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Pub Visit - England

Sunday 14th February 2016

Bob Thompson

Duke William 1The origins of this pub go back to the 1820s. It could well have brewed its own beer as many others in the surrounding area did. It went through a succession of independent licensees through the 19th Century until it was sold to the newly established North Worcestershire Breweries in 1896. This company was created in the same year when a number of local breweries amalgamated.

The Stourbridge Brewery joined with the Rowley Brewery of Blackheath, the Round Oak Brewery of Brierley Hill and the White Swan Brewery of Oldbury to form North Worcestershire Breweries. It is not known when the latter three ceased brewing but we know it was eventually concentrated on the Stourbridge premises. However there was a serious fire in 1897 and this may have delayed the centralisation. However, when the Stourbridge Brewery was rebuilt it could supply all 135 of the company’s pubs.

Duke William 2It wasn’t to last for long as they were taken over by Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries in 1909. This was an amalgamation of the breweries of George Thompson & Sons of Dudley and two from Wolverhampton: The Fox Brewery and Banks’s and had 193 pubs. They came together in 1890 and the next few years were spent on concentrating the brewing at the Park Brewery of Banks’s which is still a source of cask beer today.

Once that company had consolidated its brewery it set out on a policy of acquisitions of which the Stourbridge brewery of North Worcestershire Breweries was the first. The largest of these was Julia Hanson of Dudley which was a large brewery indeed. Wolverhampton & Dudley kept the former Hanson’s pubs under their original name although the signs were a similar design yet a different colour to Banks’s.

Duke William 3
They also kept the Dudley brewery open until 1991 when brewing transferred to the Park Brewery after it had been modernised.

I liked the two Hanson’s beers a lot, especially the Mild which was a proper dark mild, unlike Banks’s which was much lighter in colour and taste. However history has dictated that that is the one that is with us today.

Like topsy W&D just got bigger and bigger, taking over (and closing) the Mansfield Brewery and also purchasing Cameron’s of Hartlepool. This is thankfully still with us, albeit under different management.

The biggest gain was Marston’s of Burton on Trent with over 900 pubs, giving W&D well over 2,000 tied houses. In a complicated deal they got hold of the pubs of Eldridge Pope (Dorchester, Dorset).

Duke William 4The breweries of Brakspear and Wychwood (Hobgoblin) in Witney, Oxfordshire, Ringwood in Hampshire and Jennings of Cockermouth were all bought. However, it is pleasing to know that these are all currently brewing under their own names.

The company changed its name to Marston’s in 2007, possibly because of the good reputation of Marston’s Pedigree bitter. They are also building new pubs in areas outside of their normal areas, such as Kent. They had sixty of these planned over a three year period.

Back to Edwardian times, the existing Duke William was replaced by a new pub in 1903. It seems to have been branded as a Banks’s pub since 1909. Its modern story actually starts with another pub the Plough & Harrow, which is south of Stourbridge town centre. This was a one-time Ansell’s pub which became a short-lived Holt, Plant & Deakin house in 1988. In 2006 it was purchased by David Craddock off of Punch Taverns and he set about turning it back into the traditional pub it once was. It was a success.

David had previously worked as a manager in a Holden’s pub in Sedgley. His next move was to buy the Duke William from Marston’s, which he completed in 2009. Again the tasks of restoring it to former splendours were undertaken. In this case he went one step further and installed a 4 barrel (bbls) brewery at the back. This was quite appropriate as the Duke was the tap for North Worcestershire Breweries up to 1909. Their brewery was just behind the pub in Duke Street.

Duke William 5Another strand that needs to be mentioned is the Bridgnorth Brewery that opened in 2007 behind the Kings Head in that town. It later closed and at some time after David took an interest in it.

It re-established itself in 2012 but it is thought that its beers were brewed at the Sadler’s brewery behind the Windsor Castle pub in Lye (see separate BeerVisits article) and also at Craddock’s Brewery at the Duke William.

It is quite possible that brewing did not restart at Bridgnorth.

It was a bright but very cold day when Linda and myself visited the Duke William. We entered through the corner door to the main bar room and admired the array of hand pumps on the beautiful curved wooden bar counter. We took a seat on the left side of the room near and had a look around. There is some wooden panelling up to waist height which was painted green with the wall above being red.

Duke William 6There are lots of pictures on the walls and one section was entirely covered with framed awards from CAMRA and others. The furniture wooden yet fitted with comfortable fixed cushioned seats. There were garlands of hop bines hanging from the ceiling and I also noticed cut flowers in vases on the bar. In one corner there was a piano and above it a large bookcase fixed to the wall with plenty of reading matter.

After getting a drink I wanted to visit the facilities so used the occasion to explore further.

Behind the bar service area there is a corridor that leads to the rest of the pub. Firstly I had a look at the snug bar on the right. This has its own counter and the walls are red-painted with more hops dangling along the tops. On entering the wooden-faced counter is on the right.

Duke William 7At the left end there was a nice brick-built fireplace containing a cast iron stove that was in use.

On either side of the fireplace were fitted red leather stuffed settles that both curved around the corners of the room and along the walls.

Facing them were wooden tables and chairs. The latter, in this room, were not cushioned. There are bare floorboards that were painted black and were varnished.

Back in the corridor and having relieved myself, I saw the exit to the outside yard. This appeared to be in two sections. To my immediate left there was an area with a wooden roof over. It had one table, a number of loose seats and two old church pews, one of them cushioned.

Duke William 8Around the corner I found another covered area with a wooden roof. Underneath were two tables and a number of loose chairs. I presume these areas are specifically designed for smokers but they would be quite attractive on summer days if it weren’t for that.

Opposite the second shelter were the glass-fronted doors that lead to the brewery itself. This was not in operation as it was a Sunday, yet I was able to get a passable photograph through the glass.

Back in the corridor I noticed people coming down from the function room on the first floor. I hadn’t previously noticed this. Yet it does explain where all the people were going earlier with pints in their hands. I was surprised when I didn’t come across them in the back yard and wondered where they were all going!

There were eight cask beers on offer and these were, from Craddock’s: Hop & Glory (4.1%); Saxon Gold (4.0%) and Troll (5.4%). From the Bridgnorth Brewery stable there are beers under their own name and also the Thirsty Brewers label. The latter are said to be “craft” beers. How can it be that one set of beers brewed on the same plant by the same brewers be “craft” and the other non-“craft”? I think the answer is that one of them is destined for the “craft” market, where higher prices are charged, thus increasing profits.

Duke William 9I would guess that the Thirsty Brothers beers are often kegged. In this pub we have benefited greatly as they are all genuine cask beers and it would not be possible to place a premium on them. So, from the Bridgnorth Brewery label there was: River Steam (3.8%); King’s Escape (4.2%) and Monarch’s Way (4.5%). From Thirsty Brothers there were: IPA (4.3%) and English Amber (5.2%). I wonder what the possibility is of them all being brewed at the back of this pub? If anybody out there knows, pray tell.

There were two real ciders: Gwynt y ddraig (Pontypridd, Glamorgan, South Wales) Dog Dancer (6.5%) and Lilley’s (Frome, Somerset) Lemon and Lime Cider (4.0%). Food in this pub consists of a variety of pie meals and on Tuesdays and Sundays you can claim a free pint with them. There are many things going on: Monday is Jam Night, Wednesday is Pub Quiz Night, Thursday is Piano Night and Sunday is Live Music Night. There is also Film Club, Poker Club and Record Club. They also have beer tasting sessions.

It was Stourbridge & Halesowen CAMRA Pub of the Year in 2011 and 2012. So many reasons to visit should you be in the area.

Important Information:

The Duke William, 25 Coventry Street, Stourbridge DY8 1EP. Tel: 01384 440202

Hours: Sunday-Thursday 12.00-23.00; Friday-Saturday 12.00-23.30

The Duke is a few steps from the High Street and not far from the Bus and Rail Stations.

The railway station is next to the bus station. Walk through the bus station to the subway into the town. When you emerge from it take a few paces forward and then turn right into the High Street. Keep walking until you find Coventry Street on the right. Take this and you will see the pub straight away.

Stourbridge Town has a shuttle train service to Stourbridge Junction every ten minutes on the shortest branch line in the country, just over a half mile!
From the Junction there are trains to Kidderminster and Worcester. In the other direction they go to Birmingham Snow Hill.

The Bus station is served by buses in all directions. Useful routes are the 9 to Birmingham via Lye and Halesowen. Also the X96 to Dudley via Brierley Hill.