The Magazine of Lenton Local History Society

Lenton Pubs

From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 32

January to February 1985

A Pub Crawl Through History

Question - What have the following got in common? The Struggler, The Rose, The Dove and Rainbow, The Plumbers Arms, The Keans Head, The Grove Tavern, The Albion, The New Inn, The Smiths Arms, The Nags Head, The Peacock, The Abbey Tavern, The Town Arms, and The Travellers Rest.

Answer - They have all been used as names for pubs in the Lenton area. Another ten could have been given, but as they are still in current use, their inclusion would have made it too easy. A slightly more difficult question might be to ask which of the above are the former names of present day pubs and which are those of pubs that are no more. But rather than provide the answers at this stage, we leave you to read on and learn a little more about Lenton and its pubs.

The Three Wheatsheaves, Derby Road - Courtesy of The Local Studies Library

In 1811 the village of Lenton consisted of just over two hundred houses and yet there were already four 'alehouses' there. Two of them were on the Derby Road, the Three Wheatsheaves and the Rose and Crown, which a few years earlier had been known as The Rose. At some time in the dim and distant past their owners, enterprising farmers, had set aside part of their farm houses in order to entertain both locals and travellers. Among those travellers would have been cattle and sheep drovers, who often chose to pay to have their animals put out to pasture in the local fields over night before taking them on to sell at Nottingham's markets. In this way the effects on the animals of the journey to market could be minimized.

The proprietors of the Three Wheatsheaves and the Rose and Crown were obviously well placed to take advantage of any passing trade, but at first glance the position of The Struggler Inn seems a little more problematic. Its site was probably part way along Grove Road off Castle Boulevard, but of course at that time there was no Castle Boulevard or Grove Road. The odd house may well have been built nearby, but really the development of New Lenton had yet to get underway. Any local clientele the landlady, Jane Harpham, could attract was a bonus, for the majority of her custom came from elsewhere. When Nottingham folk tired of the entertainments on offer in the town, they appear to have enjoyed a walk out into the countryside to such spots as Lenton or the Meadows, and the walk was made more enjoyable if they could refresh themselves at a country inn. Those country inns that offered the additional attractions of pleasure gardens, in which the visitors could sit and drink, or take part in a game of bowls or skittles, were naturally the most popular. The Struggler Inn had extensive pleasure gardens, facilities for dancing, and was extremely well positioned to attract these seekers of rural pleasures. One customary route was to walk out to Lenton via Nottingham Park. Another walk was along the path which twisted its way from the Castle Rock to Lenton beside the canal and the River Leen. Both routes passed by The Struggler and it must have done excellent business in good weather.

The Keans Head, Park Road - Photograph by Jack Hall

Those who felt a little more energetic could always carry on and walk beside the River Leen or across the fields and would in due course arrive at The White Hart Inn, which offered a similar range of attractions. The White Hart had originally been a farm building that underwent a change of use when the popularity for drinking coffee reached Nottingham and part of it was converted into The Lenton Coffee House. Gardens were laid out where the townsfolk could partake of a cup or two, though customers could probably also buy tea, spruce and ginger beer. Shortly after George Wombwell added the buildings in 1804 which front on to Gregory Street, the coffee house was renamed The White Hart Inn. After persevering with the new name for a short while the proprietors appear to have reverted to calling their premises The Lenton Coffee House, possibly because most of the townsfolk who patronised it still referred to it as such. Eventually the White Hart was preferred and the Inn has been known as such ever since.

The Struggler, The White Hart and The Rose and Crown, which also had pleasure gardens, all pursued much the same trade, but The Struggler had one attraction that the others couldn't match. It had its own bath. This wasn't a swimming pool, but rather an open-air communal bath, supplied by an underground spring in which those who had paid could sit and enjoy the pleasures of the water, or perhaps attempt to carry out some sort of body wash. There is no indication whether this was a mixed or single sex amenity, but given the times, it might be imagined that it was only for men, but we are not sure.

The village of Lenton with its four public houses remained much the same size until the l820s when a hectic spate of building began. Most of this took place in the fields between the village and the town of Nottingham. Initially referred to as Middleton Place, the area gradually acquired the name of New Lenton. In about 1830 a public house was opened in among this new housing, appropriately enough called The New Inn. At about the same time, The Struggler Inn underwent a change of identity. John Ward, its new proprietor, evidently felt that the name wasn't quite right for his establishment. Instead he chose The Grove Tavern. Mr. Ward didn't, however, stay at The Grove Tavern for very long. By 1834 he had handed it over to a Mr. Thomas Caltress. Perhaps Mr. Ward had decided that there was too much local competition appearing in the vicinity, for a further pub had opened up just across from him on Park Road. This was the Albion Tavern, which adopted the more imposing title of Hotel after a few years.

The Albion Inn, Sherwin Road - Courtesy of Hardy Hanson

In 1830 something else happened which undoubtedly added to Mr. Ward's worries. Parliament passed the Beer House Act. This allowed practically any householder to sell beer provided that they bought an excise permit. As a result beer houses began to open everywhere. By the end of the first year some 24,000 had opened for business throughout the country and by 1832 there were at least four in Lenton. Richard Widdison had opened The Boat in Old Lenton and Thomas Towle had started The Peacock in Spring Close (where the University Hospital is now). In New Lenton John Barton had opened The Dove and Rainbow, and Henry Cox had begun to sell beer at The Keans Head on the corner of Park Street and Park Road.

We don't really know what these four local beer house proprietors were offering their customers in the way of facilities, but frequently beer house premises were small and pokey and often set in the backroom of ordinary houses. Most of their customers were drawn from the ranks of the ordinary working people, that is, the poor, who couldn't afford the prices charged in the taprooms of the public houses. It is also unclear whether you could drink in these Lenton beer houses or had to buy and take away. In 1834 the revised version of the Beer House Act had created two distinct types of beer house. The annual purchase of a one guinea permit entitled the holder to sell beers and wines only for consumption off the premises. This type of permit was very easy to obtain. More difficult to get was the three guinea permit which allowed drinking in the beer house as well. Applicants had to satisfy the licensing authorities that they were of good character before the permit was granted. The local directories, which are virtually our only source of information on Lenton beer houses are no help. All they state is that a certain individual is retailing beer without being more specific. It is also sometimes difficult to follow the early history of individual premises. After White's Directory appeared in 1832, subsequent directories omitted to give the names of the beer houses, that is, if they had them, at least until 1858. There seems to have been much coming and going among the beer house proprietors and, as the directories don't provide house numbers until the late l860s, it is sometimes difficult to know if we are witnessing new occupants of the same beer house or the demise of one beer house and the appearance of another somewhere else on the street.

It does, however, seem certain that The Peacock, whatever sort of beer house it was, didn't last long, as the 1832 Directory is the only one to include a beer house in Spring Close. The area didn't remain 'dry' for long, as the public house known as The Travellers Rest had opened on nearby Commercial Street by 1854. We can be less sure about the fate of The Dove and Rainbow. It may have quickly closed down, or else remained under another name - one of several beer houses we can identify in the New Lenton area. These included The Smiths Arms, The Nags Head and The Plumbers Arms on Willoughby Street, The Blacks Head on Park Street, and the Keans Head on Park Road. In Old Lenton beer houses were a little thinner on the ground, for beside the Boat in Priory Street there was The Red Cow on Wilford Road (an early name for Gregory Street) and The Abbey Tavern on Abbey Street.

The Red Cow Inn, Gregory Street - Photograph by Jack Hall

Perturbed by the sheer number of beer houses which had started up, magistrates throughout the country became much more willing to grant licenses for further public houses, in order to try and restrict beer house trade. Eventually legislation in 1869 and 1871 brought all drink retailers under the authority of the licensing magistrates, and thereafter, for one reason or another, beer house numbers began to decline. In New Lenton some of the proprietors of the existing beer houses successfully applied for full licenses and so their premises became proper public houses. These were The Smith Arms in the 1850s, The Blacks Head in the 1860s and The Plumbers Arms at the beginning of the l880s. This last mentioned also changed its name and became known as The Town Arms.

Once the road, we now call Castle Boulevard, was opened in 1884, the area in Lenton between it and the canal was quickly acquired for housing. The Grove Tavern was pulled down and its extensive gardens given over to new building. On the Boulevard a huge new public house was built in 1886, which retained a connection with its predecessor in the choice of name - The Grove Hotel. Another area undergoing rapid development at about this time was Dunkirk. The number of residents included in Kelly's 1888 Directory for Montpelier Road shows that there was still much development to take place there, but already 'plot' 71 was occupied by the Dunkirk Hotel - evidently a recent construction, as it is not mentioned in the earlier directories.

Until The Happy Return and The 17th and 21st Lancers were built in the 1960s, no further pubs were opened in Lenton. The remainder of our story concerns rebuilding, closures and the odd renaming which some of them underwent. The first of these concerned the Abbey Tavern in Old Lenton. About 1912 the beer house was sold to a Mr. Johnson who had it rebuilt and renamed. It would seem he wanted everyone to remember this deed for he called it The Johnson Arms. Thereafter the odd pub or beer house may have undergone extensions or refurbishment, but nothing major appears to have occurred until the 1930s, when the 'beer house' seems to have disappeared. The directories, from 1936 onwards, make no mention of them, referring to all the local hostelries as public houses. We cannot discover any new legislation which might have brought this about, so we must presume that about this time the local breweries and the licensing magistrates agreed to the conversion of all remaining beer houses into public houses in which strong liquor could be sold. (*) Now that all the beer houses were designated pubs, Kelly's Directory for 1936 ought to list sixteen pubs as present in the Lenton area. As it only includes fifteen we must record a fatality. The missing name is that of The New Inn on Willoughby Street which closed down in the mid-1930s. Although the pub went, the building remained and eventually became the offices and warehouse of PIF, Lenton's local pharmaceutical suppliers, who are now based in Prospect Place. One building which actually disappeared in the 1930s was the Rose and Crown, but this was only because a huge new replacement had been built in about 1936 to the rear of the old pub in part of the pleasure gardens.

The Dunkirk Hotel, Montpelier Road
Photograph courtesy of Lenton Local History Society

The next decade to witness significant changes was the 1950s. In 1958 the City Council finally began the demolition of almost all the properties in the Willoughby Street area. As the bulldozers and demolition men moved through the area, so the pubs came down. Only The Town Arms and The Albion were spared, if only temporarily. They were allowed to stand in order that their licenses could be transferred to two new pubs to be built in the new developments. Once their replacements, The Happy Return on Church Street and The 17th and 21st Lancers on Sherwin Road were ready in the mid-1960s, the last of these 'old' New Lenton pubs were demolished.

Across in Old Lenton a general clearance order had earlier been declared for the buildings to the south of the Priory Church. Among these was The Red Cow. Once the new Red Cow had been constructed to the rear of the old building, the old Red Cow joined the scrap heap at the beginning of the 1960s. By comparison with most of Lenton's other pubs, The Dunkirk Hotel was a relative youngster, but nevertheless the 1960s saw its demolition, in favour of a more modern structure, erected by Bass the brewers. The final Lenton pub on our list to bite the dust was The Travellers Rest, along with all the other property in the Spring Close area; this was demolished to make way for the University Hospital in the late 1960s,

The story is now virtually complete. The only other contender for mention is The Baltimore Diner opened in 1983 on the Castle Marina site. Whether pub purists would want to see a cocktail lounge ending this history of Lenton's pubs is of course open to question.

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