The Session #133 asks about “Hometown Glories”, set by Barrell Aged Leeds. And Leeds is my home town, or at least where I come from. But Leeds is also far too exciting for me to tackle here; instead, I want to cover the town where I live, a smallish town in the Heart of England – Kenilworth, population at the 2011 census of 22,413.
The town is mentioned in the Domesday Book, and has the ruins of a castle (one of the finest in England) and an abbey, so we can be fairly sure that brewing has an ancient history here too. Around the castle is a settlement of half-timbered houses known as Little Virginia; these were built to house the builders of an extension to the castle that Robert Dudley had built for the visit of Elizabeth I – the visit being immortalised in Sir Walter Scott’s “Kenilworth”. It is reputed that the first potatoes planted in the Old World were planted in Little Virginia.
Kenilworth Castle is also the setting for the longest siege in medieval English history following the death of local resident Simon de Montfort.
After those events, Kenilworth has generally had a quiet time of it. When the railway arrived, market gardens provided produce for London, but these days these are long gone, and the town is primarily a dormitory for nearby Coventry, or Birmingham, or even London.
There aren’t any breweries in town. The Warwickshire Brewery was here for a while, but never had any regular outlets, and the beer at the time wasn’t all that great anyway. There are no craft beer bars, nor can I recall seeing a craft keg tap anywhere in town. What there is is a good selection of pubs and bars, pretty much all selling real ale, and catering to pretty much everyone.
But the real beery glory of the town is the pub names, many tied in to the town’s history.
The Virgins and Castle, for instance – named after Elizabeth I’s ladies-in-waiting. This is a great little pub; it might serve Everards, but it’s one of the most popular pubs in town with all ages. At the front are some wonderful ancient stone flagged snugs. At the back on the right is a lovely Edwardian Lounge Bar, and on the left is a large modern bar with cubbyholes for eating. And at the back is a delightful beer garden.
(Across the road is The Old Bakery, CAMRA’s Warwickshire Pub of the Year for 2018. It was indeed an old bakery until about 20 years ago, when it was converted to a hotel and bar. No music, just very good beer.)
Then there’s The Wyandotte; this is named for a group of Native Americans from the Wyandot tribe who settled in the town in the 19th century. It’s a decent street-corner boozer. Across the road is The Copper House Club; this was until recently a Royal British Legion club, but takes its current name from the original use of the building; this was the first headquarters of the Warwickshire Constabulary. Always one decent beer on.
Next, the Clarendons, named after the old landowning family. There were three, nicknamed Bottom Clad, Middle Clad and Top Clad; the Earl Clarendon (basic old-fashioned boozer), the Clarendon House Hotel (now a Loch Fyne and Milsom’s Hotel, may they be cursed for losing the name) and the Clarendon Arms, a food-centric pub with some excellent beers on.
Even the two estate pubs want to get in on the act; there’s The Tiltyard, named for the jousting arena at the Castle; and The Gauntlet, with the obvious meaning in terms of armour, but also a pun on John of Gaunt’s name, another famous resident of the castle.
Long gone is the King’s Arms and Castle, where Scott stayed whilst researching his book; it was Drummonds when I first moved here, a garish green neon attempt to cater for the youth market. Now the main part is split between two chain restaurants, but the outbuilding – the town’s original railway station that was moved from one end of Station Road to the other stone by stone – is now a bistro, Pomeroy’s, that served draught beer. The Queen and Castle, opposite the castle, is still there, though.
The rest of the pub names are pretty mundane – Engine, Cottage, Lion, Green Man, Bear and Ragged Staff, Royal Oak, Cross. Bars similarly – Almanack, Lil Greens, Gallery. Unless you count the Kenolworth, of course, but then I could start on about the Kenilworth in Rose St, Edinburgh, named after Sir Walter Scott’s book of that name…