Wednesday, November 20, 2019

A Southwell Stroll

The nights are drawing in and the weather has a distinctly autumnal feel to it at the moment, but it takes a lot more than that, or 2 weeks worth of flu-like symptoms, to stop me from getting out and about. Once again finding myself with some spare time and spare cash, I decided to head out for an exploration of a place that I'd never visited, despite it being not too far away. Staying within county lines on this occasion, and being solo for this trip, yesterday I took the opportunity to head to Southwell.
Southwell  is a town in Nottinghamshire, the site of Southwell Minster, the cathedral of the Anglican Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham covering Nottinghamshire. Its population of under 7,000 increased to 7,297 at the 2011 Census. The origin of the name is unclear. The town lies on the River Greet, about 14 miles (22 km) north-east of Nottingham. Other historic buildings include the prebendal houses in Church Street and Westgate, and the Methodist church, which has a right of way running under it, so that the upper floor seats more than the lower. The workhouse, built in 1824, was a prototype for many others. It is owned by the National Trust and shows its appearance and conditions in the 19th century. Behind the Minster is a partly ruined palace, once a residence of the Archbishop of York. It includes the recently restored State Chamber, Cardinal Wolsey's former dining room, and gardens amongst the ruins.
The origin of the name is unclear. Several locations claim to be the original "well", notably at GR SK708535 where a plaque has been placed; in the Admiral Rodney public house; on the south side of the minster, known as Lady Well in the 19th century; and one by the cloisters, called Holy Well. Norwell, eight miles north-west, may support the idea of a pair of "south" and "north" wells.
The remains of a large, opulent Roman villa were excavated beneath the minster and its churchyard in 1959. Part of a mural from the excavation is displayed in the minster. The villa is one of three examples of its type found in the territories of the Corieltauvi (or Coritani) tribes – along with Scampton in Lincolnshire and Norfolk Street in Leicestershire. A section of the Fosse Way runs on the opposite bank of the River Trent with evidence of a Roman settlement at Ad Pontem ("to the bridge" or "at the bridge"), northwest of the village of East Stoke. There is no specific evidence of a road link between Ad Pontem and Southwell. Other evidence of a Roman settlement includes the use of Roman bricks in the prebendary buildings around the minster, remains of a ditch or fosse was discovered at Burgage Hill in the 19th century, and speculative Roman remains beneath the Church Street site of the recently vacated Minster School. 
The Venerable Bede records the baptism of numerous converts in the "flood of the Trent" near Tiovulginacester by Paulinus in the presence of Edwin of Northumbria whom he had converted to Christianity in 627. There is no agreement on the exact location of Tiovulginacester, but Paulinus certainly visited the locale, and possibly founded the first church in Southwell. 
The remains of Eadburh, Abbess of Repton and daughter of Ealdwulf of East Anglia were buried in Southwell's Saxon church. Eadburh was appointed Abbess under the patronage of King Wulfhere of Mercia. She appears in the Life of Guthlac and is believed to have died around AD 700. Her remains were buried or translated to Southwell Minster, where her relics were revered in the Middle Ages. The only reference is in a Pilgrims Guide to Shrines and Burial Places of the Saints of England, supposedly written in 1000, which records: "There resteth St. Eadburh in the Minster of Southwell near the water called the Trent."
Eadwy of England gifted land in Southwell to Oskytel the Archbishop of York, in 956. Eadwy's charter is the first dated reference to Southwell. Evidence of a tessellated floor and the 11th-century tympanum over a doorway in the north transept are evidence of construction of the Minster after this time. The Domesday Book of 1086 has much detail about an Archbishop's manor in Southwell. 
A custom known as the "Gate to Southwell" originated after 1109 when the Archbishop of York, Thomas I wrote to every parish in Nottinghamshire asking for contributions to the construction of a new mother church. Annually at Whitsuntide, contributions known as the "Southwell Pence" were taken to the Minster in a procession that set off from Nottingham, headed by the Mayor and followed by clergy and lay people making a pilgrimage to Southwell's Whitsun Fair. The Southwell Pence were paid at the north porch of the minster to the Chapter Clerk. The "gate" in the name of the Southwell Gate means "street", as it does in many East Midland and North-Eastern street names, after the Norse word "gata". The custom in its original form persisted well into the 16th century. It was revived in 1981 by the Dolphin Morrismen, but the imposition of traffic management costs forced the organisers to abandon the custom in 2014. It is survived by The Gate to Southwell Festival a broad spectrum roots and acoustic music event established in 2007 which takes place annually in early June on a site near Southwell and at various venues around the town. 
Geoffrey Plantagenet was ordained as a priest at Southwell in 1189. On 4 April 1194, Richard I and the King of Scots, William I, was in Southwell, having spent Palm Sunday in Clipstone. King John visited Southwell between 1207 and 1213, ostensibly for the hunting in Sherwood Forest, but also en route in an expedition to Wales in 1212.
The Saracen's Head was built in 1463 on land gifted in 1396 by the Archbishop of York, Thomas Arundel, to John and Margaret Fysher. When built, the first floor overhung the roadway in the vernacular of the time.
In 1603, James VI of Scotland passed through Southwell on his way to London to be crowned King James I. 
During the English Civil War, King Charles I spent his last night as a free man in May 1646 in the Saracen's Head (then the King's Head), before surrendering to the Scottish Army stationed at nearby Kelham. The fabric of the town, the minster and Archbishop's Palace suffered at the hands of Oliver Cromwell's troops, as they sequestered the palace as stabling for their horses, broke down monuments, and ransacked the graves for lead and other valuables. In 1793, iron rings fastened to the walls to secure the horses were still in situ. The end of the civil war left the Archbishop's Palace in ruins apart from its Great Hall. It is reputed that Cromwell also stayed in the King's Head.
In 1656, a Bridewell was built on the Burgage. It was enlarged in 1787 when it became a prison for the county. There is evidence that a house of correction was built in 1611, so the Bridewell may itself have been an enlargement. Mary Ann Brailsford was baptized at Southwell in May 1791, and Matthew Bramley in 1796 in Balderton. 
By 1801, the population was 2,305. In 1803, Lord Byron stayed with his mother in Burgage Manor during his holidays from Harrow and Cambridge. His mother rented the house; although by that time he had become 6th Baron Byron of Rochdale, the family home, Newstead Abbey required significant remedial work, which they could not afford. 
As the site of an Anglican cathedral, the town is sometimes considered to be a city, and was treated as such in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica. However, its city status is not recognised by the government. Southwell has an active Town Council. 
The town is something of an oddity for North Nottinghamshire, being visibly affluent, when compared with its near neighbours of Newark-on-Trent and Mansfield. Whereas agriculture and coal respectively have seen the fortunes of the other two towns fluctuate over the years, Southwell has remained an area of residence for many of Nottingham's wealthiest residents. It was featured in The Sunday Times shortlist of 'Best Places to Live 2017' for the Midlands region. 
In most parts of Nottinghamshire, 'Southwell' is pronounced SUH-thull, with a voiced 'th' (as in 'the' or 'there') and a silent 'w'. Residents of Southwell itself tend to pronounce the name as it is spelt.
It was here that the well-known Bramley cooking apple was first seeded by Mary Ann Brailsford in 1809. A local nurseryman Henry Merryweather, 17 years old, saw its potential and cultivated it from cuttings. The apple is now used across the cookery world and is renowned for its acidic taste and the fact that it cooks to a smooth puree. One of the local football clubs, Southwell City, is nicknamed "The Bramleys", and the town's new library and youth centre is known as 'The Bramley Centre' in honour of the town's contribution to British cuisine. In March 2009, a stained glass window was installed in Southwell Minister, commemorating the Bramley apple's 200th anniversary.

Despite not having a railway station, Southwell is still easily accessible from Nottingham city centre and so, around 11.15am I boarded the NCT Pathfinder 26 service which would take me right into the heart of this historic town. Approximately 45 minutes later, I had arrived and immediately set about getting my bearings and working out my route for the day. Disembarking at Park Terrace, I followed the main road and turned right which in a couple of minutes brought me directly to the area known as Market Place where my first 2 locations sit conveniently opposite each other. The first of these, on the right, sits on the junction of Market Place and Church Street and would be my first stop of the day. The investigation of Southwell began at the Crown Hotel.
Image result for crown hotel southwell
Situated almost next door to the famous Minster, the Crown is a Marston's run establishment in a building that dates from the 18th century. Inside, there is a large main room with a small restaurant area to one side, a curved bar at the back of the room and a small games room to the left of the entrance which contains a pool table and dartboard. A door to the rear leads to the gents toilets and a large outdoor area which includes a covered space with picnic style benches. There is also accommodation on the floors above, accessed through a separate door in the bar area. The décor is largely scrubbed wooden tables and chairs and there is a TV in one area that plays Sky News with the sound on. The bar itself features 2 banks of handpumps, 6 in total, separated from each other by a pillar. On the day of my visit, 2 of the pumps were in use, offering a choice of Wychwood Hobgoblin Gold and McEwan's Head Space. I decided on the Head Space (4.2%), billed as a Scotch whisky beer. Following a slight delay whilst the barman found out the price (the till had crashed due to some wiring work that was being carried out), I made my way over to a round table in front of the aforementioned TV. The beer is a dark reddish-brown in colour with a distinctive fruitiness and a smooth finish. However, try as I might, I couldn't detect even the slightest whisky flavour. This was a definite disappointment and the overall product suffers as a result. Thankfully, the surroundings were welcoming enough. I suspect that the whisky is more pronounced in the bottle conditioned version. 

Leaving the Crown, my next destination was not far away at all. As mentioned earlier, it is actually across the road, running parallel with the route through the centre of town. Getting to it means negotiating an oddly treacherous traffic junction and mini roundabout but, in no time at all, I reached the Saracen's Head.
Image result for saracens head southwell
This former coaching inn dates from 1430 and was originally known as the King's Head. The archway in the centre of the façade leads through to the old stable block, now used as accommodation. It was here, in 1647, that the then monarch Charles I spent his last night of freedom before surrendering to Scottish forces at nearby Kelham. Following his execution, the name of building was changed to the Saracen's Head, perhaps in reference to the King's son or the belief that a Saracen sword was used in Charles' execution. Whatever the reason, the historical importance of this building has clearly prevented its most well known visitor from leaving. An apparition, believed to be Charles I, has been sighted in corridors and heard walking the hallways, often accompanied by a feeling of dense air around the observer. The late monarch is not alone in his wanderings. The spirt of Lord Byron has occasionally been sighted in the laundry room. The shade of a man in 18th century clothing, complete with powdered wig, has also been seen along with a female ghost in nineteenth century dress. She is believed to be Miss Clements, who died on the site in 1857 after being run down by a cart driven by the son of the then owner. The interior of the pub retains the historical feel in a more physical form. The main entrance leads to a central corridor with access to the rooms and function area directly ahead. To the right, another doorway leads to the cosy bar area. The bar itself is square, with seating positioned in front and around, in the form of scrubbed tables and chairs to left and right and high tables and stools directly opposite beneath the original mullioned windows. A real log fire is located in one corner, which nicely warms the room on what is a very cold day. The bar features a bank of 3 handpumps, 2 of which were in use on the day, with a choice of Timothy Taylor Landlord and Greene King Abbot Ale. Greene King IPA is also available through a large metal font which seems oddly out of place amongst the traditional fixtures and fittings. A bell for service is mounted on one of the vertical beams on the bar in case no staff are present when you arrive. Luckily for me that wasn't the case and I was soon perched on a high stool enjoying a very well kept drop of Landlord (4.3%). I will always maintain that the quality of beer at a venue should far outweigh the choices available and that's certainly the case here. I would much rather enjoy one very well kept beer than be disappointed by 6 mediocre ones. The Saracen's Head is certainly an historic and atmospheric place to enjoy a beer on a cold November afternoon and the food offering sounds incredible so I may have to return here for sustenance in the future. 

It was soon time to move on again and, once again, I didn't have far to go. Leaving the Saracen's Head, I turned left and continued along the main road, which eventually became King Street. A short distance away, lies the Admiral Rodney.
Image result for admiral rodney southwell
This is a traditional two roomed pub and hotel on the main high street that has retained a lot of traditional features. Entrances to the front and side lead to a central bar that serves both rooms, with seating spread out around the peripheries of the room, in the form of tables and chairs and comfortable sofas. Exposed beams dominate much of the décor and a plaque in one area identifies the site of a well that was uncovered during renovation work and is one of many that claims to have given the town its name. The pub was also awarded Pub of the Season by Newark CAMRA back in 1999. A TV occupies one wall of the front bar space. The bar features 2 banks of 4 handpumps, one at each side, doubled up with the same selection of beers. My choices for the day were Brewsters Octo-Beer, Sharp's Doom Bar, Dancing Duck Ay Up and Castle Rock Harvest Pale. I decided to go for the Octo-Beer (4%). This is a seasonal beer from the female-run, Grantham-based Brewsters, a brewery who can do no wrong in my eyes. This beer is no exception. Made with 4 malts and 4 different hops, this is a deliciously fruity pale ale with lots of citrus and tropical fruit flavours that deliver a crisp, clean and refreshing finish. I thoroughly enjoyed it as I sat on a high stool at the bar, taking in the ambience of another very welcoming and historic pub. If the stories are to be believed, I'm not the only person drawn in by the atmosphere. A phantom man with a beard, nicknamed 'Ballroom Charlie' has been spotted on numerous occasions by several previous landlords. Whether the incumbent has had any such run-ins remains to be seen.

There was a touch more walking required in order to get to my next destination. But first, an exercise in the art of striking whilst the iron is hot. On my way up the hill off of the high street, I passed The Wheatsheaf, a pub that was on my itinerary for the day. Unexpectedly, the doors were open earlier than I thought they would be. My plan was to come back to the pub later in the day after visiting my next destination and so, at this point, I chose to keep on going. I would soon rue my mistake for reasons that will become clear. Continuing on my way, I headed downhill on Burgage Lane, emerging on Newark Road where I turned left and crossed over. A couple of minutes later, I reached Station Road where I turned right and saw my next stop at the end of the road on the left. I was very excited about this pub: the Good Beer Guide listed Final Whistle.
Image result for final whistle southwell
This cracking pub is located adjacent to the Southwell Trail, a disused railway line that is now a popular walking trail. Formerly known as the Newcastle Arms, the pub was refurbished and renamed in 2010 as part of the Everards Project William initiative. The pub is multi-roomed and heavily railway themed with lots of railway memorabilia throughout. The rear courtyard garden has been laid out like a mock train station, complete with a small section of track and also includes a separate bar and a function room called the 'Locomotion'. Its reputation is further enhanced by it being named local CAMRA Branch Pub of the Year in both 2017 and 2019. The bar is L-shaped and features 10 handpumps in 2 banks of 5, with a bank on each of the 'arms' of the L. The choice is decent and vast. On my visit, my options were Brewsters Hophead, Salopian Oracle, Everards Tiger, Oakham Bishop's Farewell, Draught Bass, Elland 1872 Porter, Raw Grey Ghost IPA, Maypole Storm Brewing, Fuller's London Pride and Buxton Simcoe IPA. Slightly stunned by the choices in front of me, it took me a moment or 2 to decide but I eventually ruled in favour of Storm Brewing (4.5%) from Maypole in nearby Eakring. This proved to be an excellent choice. Maypole's version of a wheat beer is unfined and unfiltered making it naturally hazy. It's packed with classic wheat beer flavours of coriander and orange with notes of banana and cloves. More breweries should do this sort of thing in cask. When it's done properly it's superb! I enjoyed my beer sat in a round table to one side of the bar, near the corridor that leads to the garden and toilets and just within reach of the log fire. The aesthetics of this place are great, from the railway station signage that points to the loos, to the mounted deer head and the interior window repurposed from an old station ticket office. It's not difficult to see why this place is so highly praised both locally and further afield. I had a bit of time to kill before moving on so it would have been downright rude not to have another beer! My second option was from Oakham. Bishop's Farewell (4.6%) is a golden yellow beer with powerful citrus flavours, fruit and hops in the aroma and a bittersweet finish. Bittersweet indeed, as was my feelings about leaving this pub. Still, there was more work to do.

I retraced my steps slightly upon leaving the Final Whistle, leaving Station Road and turning left. This time however, I continued down Newark Road to the very end where I turned right onto Easthorpe. I then followed Easthorpe to the junction with Church Street where, once again, I turned right. A few yards further on, on the right hand side, I saw my next stop, signposted by the resplendent green livery of Everards. Next up, the Hearty Goodfellow.
 Image result for hearty goodfellow southwell
Dating from the 18th century, this friendly pub is one of those with split opening times. On the day in question it was due to close at 3pm and then reopen at 5pm. Luckily for me, I'd timed my arrival for around 2.30ish so there was no great rush. Inside, the interior consists of a large room divided into 3 areas with seating areas to both sides of the main entrance and a smaller area to one side. The bar occupies most of the space at the back of the room and there is a small passage to one side of this which leads to the toilets. A large garden is to the rear along with a covered area for both eating and drinking. Potwell Dyke can be found to the rear of the garden. The bar includes 8 handpulls, 7 of which were available at the time of my arrival. One of these was occupied by Lilley's Tropical Cider with the others being doubles of beers from the Everards range, namely Tiger, Sunchaser and Golden Hop. I opted for the Tiger, as I've always enjoyed Everards beers and haven't had it for quite a while. I found myself in the unusual position of being served by the barman's girlfriend as he'd gone to the toilet just before I arrived and returned just as my beer was being topped up. No harm done. There's many a time I've been in a similar situation. I picked up my beer and chose a spot on a long bench with my back to the windows. I can confirm that the Tiger was in excellent condition, as you'd expect from one of it's 'home' pubs. It being the middle of the day on a Tuesday, I was the only customer which gave me plenty of opportunity to take in my surroundings. The walls and seating areas are decorated with old photos of places and people of Southwell and the original windows still display Smoke Room and Bar Room, a throwback to a time when such divisions were necessary and expected. There was also a nice, festive feel thanks to the soundtrack of Christmas songs being beamed from the bar. It's not Christmas until I hear the Pogues and I haven't yet so it isn't. This is certainly a homely little place and I got the sense that it's very much at the centre of its community. There's also something a little bit more unusual inside. The laughter of a young boy has been heard by witnesses on more than one occasion, usually when the pub is quiet and no children are present. The identity and origin of this phenomenon are unknown but it provides an interesting addition to the pub's history.

Soon, I embarked out into the November chill again. Pleasingly, it turned out that a pub I'd pencilled in for a bit later had already opened and was only a short walk away. With that, I turned my attentions to the Bramley Apple Inn.
Image result for bramley apple southwell
Named after the eponymous fruit, the first example of which was grown in a garden a few doors down, the Bramley Apple has recently been taken over by new owners from the local area. This has led to earlier opening hours and the early stages of refurbishment. Inside, the layout is open plan, with a long bar serving an area that is reminiscent of a living room with a variety of furniture throughout. A smallish snug area at one end contains a small table, a couple of sofas and a TV. A second TV occupies space just inside the front door and opposite lies a pool table in a smaller space. A corridor running parallel to the bar behind a dividing a wall has recently been opened up by the new owner, who was serving behind the bar whilst I was there. Pleasingly, the bar features 6 handpulls, 4 of which were available. My options on the day were Beermats Matrix IPA, Mallard Duck & Dive, Nottingham Rock Mild and Beermats Pragmatic. I'd heard good things about the Matrix IPA, so it seemed like a reasonable choice. At 5.4%, this is an American style IPA with big flavours of orange and grapefruit and citrus notes. It's very nice indeed and surprisingly easy drinking for the strength. A good friend of mine recently had this on at the football club bar that he runs and apparently it caused carnage amongst the older drinkers. On this evidence, it's easy to see why. I took a seat in the snug area and listened to the barman/owner talking to a couple of regulars about the upcoming changes that he plans to make. It's good to see a pub being refurbished for the better and some of the work has clearly started with areas of fresh paintwork and new light fittings. The pub also apparently has a poltergeist that likes to randomly turn off beer lines in the cellar. Given the numerous cases of renovation work causing or exacerbating paranormal activity, I wonder whether the current work has stirred up any unquiet spirits.

Following the Bramley Apple, my plan was to make my way to the Wheatsheaf and while away some time before the last 2 pubs of the day opened. However, upon making my way back to King Street, my plan was scuppered as the pub was closed. This was confusing, mainly as both the pub's own website and Whatpub suggested that it should have been open at that stage. I resolved myself to try one final time before I made my way home. With an hour to kill, I had a wander around the town, taking in the sites and regathering my bearings before I made my way to the next pub, which opened at 5pm. I'd passed it earlier but I now returned to the Easthorpe/Church Street junction to visit the Old Coach House.
Image result for old coach house southwell
Previously known as the White Lion, the pub occupies a corner plot. Inside, the layout is traditional and open plan with 5 distinct drinking areas around a central bar, exposed oak beams and brickwork and a large range fire. Seating consists of tables and stools and banquette seating around the perimeter. Brewery memorabilia occupies much of the wall space and an acoustic guitar sits propped just inside the main door. A patio/garden is located to the rear. Upon entering, I was greeted by a regular's dog who seemed just as happy to be in the pub as I was. I was also greeted by a bank of  7 handpulls, which certainly warmed my heart after the cold of outside. For my perusal were Doom Bar, Timothy Taylor Boltmaker, Woodforde's Wherry, Oakham Blue Skies IPA, Manchester The Messiah is my Citra, Rat White Rat and Oakham JHB. Despite the presence of Oakham, I was intrigued by the presence of both Woodforde's and Manchester so far from their respective homes and ultimately opted for the latter. At 4.2%, The Messiah is my Citra is an excellent pale ale, bone dry on the palate and stuffed, not surprisingly, with Citra. This gives it big hitting tropical flavours and a nice, well rounded mouthfeel. A very good choice indeed.

More walking would be required now. I made my way back down Church Street to the road junction with Market Place where both the Crown and the Saracen's Head glowed in their respective inner warmth. I decided to try my luck with the Wheatsheaf again but, for some reason, it remained closed to the outside world. Deciding to scrub that from the itinerary, I had one pub left to visit. Retracing my steps back to the junction, I this time continued on back to where I had first entered the town earlier in the day. On the opposite side of the road, bathed in electric light, was my final destination of this excursion. Making a break for it over the busy main road, I made my way into The Reindeer*.


The Reindeer has been a pub since 1827 and occupies a good position on West Gate, the main road running towards the town centre. Inside, there is a large, open plan bar area with 3 drinking areas, a separate function room, B&B accommodation and a large garden, accessed through a door which also leads to an external corridor where the toilets are located. The main area in front of the bar has banquette seating and a log fire, another area to the left has more of the same seating in a snug style layout and there is a further area towards the rear. The bar is small and reverse L shaped with 5 handpulls on the longer edge. At the time of my visit, 4 of in these were in use, one of which offered Weston's Old Rosie cider. The remaining 3 provided a choice between Fuller's London Pride, Jennings Cumberland Ale and John Smith's Cask Bitter. I decided on the Cumberland (4%). This pours clear orange in appearance with a thick white head, floral aroma and flavours of spiciness and hops, rounded off by a bitter finish. It's kept well and a warming way to round off the day's events. With the lights of The Reindeer behind me, I made my way back to the bus stop for the journey back to the city.

My day in Southwell had certainly been worthwhile. The history of this small town has certainly shaped the character and atmosphere of its pubs and its people and left an indelible mark on the buildings and those that dwell there. The pubs are varied and the beer range fairly decent. The outstanding pub is clearly the Final Whistle which has certainly shown why it wins awards. The Old Coach House too was a very pleasant place for a beer with a much more diverse range than I initially expected to find. Whilst Southwell may not have the reputation of other towns in respect of its pubs scene or its beer range, what there is to be found is definitely worth finding. Whilst it's not so much of the beaten track, I think it's fair to say that it does perhaps get slightly overlooked. This is unfair and I hope my trip shows that there is certainly enough to keep the willing drinker going through the afternoon, even on the coldest of November nights. There's something to be said for throwing yourself into this sort of thing. You never know what you find.

*N.B. Apologies for the lack of a photo of The Reindeer. I had some issues getting the image to copy over for some reason. Bloody technology