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Saturday 24 January 2015

Oldest Pub in Hastings

I've been writing a separate blog recently about Hastings and its environs, having been challenged to work out which pub is the oldest local pub, it hasn't been as easy as I thought it would be! I shall add the odd article here, certainly this one, following my visiting The Bull Inn (website) in Bexhill Road. 

Very soon after passing the sign welcoming you to Hastings & St Leonards you reach The Bull Inn, 530 Bexhill Road, Hastings, East Sussex TN38 8AY (website). Some may argue this is really in Bexhill, but The Bull falls within Hastings Borough Council's boundary and is licensed by Hastings, and is on the Hastings' side of this sign... 

The main building, bar area and kitchen of The Bull Inn is Grade II listed, built in the late 18th century, with an early 19th century extension added to the eastern side, ie to the right as you look at my photograph of the pub. According to licensing records, this building was first licensed to James Kenward in 1795, though records show a license for the pub in 1622, obviously for an earlier building.  

A couple of hundred years ago, the sea came up much closer to the pub and the port of Bulverhythe, but nothing now remains of that port except the ruins of the Church of St. Mary, which is virtually in the back garden of the only other older building in the area, The Bull Inn. There is evidence to suggest that stone used in the construction of the pub is very likely to have come from the ruins of the church; church cornerstones, windowsills and window tracery are all in evidence, and much old stone work can be seen at the rear of the building. 

Stories of tunnels from the pub and smuggers abound and, almost certainly, the earlier Bull Inn played host to the investigators of the wreck of the Amsterdam, the Dutch East Indiaman that was beached the other side of the railway bridge (which was built much later of course) in 1749, and which can still be seen when the tide is out, notably at Spring and Autumn tides. Though the last time I walked out to it, the deck was virtually full of silt and sand (see below). 

The Shepherd Neame website mentions this premise too, and says that "in the eastern part of the old pub, John Keats sat and did his writing while looking out to sea. Part of the pub was used as a court house and in the basement under the bar were the cells where condemned prisoners were held before hanging at Gallows Hill." 

You can take it from this that The Bull is a Shepherd Neame pub, though with an interesting alternative more local ownership and brewery linkage over the years. Indeed, Thomas Breeds bought The Bull Inn a few years before establishing the Hastings Brewery in 1828; The Bull becoming one of the first pubs to trade under the Breeds’ name, as was the Duke of Wellington in the High Street, Hastings. 

The Bull was later sold to George Beer and Rigden of Faversham in 1931, then Beer and Rigden was taken over by Fremlins of Maidstone in 1949. In 1967 Fremlins became part of the Whitbread group before Lord Young's Beer Orders from 1989 restricted the number of tied pubs that could be owned by individual breweries to 2,000. Shepherd Neame bought up many of the Whitbread pubs in the Hastings area, including The Bull Inn and others I am researching for this project.  

A year ago, The Bull Inn was faltering, but the return of the present tenant, Dawn, and her daughters, has brought life back to the pub and its restaurant trade. When I walked into the pub yesterday, I immediately warmed up, with the 2 real fire-places no doubt helping, then I noticed the beer handpumps, a few photographs above, which I imagine are late Victorian, art nouveau methinks! 

Anyway, The Bull is now a Shepherd Neame tenancy, so 3 of their beers are served from the handpumps, and it is open all day, except on Mondays during the winter, when it closes at 3pm and for the rest of the day. Food is served 12-2pm every day, and from 6.30-9pm Tuesday to Saturday, with an impressive looking choice of 3 roast dinners at Sunday lunchtime. 

To ales! I tried 2 of the 3 on offer, the Spitfire (4.2%) and the very good Kent's Best (4.1%), which was nice and bitter, and both were in very good form, and well served by the affable chap behind the bar, Steve; as was the rather eatable BLT with salad on the side I enjoyed for just under a fiver. The other ale was their Masterbrew, and they have plans to replace the Kent's Best with the brewery's 'micro' 3.9% Whitstable Bay Pale Ale, a very pleasant session bitter, I usually find. 

I also had a nice chat with Dawn, and I wish her well, my only suggestion would be to have a 'guest ale' from a more local Sussex brewer, but what do I know? Dawn's the person making a success of The Bull Inn, not me! 

My thanks to John Hodges for suggesting I investigate The Bull Inn, and for sharing some of the historical information with me; more about the pubs of Hastings can be found on my Steve on Hastings blog, cheers!  

Sunday 18 January 2015

Return to the Bricklayers in Putney...

So much to write down, and so little time these days, or poorly organised is the reality, rather than an excuse! So, I've been to The Bricklayers Arms (website - though probably better to check Becky the landlady's twitter account for ale updates) in Putney a few times without writing about it, shame on me! 

On these visits, ales have been provided by 3 main brewers, though always others available too! The first time it was ales from Loddon Brewery (website), notably their Ferryman's Gold (4.4%), a nice pale gold bitter that I must have mentioned before! Also, Razzle Dazzle (4.3%), a very pale ale with a fruity aroma, bitter-sweet taste and dry sour aftertaste; their Hoppit Classic Bitter (3.5%), golden, quite pale, a clear crisp session bitter; and Hullabaloo (4.2%), a slightly maltier well-balanced bitter.   

In addition, another day saw the West London brewer Fullers (website) in situ, including the Gales Seafarers Ale (3.6) and their own winter ale Jack Frost (4.5%) and difficult to find Chiswick Bitter (3.5%), probably one of the finest session bitters around, if you're not into the pale hoppy type! This is seriously hard to find even in Fullers' houses, flavoursome, as dry hopped too, but not to be drunk following their ales with stronger flavour like ESB or Jack Frost, as you won't appreciate it at all...  

Finally, my most recent visit was like still being down in East Sussex, with a grand selection of Dark Star ales (website), including American Pale Ale (APA, 4.7%), Hophead (3.8%) and The Art of Darkness (3.5%), all of them being regularly consumed by me in the past. There were also Partridge Best Bitter (4%), Espresso (4.2%) and The Original (5%), sorry, I didn't try either of these 3 on my 2 visits, but the APA was excellent, the Hophead superb, both pale bitters and very hoppy, and my favourite session dark ale, The Art of Darkness, which my brother, the Routemeister, was amazed by, he hadn't really believed my hype, but it is a 'session black pale ale', no other way to describe this wonderful full-flavoured beer! 

Nearly forgot to mention the West Berkshire (website) Dr Hexters Healer (5%), a strong full-bodied bitter with a marmalade 'zestiness', and Downton (website) Chocolate Orange Delight (5.8%), a strong beer, and you can guess for yourself its flavours!   

Back again soon, cheers!   

Friday 9 January 2015


It's a 'good news, bad news' scenario! 

The 'good news' is that Tiny Rebel beers have arrived at the Dolphin in Hastings... 

The 'bad news', it's crafty keg

Oh well, I've had this as a cask ale, as with all their ales, superb and hoppy, and this is hoppy, but, well, it's keg, ain't it?!? Makes me wonder again how appropriate the name is...

Saturday 3 January 2015

Happy New Year!

I can't believe how long since I wrote a blog here, apologies! 

I've been tied up with other stuff, including writing a more local blog @ www.steveonhastings.blogspot.co.uk, which you are welcome to read, it's to do with Hastings, but I also write on it as Steve the Beermeister. 

Whatever, I shall write as soon as I can manage, and much more... and my best wishes to you for 2015!