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Tag Archives: Nottinghamshire

  • Nottingham Pubs by Dave Mooney

    The Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham advertises itself as the oldest public house in the country, although at least two other pubs in the city have convincing, rival claims. With this in mind, it is obvious that our drinking heritage goes back a long way. When I took up the mantle of writing a book on the subject, I don't think I quite realised how far.

    On reflection, I now feel that the origin of the Nottingham pub can be dated to the early Triassic Period – approximately two hundred and fifty million years ago.

    Bear with me!

    Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. (Nottingham Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    As any schoolboy knows, at that time, all of the land masses of the world were collected together into one giant super-continent: Pangaea. The area that now forms the United Kingdom was far to the south of its current position and the place that we now call Nottingham was underwater. Over time, sand was deposited – sand which would later form the red sandstone on which the city is built.

    Skip forward to the time of Snot – the hilariously named Saxon chieftain that gave his name to the city. The Saxons realised that the strong, yet soft, sandstone was perfect for hollowing out and making caves. They started digging holes to serve a multitude of purposes – homes, tanneries, and (most importantly from our point of view) maltings. Here, they could dry malt all year round, protected from the elements. According to the early Victorian antiquarian, James Orange; this gave the people of “Snottingham” a distinct, competitive advantage when it came to the beer trade.

    Would you dare to touch the cursed galleon? Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. (Nottingham Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    This was not the only impact that the sandstone had on the history of the city's pubs. It also affected the way that they are physically structured. The aforementioned Trip to Jerusalem, and the adjacent Brewhouse Yard – which used to brew ale for Nottingham Castle – are both cut into the majestic “Castle Rock” on which the ancient fortress is built.

    Elsewhere in the city, more recent pubs, such as The Hand in Heart, are built into man made tunnels. Even when pubs appear conventional on the surface, there is a good chance that there are caves underneath them – often several levels deep – which are used as beer cellars.

    Little wonder that Nottingham has long been referred to as the “city of caves”. The full extent of its subterranean excavations has yet to be mapped.

    With this natural competitive advantage, Nottingham inevitably became famed across the region, and beyond, for the quality of its ale. Look at this, the opening verse from a song found in the Seventeenth Century comedy play, A Jovial Crew:-

    In Nottinghamshire,

    Let 'em boast of their beer,

    With a Hay-down, down, and a down!

    I'll sing in the praise of good Sack:

    Old Sack, and old Sherry,

    Will make your Heart merry,

    Without e'er a Rag to our Back.

    The Hand in Heart - Not as old as it seems. (Nottingham Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    When singing in praise of his “good Sack” (fortified wine), it is Nottinghamshire beers that singer compares it to.

    This is not the only time that the qualities of Nottingham ale have been celebrated in song. A century later, a naval officer, by the name of Gunthorpe, composed a paean to the tipple, after receiving a barrel of it as a gift from his brother – the landlord of a pub called The Punch Bowl, in Peck Lane. Gunthorpe had obviously received a classical education and the verses are packed with delightful, tongue twisting allusions to Greek myth. The chorus, by contrast, is perfect for a roaring sing-along and has assured its place as a minor folk standard:-

    Nottingham Ale, me boys, Nottingham Ale,

    No liquor of earth's like Nottingham Ale!

    By the middle of the Nineteenth Century, three local brewing giants had emerged that were to dominate the Nottingham pub trade – Shipstone's, Home Ales, and Kimberley Ales. All three closed in the years surrounding the turn of the millennium, but they have left an indelible imprint on the culture of the city and the surrounding area. A local joke purports to be the shortest story in existence. At just four words long, it plays upon the enervating reputations of the local breweries: “Shipstones Mild; Home, Bitter!”

     A song emerged in the Nottingham folk clubs of the 1970s, which has gone on to live a life of its own in the repertoires of numerous singers across the East Midlands. From what I can make out, the words were originally composed by a local man named “Wokko”. Again the subject is Nottingham ale, and – as with the four word joke – it talks about the less than beneficial effects of the local brew. Set to a rousing medley of patriotic tunes, the lyrics detail the various gastric and cranial problems brought on by drinking Shipstone's Bitter. The chorus mentions Ivor Thirst – the brewery's mascot:-

    Rule Britannia and God bless Ivor Thirst,

    We'll keep drinking Shipstones 'til we burst!

    Following the collapse of the three local titans, a whole crop of new, smaller breweries have emerged – some of these, like Castle Rock, have gained national attention and are well on their way to becoming giants in their own right. With a long-term, nationwide downturn in the fortunes of the pub trade, Nottingham seems to be bucking the trend. Everywhere you look, a new micro-pub, bottle shop, gin bar or hipster, craft ale joint seems to be popping up. They tend to be very different in character to the traditional pubs that the city is famed for, but this is only the latest development in a local preoccupation with a very long history.

    Dave Mooney's new book Nottingham Pubs is available for purchase now.

  • John Henry Spree's Nottinghamshire by Alan Spree

    This is a short insight into the story behind the publication of my book, John Henry Spree’s Nottinghamshire. I am sure that, in common with many others who have written similar books, I later found postcards that I would have liked to have included in the book so I have taken the opportunity to show some of these here.

    The Weir at Gunthorpe. (Author's collection, John Henry Spree's Nottinghamshire, Amberley Publishing)

    In the summer of 1997 I was in Nottingham and was browsing through books in W.H. Smith on Lister Gate when I came across a booklet in the ‘Yesterdays Nottinghamshire’ series entitled ‘Wollaton’ by David Ottewell. As I was born in that area I flicked through it and was surprised to find some postcards with the name J. Spree on them. After some family history research and talking to my father I gathered more information about John Henry Spree, my great grandfather, and started putting notes together along with any images I could find of his postcards. This research brought up childhood memories when my grandfather, Reginald Spree, who bought me my first camera and taught me how to take photos, and then develop and print them in his darkroom, which I now know was set up by his father John Henry Spree. I remember boxes of prints and negatives in a corner of that room which my grandfather referred to on a number of occasions, I now realise that they were the negatives and prints of images taken by my great grandfather. Unfortunately these were destroyed many years later by the American son of my late grandfather’s second wife. He travelled to the UK, without informing the Spree family of her death, to sell the property inherited from my grandfather and disposed of or destroyed items he did not want. As I was working in Germany at the time and my Mother, Father and sister lived in Australia our contact with my grandfather’s second wife had been limited but we were still disappointed that no apparent effort had been made to contact us.

    Parliament Street. (Author's collection, John Henry Spree's Nottinghamshire, Amberley Publishing)

    As time moved on and the internet became more readily available I collected more images and then began purchasing the original postcards. This collection I gradually put together as a family history booklet. I was surprised to find during my continuing search for Spree postcards that the Lenton Local History Society had also researched my great grandfather and published an article on him in their magazine the Lenton Times which was then followed up with an article in the Picture Postcard Magazine. Because of the interest generated I decided to try and publish my own book which resulted in the Amberley Publication John Henry Spree’s Nottinghamshire.

    School of Art Nottingham. (Author's collection, John Henry Spree's Nottinghamshire, Amberley Publishing)

    John Henry Spree published over 1000 postcards, initially in East Sussex and then in the East Midlands. My book contains 220 images taken by John Henry Spree in the period from 1915, when he moved to Nottingham from Hastings, until his death in 1932. I have captioned the images with information on the location and where applicable included historical text researched on the internet.

    I have also included sections on how I identified some Spree postcards which did not have his name on them, a short family history before and after his death and one on how he took, developed, printed and captioned his postcards.

    Lenton Church Crossing in 1884. (Author's collection, John Henry Spree's Nottinghamshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Putting the information into a publishable book was a long process with a steep learning curve as this was the first time that I had attempted to do that. Along the way I found some interesting facts and a few points that raised questions that will probably never be answered. At times I wondered if John Henry Spree occasionally travelled with another photographer or he sold or shared his images with others as I found that five images, either identical or obviously taken at the same time, had been duplicated by others and published as postcards. Also on one occasion I found that John Henry Spree used an old photograph of Lenton Church and Crossing, dated many years prior to his move to Nottingham, to make a postcard that he published, this incidentally is not included in the book as it was found after publication.

    The whole process has been very rewarding especially some of the very nice comments on Facebook group websites dedicated to Nottingham where many images of Spree postcards had already been uploaded by members. The administrators of two of these groups have also kindly allowed me to advertise my book on their websites.

    I am now well into the process of publishing two further books, one on Postcards of Hasting and St Leonards between 1900 and 1918, which includes some early postcards from John Henry Spree, and another on the complete range of British produced Military Dinky Toys.

    Alan Spree's new book John Henry Spree's Nottinghamshire is available for purchase now.

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