Peter Lazenby looks back at a pub empire that, at its peak, saw the Tetley Huntsman hanging over the door of over 1,000 pubs in Yorkshire.
IN SUMMER, 1965, a party of French school students travelling through Yorkshire by coach for an exchange visit noticed a strange phenomenon.
They passed building after building carrying a swinging sign – a huntsmen, resplendent in red coat. What could it mean?
It was of course the Tetley Huntsman, symbol of the Leeds-based brewing and pub empire. The buildings were that very British institution, the public house as, the Yorkshire Evening Post reported, the French students were informed by the hosts at their school exchange destination, Ilkley.
Yorkshire was at the time full of Tetley pubs – more than 1,000 of them, on almost every street, every corner. These were “tied” houses, pubs owned by the brewery, guaranteed outlets for its products. The signs carried the words: “One of Tetley’s Houses.”
The Tetley pub empire was over a century in the growing. Having bought the Hunslet brewery in 1822, Tetley’s took over its first public house, the Duke William in Bowman Lane, near the brewery, in 1890. The Fleece at Farsley followed the same year.
The pub empire grew as Tetley played catch-up with other breweries who had already established pub chains. In the 20th century it reached 2,000.
Then in 1990 a Conservative Government introduced legislation forcing breweries to sell their tied houses, breaking up pub-owning monopolies.
The aim was to increase competition and the range of beers available in pubs. The actual effect was to create even bigger pub monopolies. Pubs were snapped up by “pubcos”– giant companies who took over thousands of pubs. Today 55 per cent per cent of Britain’s 53,000 remaining pubs are owned by pub chains. One company alone, Enterprise Inns, has around 6,000.
The old Tetley Huntsman sign is long-gone. Many Tetley’s pubs have disappeared. The Duke William was shut in 1953 and absorbed into the yard of the brewery. It was demolished by Tetley’s last owners Carlsberg in 2002 – an act condemned as cultural vandalism at the time.
Thankfully many of the characterful pubs remain – a reminder of the Tetley era in Leeds, now coming to an end with the brewery’s closure.
For example Tetley’s second pub, the Fleece at Farsley, is still going strong.
The Cardigan Arms in Kirkstall Road is a fine Victorian pub still open today, and its historic popularity, and that of other Tetley pubs, can be gauged by old records of their beer sales.
In 1906 it was selling 20 hogsheads a week, and one hogshead is 54 gallons. That’s 8,640 pints a week, and in a pub some distance from the city centre. Of course, in those days industry thrived along the Kirkstall Valley, and thirsty workers abounded.
A couple of hundred yards away is the recently-closed Rising Sun, bought by Tetley’s in 1923. At the time it was selling 24 hogsheads a week – 10,368 pints. In 1936 sales fell to 19 hogsheads, then rose in the war years in 1941 to 22.
The Britannia lives on at Holbeck. During one Feast Week on Holbeck Moor it sold a staggering 100 hogsheads of beer – 43,200 pints.
In the 1970s Tetley’s biggest-selling pubs were the Original Oak at Headingley – a community hosting an increasing number of students attending the University of Leeds – and the Fforde Green at Harehills. Only the Original Oak survives.
One of Tetley’s most memorable pubs was the Market Tavern, next door to Leeds Kirkgate market.
It’s nickname was the “madhouse”. It was owned by Leeds City Council, and in 1932 it was leased to Tetley’s for £550 a year. The council had higher offers from two other breweries, but opted for Tetley’s “because it sells the most popular brew in the view of the Corporation”.
The Market Tavern was an institution. It was said that at one time anything could be bought there. A pony? Pop back in a couple of hours and one would be tied up outside ready for a trial. A racing pigeon? No problem.
At day’s end unsold market produce appeared and disappeared under tables.
There were differing opinions about how the “madhouse” got its nickname. One was that it had problems with rats because of the proximity of the market. Some customers kept ferrets to catch rabbits in local parks to supplement the family pot. When the rat problem became serious they would unleash the ferrets in the pub. The resulting mayhem led to the “madhouse” soubriquet.
The Market Tavern was full of characters, all with nicknames: William “Pot Bill” Wileman, an ex-miner and ex-gentleman of the road, and his dog Babbie; Jimmy “Do Nowt” Ferney, a roofing tiler whose name explains itself; Romany Janey – she was Janie Lee, who was born in her parents’ horse-draw wagon at Appleby horse fair in North Yorkshire, and when too old to travel settled in east Leeds, telling fortunes and selling lucky charms around the market.
The language was colourful in the extreme. Many Market Tavern customers would not be served in many other Leeds pubs. But the Market Tavern’s last landlord and landlady, John and Margaret Jackson, had enormous respect for their customers, and it was reciprocated. It was an honour to meet such people.
In January, 1995, Leeds City Council shut the Market Tavern and demolished the building, ostensibly to make way for a few parking spaces. Locals believed the more likely reason was that the “madhouse” didn’t fit in with Leeds’ new image as a 24-hour “European city” with its pavement bars and cafes and the like.
Fortunately other former Tetley gems remain. There’s the Adelphi at Leeds Bridge, close to the Hunslet brewery, and therefore expected to keep its ale in finest fettle. It still does.
There’s the Garden Gate at Hunslet, the Queen in Burley Road, the New Inn and the Tommy Wass in Dewsbury Road, Wellington in Wetherby Road, Regent at Chapel Allerton, Regent in Regent Street, Deer Park in Street Lane, Three Horse Shoes in Headingley, Red Lion at Shadwell, Wellington at Wellington Hill, Brown Cow at Whitkirk, and in neighbouring Otley the splendid Bay Horse, Black Bull and recently re-opened Black Horse. These and other former Tetley pubs will soon be all that remains in Leeds of a proud era which lasted 189 years. Long may they carry the torch.