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The Comedy of Errors

CAMRA - Real Heritage Pubs of the Midlands

10 October 15 words: Neil Fulwood
Paul Ainsworth and David Birkett of CAMRA speak to LeftLion about the new Midlands beer book that separates the wheat from the chaff
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photo: CAMRA

When did CAMRA start publishing and how well do the books sell?
David: In 1972, with the first Good Beer Guide. The publishing programme expanded from the production of the ‘Guide to include many aspects of beer, pubs and brewing. The books sell very well, and the books department makes a valuable contribution to CAMRA's campaigning funds. In addition, the establishment of CAMRA Books as a recognised and trusted brand among book buyers has helped to raise and maintain the profile of CAMRA in general.

Real Heritage Pubs of the Midlands is a beautifully produced and lavishly illustrated book, featuring 201 pubs. How much research did it take to cover them all?
Paul: Putting this book together has very much been a team effort. We've been compiling both the national and regional inventories over many years (twenty plus) and many members of CAMRA's Pub Heritage Group have contributed detailed survey information. Our rules are that at least two members of the group must be satisfied that an interior meets our criteria, so a lot of visits by a lot of people have been required.

Did you get to claim your bar bills on expenses?
Paul: No, this was very much a labour of love – travel expenses only.

How many other titles are there in the Heritage Pubs series? Have you covered the whole of the UK yet?
Paul: This is the seventh in the series, following London, East Anglia, the North East, Wales, Scotland and Yorkshire. We still have the South and the North West to go.

The first thing I noticed about the book was the caveat on the inside front cover that "this guide is concerned only with the internal fabric of pubs – not with qualities of atmosphere, friendliness or the availability of real ale." Any horror stories during your research?
Paul: No particular horror stories, at least for the Midlands. Mick once got locked in the back room of a Liverpool pub he was surveying, with the landlord demanding to know what he was really trying to find out. Most of the pubs do sell real ale and we didn't visit anywhere which was in any way threatening or unpleasant – though some of the estate pubs might better be visited in the daytime.

A number of pubs in the book are starred to denote inclusion on CAMRA's National Inventory. What can you tell us about this list and why is it so important?
Paul: The National Inventory comprises the 270 British pubs which are the creme de la creme, either because the layout is essentially intact since before 1939 or they have fixtures and fittings of outstanding architectural value. These pubs are so important simply because they are so rare – that's 270 out of some 50,000 pubs altogether. They’re a precious part of our heritage.

How closely have you worked with the Pub Heritage Group in producing the Heritage Pubs series, and what can you tell us about their work?
David: It’s involved very close cooperation between the Pub Heritage Group and the publishing staff at CAMRA HQ in St Albans. This partnership has embraced not only the content of the books, but also their sales and marketing, with much invaluable volunteer time, effort and knowledge having been brought to bear on publicising and selling the series within CAMRA and to the beer trade. In particular, PHG members have organised very successful pub launches for the books and delivered copies to many pubs now stocking and selling the title in which they're featured.

Any thoughts on chain pubs: Wetherspoons and their ilk?
Paul: I'm a big fan of Wetherspoons – great selection of beers and decent food at bargain prices – what's not to like? Well, OK, service can be an issue. From a heritage standpoint, some of their pubs occupy fabulous, non-pub buildings – The Crosse Keys, London; Opera House, Tunbridge Wells; and Commercial Rooms, Bristol, to name a few. One pub in the book is a Wetherspoons – the amazing Black Horse in Northfields, Birmingham, which 'Spoons renovated very sensitively. Some other chains, like Nicholsons, also look after their heritage pubs very well. Others are only interested in large, modern, family-friendly outlets, which is fine but of no interest to me.

Any favourite pubs in Nottingham?
Paul: My favourite heritage pub in the city area has to be The Test Match in West Bridgford. It’s sleek, stylish, art-deco interior is a complete joy and there are so many different drinking areas to enjoy. The beer's good too. My non-heritage favourite is the Hand and Heart but I'm also very taken with one of the city's newest pubs – The Barrel Drop – a beer lover's paradise.

Real Heritage Pubs of the Midlands is available from CAMRA Books for £5.99.

CAMRA website

Read our Book Review of Real Heritage Pubs of the Midlands

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