AT TWO quite distinct times, both of them long ago, the Black Rock played an important role in my formative drinking years.
When I was in the sixth form, and still some way from legal drinking age, this pub was for each of us a rite of passage, a place you might visit on a weekday night or a Saturday afternoon, to gingerly ask for a pint of bitter in the hope you might be served.
At 16 or 17 I could have generally passed for a couple of years younger, which is great when you’re trying to get half-price on the buses or at the football, but less of an asset if you’re trying to blag an underage pint or a ticket to an X-rated movie.
All the same, we didn’t have too much trouble getting served. Perhaps the law was less strictly enforced and the staff were happy to turn a blind eye, but many’s the time groups of us gathered in here with our pints of Tetley, sneaking an early taste of this adult world and wondering how we got away with it.
Years later, when I was a junior reporter with the Yorkshire Weekly Newspaper Group, this was a regular drinking spot a few minutes walk from head office and the regular home of union meetings.
Wandering back in, decades on, I’m delighted to report that the Black Rock still seems largely the same, with the hand-pulled beers and all the dimly-lit corners which once lent themselves to schoolboy drinking and journalistic skullduggery.
Though the pub was founded in the 1840s, the building itself is much older. A plaque low down in the wall outside recalls 18th century Archbishop of Canterbury John Potter lived here as a boy. In a city founded in the heart of the Yorkshire coalfield, the inn sign shows colliers labouring at the black seam.
As you approach, you sense you are heading into somewhere rather special; entering beneath an archway of Victorian tiles and through a double baffle of doors has the slight feel of stepping back in time, a portal into a darkness known only to the cognoscenti. Within a few steps you are in the traditional tap room, where a row of real ale handpumps top a beautiful oak panelled bar complete with ornate lanterns and leaded panels of stained glass.
There are lovely old mirrors, long traditional banquettes which stretch around the drinking space, and etched windows, one of which bears the name “Melbourne Ales”, a once-proud brand which was subsumed into Tetley’s in 1960.
Like in many other pubs which were once a proud part of the brewery’s sprawling empire – and sold the company product by the gallon – Tetley Cask is still served here, and doubtless it still sells well, despite not having been brewed in Yorkshire for years. It has been joined by a host of real ale alternatives, with the day’s choices chalked up on blackboards close to the bar. Today they include Yorkshire’s own Salamander, Don Valley and Stancill, but – perhaps perversely – I opt for Citra from the excellent Oakham Brewery in Cambridgeshire. Its aromatic, citric, floral nature is an absolute showcase for the talents of the popular Citra hop.
My Tetley which follows, seems bland in contrast, faintly toffee-ish but lacking all of the character of the Citra. It’s a few degrees less potent but that modest difference in bandwidth doesn’t fully explain the quality gap. Thankfully, drinkers at the lovely old Black Rock now have plenty to choose from.
Cross Square, Wakefield, WF1 1PQ
Type: A well-kept, traditional city pub with lots of genuine alehouse character
Opening Hours: 11am-11pm Monday to Friday; 11am-midnight Saturday; noon-10.30pm Sunday
Beers: Tetley Cask and Oakham Citra are the regular cask ales with a changing choice of three other guest ales plus Carling and Fosters lager, Strongbow cider and John Smiths Smooth
Wine: Small selection
Children: Not especially suitable
Disabled: Straightforward access, but no special facilities
Entertainment: Juke box and games machines
Functions: An upstairs function room is available for private hire
Beer Garden: None
Parking: City multi-storey car parks nearby
Telephone: 01924 375550