THERE’S an alsatian on the fire escape.
On the whole, this is a less welcoming sight than the “Under New Management” banner draped across the front of this basic two-room boozer which in the part-residential part-industrial hinterland between Sheepscar, Meanwood and Little London.
It’s been a while since my last visit, when the person behind the bar insisted that I was not welcome and they would not like to see anything about the place in the paper. In the interests of keeping the peace, I walked away, but on this occasion I was prepared to brook no opposition – after all, appearing in this column is not optional, sometimes it’s compulsory. Landlords can like it or lump it.
As it happens, I’m recognised again, but it turns out that I am not barred, and the current management is not the one which turned me away a year or so ago. So I order a pint of Guinness and take it to a circular table in the corner. The pub is virtually deserted, its right-hand bar empty and in darkness while in the left-hand taproom a couple watch a TV quiz show in the corner.
There has been a pub here for at least 100 years, back to the time when Meanwood was a hive of industry. A quick trawl of the excellent Leodis website throws up an undated picture of the Meanwood Road and Buslingthorpe Lane junction, where the pale-coloured pub is clearly visible. The picture shows rows of tight-knit terraced homes surrounding Carr Mills, which specialised in the finishing and dyeing of cloth, using water from Meanwood Beck. Sheepscar was the centre of the local leather trade – which is how the Skinner’s Arms got its name.
The mills and terraced homes that were once the lifeblood of the Primrose are long gone, yet the pub survives while several others along Meanwood Road have disappeared over the years.
Despite its rather down-at-heel reputation, the Primmie is well looked-after, with its clean smart banquettes, wooden panelled bar front and appropriately floral wallpaper. It is certainly looking as though the new management team of George and Ann Wilson is doing its best to move the place up-market.
It has the ready-made clientele guaranteed by the recent development of student residences a stone’s throw away at Carr Mills. The Sugar Mills and IQ residences are close by too, in staggering distance of a pub which is just ten minutes from Leeds University and Leeds College of Art, a couple more from Leeds Met.
“So where are they all?” I ask Ann, as we get together for a drink.
“The students won’t be in until nine,” she tells me. “They stay here for a couple of hours before going into town. We usually hear them coming back at about five in the morning.”
The pub’s in a good location right beside Meanwood Road, and along with the rather wonderful Chemic, serves a community of close-knit terraced streets where famous old pubs like the Beer Exchange, the Swan with Two Necks and the Bricklayers Arms have all gone to the wall.
Those three – particularly the Exchange – were all havens for discerning drinkers in days gone by, and I’m a little perturbed to find the Primmie serving no real ale at all; its sole real ale handpump merely for ornament. But demand here is so low that George fears its three-day shelf life would mean more beer was wasted than was drunk. One pleasant surprise for bitter drinkers is that Tetley Smooth is an absolute snip at £1.75 a pint. “I’m told that’s the cheapest in the city,” says Ann.
The pub was once a haven for live music – the Kaiser Chiefs allegedly rehearsed and performed here in their early days – and the back room serves, by turns, as concert room, pool room and karaoke venue. The pool team happen to be in for a quick practice session before a grudge cup match in Seacroft. I challenge a couple of them, but lose, graciously.
The alsatian turns out to be one of three, which have helped the Wilsons with their whole clean-up regime. One of them is an ex-police dog, and took immediate exception when it smelled the familiar scent of people dealing drugs in the street outside.
“They haven’t come back,” says Ann.
Name: The Primrose
Host: George and Ann Wilson
Type: Lively community local
Opening hours: Noon-midnight every day
Beers: Tetley Smooth (£1.75), Carling (£1.75), Foster’s (£2.70), Guinness (£2.90), Strongbow (£2.90)
Wine: Small selection
Entertainment: Karaoke Fri-Sat, occasional live bands, pool table, games machine, TV
Children: Welcomed until 7pm
Disabled: Straightforward access
Beer Garden: Some roadside picnic tables to the side
Parking: On-street only
Telephone: 0113 262 1368
Beer of the Week
Old Crafty Hen
Old Speckled Hen is one of the country’s best loved real ales. It is instantly recognisable by its octagonal pump clip, a echo of the time when it was brewed by Morland in Abingdon, also the home of MG Motors, one of the country’s best loved motoring marques. MG’s octagonal label was instantly recognisable too.
Morland is long gone, its production shifted due east to Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, where Old Speckled Hen is one of the many famous names now brewed by Greene King.
At 6.5 per cent ABV, Old Crafty Hen is its upstart bigger, harder cousin – a fulsomely rich fruitcakey soup of an ale produced by blending Old Speckled Hen with the much stronger 5X, matured for two years in wooden vats in a dusty corner of the East Anglian brewery.
This was never made back in the Oxfordshire days; its method of production owing more to that of Strong Suffolk Ale, a Greene King favourite.
Old Crafty Hen lacks a little of SSA’s soporific subtlety, instead battering the taste buds into submission with a sustained assault of dried fruits, malt, and big-bodied red wine, all backed by an interesting zip of carbonation on the back of the palate.