a pale, crisp citrus ale with slightly fruity and refreshing undertones. It's a good beer in which to avoid another rain shower, especially in quirky surroundings such as these. It's easy to see why this place is so popular. It has the feel of a proper drinkers pub and the bar staff are very knowledgeable and welcoming which is definitely a plus. CAMRA discount is also available so this place is a must!

I deviated slightly from the itinerary for my next location. Whilst on my way to another pub, I almost walked past a pub I'd been unaware of. Being a bit of a sucker for micropubs, I ventured into this one to see what I could find. This particular place was BeerHeadZ. 
Image result for beerheadz grantham

This is Grantham's first micropub, opened in March 2016 in a former shop premises. The bar is small and occupies a space at the back of the room. There a number of small tables on the ground floor with a larger space and more seating upstairs signed as 'Headz Up!'. Ales and ciders are served both from chrome, swan-neck hand pumps and direct from casks in the cellar which is through a door behind the bar. 5 of the pumps are in use during the time of my visit, offering an interesting range of beers, namely North Riding Pale Ale V3, Exit 33 Northern Best, Howling Hops Pale No.2, Wild Weather Skadoosh and 3 Blind Mice Russian Blud. After a moment to decide, I ventured away from pale ales for the time being and instead chose the Northern Best (4.2%) from Sheffield based Exit 33. This is a brewed as a traditional Northern English bitter. Dark mahogany in colour, it has a smooth and wonderfully balanced malty base, packed with a rich flavour. It's a welcome change from the pales I've had so far on the day and lives up to its hype. The pub itself is worth shouting about. This is a quiet, comfortable place with friendly regulars and very knowledgeable and hard working staff. I can thoroughly recommend it to anyone who is passing through!

Following this welcome distraction, it was back on track for the next location which is only a few doors down. My next stop was the Black Dog.

Image result for black dog grantham

This Marston's pub has a large, welcoming interior with lots of furniture throughout and a pool and darts area off to one side. The bar sits in the far back corner and there are TVs throughout, including one in the beer garden. The 4 hand pumps feature beers from the Marston's portfolio, specifically on this occasion, Thwaites' Wainwright, Marston's Pedigree, Wychwood Hobgoblin and Mansfield Bitter. With Hobgoblin available this was an easy choice and the beer was perfectly kept, very dark and smooth. 

I was excited about the next destination which is one of Grantham's oldest buildings is located almost opposite the previous location. I now made my way to the Angel & Royal Hotel. 
Image result for angel and royal hotel grantham

Said to be the oldest inn in England, the façade of the current building is 600 years old although the inn itself was built in 1203 as a hostel for the Knights Templar. It stands on the route of an ancient Roman road, the Roman Ermine Way and would have been a popular stopping point on the long journey from London to Edinburgh. King John held court here in 1213, when the inn was known as the Angel. Richard III, Edward III, Charles I, Oliver Cromwell and George IV are also known to have visited but it took until a visit from Queen Victoria's eldest son Edward, Prince of Wales in 1866 for 'Royal' to be added to the name. Richard III ordered the arrest of his cousin, the Duke of Buckinghamshire whilst sitting in what is now the King's Room restaurant in 1483 and this room features a small staircase in one corner that now leads to nowhere but previously led to the rooftop where the innkeeper and his staff could keep an eye out for the stagecoaches of approaching guests. The fireplace in the Angel Bar is believed to be the original medieval fireplace and has been used to keep visitors warm since it was uncovered during renovation work in 1947. Given the 800 years plus of the building's existence, it's perhaps unsurprising that a couple of guests have not quite moved on. Strange orbs and balls of light have been caught on camera in the restaurant. The figure of a white lady in a slender dress has been seen moving down corridors in the upper part of the building and poltergeist activity has been reported in one of the bedrooms which may the work of a separate mischievous spirit, nicknamed Jasper by the staff. Back in the land of the living and I felt slightly intimidated entering this magnificent building with its hundreds years of history and its original stonework still visible inside. When I eventually found the small public bar, I was pleased to see the presence of 2 hand pumps offering a choice of beers from Oldershaw, namely Sunnydaze and Old Boy. I decided on the Old Boy (4.8%), a full-bodied amber ale, fruity and bitter with a balanced aroma of fruit and hops. The taste is backed by malt flavours that die in the finish. This ancient place is one of the most impressive I've ever visited and invokes memories of the George & Pilgrim in Glastonbury from a previous entry. The fact that, after so many centuries it is still going strong, certainly speaks volumes. 

There was definitely a more modern feel to the next stop on the agenda. Slightly off the High Street, on a street named Butchers Row, is a bar called Chequers.
Image result for chequers grantham lincolnshire

Formerly known as Barkers, this is a cosmopolitan contemporary bar, currently owned by the Pint Size Pub Company. Inside, the feel is very modern with the island bar to one side, seating opposite and a couple of low sofas tucked into corners. The feel is relaxed and the lighting suitably dimmed. The bar holds 4 hand pumps, 3 of which are in use when I'm there, offering Lilley's Mango Cider, Dark Star Hophead and Kelham Island Easy Rider. I was surprised to see Kelham Island here so it didn't take long for me to decide on the Easy Rider (4.3%). This is pale and straw coloured with a sweetish flavour and delicate hints of citrus fruit. The flavour is soft and not full-bodied, leading to a very delicious beer indeed. I sat away from the bar, on one of the aforementioned sofas, inside the main front window. The beer went down well and the day had so far been a success. With one venue to go, I had high hopes that this would continue.

Last on the list for this particular excursion was a pub that is situated back on the High Street. The day was to end at the Goose. 
Image result for goose high street grantham

Owned by Stonegate, the pub has recently been refurbished to a high standard and features a combination of wooden tables and booths. TVs are located throughout showing a variety of sport including baseball whilst I'm there. The long bar takes up most of one wall and is adorned with 6 handpulls, 5 of which are in use. The beers on offer are Doom Bar (x2), Flipside Sterling Pale and Wells Bombardier with Lilley's Mango Cider on the remaining pump. I opted to finish my day with old, reliable Doom Bar, a beer that I don't think I've ever had a bad pint of. This particular attempt is no exception. I sat in one of the booths, drinking my last beer of the day, attempting and failing to understand baseball on one of the screens nearby. Soon it was sadly time to make my way back to the train station and return home.

What had I learned from my day in Grantham? A few things. Firstly, that there are some great pubs here, some offering what you'd expect from large chains, the others flying the flag for well-run independents. I've also learned that a lot of these pubs have unique quirks that help them stand out and make them drinking destinations. Living pub sign? Check! Toilets behind a bookcase? Check! 800 year old haunted hotel? Check! Grantham isn't a place that I would have associated with real ale at first glance. Research not withstanding, this was effectively a leap into the dark and it paid off handsomely. I can confirm that this Lincolnshire town is worth taking the time to explore. But it still won't help me understand baseball.