Monday 11th March 2013
Although the Vat and Fiddle was built as recently as 1937 it has quite a bit of history behind it. The pub replaced an earlier hostelry on the same site.
It is in the Meadows area of Nottingham which is the district south of the Midland Railway's line to the west of Nottingham station, spreading down to banks of the River Trent to the south. This area was open grazing land until an Enclosures Act of 1845 enabled the area to be developed.
It became an area of terraced streets with (almost literally) a pub on every street corner. The major part of the building work was completed by 1870 and the original pub is likely to have been built in the decade prior to this.
The original name was the Grove Tavern and it came under the ownership of the Nottingham Brewery. It is possible that they actually built the pub. It was undoubtedly that company the demolished the first pub and constructed a replacement. The Nottingham Brewery is recorded as being in existence by 1847 and was located at 52-56 Mansfield Road. York House now occupies the spot. The brewery had several owners until it was purchased by Edward Wheeler Field in 1879. It became a registered company in 1887 at the time of a massive rebuilding that produced a modern brewery. The tap next door was the magnificent Rose of England which was built in 1899 and luckily, still with us today. The company was noted for its "Rock Ales". When the Great Central Railway opened Victoria station in the 1890s, the cellars of the brewery (actually caves in the sandstone) were connected to it by rail.
The brewery was sold to Tennant's Brewery of Sheffield in 1944 with its 150 pubs. First to go was its bottling plant, in 1948, and brewing finally stopped in 1952, with the Nottingham Brewery Company being officially wound up in 1956. The name is actually with us again, see below. The brewery had one final incarnation as it was bought by Whitbread to brew some of their national bottled brands, such as Mackeson. The final phase ended in 1960 when Whitbread were finished there and it was demolished. A somewhat cruel irony was that Tennant's were subsequently taken over by Whitbread in 1961, who eventually closed the Exchange brewery at Sheffield in 1993.
Back to the pub; a photograph taken in 1972 of the pub clearly shows the Tennant's sign displayed on the outside of the building above the first floor windows. The Grove Tavern name was retained when the new pub was built in 1937 and this survived until the mid-eighties when it was renamed the Miami Bar. Anything further removed from Miami than Queen's Bridge Road would be very hard to imagine. Like all stupid names it didn't last long and in 1988 it acquired an even more silly title: Ziggy's Bar. With the Thin White Duke serving behind the bar, no doubt! Rightly, this only lasted a month when it reverted to the Grove Tavern. This period lasted until 1992 when it was named Tom Hoskins, as it had been bought by the Hoskins and Oldfield brewery of Leicester. In the 1970s this amazing brewery served its off-licence in Leicester and just one pub in Market Bosworth, the Red Lion, ten miles away. It later extended its estate to about ten pubs in the East Midlands, and this was one of them. They were acquired by Archer's of Swindon in 2000 and Hoskin's Brewery, built 1895, was closed.
It was acquired by the then Tynemill Company in 1997 and rechristened the Vat and Fiddle. Thereafter its life has been inexorably linked to the Castle Rock Brewery. This started life as the Bramcote Brewery, brewing in private premises. I well remember their Hemlock Ale, which got quite a reputation, for the good of course. Forced by the lack of permanent planning permission they had to move on and relocated to the premises next to the Vat and Fiddle and the Castle Rock Brewery was born.
It was partially owned by Tynemill and despite considerable success the original partners sold out to them in 2001. In a further twist that surprisingly brings us full circle, the founders of the Castle Rock Brewery have now resuscitated the Nottingham Brewery Co which has a purpose-built home behind the Plough in Radford. This, like the Vat & Fiddle, is an original Nottingham Brewery pub. This modern version of the brewery also makes some beers to the same recipes as the original company. I am always keen when breweries revive old beers; it's true history in action.
More recently Tynemill has morphed into Castle Rock as the brewery's name now gives title to the chain of twenty pubs that was founded by Chris Holmes in 1977 with the purchase of his first pub, the Old King's Arms in Newark. This name-change may be partially as a result of their Harvest Pale Ale becoming CAMRA Champion Beer of Britain in August 2010, giving it a national profile. In the first full financial year following the win, sales of that beer alone were up 122% and their others by 47%. This equates to a doubling of production in just two years. They had already started on a considerable extension of the existing brewery into the large premises behind the pub (see photo above) so the win was perfectly timed to make the most of the increased capacity.
So, as can be seen, there is a lot of history behind this pub. The Vat and Fiddle is a very well maintained boozer with many notable features, and I'll look at them later. But let's look at the most important thing first. When I visited the following beers from the brewery next door were available: Sheriff's Tipple (3.4%), a session bitter; Black Gold (3.8%), a dark mild; Harvest Pale Ale (3.8%), the award-winning golden ale; Preservation Fine Ale (4.4%), a tradition East Midlands best bitter; Elsie Mo (4.7%), a single malt golden ale, and Screech Owl (5.5%), a strong IPA. These beers are all from the permanent range.
Also available was Midnight Owl (5.5%), a strong, dark and hoppy winter ale; Jay (5.5%), this is No 142 in the monthly Natural Selection series of Special Ales and is a porter made with eight different malts; final offering was Harold Larwood (4.2%), which is No 10 in the Nottinghamian Celebration Ales series and seemed to me to be a black bitter. Well, you can get black IPAs, so why not black bitters?
There were two guest beers: Brewster's (Grantham, Lincs) Decadence; a golden ale, and Full Mash (Stapleford, Notts) Nevermore (4.6%): a stout. It seems that there are always six beers from the regular range and the rest of the total available are from their special/seasonal offerings plus a couple of guests.
Having started the process of wetting my whistle, I had time to look around. The layout appears to be of three rooms that have been opened out; actually it could be four. Entering from the main door on the corner of the pub, you find on your right, a room with a bar billiards table and dart board. The area between the door and the bar has normal seating and cushioned settles, which continue along the inside of the building. By the other entrance door is a nice corner seating area where the walls are covered with a lot of certificates celebrating the many awards that the brewery has been awarded, see photo above.
I was talking to the Licensee, Ed Sullivan, about the Golding's Room I could see to the left of the bar, which certainly wasn't there when I visited previously. He explained that this had been open about a year and had many purposes including being an overflow room at busy times. It is also booked for functions and meetings. I worked out that it was in an area the brewery once occupied.
I noticed that there was a way through to the Brewery Visitor Centre and he kindly obtained the key to show me. Like the Golding's Room there was a glass panel that gave a view through to the brewery.
It had a bar but I understood that this was mainly used as the brewery's shop, so the ghostly figures in the photographs are in reality shirts awaiting a buyer. I thank Ed for showing me a part of the premises that I would not necessarily have seen.
So, a great pub that is close to the railway station. It shouldn't be missed if you are in Nottingham.
The Vat and Fiddle, 12-14 Queens Bridge Road, Nottingham NG2 1NB
Open: Monday to Wednesday 11.00-23.00; Thursday to Saturday 11.00-24.00;
Nottingham Railway Station is about five minutes away and Broad Marsh Bus Station is less than ten. This bus station serves the outer suburbs. Many city bus routes pass the front of the railway station. The Station Street stop on NET (the tram) is also less than ten minutes away.