The Gardner’s Arms, Bilton

The newa that Sam Smith’s have banned swearing in their pubs got me thinking on the topic, and my thoughts took me back many years to a different world, and a pub that is now actually owned by Sam’s.

Back then, early 80s, this pub on the outskirts of Harrogate was a free house, run tyrannically by an elderly, red-faced, short, pompous and rather grumpy landlord called Maurice Johnson – think a shorter, rounder, older Arthur Lowe as Captain Mainwaring. I rather liked him. The cellarman was his son Neville, who reportedly had been a POW in Korea and had been tortured, leading to shall we say an interesting personality…
The pub was somewhat of a warren of small, interesting rooms, all stained that yellowy-brown colour once so familiar as a standard pub colour, unachievable without at least 20 years of tobacco smoke. One room, though, was special; the landlord’s parlour. You could not sit in there without being invited by Maurice, and generally that meant locals – and elderly, male locals at that. I was one of very few youngsters ever permitted to sit in there; he liked my dad, and I bought my rounds. This parlour was literally that – he could close the door to the rest of the pub, and open the other door to his accommodation, and it was one of his private rooms. The cast seldom changed, but was dominated in more senses than one by Alf. Alf was a giant of a man, of unspecified but advanced age, and a former shepherd. I have never seen bigger hands. Alf had the most perfect Yorkshire dry sense of humour, and loved little more than pricking Maurice’s pomposity, something he alone could get away with. And – where the memory came from – with swearing. Maurice did not allow swearing in his pub. He personally used the odd “bloody”, and sometimes called Time by telling everyone to “bugger off home” but in theory no other swearing was permitted. Alf couldn’t care less, there weren’t many stories that weren’t coloured by at least a “bugger”.
The only other person who swore was son Neville. He was probably the world’s worst cellarman. The pub had three handpumps, and served three different beers – mostly session bitters such as Theakston’s Best, John Smith’s, Tetley’s and the like, although this was a regular outlet too for Franklin’s Bitter – the reason for going. (It’s hardly surprising the beer was often on there, it was brewed in an outbuilding in the car park.) Neville could not keep three beers in good condition – generally there was only one actually drinkable. And if you dared to broach the subject of drinkability with him, that’s when the swearing started… So when going to the bar, you would always ask one of the patrons standing there what he was drinking, and order the same. If you went back and the barrel had changed, you would get a quick shake of the head from one of these regulars, and a comment like “John’s is nice tonight” if there was a safe alternative. Order the wrong beer, and a quick shake of the head would give you a chance to change your mind. If you got a shrug, you would order a half of each and send somebody back to order a round of whatever worked best – which tipped off the lookouts.
The pub is still there, and by all accounts hasn’t changed dramatically in layout.

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