Beware mock heritage in our 'historic' pubs

New book investigates how traditional Yorks drinking houses really are...

by Geoff Fox

TRADITIONAL pubs may be a dying breed but a new book is set to put them firmly back on the map.

Licensed to Sell, which has been published by English Heritage, celebrates the contribution they make to our historic environment

But while it heaps praise among the dwindling number of genuinely traditional pubs, such as Hunslet's Garden Gate, it warns customers to be wary of those who it says have constructed their own history such as the Bingley Arms at Bardsey which claims to be mentioned in the Domesday Book.

It also warns admirers in Yorkshire to be vigilant against the sort of refurbishment that spoiled many pub interiors in the 1970s.


Andrew Davison, from Sowerby Bridge, one of the book's authors, said: "The pub has a very long history and one which is closely bound up with English consciousness. It is woven into the fabric of some of our greatest literature – from Chaucer's pilgrims to Mr Pickwick.

"But when it comes to the pub people actually drink in or eat in, how traditional, how old is it really? The overwhelming probability is that it will have been substantially refitted in the past 50 years. Huge amounts of money have been thrown at pubs, almost, it would seem, with the aim of making one pub look much the same as any other.

"All too often genuine features were discarded, only to have mock heritage reintroduced a few years later."

Licensed to Sell says the fashion for "gutting" pubs, often reopening them under a new name, has meant that only 17 pub interiors exist in Yorkshire and the Humber out of around 200 across Britain that can be said to have any historic value.

English Heritage commissioner Bill Bryson, who spent a lot of time in pubs while working on his own book, Notes from a Small Island, said: "Pubs are part of what makes England what it is. And like so much of the almost embarrassing richness of England's historic environment we need to hang on to what we've got.

"There is so much of it that it's easy to dismiss a lost pub sign here or a refurbished Victorian interior there as not worth worrying about.

"But it is – to every last, minor detail. Every Old Red Lion pulled apart and plasticised and renamed the Frog and Orange diminishes us."

The book's section on Great Pub Myths examines the rival claims of six pubs to be the oldest pub in Britain, among them the Bingley Arms. It questions whether it does indeed date back to the Domesday Book, pointing out that there are no records either in that famous tome or the Sites and Monuments Record to support its alleged 10th Century origins.

But landlord Mike Schofield defended the claim saying: "The pub was here when the Saxon church was being built in around 950AD. It was called the Priest Inn at the time and didn't become the Bingley Arms until Lord Bingley changed the name in the 18th century.

"It sounds like someone probably hasn't been doing their homework. I will have a look at the book but I don't think it will make a blind bit of difference to people who come here."


Elsewhere in West Yorkshire, the Grade II listed Garden Gate is described as 'one of the finest surviving pubs in northern England', built in 1903 and resplendent in ceramics, woodwork, glass and plaster.

It is also feted, along with the Swan at Clementhorpe, York, and the Three Pigeons, Halifax, for having the old northern feature of a drinking lobby or corridor - dedicated to 'stand-up' tippling.

Jane Eve, who runs the Golden Gate with husband Gary, said: "We came here and fell in love with it. Even if we could change it we wouldn't want to. It's steeped in history.

"It's unique. You've got to have compassion for a pub like this. If you don't have that, you might as well not bother. I love this pub and class it as my home."

The great boom in pub building came at the close of the 19th century when designers used gas lighting on mirrors and plate glass to atmospheric effect.

For further details on how to order the book contact 01761 452966.