Archive for the ‘The Crown Fisheries’ Category

The Great Disappeared Pubs of Old Central Leeds

August 1, 2012


The Great Disappeared Pubs of Old Central Leeds

By Pete Wood

Sometimes, in fantasising mood, I conjure up my ultimate night of booze and debauchery:  the venue is Leeds City Centre and the decade is the 1890s –‘The Naughty Nineties’. I’m starting off up Briggate for my night on the town. From The Royal Public House Yard comes the sound of hooves on cobbles. There are horses steaming and black and ready for off. Merrymaking floats out on the night air: a tinkling piano, raucous laughter, the occasional breaking of glass. Inside, revellers in ‘Billycock’ hats and ‘bum starver’ jackets, swill back the ale, while their ladies polish off the gin.

            Alas it’s only make believe, in reality pubs like that are long gone and in their place: ‘plastic palaces’ with contemporary music played very loud and the flashing lights that are necessary to draw in the twenty-first century youth with their vast discretionary spending power. City centre sites now need money a plenty to survive. Well, I’m far too old to enjoy their style of pub, but unfortunately, not old enough to have enjoyed the true sawdust and spittoon era. Fortunately, there was an intermediate era – a good night was still to be had in the fifties sixties and even the seventies in the great old ‘mucky pubs’ of Central Leeds; where there were still colourful characters

enough to light up a room. I loved those ‘mucky pubs, in fact I never felt as though I’d really been out unless it took in Central Leeds. Even my stag night was a crawl around my favourite joints.

            Gone now, regrettably, are The Royal in Lower Briggate and McConnell’s with its barrel filled window. Gone too the round Wine lodge in City Square, The Mitre, King Edward, King Charles, Robin Hood, Nags Head, Dolphin, Scotsman,  Market Tavern and The Marquis of Granby. The Star and Garter near the Corn Exchange is an amusement arcade and the Central Market, Golden Cock, Hope and Anchor, Brougham’s Arms and Yorkshire Hussar have either gone or changed their names, some several times over and with the changing of their names has come a changing of their special character too. Not all is completely lost, at the time of writing those left of a rapidly diminishing bunch are: The Whip, bless it, where Woodbine Lizzie used to stand by its three stumps and where I first saw a ceiling spinning round after sampling barley wine. The Palace, The Duncan, Royal Oak’ The Regent, Scarborough Taps and The General Elliot totter on. The Ship, Whitlock’s, Piccadilly Bar, and the Pack Horse were up ginnels and never quite aspired to my favourite category of: ‘mucky pub’. The Headrow pubs and above were out of my frame.

            Through the years I think The Star and Garter became my absolute favourite; you certainly saw life in the ‘Star’. For a start there seemed to be three or four different sexes in there, I was never quite sure who was supposed to do what to whom. Then there were the ‘ladies of the night’ plying their trade, they were a lively bunch; always laughing: their antics made the pub a fun place. Mingled in were the old ‘down and outs’ – old kids who had been in there drinking since the pub opened. By the time I would be going in there at nine or ten o’clock they would have an inch of ash on the end of their cigs and beginning to fall asleep. They would nod and nod, getting lower and lower until they heads would finally touch the table, over would go the beer and the glasses would shatter. The ‘star’ had a barmaid who had developed a technique for dealing with this; she was only a slip of a lass but she couldn’t half shift them on. She would grab them by the collar and flick the stool away with her foot, then using the momentum of their fall she would drag them out backwards to the door and then bump. Bump down the two steps onto the pavement of Call Lane. I can recall two bodies still lying there one night as I was trying to enter the pub.

            Often there would be undercover police in there on the look out for stolen goods or trying to locate the whereabouts of some rogue or other. You would hear a commotion and they would have someone spread-eagled against the wall being searched; accompanied by a great commotion from the recipient.

            There was a an old kid who collected glasses, I’ll swear he broke more than he got back to the bar – there would be a c-r-a-s-h and a couple of minutes c-r-a-s-h again. No one seemed to notice or worry about it, the floor was always swimming in ale and blood and you could feel broken glass forever grinding underfoot. I saw a lesbian give a guy a crack who was getting too familiar with her friend. Another night I went in there and it was so crushed there was nowhere to stand but I could see there was plenty of room at the far end, so I pushed my way through, folk were looking at me strangely, when I got to the space at the front I realised why; a naked woman cavorting about there, then I had to try and push my way back. Perhaps the strangest sight I ever saw there was a bloke having his hair set on fire. It happened like this: there was a couple of chaps talking to each other, pints in hands – I saw this woman pass behind them and then suddenly his hair was alight, flaring right up to the ceiling. The funniest thing was he didn’t seem to notice, he continued to talk to his friend: ‘rhubarb – rhubarb’ etc. and there was his hair actually blackening the ceiling. Finally his mate must have noticed and I imagine he said something like: ‘Hi up Joe, your hair’s on fire!’ Anyway they managed to put it out between them, he seemed no worse for wear in fact, incredibly, although his hair seemed to have been burning for a considerable time it did not seem to have been noticeably consumed. ‘It’s that bloody woman!’ he said finally and chased out after her into the street.

            Surprisingly I never found the place to be dangerous. If you didn’t cause trouble, no one would trouble you and you could observe to your heart’s content. The punters were streetwise to an amazing degree so much so it made you feel naïve. And there was total equality, if Prince Philip had gone in there for a pint or even the Queen they would have had to wait their turn at the bar like everyone else.

            To round off the evening was to have fish and chips from the Crown Fisheries, eaten in alcoholic fuzz, out of the paper, on the Corn Exchange steps – observing every species of humanity rolling home up Boar Lane in jovial state. And that old blackened Corn Exchange observes on too and if those old Victorians couldn’t shock him – then I’m sure neither will me or you.

(Unfortunately even more of these great old pubs are ‘mort’ since the writing of this piece.)


Following on from Eric Sanderson’s picture question (the alternative ‘Slip’) which he now reveals is actually in Harrogate – here is another poser. East Leeds veterans will surely recognise this magnificent building now seemingly under renovation for something other than its original use. But can you remember where it is? I bet no one will remember the name of the side street?