Pub review: Cardigan Arms, Kirkstall, Leeds

Cardigan Arms.
Cardigan Arms.
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IT MAY not be so bloody as Balaclava, but the battle is on to save the Cardigan Arms.

And ranged against the big guns of pub companies and property developers are a Light Brigade of concerned locals determined to see this famous old pub thrive once more.

From the days when this was a proud jewel in the Tetley’s crown, a prized blue plaque marking its heritage status, the Cardigan slipped by successive increments to become a rough-house of raucous drinkers, cheap lager and big screen football. It was almost tragic to see this stately, late Victorian drinking palace so sorely abused.

Under current licensee India Honeyball, it is beginning to turn the corner, but its long-term future is in the hands of Suffolk brewers Greene King who are today interviewing the various parties interested in taking it off their hands.

It’s a decision they can’t take lightly. Leeds has few Victorian pubs which have survived the ravages of time so well as the Cardigan, which opened in 1895 on the site of a similarly-named inn which had been there for a century. Its traditional layout of a nest of rooms – public bar, saloon bar, best room, billiards room, ladies room – around a central lobby remains, as does the broad “harmonic room” upstairs. To see it stripped out, modernised or simply turned into flats would be a tragic mistake, but not an unprecedented one.

It takes its name from local landowners The Earls of Cardigan – family name Brudenell. Before fate landed him before the Russian guns in 1854, the Seventh Earl had enjoyed a chequered career as both soldier and politician; even his bravery leading the ill-fated Charge earned him fame and notoriety in roughly equal measure.

Surname and hereditary title are preserved a clutch of nearby streets, while paintings recalling the events of that Crimean day are displayed in the pub’s panelled front room, where bell-pushes to summon table service speak of a gentler age.

The community group bidding to take over the pub say they are best placed to ensure this piece of history remains protected for future generations. Led by three locals, they have garnered support from almost 100 backers – and with matched funding from a small pub company they are well on the way to having sufficient to meet the asking price. Group founder Jim Brettell is cautiously optimistic that they will succeed: “Greene King have said it’s about the quality of the bids. Ours is about celebrating the heritage of the place.”

Its rare period features and grand stone frontage have made the Cardigan a magnet for the TV companies. It’s currently hosting a crew making a feature film – and the production company has spent a small fortune on ensuring it looks at its best. “It scrubs up well,” says Jim.

His bold plans include making better use of the space, accommodating the Cardigan’s current regulars while making it more welcoming to the rest of the community, and to those visiting the leisure park opposite. Coffee mornings, yoga, film nights, parties and functions will all sit alongside the basics of good beer and hospitality for all. A long-term dream would be to re-open the rear outbuildings as a micro-brewery.

“We don’t want a gastropub and we don’t want it to be gentrified,” says Jim. “But equally it can’t survive just by selling cheap lager.”

FACTFILE

Kirkstall Road, Leeds

Type: Beautifully preserved Victorian community Inn

Host: India Honeyball

Opening Hours: 11.30am-11.30pm daily

Beers: Decent selection including India’s Cardigan Arms ale, plus Tetley’s, Old Speckled Hen, Carling, Foster’s and John Smith’s Smooth

Wines: Small selection

Entertainment: Sky Sports TV, dart board, games machines, pool table

Functions: Occasional special events in room upstairs

Disabled: Slightly tricky access, no special facilities

Children: Not especially suitable

Beer Garden: Yard to rear

Parking: None – but on-street and off-street areas nearby

Phone: 0113 2742000

Website: www.cardiganarms.coop

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