In recent months I've visited lots of pubs which have been put forward for possible inclustion on CAMRA's East Anglia inventory of pubs of historic/architectural importance. This has brought home to me just how few pubs in this area are to any degree unaltered. Even an undoubted gem like The Queen's Head at Newton was significantly remodelled in the Fifties.
My thoughts then turned to a pub I used to know which (at the time) was a true survival from a bygone era. It was called The Cross Keys and was in Carlton, a village a mile or so south of Penrith in Cumberland. It was run by my grandparents and in the late Fifties and early Sixtites we made family visits a couple of times a year.
The building itself was a simple sturdy affair, constructed from the local sandstone but painted white. The front door gave onto a stone-flagged, panelled corridor which led right through to the back yard. Through the first door on the left was the only room open to the public, a low-ceilinged, rather gloomy affair with benches all round and a few tables. There were also a few bell-pushes for summoning my grandad though these were rarely used as he was generally in there supping with his pals.
Returning to the corridor, half way down another passage went off to the right; on the left of this was a large cubby-hole dominated by a pair of beer engines. It was from here that grandad fetched the drinks, mostly beer and whiskey. Stone steps led down to the cellar, a fascinating place for a young lad like me, full of musty beer smells and ancient detritus. Hygienic it certainly wasn't!
The beer was from the local Penrith brewery, Glassons. My dad recalls it being "an acquired taste" which may have been more down to the state of the cellar. Around 1960 Glassons were bought up by Duttons of Blackburn. The brewery was closed and the site became a depot; I can still recall the Duttons lorries with their curious "Oh Be Joyful" slogan.
Duttons in turn were early victims of the Whitbread Tour of Destruction but by then my grandparents had retired. How they ever made a living from the place I can't imagine. The pub only opened in the evenings and even then when full couldn't have held more than twenty people. It did offer accommodation but made no attempt to advertise the fact. Judging from the sporadic entries in the Visitor's Book this was hardly an money-spinning sideline.
About ten years ago I made the mistake of returning to The Cross Keys. Needless to say it was unrecognisable internally - one large room with a conventional bar counter. Since then Whitbread have sold it to Vaux and it's even appeared in the Good Beer Guide. The old incarnation was quite obviously not economically viable and change was inevitable - but I'm glad I can still remember it.