Beverley is what Americans who have never visited Britain presume it’s like – quaint, windy streets, a busy market square, cosy pubs with fires-a-blazing and a big, grand old church, in Beverley’s case, their stunning Minster.
I went there in search of some Victorian pubs which may conceivably have once been Beer Houses, dating back to the 1830 Beerhouse Act enacted under Prime Minister Arthur Wolesley, the Duke of Wellington. In 1830 Britain’s working classes had something of a gin problem because it was cheap and unregulated. To try to wean the sozzled workers onto the relatively healthy beer, the Beerhouse Act allowed anyone with two guineas (£180 roughly, adjusted for inflation) to buy a license and sell beer from their house. This was a money spinner and often the owner would make so much cash that they would buy a second house on the street and live in that, leaving their original dwelling as the beerhouse. These were often then converted to pubs and can be spotted on residential streets where they stick out like a sore thumb.
One pub in this vein is the Woolpack Inn, which was originally two cottages and looks like it’s been plonked down out of nowhere. The fireplaces show the original room layout and the ceilings are tellingly low, and thankful the interior doesn’t appear to have been influenced by the pub trends of the last few years ie paint all the walls mushroom and fly in some purposely mismatched chairs. They had an impressive eight real ale pumps on and they like dogs, which is lucky because I spotted about eight thousand of them walking up from the town centre.
My first stop was to another former beerhouse, the Royal Standard. This one has recently been refurbished and looks very smart both inside and out. The current landlord, Stavros, has only been there just over a month. Like me , he appreciates a pub with 100% wet sales, or no food, to put it another way. Some new attempts to populate the pub include quiz night and, ironically enough, a gin menu.
On then to the White Horse Inn, a 1666 coaching inn, also known as Nellies. How to describe Nellies? If you’ve ever seen a BBC adaptation of a Dickens novel, it could have been filmed there without any need for set dressing. The maze of small rooms, some with fireplaces, all with gaslamps, are dark, cosy, and probably filthy when assaulted with natural light. The pub was once run by a woman called Nellie, formidable by all accounts. Stavros at the Royal Standard told me, and the Telegraph confirms, that no women were ever allowed in when Nellie ran the pub. “This is a men’s place!” She would announce to any lady unlucky enough to wander in for a port and lemon.
It’s not a men’s place now, there were women in there other than me, some even drinking alone, like me. Nellie must be fuming from beyond the grave. There’s also a modern extension with beautifully decorated and pristine toilets, which gives the effect of travelling in time, especially after a few pints of Old Brewery Bitter (£1.90)
My last stop in Beverley before heading back to Hull was the Cross Keys, possibly the poshest Spoons I have ever been in. A Grade II listed building which has been a pub since at least 1770, there are still little traces of the original massive building which the menu reports had stabling for fifty horses (roughly where the bar is now). The Cross Keys was busy, they had a special offer of fish, chips and peas for £2.99 which would explain why some of the nearby pubs don’t bother serving food despite being in the town centre.
Tune in next week as I move on to the mighty…..Hull!