ALE May 1999 No. 294

Crawls Out of Town - Stamford

The recent upgrade of the A1 to motorway standard between Alconbury and Peterborough has had an enormous benefit - it's now quicker than ever to get from Cambridge to the glorious South Lincolnshire town of Stamford. Travelling by train is less straightforward but, unless you have a chauffeur, offers obvious advantages over the car.

Stamford used to be a major stopping point during the days of stage coaches but it missed out on the London-Edinburgh railway (which went through Peterborough & Grantham instead), so its pre-railway buildings have survived and there was no Victorian industrialisation. St George's Square was the centre of the BBC filming for Middlemarch: the buildings were perfect for it.

The Stamford Mercury is the oldest newspaper to be published with the same title throughout its history - it was founded in 1695 just after restrictions on licences to print were relaxed. Being the recipient of rapid news from London via coach, its circulation reached to Northampton, Cambridge, Coventry and Hull until the advent of railways.

Whichever way you travel, you'll find yourself firstly in the St Martin's area of town, south of the River Welland. On the High Street (and with its sign spanning the road) is one of the country's great coaching inns, The George. This is now an upmarket hotel, a wonderful place to stay and/or eat, if you've got arms and legs to spare. However there's also a charming wood-panelled bar to the right of the main entrance serving excellent if pricey Adnams Broadside and Fullers London Pride.

Also in St Martins, further up the hill leading out of town, is The Bull and Swan, somewhat opened out but still characterful and selling a decent selection from the Pubmaster list.

Crossing the river, take a right turn into Wharf Road and follow this round to the junction with St Leonards Street and the Daniel Lambert, named after an extremely portly gentlemen who expired in the town in 1809. This pub has long been renowned as an outlet for Timothy Taylor's Landlord and usually has three or four other interesting beers.

Daniel Lambert was famed across the country for his great size - due to a presumably glandular condition as he didn't eat or drink to excess - and he enjoyed his fame as a curiousity. He weighed 52st, his waist was 112" and his leg girth was 3'1". He loved horse racing, which is why he was in Stamford when he died. He was in a pub then known as The Waggon and Horses: they had to take a window out to extract his body and it took 20 men to lower his body into the grave in the churchyard.

Head into the town centre now and make your way to Broad Street where the Lord Burleigh is worth a visit. Another Free House, it always has Fullers beers among its offerings; the secluded rear courtyard is especially delightful. A right turn and another will bring you to The Dolphin, a Charles Wells pub which features lots of guest beers and a multi-roomed layout.

Turn left outside the pub and follow North Street to its junction with Scotgate. Diagonally opposite is The White Swan, a Bateman's tied house with the full range of this brewery's fine beers. A few doors further down Scotgate is The Green Man, probably the town's premier real ale pub. The six or seven cask ales will always include beers from local micro breweries and from further afield. The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed - a really nice place to sup ale.

Back to the town centre now and Red Lion Square where The Periwig is a must. This used to be a charming local called The Marsh Harrier but went through some bad times, at one point being a keg-only cafe bar. The present owners did a brilliant job renovating and expanding the place which now includes an upstairs lounge. The fabulous products of the Oakham brewery are always on sale here alongside a good selection of other beers.

Finally head back out of the centre up All Saints Street, passing the former Melbourns Brewery (founded 1825), which is scheduled to reopen as a brewery museum in 1999 (and may even start brewing again). The road becomes St Peters Street and The St Peters Inn appears on the left. This tiny pub is a former local CAMRA Pub of the Year and remains a brilliant boozer, particularly on Thursday to Sunday evenings when the Cloisters bar in the cellar is open, selling beer straight from the cask. Marstons beers and a range of guests make up the real ale menu.

There are loads more pubs in Stamford, all selling cask beer of one kind or another. But it's not just the pubs which make Stamford so well worth a visit - it's a truly beautiful little town, almost entirely constructed out of local stone, packed with Georgian and early Victorian buildings: for instance Stukely House, the home of the early antiquarian William Stukely, which is now a B&B.

If you've never been, do yourself a favour and check it out.


Footnote

Melbourn Bros Brewery

The uk.food+drink.real-ale news group in June 1999 had a discussion relating to the brewery (credits: Phil Clark, Sean Kelleher, mikemcg and Christine Ramsbottom).

The All Saints Brewery closed in 1974 and since then Sam Smiths Brewery (Tadcaster) have looked after the brewery & its kit, opening it as a museum. Experimental brewing started around 1993 and meanwhile gradual refurbishment of the brewery has been in progress. As of 1999 Waitrose is selling "Melbourn Bros. Spontaneous Fermentation Apricot Beer" which it seems was produced from wort produced about 3 years ago at Tadcaster and taken to Stamford for spontaneous fermentation.

Michael Jackson's Beer Hunter article has further information: Saintly Sam brews peach of a wild ale.


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