Category: Pubs, Clubs & Beer

Blackburn’s Lemon Tree Pub Adds Zest To Town Centre

Blackburn’s former Jubilee pub has now re-opened as the Lemon Tree.

On April Fool’s Day last year, I asked the question:  What next for Blackburn’s Jubilee Pub?  This followed its recent closure at the time.  Sadly for this pub, not only had it been dying a slow death commercially, structural damage was also blighting the building.  So things looked bleak and there seemed little possibility of it ever opening as a pub again in the present difficult economic climate.

But this is Blackburn and things are happening.  They are certainly happening on Blakey Moor and an opportunity arose to do something with the Jubilee.  This is where James and Katy Quayle stepped in.  With their other pub, the Drummer’s Arms, they have turned a derelict jeweller’s into Blackburn town centre’s jewel in the crown.  What was stopping them doing something similar with the Jubilee?

A decision was taken to rename the pub.  This was down to its intention to sell food and attract students from nearby Blackburn College and its University Centre.  Their next job was to sort out building problems and refit and decorate the pub throughout.  This included providing catering facilities and turning the Lemon Tree into one of only a handful of Blackburn’s town centre pubs to have food available.

The Lemon Tree opened its doors in December and looks very nice and clean and bright.  My only worry was being shocked by these old school desks which act as tables.  They brought back nightmare memories of my own school days, back in the 1970’s.  I sat at one which looked like my old school desk, but fortunately it was empty when opened.  There was no sign of my catapult or pea-shooter inside.  Neither was there any sign of the material we used to read under our bedsheets with a torch while listening to the wandering wavelength of Radio Luxembourg.

Another worry which also turned out to be a red herring was the price of real ale in the pub.  Rumours about its cask beer being too expensively priced have proved to be totally unfounded.  It costs the same for real ale in the Lemon Tree as it does in the Drummer’s Arms.

And so another pub re-opens in Blackburn town centre, continuing the good work being done by a lot of people and organisations.  This pub might be aimed at students, but it’s looking like it’s going to be a class act for the rest of us to follow.

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.

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.

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.

Banging The Drum For Blackburn Town Centre

Who is being sheared, James or the sheep?

The Drummer’s Arms may be Blackburn’s newest pub, but it didn’t take long to establish itself among the real ale drinking enthusiasts of the area.

Owners, James and Katy Quayle, who you may have seen on TV recently, following Blackburn scooping the national High Street shopping award, have a range of five real ales available.  These often include local beers Three B’s, Hopstar and Big Clock, which are all brewed within five miles of the pub.  They also sell real ciders in various flavours, such as rhubarb and strawberry.

This new micropub, right across from Blackburn’s old town hall, is a real gem and refreshing in more ways than one.  The Drummer’s staff are very friendly and so are its clientele.  There are not only real ale enthusiasts calling in, but shoppers and workers from nearby offices and workplaces are starting to frequent the pub on a regular basis.

Inside there are displays of pub memorabilia, some you don’t notice at first, such as the tables and chairs.  But once you take hold of your barrel glass, you then start to remember when you came across some of these items.  I particularly like the round copper-topped table, which took me back to my misspent youth.  Some of the memorabilia is very interesting, but it is the pub signs on the walls which really do catch the eye of most customers.

Perhaps the most memorable pub sign in the Drummer’s is one from Blackburn’s closed down Fleece on Penny Street.  What makes it stand out is an uncanny resemblance between owner James and the sheep-shearer in this sign.  It also seems to symbolise comparisons between Blackburn’s former pub scene and what is starting to happen in the town centre now, this is thanks in large part to the Sir Charles Napier and Drummer’s Arms which have both helped spark new life into our local scene.

Maybe one day the Fleece and other neighbouring pubs will re-open and continue building this resurgence of Blackburn town centre.  It would be nice if some kind of ceremony with the sign could be organised for the new Fleece, if it ever opened.  Sadly, that doesn’t seem to on the horizon for the foreseeable future, those old pubs still remain in their mothballed state.  Fortunately we do have the brand new Drummer’s Arms and can look forward to further real ale enjoyment and a bright future.

Blackburn’s Napier Pub is Back On The Scene

On 17th September the official opening took place of Blackburn’s Sir Charles Napier.  It was performed by Rob Halford of Judas Priest and was the culmination of a year-long campaign to re-open the town’s only rock pub following closure in June 2015.Nap

I was given a sneak preview of life in the newly refurbished pub on the Friday night before its official re-opening.  So Sylvia, my girlfriend, and I toddled across to the Napier and had a few beers and a mingle with various regulars and guests.

Best start to the evening for me was their selection of real ales.  Appropriately for a rock pub, Robinson’s  Trooper was one of their cask ales.  Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson created this with head brewer Martyn Weeks and it has sold millions of pints in 40 different countries.  Thwaites Golden Wainwright and Hop Star’s JLS are also currently available.

We talked to lots of people in the pub.  There was a good mix of younger and older people, all really happy to see the Sir Charles Napier back open once again.  Some were rock music fans who would use the pub mainly to watch bands, whereas others saw the Napier as the pub which would help rejuvenate this side of the town centre’s nightlife and would bring in passing trade.

With Blakey’s, Blackburn Times, Molloy’s and the new Drummer’s Arms soon to be opening, the Napier could entice more punters out for a wander round the town centre both during the afternoon and later in the evening.

Although the battle to re-open the Napier has been won, the management committee will not allow complacency to set in.  They would like to eventually buy the pub, which is still owned by Thwaites, to protect its long-term future.  In the meantime they don’t intend to rest on their laurels and the hard work continues.  This includes their efforts to keep bringing new people into the pub through various events and activities.

Key to this strategy is the concert room upstairs.  Bookings have been taken from different groups and many have signed up to play gigs there.  Hopefully this will continue into the future and help the Napier build upon the success which saw it fight a great campaign and return from the dead like a phoenix from the ashes.  The future is looking good for the Napier.

Blackburn’s Adelphi : Back in Business

Blackburn town centre pub, the Adelphi, is open again after shutting down recently.

Adelphi1

It is being run by Ste and Dianne Whittle, who used to run the Old Dog down the road in Preston.  The Whittles have taken over the pub for 3 months on a trial basis with Admiral Taverns, giving both parties a chance to see whether they are happy with the arrangement.

This pub has had a bit of a less than harmonious reputation in the past.  But its new management want everybody to feel welcome in their hostelry.  Ste has a security business, so safety for customers and staff should be no problem.  Music is a feature of the pub, with entertainment on certain days.  Singers perform on Wednesday afternoons and there is a disco on Saturday nights.  Check the Adelphi Facebook page for further upcoming events.

Grace, who was serving behind the bar, said she was enjoying working in the Adelphi.  It felt a bit like working in a local, people were so friendly.  Dianne, when asked about catering, said there were no plans to put food on for now, mainly due to all the outlets nearby.  But Admiral Taverns are committed to spending money on the pub; hopefully this will include the kitchen.

Despite its past problems, the Adelphi was always known for having good beer and there was a good selection of real ales available on my visit.  These included Moorhouse’s Blond Witch, Hobgoblin and Sharp’s Atlantic from Cornwall.

Potentially, the Adelphi could become a goldmine.  It is Blackburn’s most central pub and sits in a great location between the railway and bus stations.  There is also great potential for shoppers calling in with it being the only open pub adjacent to the transport hubs and Morrison’s superstore.

It was traditionally the meeting point for nights out round Blackburn town centre and could be once again.  There’s also the added bonus of a brand new hotel and multi-storey office block across the road.  So hopefully, it could be a rosy future for the Adelphi.

Rock ‘n’ Real Ale – The Fight To Re-open Blackburn’s Napier Pub

Blackburn’s nightlife has been doom and gloom over the last few years. Pubs have closed, including the town’s only rock pub – the Sir Charles Napier. It was shut down by Thwaites in June 2015. But it’s looking on course to re-open, thanks to a spirited campaign mounted by its loyal and dedicated regulars.Nap

I met Alex Martindale from the Sir Charles Napier Community Interest Company. He only found out the day after the pub closed its doors in June last year, despite being a regular and playing music there for many years. A meeting was organized which attracted a 100 strong turnout of regulars wanting to save the pub. This led to the formation of a non-profit company, made up of 60 members.

The company’s board of directors includes Alex, Nick Brown – former landlord of the Hope and Anchor in Accrington. Lisa Morton – the Treasurer, from Phoenix Rising. Hilary Carr – who will be involved in the food side of the pub and Daniel Colletta from the Chocolateer shop. Hilary and Nick will be the two managers, with Nick becoming the pub’s licensee.

Thwaites still own the building, but the new company has no tie to the brewery. Alex says they intend to make the pub a free house, putting on at least two or three lines of cask ale. They would like to sell local beers, such as Three B’s and Hop Star.

The Napier is known for being Blackburn’s home of rock music, but it will be welcoming to everybody. The pub intends to have sports teams, including darts, dominoes, pool and a pub quiz team. Karaoke and Open Mic nights are planned. Music will take place in the upstairs bar, where a stage is being built. Here, community groups will have the facilities made available and students will record sessions with groups for college coursework and make use of the pub’s equipment.

When asked about the highlights of the Save the Napier Campaign, Alex focused on the involvement of Rob Halford from Judas Priest. He gave his time for their Kickstarter video, which can be found on the Save the Napier website and Facebook page. He also mentioned the benefit gig at Blakey’s for the campaign. Sky Valley Mistress headlined and £600 was raised. A £6,000 council grant was also secured.

Low points of the campaign included dealing with the bureaucracy of trying to turn the pub into an Asset of Community Value (ACV). But the campaign managed this successfully.

Back to financial matters, the Napier committee has raised over £12,500 to invest in the pub. But this is only half of what they require. They are looking for investors, and are offering investments from £1000 3 year fixed term at 4% APR where tax relief is available. Alex is happy to discuss investment opportunities, please contact save@thenapier.co.uk or call Alex on 07710692226. The company directors are keen to meet potential investors to share and discuss business planning documents.

Alex was asked the most important question: Will the pub reopen? He said he was extremely confident it will. A momentum has built up to raise the rest of the money. He expects the pub to re-open in May – less than a year after it closed. This could be a turning point in rescuing Blackburn’s nightlife – all thanks to the regulars of the rock pub that wouldn’t roll away.

Visit the campaign website:  https://thenapier.co.uk/