Raise a Glass
When most people think of a traditional English pub, they probably picture an establishment with a history going back many centuries, with ancient beams, stone- flagged floors, lots of old oak furniture and an atmosphere from all those years of use that seems to have seeped into the fabric of the building and which can still be felt today. They might also bring to mind one or two of the inns that have actually witnessed historic events or played host to famous individuals: there are many such Red Lions, Royal Oaks, King’s Arms etc. across the United Kingdom.
The best and most interesting inns that populate our cities, towns and villages do not, however, have to date back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I or beyond. Between the two world wars, as breweries sought to improve the image of public houses and attract families and a wider clientele, an energetic programme of pub- building, often in the English suburbs, led to some architectural gems. These new pubs, often more spacious than their older counterparts and with restaurants, gardens and spacious car parking became important centres for many local communities. Sadly, although at least 5,000 pubs were built during
this period, few survive today and organisations such as CAMRA and Heritage England are at the forefront of campaigns to ensure that those that do remain are protected for future generations.
One of the finest surviving examples, built in 1929 for John Davenport & Sons ( later famous for their “Beer at Home” deliveries) in a style that became known as “Brewer’s Tudor”, is the magnificent Black Horse in Northfield, a suburb of Birmingham. The pub underwent a £ 2.5 million refurbishment several years ago and has been given special Grade II* listed status by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport who praised its combination of “careful planning, authentic construction, imaginative design and inspired craftsmanship”.
Of course the reviews of customers about its food, drink and service are as important as any critiques of its architectural quality, and the Black Horse, which is now owned by brewing giant J. D. Wetherspoon, recently received these comments:
“Loads of variety, good vegetarian food options, good value drinks, great for a night out in the week or for lunch.”
“Visited today for a cheap and cheerful lunch. Four meals, change from £ 35, quick pleasant service and decent food and portions... no quibbles.”
“Had a tea time meal with friends. It had been many years since I last visited the Black Horse and I was impressed with the improvements and decor. Very busy but the meal and service was good.”
Draught beers in the bar include Abbot Ale, Ruddles, John Smith’s, Sharp’s Doom Bar and Shipyard American Pale Ale.
There were two visitors to the Black Horse a couple of years ago who didn’t leave an account of their experiences but who clearly found the beer garden to their liking: during their stay, Jemimah and Doris, a pair of mallards, gave birth to 20 ducklings! I hope they quacked open a bottle of champagne!
The Black Horse, Bristol Road South, Northfield, Birmingham B31 2QT. Tel: 0121 4771800