BeerVisits - UK - Europe - USA/Canada - World

Pub Visit - England

Saturday 12th September 2015Cross Keys 1

Bob Thompson

This pub is very attractive when viewed from the street and is even more once you are inside. It has had a relatively uneventful history from when it was built in 1894 through to 2011. Of course, being constructed at the end of the 19th Century it had that that little bit of extra ostentation. It would have been a lot plainer should it have been constructed twenty years earlier.

One thing that is very puzzling is the name. Cross Keys is a very ancient title for a pub. It originated during the period of Henry VIII’s reformation when pubs were renamed.

Cross Keys 2Cross Keys is the replacement name for, for instance, a St Peters Inn or Tavern. The crossed keys symbolise St Peter’s custodianship of the keys that open the gates of heaven. Thus, I find a conundrum regarding the name of this (relatively) modern pub.

Chester or Deva (the goddess of the River Dee) as the Romans, who established the city, called it. This pub is within the city walls so I believe it is on the site of a much earlier pub. The area around it mostly dates from the Saxon era of the 8th Century. However I can’t find out anything about it or even about its history since it was built.

Cross Keys 3All I know of its previous history is that it sold Boddington’s beer when it closed, and was branded as one of their pubs. Boddington’s, once an independent Manchester brewery, were taken over by Whitbread in 1989.

In 1995 their 450 pubs were sold to Greenall’s, a pub-owning company that had also closed their own breweries in Warrington and Wem. So, I am not sure who built and operated it for most of its life, although it is said it was the only Boddington’s pub in Chester, so my money is on them.

So enter the Joules brewery. The current brewery is the second of that name. Their story starts with the Joules family in Bakewell in Derbyshire. From there two sons set off to be brewers. One, William, set off for Salford, the other Francis, to Stone in Staffordshire.

William’s grandson was James Prescott Joule who was born at the Salford brewery. He became a physicist and he is still with us, in a sense, as he gave his name to the world standard unit of energy, the Joule. What happened to the brewery I do not know. Please note that this unit is pronounced as “jewel”, whereas the brewery is spoken as if it was spelt “jowls”, or is by some people.

Cross Keys 4Francis Joule established his brewery behind a pub in Stone, Staffordshire in the mid-1700s. In 1780 he moved to a purpose-built brewery in the centre of Stone. He was succeeded by his son John who developed the brewery and by the mid-1800s it was large and exported throughout the world including the USA, particularly New York.

Stone had an Augustine Priory until it was dissolved by Henry VIII. The fathers were known to have made beer so there was a previous brewing connection in the town. They marked their barrels with a red cross to signify its purity. The new brewery adopted this as its trademark and it was the sixth registered in the world. Please remember that the red triangle of Bass was the first ever.

The company traded successfully for almost 200 years until it was taken over by Bass-Charrington in the early 1970s. They closed the Stone brewery in 1974 amidst much protest. All was not lost as Steve Nuttall had the idea of reviving the company and approached Molson-Coors, the successors of Bass-Charrington. This resulted in a new Joules company acquiring the brand, trademark, recipes and the original yeast.

The new company opened a brewery on October 2010 at the site of an old Joules pub, the Red Lion in Market Drayton, Shropshire. They then set about building up a pub estate. This now comprises around 30 pubs and the subject of this article was purchased and reopened in 2012.

Cross Keys 5It is a Grade II listed building and the redecoration by Joules is absolutely superb, please look at the photographs.

Go up the steps and into the pub and you will see the main drinking area on your right with light flooding in through the leaded windows. Up another step on the left and you are in front of the bar. This is magnificent, all shiny polished wood with a burnished brass handrail. Above the bar is a screen with leaded lights on its lower level and more varnished wood above. Small blackboards dangle from it promoting the guest beer and those to follow.

I settled to the left of the bar at some tall tables and had a good look around. If you didn’t know it you might think that you were looking at a genuine Victorian interior. Well it is, as an inspiration only however. The interior varnished wood panelling, the screens, the stained glass, the painted signs and all the rest were installed by Joules when they took the pub on.

Cross Keys 6The effect is totally beautiful. Around the walls there are fixed corner settles with stuffed red leather seating. The shiny wood panelling extends to the ceiling. At lower levels there are engraved mirrors that promote the Joules beers. The rest of the furniture is also highly-polished wood. There are glass-shaded lights at the top of the walls and finally, just below the ceiling there are shelves. These hold books, mostly. I don’t know how you can reach that far to read them. There’s also a stuffed fish in a glass case.

Upstairs is a function room named “the Slaughtered Lamb” redecorated in the same varnished wood and etched mirrors style as downstairs. A painted sign at the main door say it’s “A Little Pub Upstairs”. It offers a free juke box, bar billiards, darts, shove ha’penny and you can even serve you own beer, by prior arrangement. It sounds almost perfect to me!

Cross Keys 7There are three regular beers on the bar and these are: Joule’s Pale Ale (4.1%), brewed to the original recipe; Joule’s Blonde (3.8%), an ale that uses lager malt and German hops and Slumbering Monk (4.5%), a darkish premium bitter. The Joule’s seasonal beer was Calcutta 1757 (5.0%), an IPA. There is always one guest beer and this was Deva (Chester) Equinox (4.7%). The sixth hand pump was used for Weston’s (Much Marcle, Herefordshire) Rosie’s Pig (4.8%) Cider.

Food is offered from Wednesday to Sunday, see below for hours. This is a superb pub in an area of the city that has other great pubs; shouldn’t be missed.

Important Information:

Cross Keys, 2 Duke Street, Chester CH1 1RP. Tel: 01244 318950

Open: Monday-Saturday 12.00-23.00; Sunday 12.00-22.30

Meals: Wednesday-Friday 12.00-14.30, 17.30-20.30;
Saturday 12.00-20.30; Sunday 12.00-18.00

The pub is located within the City walls and is just south of the centre.
There is a shuttle bus connection between the Railway Station and Frodsham Street in the City centre. It is just over five minutes walk from there.