The Magazine of Lenton Local History Society

Park Road - Lenton

From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 43

December 1986 to January 1987

A Pub From the Past ... The Keans Head

The last pint was pulled in The Keans Head some twenty-five years ago, but local people still have vivid memories of this public house - none more so than Margaret Groves who was born there. Largely with Margaret's help we have assembled this pen portrait of The Keans Head and of her grandfather, Frank Staniland, who was its landlord from 1934 to 1959.

Map courtesy of the Local Studies Library

While certain readers ought to have little trouble indeed recalling the pub, others, more recent to the area, will have no knowledge of it at all. So perhaps we had better begin by pinpointing its location and giving a brief account of its history. The Keans Head stood on Park Road on the land in our photograph now occupied by council housing. Positioned at the corner of Tyne Street and Park Road, the pub is the building with the letters P.H. alongside to be found towards the bottom right hand corner of our reproduction of a section from the 1915 Ordnance Survey map of Lenton.

The area immediately around Willoughby Street had been the first portion of New Lenton to be developed in the 1820s. Until then the land between the village of Lenton (Old Lenton) and the town of Nottingham had been just a collection of fields with possibly the odd house dotted about. Once the area began to undergo development, it soon began to acquire quite a number of pubs and The Keans Head was among the early arrivals. We know it must have been there in 1832, as White's Directory for that year lists Henry Cox as the proprietor of a beerhouse known as The Keans Head. The proprietor of a beerhouse, we should explain, was licensed to sell beer and wine to his customers but couldn't provide them with strong liquor. Quite a few of the pubs in the Lenton area were in fact beerhouses and in the case of The Keans Head it remained one until the late 1940s when Frank Staniland successfully applied for a full license.

In the early part of the nineteenth century it was a popular activity for Nottingham folk to stroll out across The Park, visit one of Lenton's pubs and once suitably refreshed, make the return journey home. Situated on Park Road, The Keans Head ought to have been well positioned to attract some of this passing trade. It is, however, rather unlikely to have done so. Far more of an attraction were The White Hart, The Rose & Crown and The Grove Tavern (formerly known as The Struggler) which all had pleasure gardens complete with bowling greens. The Keans Head had no such facilities. Instead its custom must have come predominantly from those who lived and worked in the Willoughby Street area.

Photograph courtesy of Lenton Local History Society.
Photographer Harold Bexon

Should any of these locals, however, take against The Keans Head, they could always patronise the other hostelries round about. Just down the road from The Keans Head was the Albion Hotel, while on Willoughby Street itself were The New Inn, The Smiths Arms, The Nags Head and The Plumbers Arms (later renamed The Town Arms). The Blacks Head was on Park Street and then there was The Grove Tavern, which eventually made way for The Grove Hotel on Castle Boulevard. Despite all this competition it would seem The Keans Head did not lack for custom. So much so that in 1919 Mrs Love, the publican at that time, clearly envisaged enlarging the premises. The plans she submitted for building regulations approval show she wanted to extend into the property next door, which had previously been a shop. A further set of plans submitted in 1929 by Sidney Smith, the pub's next publican, reveal that Mrs Love didn't, in fact, use the old shop as an extension to the drinking area. Nevertheless she did carry out a number of other changes, which are evident from the plans displayed below. It was left to Mr Smith to open up the next-door area.

One of the factors which may have attracted and kept a regular clientele was the quality of the beer. At The Keans Head this was in the hands of the publican as it was brewed on the premises. Mrs Love's home brew must have proved a popular beverage as, following the alterations of 1919, she evidently preferred to go to the expense of relocating her brewhouse rather than buy in from one of the local breweries. Many's the old Lentonian who may still recall that pungent smell which would waft out of the building when brewing was taking place. The beer may also have been popular because it was well maintained. Beneath the pub were deep cellars, which had been cut out of the soft sandstone rock. Temperature fluctuations down there were fairly small and so the beer could be kept nice and cool - a definite plus in the days before electrical refrigeration.

We are not quite sure when Worthington's bought the pub, certainly it was prior to Frank Staniland's arrival in 1934. Most likely it was in the late 20s when Sidney Smith was the landlord. With Worthington's purchase of the pub, home brewing stopped, but there are plenty of people around who have equally rosy memories of the replacement provided by the brewery. Worthington's bitter, in particular, was an exceptionally strong, if rather flat, beer and Frank Staniland was wont to advise his customers that if they consumed more than two pints they'd have trouble walking back home straight.

Apart from the days when wartime shortage led to temporary closure, Worthington's beer continued to be consumed at The Keans Head until the early 1960s. Drinking was finally brought to a halt by the pub's demolition as part of the general clearance of the Willoughby Street area, which began in the late 1950s. The pub's license was then transferred to The Jester across in Sneinton Dale. Having concluded our general account of the pub's history we turn to the particular recollections of Margaret Groves regarding the time when her grandfather, Frank Staniland, along with his wife Gertrude, ran The Keans Head.

Frank and Gertrude Staniland behind the bar of the
Keans Head enjoying a joke with a customer.
The photograph was taken in the mid-1950s.

For Frank Staniland it was something of a life's ambition come true when he took over The Keans Head in 1934. He started out as a baker's roundsman in The Meadows. With the coming of the First World War Frank found himself in the Army while his wife Gertrude did her bit working nights in an armaments factory. Once the war was over, with the money she had managed to save from her wages, they were eventually able to buy a dingy little fish and chip shop in The Meadows. They slowly built up its trade and then sold it for a modest profit, after which they repeated the same operation with a greengrocery business on Beauvale Road, also in The Meadows. Now that they had saved enough to envisage the possibility of taking over a pub, Frank applied to Worthington's to become tenant of the nearby Sherwood Hotel. He didn't get it but the brewery was evidently impressed for they subsequently offered him the vacant tenancy of The Keans Head. This Frank willingly accepted. .

Frank Staniland was convinced he would make a good publican and this he undoubtedly proved to be. He was something of a comic turn and loved to be the centre of attention to such an extent that it was often difficult to dissuade him from the belief that people came to The Keans Head principally to see him. He always had a merry quip, would happily spout bits of verse and doggerel and could often be found leading the 'communal' singing, which more often than not concluded the evening's entertainments. A master of ceremonies, Frank was equally adept at controlling the 'audience'. At the first sign of trouble he would ask those involved to desist or else leave. Differences might occasionally end up being settled out in the road, but never in the pub and that was important. At closing time Frank would call 'Time, Gentlemen, please!' followed after a suitable interval by 'Your carriages await you' and then for anyone still taking an undue amount of time to drink up it was 'Ain't you got no homes to go to?' At this point anyone still left knew it was time to go. Following his retirement it was one of Frank's continual sources of satisfaction to recall no one had ever had any cause for complaint while he had been the publican of The Keans Head.

Like many a pub at that time, The Keans Head didn't go in for a lot of furniture. Such seats as there were would usually be 'reserved' by the regulars and even particular spots in which to stand were also usually spoken for. You had more of a chance of a seat in the Smoke room, but then the beer did cost an extra penny. In the evenings the pub would open at six and by seven o'clock it would be filling rapidly. For the next three hours the top room (until the Stanilands' arrival kept as a gentlemen only room), the vaults, the smoke room and all the passage areas would be jam packed with both men and women knocking back their glasses of beer -mostly mild in those days. Drinking was taken very seriously and most people would continue to partake until ten o'clock when time was called. In between the drinking there would be discussion. Looking back Margaret Groves believes that people were far more sociable in those days. But then as she explained, almost everyone in The Keans Head would know each other. It was a fairly tight knit community that lived around the pub. People knew each other's business and this would make for chumminess. It might also be the reason for the occasional loss of temper and subsequent ejection from the pub by Frank Staniland.

Earlier in the day it might not be quite so full, but usually there were plenty of people to be found there. Many men worked for local firms including the Raleigh and slightly further afield Players. Almost everyone came home for their mid-day meal. For some it would be a liquid lunch, for others a quick bite at home followed by a drink or two at The Keans Head before the return to work. We are of course speaking of a time before 'the pub lunch', though the Stanilands did make a start in that direction by having filled cobs available.

Photograph courtesy of Local Studies Library.
Photographer Harold Bexon.

Before The Keans Head could open for business at ten thirty in the morning the pub had to be cleaned and this included the terrazzo and mosaic floors. This was the task assigned to Margaret's mother and Gladys Chance, the daily help who lived in the house adjoining the pub. Each day they would spend the best part of an hour on their hands and knees as they gave the floors a proper scrubbing. Apart from everyday dirt and spilled beer, there would be the marks left by cigarette ends stubbed out on the floors to be scrubbed off. Patrons of The Keans Head who didn't smoke were relative oddities and it meant that by the end of an evening in the pub there would be an all-pervading fug in the air. Fans did hang from the ceiling, but they had no extractive powers and merely swirled the smoke about.

Born in the late 1930s Margaret Groves can just remember The Keans Head during wartime. If it should happen that the pub was in session when the air raid siren sounded, some would drink up and make for home, but others, including Margaret and the rest of the family, would head for the pub's cellars. There in the gloom, in between the barrels, the customers would sit and continue with their unfinished 'business' until the all clear sounded. Towards the end of the war there was a great shortage of many things, including beer. This led to various forms of rationing. Pubs would sometimes only open on one or two nights a week. At other times Margaret can clearly recall looking out of an upstairs window and watching the queue of customers patiently waiting their turn to enter The Keans Head and order a drink. Once downed they would leave and frequently make for a neighbouring pub where they would join the queue in the hope of getting further refreshment.

In earlier years the publican of The Keans Head had converted a portion of the upstairs area into a clubroom, but by the time of Frank Staniland's tenancy this use had stopped and the whole of the upstairs was therefore available as living quarters. As Margaret recalls this was a huge space. The top floor was almost totally ignored; the only reason anyone would go up there was to use the bathroom situated there. Confining themselves to the first floor still meant plenty of room for everyone. The rooms were large, rather too large in fact pleasant enough in summer, but bitterly cold during winter. Central heating had been installed downstairs for the benefit of the patrons, but the brewery never got round to extending this luxury to those living upstairs.

In 1959 Frank and Gertrude Staniland decided to retire. Their final night was quite something. It was drinks on the house and as you might expect the pub was packed out. It was also the only time Margaret ever served in the bar and she recalls that she never stopped serving and everyone else never stopped drinking. When time was called few people were able to walk home straight and some couldn't walk at all. No doubt a similar occasion happened on the night when the very last pint was pulled at The Keans Head. But as yet we haven't met up with anyone who was there, so perhaps that's another story?

What's in a name?

The choice of name for the pub was quite unusual. Nottingham only ever had two hostelries so named. The Keans Head at Lenton became the only one towards the end of the last century when the second pub in St. Mary's Gate was changed to 'The Duke of Albany'.

The Keans Head was undoubtedly named after Edmund Kean (1789-1833). Considered the greatest 'tragic' actor of his day, at his height Edmund Kean was earning £10,000 a year. On the stage he was passionately admired. Away from the theatre he was eventually to be less well thought of. He surrounded himself with tavern riff-raff and became involved with quasi-political secret societies dedicated to 'the damnation of all lords and gentlemen'. The last eight years of his life were a sad story of slow suicide from drink and other excesses.

1832-1854    Henry Cox
1862-1868    Thomas Mawby
1874-1881    Arthur J. Mawby
1883-1886    George Thorpe
 only 1888    Robert Cooper
1891-1903    Elijah Love
1904-1925    Mrs. Sarah Ann Love
1928-1934    Sidney Smith
1934-1959    Frank Staniland
1959-1961    Frank Fenton
1961-1963    Geoffrey Loach

Behind the Bar of the Keans Head

The names of our first eight publicans come from the pages of the local directories. The dates refer to the first and last mentions of these individuals.

When the Stanilands left The Keans Head, Margaret Groves moved away from the Lenton area and only returned some four years ago when she and her husband, Alan, and her mother, Ethel, took over the newsagents-grocery business at the corner of Montpelier and Beeston Roads in Dunkirk.

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