The Champion of the Thames
<- The Champion of the Thames
Let's start with The "Champ" itself. The interior here is late nineteenth century and, apart from removal of the door between the bars and some work around the former fireplace in the lounge, has been largely unaltered since. The wood panelling in both bars is very fine and the etched windows (showing the Champion in action) are marvellous (but not original - the pub's position on the notorious King Street Run means they've had to be replaced several times). As a bonus, the pub is a regular Good Beer Guide entry, offering first-class Greene King ales.

The Portland Arms in Chesterton Road was rebuilt in 1930 to the designs of Basil Oliver, a notable pub architect and author of "The Renaissance of the English Public House". It was built for the brewers Barclay Perkins in a style known as the "Improved Public House". There were originally more rooms than you see today; the current lounge was formerly two rooms and the bar counter, now much shortened, served both. The space occupied by the kitchen used to be a snug and there was also a "bottle and jug" for off-sales. The public bar and concert room are essentially intact and the lounge still has much original panelling and a fine fireplace. This is another pub with excellent Greene King ales (including XX Mild).

Oliver also designed The Rose and Crown on Newmarket Road, the exterior of which is quite similar to the Portland. This has kept two bars but there has been a considerable amount of internal alteration.

The Tolly Cobbold brewery of Ipswich used to own many pubs in and around Cambridge, having taken over the Star brewery in Newmarket Road. In the Thirties they constructed a series of massive suburban pubs which became known as "Tolly Follies". The local example is The Golden Hind in Milton Road. Sadly, it was trashed in the mid-Eighties, though some vestiges of the former opulent interior remain, notably the skylight over the bar and the arcading adjacent to the garden. Another Golden Hind was built to the exact same design in Ipswich and survived intact until a few years ago, when it was tragically modernised/vandalised by Pubmaster.

The Baron of Beef
<- The Baron of Beef
Two other pubs which would have made the Regional Inventory suffered at the hands of Greene King in recent years. The Baron of Beef in Bridge Street had a delightful front bar but in 1998 the whole place was opened out into a single long room. Some good panelling still exists. Not so at The Cambridge Arms in King Street where the wonderful front room was completely blitzed in another unforgiveable opening-out exercise. Ironically, having spent loadsamoney converting the pub into a disco-bar, Greene King later spent a load more to turn it back into a "traditional" pub - too late! Both pubs are however still well worth visiting given the quality of their beer.

What about The Free Press in Prospect Row, I hear some people say? Well, what you see now is a faithful reproduction of much of the original interior which, by 1975, had been gutted in preparation for demolition as part of the Kite redevelopment. Good sense prevailed, the pub was reprieved, and the interior re-fitted; the left hand bar and snug are the more authentic copies. Another reliable real ale outlet, hence its regular spot in the Good Beer Guide.

Our final stop is at The Fort St George in England on Midsummer Common which, though much altered and enlarged over the years, still has considerable charm. Especially notable is the snug to the right of the main entrance which has some wonderful ancient panelling and a good tiled floor. Once again, top-notch cask ales to complement the surroundings; the drop of Bateman XXXB I had here was my "Pint of the Month" for October.

The Pickerel
<- The Pickerel
Other pubs worth mentioning are The Pickerel in Magdalene Street and The Green Dragon Chesterton. Both are claimants to being the oldest pub in the city, both have been much opened out but both retain a good deal of character (and both have superb beer). The inglenook fireplace at the Dragon is a particular delight. The Eagle in Bene't Street is perhaps the city's most famous pub and has some interesting features but the interior has been massively altered and extended. The Royal Standard on Mill Road continues to offer two separate, high-ceilinged rooms, though there are few original fittings.

Next time we'll have a look at the surviving heritage interiors in our rural area.

Paul Ainsworth
  • -> ALE 313: Back to the Cambridge Arms
  • -> ALE numbers 1 and 6 have some of the story of the Free Press: blighted by years of slum-clearance planning, in the end the City Council decided not to develop there and the pub was saved.