Friday, 6 March 2009

Adnams take Suffolk Punchs



Sorry, this was an opportunity for a headline that the financial press have totally missed but I couldn't resist. Punch Taverns have just sold three of their iconic Suffolk pubs to Adnams - the Levington Ship, the Butt and Oyster and the Waldringfield Maybush.

The pubs anyone knows today are a shadow of the three of them I knew in my teens and early twenties. Then they were either independents or Tolly houses, known only to those who messed about on the Orwell and the Deben in boats or those interested enough to follow pre-internet hearsay and word of mouth to find them.

The Ship was our meeting place for warm summer nights to be spent on the adjacent foreshore with fires made of driftwood, trying to cop off with convent girls, with party sevens and baked spuds in tinfoil. In those days it was pretty basic, with a landlady with a bad perm and impetigo who bent the age rules down to an easy 15 or so.

The Maybush is at the head of Martlesham Creek. It really is easier to get to by small boat than by land; a distinguished London architect house-guest once enthused at the prospect of a Sunday morning walk, and thinking him a man after my own heart I led him 'cross winter dikes and ditches, ploughed clay fields, frozen slippery planks laid precariously to bridge foreshore sludge, for about two hours to arrive triumphantly at the Maybush for 12.00 opening; winter beers and an open fire with the prospect of a few songs on the walk home. I was expecting plaudits. But the sod was spent. He ordered a taxi from Ipswich and wouldn't walk a yard further. The church, I told him, had a window made of coprolites. He couldn't have been less interested if I'd told him I'd crafted it out of my own dung. Lightweights.

The Butt and Oyster in our day was run by a splendid chap with an award winning RAF 'tache and Parkinsons. The kegs were racked at the back of the bar; he'd pour 2/3rds of a pint and bring it to the counter. He'd then pour another 1/3 of a pint in a separate pint pot, bring it to the counter and top up the first, this strategy against his permanently shaking hand minimising wastage. He was quite alright about dinghy mud on his floor and young teens in his bar supping bitter ale.

All three were taken over by chains in the 80s and 90s, lost their eccentric guvenors, barred entry to the under-aged, built dining rooms, replaced the quarry tiled floors with carpets and attracted a dreary clientele of estate agents and car salesmen with a menu of French onion soup and Brakes Brothers institutional pies. I went back to all three of them, and they were crap.

But I thought the post title was good.

8 comments:

Lawson Narse said...

Brilliant! Golden memories. I remember all of that from my younger days. Local pubs for local people.

Thankfully, due to the bubbleburst, estate agents and their counterparts,those that enjoy plastic pubs, are becoming a dying breed.

Gordon has achieved a return to a far more enlightened age. Do you think that was his plan all along?

Dennis said...

At a pub I frequented in Chipperfield, the elderly landlord had a handlebar moustache and, alas, two metal legs. Though he had help, he was often alone behind the bar. I hesitated to order drinks that were out of his immediate reach, which led to my discovery of all sorts of bottled beers I would not otherwise have tried.

He's gone, too, and his boozer is also overrun with estate agents and car salesmen ... or perhaps I should say was overrun, since I doubt whether they can afford to go out of a night these days.

Dick Puddlecote said...

Bet they're overrun with kids now too. The pub used to be the best place to avoid them.

It's amusing watching the Punch demise after they have continually spurned their chances to protect their business. Oh well.

Anonymous said...

Love the story about the publican with parkinsons.

it's either banned or compulsory said...

I was one of the young teens supping bitter ale in The Old English Gentleman at Waltham Cross, the landlord would call time using a hunting horn.

Chrysippus said...

Excellent news all round. A brewery with less than 100 pubs replacing a company with over 7000 (and the beer's not bad either!).

Here in Kent we still have Shepherd Neame which is family owned with under 400 pubs. Good beer, traditional interiors and 'proper' pub names.

Perhaps with the dreadful state of the economy we might get back to values worth subscribing to rather bland consumption for its own sake and the compulsion to buy the latest 'toys' from the Far East.

I must dig out my copy of Small is Beautiful by the excellent E F Schumacher. A man who (in the words of Wiki) 'held that one's workplace should be dignified and meaningful first, efficient second, and that nature (and the world's natural resources) is priceless' might have belatedly caught the zeitgeist.

Anonymous said...

Good for Adnams. I remember all 3 from the 70's, and 2 from visits as recent as last Autumn. Five of us on Motorbikes on a wet November evening in '77 were the only drinkers in the Butt & Oyster that night, and what a pleasure it was then.

And may I express my sincerest hope that Punch Taverns soon sees fit to end its association with the insidious Giles Thorley? The threat of legal repercussions prevent me from telling what I know about a 16yr old Giles, a Nigerian prostitute, and the damage that a Staffordshire Bull Terrier can do when set to attack.
I'm sure the sordid tale will remain very well buried.

Anonymous said...

Yes! I remember that old geezer with the big tache. A character; one of the old school.

Sorry to hear that the dear old Butt had been ruined - not many pubs get a mention in Arthur Ransome, do they?

But Adnams are the best possible people to take it on; improvements must surely follow.

Loads of grog all round, with any luck!