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Blackburn’s Nightlife On The Up

Blackburn town centre’s nightlife is starting to go places.  Hopefully it will bring people here from other places.  But this hasn’t been an overnight improvement.  Various factors have led to this resurgence in its fortunes.

A low water mark had been reached just over a year ago and there was talk at the time of even more pub closures.  Fortunately we were saved from boring nights in front of the telly or expensive trips out of town by things starting to happen in our own town centre.

The turning point seemed to be when two major events happened in 2016.  These proved to be a catalyst for starting the ball rolling in this resurgence of Blackburn’s town centre pub scene.  Yet both were so very different in how things panned out.

Thwaites’ decision to close their Sir Charles Napier pub angered many regulars of Blackburn’s only rock pub.  They were determined this pub wasn’t going to die and a spirited campaign was organised.  This gained support from Judas Priest lead singer, Rob Halford, and rock concerts with groups giving their services for free.  There were also those tee shirts and the Napier being awarded an asset of community value.

A year-long struggle eventually led to a famous victory for this gallant band of Napier regulars.  And it also put across the message that things can be done if enough people are prepared to try.  Almost a prophetic overture to what was going to happen in the rest of our town centre.

Around the same time as the Napier came back from the dead, a brand new pub was born.  The Drummer’s Arms was a result of James and Katy Quayle noticing a demand for real ale in Blackburn while working during events in the museum and at the Bureau of Blackburn.  The Drummer’s Arms opened and was joined by its nextdoor neighbour, Tiki Monkey, which is bringing a taste of Hawaii to our town centre.

Another major player in this town centre revival came back from temporary closure.  The Adelphi reopened after various issues were resolved by its management.  It has gone on to re-establish itself as one of the town centre’s well known hostelries.  Things have been helped in its location by all these new developments on the former Boulevard site and an emergence of a new Cathedral Quarter.  This has attracted new high quality restaurants to the area, something which Blackburn needed badly.

Since these exciting new developments, Blackburn’s town centre boozer bandwagon has kept on rolling.  New pubs have opened, including the Bees Knees and Shh! Bar.  There is also another reopening in the pipeline with Blakey Moor’s Jubilee becoming the Lemon Tree.  Plus, The Squire, which was formerly Molloy’s, has been secured.  If this had closed down, it would have been a crucial loss to Blackburn town centre’s pub scene.

What has also been crucial in helping bring about this revival of Blackburn’s town centre pub scene and nightlife are those people who decided to do something about changing things for the better.  These have included Richey Pull and his ‘Closed Pubs of Blackburn’ Facebook page.  Alex Martindale and his tenacity in the Save the Napier campaign.  The Quayle family for opening the Drummer’s Arms and soon to be Lemon Tree.  And of course, Blackburn Nightlife Project for never giving up on our town centre and helping to promote all the new developments.

Things have not been entirely plain sailing.  We have still had some pub closures, just like everywhere else across the country.  But it’s been a case of two steps forward and one step back in Blackburn.  In these difficult economic times, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Blackburn’s Bees Knees Opens Its Account

Blackburn town centre’s latest addition to its pub scene, the Bees Knees, opened up in the old TSB Bank, in November. 

The building, on Lord Street West, first opened as a bank in 1863, costing £1834.15s.  There was a cotton famine going on at the time, due to it being during the height of the American Civil War.  This meant many Blackburn people were feeling the effects of unemployment and poverty.  So no grand opening of this new building took place at the time.

Over 150 years later it wasn’t a grand opening for the Bees Knees either.  This was down to decorations running late and paintwork still being wet.  So a decision was correctly taken by management of the pub to postpone its opening Friday night until next day.  I managed to get in the pub a day later, early on Sunday dinnertime.  As the pub’s name suggests, it was a hive of activity, with lots of punters calling in to check the new pub out.

My only problem was wearing a pair of suede boots with crepe soles.  This led to my feet sticking to their polished floor while walking to the bar.  Other people made similar squelching sounds, so a mop and bucket was found and this sorted things out.

No doubt, like me, those punters would have liked what they saw.  The pub is big and roomy, with lots of seats and tables.  It reminded me a bit of Blackburn’s former Blob Shop on Church Street.  For the real ale fans there were three cask beers on sale.  Much to my surprise was their reasonableness of price, with real ale around £2 a pint.  Plus, they gave me a reward card which would bring another pint my way once it was filled.

This pub looks like it is aimed at all ages.  Their WIFI works very well and so do the vast array of TV screens throughout the pub.  There is also a varied collection of lighting and sound equipment which gives the place a nightclub effect.  This should bring plenty of young people in.  Whereas the decent beer prices should attract a good afternoon and early evening trade from the middle aged and older clientele.

Hopefully the Bees Knees will help boost this growing revival of Blackburn’s town centre pub scene.  Apart from the opening night, things are looking good in here and going to plan.

Rovers’ Funeral Ash Thwarts Venky’s Earthworms

A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm:  Shakespeare – Hamlet

Many Blackburn Rovers fans have commented on how bad the Ewood Park playing surface has become over the last few seasons.

The worms that turned

The Worms That Turned

Everything seemed to be fine with Ewood’s football pitch until Indian owners, the Venky’s, took control of our club in 2010.  Unfortunately this opened up a whole new can of worms and is exactly what the problem was related to.  One of their business ideas was to supply Britain’s anglers with a super earthworm imported from India.  These creatures are said to be not only tasty to course fish, but are energetic in their reproductive activity and burrowing prowess.  Their latter aspect seemed ideal for killing two birds with one stone and was seen as an answer to drainage problems affecting Blackburn Rovers’ football pitch.  So thousands of these wriggly creatures were given a new home under Ewood’s hallowed turf.

Unfortunately for the Venky’s, nobody told them about one of Ewood Park’s more unusual customs – where deceased fans asked for their ashes to be sprinkled upon the pitch.  Apparently funeral ash not only contains residue of human remains, but also wood from the dearly departed’s coffin.  This has caused havoc to those earthworms living under the pitch due to raising alkaline levels in the soil and thereby creating a caustic environment for our little tenants.  So it seems Venky’s have made yet another grave mistake.

While wood ash can indeed be used as a soil additive and a compost ingredient – both very much in moderation – it is actually a pretty caustic alkaline (i.e. high pH) material, containing potassium hydroxide (KOH) – sometimes referred to as ‘lye’ (although this term generally refers to sodium hydroxide).  KOH is a chemical that will essentially dissolve living tissue.  Obviously, wood ash isn’t pure potassium hydroxide – but still, you certainly don’t want your worms exposed to this chemical at all.  Many of them will have tried to burrow their way to the River Darwen to escape this caustic soil.

Blackburn Rovers stopped funeral ash being sprinkled on their football pitch some years ago, but any fan wishing to have their ashes interred at our club can contact the chaplain and arrange for them to be sprinkled upon Rovers’ remembrance garden.  But too much damage has already been done to Venky’s angling scheme and their earthworms.  It rendered them unable to provide their original function.  So it seems another of their business plans has gone up in smoke.  Rovers fans always knew Venky’s would lose the plot.  Let’s hope this is the final nail in their coffin and one day their involvement in our club will also die a death.

Rock Against Venky’s At Blackburn’s Napier Pub

What could be better on a September Saturday night than going to watch a rock concert and drinking real ale?  Even better, it was free entry and in Blackburn’s Charles Napier pub.  But most of all, it was cocking a snook at those hated Venky’s.

Photo taken by Roving Mick

Leonard Venkhater

I had a walk down nice and early around 6.00pm.  The usual Saturday afternoon punters were still in, but one or two Rovers fans were starting to appear on the scene.  To my surprise, my mate Parky turned up with Tonia, his girlfriend.  And my other half, Sylvia, turned up later in the evening.

We went upstairs to the Napier’s concert room and watched the first group kick off this evening’s entertainment.  They were a young group called Static and they were very good.  Unfortunately for me, the Napier’s upstairs bar didn’t have real ale piped up.  So it meant me having to go back downstairs each time I fancied a Trooper or their Cumbrian Ale on sale this evening.

A poet from Chorley followed the first rock group.  Unfortunately tonight’s organisers thought it was me who was their next act and asked me when I was ready for getting up on stage.  I showed them this poor bard, who was quietly waiting, and he got on with his performance.  A punk group from Blackpool – called Litterbug – was next.  They knew all about what Rovers fans were going through and wore Anti-Oyston teeshirts highlighting their own struggle against bad owners.

And then we had Leonard Venkhater.  He put in one of his legendary performances.  During an intermission, I had the pleasure of sitting down and having a pint and a good chat with Leonard.  I also bumped into MG Pensioner.  Both were unstinting in their passion to continue our fight to rid Rovers of this Venky’s scourge.

Sadly I didn’t get to see all the acts at tonight’s concert due to time pressing on.  But those I did see were very good.  Those who criticised this initiative would have been better off leaving their keyboards alone for the night and joining Rovers fans who want to do something and not just moan about it.  Like me, the organizers were very pleased with how things went.  Another event is certainly on the cards in this venue.  It was also nice to see boycotting Rovers fans mingling with those still going – all united together in their hatred of the Venky’s.

There are also similarities between happenings in this venue and our own battle.  Appropriately, the Napier is celebrating winning its own battle exactly a year ago.  Its regulars put up a great fight and managed to get their pub re-opened and back from the dead.  If this Blackburn institution can do it – so can we!

Rovers Fanzine 4000 Holes Returns After Four Years

Blackburn Rovers fanzine, 4000 Holes, is back.  This follows a four year dormant period.

The fanzine started in 1989 when Rovers fans, mainly at Brockhall and Calderstones mental hospitals, set up the publication.  In its early beginnings Rovers were struggling financially and FTH even coughed up its own money and sponsored at least one match.  But it wasn’t long before things changed radically at Rovers when a certain Jack Walker decided to get involved.

Most football fanzines were a thorn in the side to many clubs, but not 4000 Holes!  Instead of slagging off the club’s directors and campaigning for change, our fanzine became a purveyor of humour and positivity.  After all, what did we have to complain about during those heady days?  This was like a dream come true for most of us.

When this fanzine started, they must have had a lot of material sent to them.  When I bought my first issue, its seller asked me to write articles and send copy to them.  He asked everybody else who brought a copy from him that day to follow suit.  By the time I wrote my first article for them, around a year later, FTH had already reached issue number 13.  In my case, they received a couple of submissions and published both of them in this issue – unlucky for some!

For nearly 25 years the fanzine came out regularly, though not on a similar kind of scale as when it first started.  As is usually the case, publication and writing of FTH eventually became the domain of a few writers and backroom staff.  Fortunately it was in Brendan Searson’s safe pair of hands.  His dogged determination made sure our fanzine came out on a regular basis each season.  For many years Brendan could be seen with his boys standing on the River Darwen bridge, next to the Aqueduct pub, selling fanzine issues whenever it came out.

Brendan eventually retired and passed his baton on to journalist Danny Clough and the fanzine carried on.  Unfortunately technical and other problems began to occur and a four year period of dormancy followed.

Now 4000 Holes fanzine has returned.  Freelance journalist, Scott Sumner, is at its helm.  During these turbulent times at Blackburn Rovers, it is nice to see a part of our culture, like the cover of this latest issue, come back from the dead.  Hopefully we might be able to say something similar about our football club one day.

Blackburn’s Molloy’s – Open For Business As Usual

Blackburn’s Molloy’s pub has been put up for sale.  But despite not meeting its reserve price at auction in July, it’s still business as usual for the popular hostelry on King William Street. 

Molloy’s has had a positive impact on Blackburn’s pub scene, despite it being one of our town centre’s ‘newer’ pubs.  It was well-known book shop, Seed & Gabbutt’s, for many years, until bought by Irish themed pubs group, O’Neill’s.  Duplicates of O’Neill’s familiar blue and yellow liveried pubs suddenly started springing up across Britain in the 1980’s and Blackburn was included.

Sadly for local CAMRA members, O’Neill’s was a real ale desert.  This reflected the Emerald Isle at the time, where cask beer was also very difficult to find.  But like Ireland and its own microbrewery revolution, that all changed when it became Molloy’s.  Despite its Irish name, this theme bar culture was gradually squeezed out and it became a proper pub.  No more trying to figure out what Fir and Mna meant on the toilet doors.

Molly’s soon became a mainstay of our town centre real ale scene and carried on flying the flag while other pubs either shut down or stopped selling cask beer.  This pub is now established as one of the best in Blackburn.  It is one of three, including the Napier and Postal Order, which serves food, along with real ale in the town centre, and has a good mix of young and old punters in during the day and at night.

‘Molly’s’ owner, Stonegate Pub Company, part of the Cayman Islands incorporated TDR Capital group, are also selling off many of their other interests.  They are Britain’s fourth largest managed pub chain and currently own nearly 700 outlets, including Yates, Walkabout and the Slug and Lettuce restaurants.  It would appear the latter may be where Stonegate may have their main focus, leading to them possibly wishing to offload some of their pubs to release funds for further investment in their prime interests.

Unfortunately Stonegate’s pub downsizing plans has had a negative effect on business, certainly at local level.  Many punters think Molly’s has either shut down already, or will be doing so in the very near future.  This is certainly not the case and the best way of ensuring the future of this popular friendly pub is to carry on supporting it and keep the momentum going in the rebirth of Blackburn’s pub scene.

When Blackburn Rovers Did Win A Raffle

How many times have you heard people say Rovers couldn’t win a raffle?  Many years ago they cleared all their debts with one.

New Bank Road to the left, Revidge Road at the top.

Rovers’ lost Leamington Street ground

Before Blackburn Rovers moved to Ewood Park they played their home games in the Revidge district of Blackburn.  These were at East Lancs’ Alexandra Meadows cricket ground, before moving round the corner to their own Leamington Street football ground.

Despite Rovers probably being the most successful football club in the world at the time – they won the FA Cup, or English Cup as it was known then, for the third time in a row in 1886 – there was still the perennial problem then, as now, of paying for it all.

The ingenuity of football fans was as powerful over 130 years ago as it is now and one of the most novel ways ever of raising money for Rovers was put into action.  This was raffling a house on New Bank Road, near their Leamington Street ground, in 1886.  It became known as The Rovers Cottage and was said to be worth £140.

Tickets would go on sale at 6d each but this was very expensive for some fans.  Sixpence 130 years ago would be worth around £25 in today’s money.  Supporters would often create their own syndicates to buy tickets.  Normally six people would put in a penny each and then hold a draw amongst themselves to decide who would be holder of their raffle entry ticket.

On this occasion five men from Blackburn clubbed together to do this.  They had difficulty in persuading a sixth; a 24 year old Blackburn Corporation gas meter inspector from Johnston Street, called John Thomas Barker, to join in with their syndicate.  Finally he reluctantly handed over his penny and then won their raffle to hold the ticket.

The draw was made on Wednesday 17 March 1886 at Culleen’s Circus, Blakey Moor, from the same cylinder Blackburn Olympic had used for their prize draw the previous Saturday, ironically the day Rovers beat the Swifts to book their place in their third Cup Final in a row.  No doubt the boys from the top of East Park Road would have had some decent prizes, but nothing compared to what was on offer from those boys at the top of West Park Road.  The Rovers Cottage was a sensation and created enormous interest, with 4,000 people turning up to watch the draw.

Mr Barker found out that he had won the raffle.  This prize was a fortune for most working men at the time.  He said he had received two offers for the house of £115 and £120.  At today’s prices, these figures could be multiplied nearly a thousand fold.

The Rovers Cottage wasn’t just a great success for its raffle winner, it also helped pay off all of Rovers’ outstanding debts.  The icing on their cake came a few weeks later with them winning the FA Cup for a third time in a row.  Known as the ‘Thrice’, this is a feat no club has since been able to achieve and means Rovers still hold the longest unbeaten run in the world’s oldest club competition.

Venkoids From Space Invade Blackburn Rovers

Can you imagine alien creatures from a far off galaxy invading Earth?  Well, maybe they have already.  Could the Venkoids be those creatures?

They came from the Planet Lune – which sounds like Pune.  Three alien siblings: Captain Balaji Blob, his brother Commander V and sister Lieutenant Annie Uhura.  These space invaders were on a mission to take over Blackburn Rovers and their planetary station.  Their spacecraft had managed to get under the obsolete FA radar and orbit Ewood Park.  Now they wanted to assimilate every Rovers fan – resistance was futile, or so they thought!

The Venkoids’ plan was to turn Ewood Park into a giant fast-food outlet, forcing Rovers fans into eating space burgers and fries, then watching chicken-feed.  But they failed to assess resistance from these intrepid local Earthlings.  A dissident movement was set up and protests took place, as did a boycott campaign.  This prompted the Venkoids to commit acts of reprisal against those brave dissidents.

Their first action was to replace our manager with an out of spacer called Kean.  This brought plague and pestilence upon our world.  Deluded Kean’s disastrous reign of terror even managed to upset two of the Venkoids, though he still had support from the lieutenant.  She acted like a proper little madam.  More spaced out leaders were put on the bridge, but further disasters followed.

The final humiliation came when our penultimate leader steered us into a black hole and we landed in a time warp.  In spite of heroic efforts from our new man at the helm, relegation was inevitable.  This took us back to a period of our history called the third dimension – somewhere we thought we would never visit again.

But while our world was still under attack, strange things were happening to the Venkoids.  Just when they thought their destruction of our world was complete, they began to lose their power and started succumbing to some kind of mysterious sickness, similar to amnesia.  It was said pursuing creatures from their own world had finally caught up with them.  Now they were exacting a fitting and painful retribution upon them for not paying their dues.

Or was it not malignant greed at all to which they had succumbed, but their visit to a children’s chicken pox party in Blackburn.  Could this be what created their demise?  Nobody will ever know – we still couldn’t get any communication from the Venkoids, even at the bitter end!

Blackburn St George & The Trinity Beer Festival

Holy Trinity Church on Blackburn’s Mount Pleasant is famous for its former vicar, Chad Varah, who went on to form the Samaritans.  Trinity was an apt name for Chad as he and wife Susan had triplets while he was vicar of this church in Blackburn’s Larkhill area.

Photo courtesy of Jason Walker

 

This Grade 2 listed building no longer holds weekly church services.  Like me in my first job, it was made redundant in the early 1980’s.  But these days it hosts various activities and on this St George’s Day weekend, Trinity Church provided us with a beer festival.  Jason Walker along with James and Katy Quayle, who run the Drummer’s Arms, were amongst the many good Samaritans who helped put on this festival, along with some of the local breweries and tradesmen who supply their pub.

I was able to get to Saturday’s afternoon session.  My first pint of the day actually started off on my way there, in the Postal Order, where it was appropriately St George’s by Acorn Brewery from Barnsley.  Mighty oaks from little acorns grow and more good beer was anticipated for me today.

Off to the beer festival next, landing there around quarter to one.  Darwen’s Hop Star was my first pint in the church and guess what?  I was on their St George’s ale.  Blackburn’s Three B’s was next with Bee Proud, which was another ale related to England’s patron saint.  My next beer was Blonde Vixen from Wigan’s Wily Fox brewery and was my favourite on the day.  Porter from the Big Clock took my attention later.  It had filled up at the festival by now, a lot of people were enjoying the sunshine outside as well as those inside.

Today’s entertainment was pretty good but the show was stolen by teenage singer and guitarist, Georgia Farrar from Brighouse.  She brought this house down and gave us an excellent performance.  St Georgia’s Day would have been a good name for today after listening to her music.   Great things look destined for this talent and many people will soon have Georgia on their mind.

I really enjoyed this visit to the Trinity Beer Festival.  My only regret was not covering myself up enough with more layers of clothing.  Being a church, it felt as far away from the fires of Hell as you could probably get.  My jean jacket and Hobgoblin tee shirt left me feeling a bit cold inside this building and it certainly wasn’t Mount Pleasant in my case.  But with free entry and all real ales pegged at £2.50 a pint, there was plenty of holy water available and an enjoyable time was had by all.  Let’s just hope the next beer festival here is in July or August.

What Next For Blackburn’s Jubilee Pub?

A rare glimpse of the Jubilee’s door open

Blackburn’s Jubilee Hotel seems to be bucking the trend in our town centre for all the wrong reasons.  New pubs have recently opened and others have come back from the dead, but the Jubilee seems to be in a state of inactivity.

This Blakey Moor pub has had its ups and downs over the years.  I remember it having flagstone floors in the 1970’s, which were often stained with blood from fights which broke out in here.  This hostelry was a contender for Blackburn’s roughest pub, though similar things could be said about plenty of others at the time.

Things changed for the better when Tom and Linda Fox took over the pub in the early 1990’s.  After spending money refurbishing the place and kicking out anti-social elements, their Jubilee became a great pub.  My happiest memory of those days was when Rovers won the Premier League in 1995 and joining many fans celebrating inside and outside the pub, closing both Blakey Moor and Barton St.  Tom was a massive Rovers fan and these times were the zenith for his pub and his team.

Tom and Linda left to run the Golden Cup and their former pub has never been able to emulate those happy days.  Years of decline followed and a seedy reputation developed.  It was closed under a police order in 2008, but re-opened a year later.  Attempts have been made since those dark days to make a go of the Jubilee, but this pub seems to have continued on a downward spiral.  Now one of Thwaites’ last town centre pubs looks to be closed once again.

This is very sad, yet seems so unnecessary.  Very few pubs in Blackburn are in a better location for attracting passing trade.  Our college and its University Centre are nearby and have provided this pub with a lot of custom over the years.  There has also always been trade from many events across the road at King George’s Hall.

Unfortunately attracting trade to a pub which seems to only open sporadically doesn’t help matters.  Nearly every time I have walked past this pub lately it has been closed.  On those rare occasions when it was open they never had any real ale on sale, so it might as well have not bothered in my case.

But there is always hope around the corner.  With great news about the Adelphi and a new version of Liquid Nightclub both re-opening, perhaps we could see a return of the Jubilee.  Anything’s possible in Blackburn these days.

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