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Historic Pubs of Grimsby and Cleethorpes

corporation arms

The Corporation - open again in 2010

The news that CAMRA has published its "Yorkshire's Real Heritage Pubs" booklet copletes an interesting chapter in the Civic Society's history - one which uncovered some fascinating local stories. In 2008, the Civic Society was looking for ways to widen the scope and involve members in activities when a letter from the Campaign for Real Ale took us in a new direction .

CAMRA has been maintaining a National Inventory of pubs since English Heritage's 1994 decision that pubs which had escaped the wholesale modernisation of the 1960's and 1970's could be listed. While CAMRA's National Inventory covers pubs which are historically intact, the Regional Inventory covers pubs which have been altered, but still preserve important aspects of historic layout or a significant array of genuine historic fixtures and fittings.

It was the draft Yorkshire Regional Inventory which Dave Gamston, co-ordinator for the Pub Heritage Group of CAMRA asked GCD Civic Society to comment on. Three pubs in the Grimsby and Cleethorpes area were included, one of which is a Grade 2 Listed building in its own right.

Once members were assured that CAMRA was concerned with the fabric of the buildings, and that no expertise in beer was required, it was agreed that the Crows Nest and the Nottingham in Cleethorpes should be visited during opening hours.

Crows Nest

Members were able to confirm that the features identified in the regional inventory were still intact and were suitably impressed by the traditional appeal of both pubs. (For full details of the pubs, see the bottom of this page) As the Civic Society is concerned, not just with preservation but also with the promotion of a healthy and inclusive environment, members also approved of the relaxed and sociable environment in the two Cleethorpes pubs visited. The slightly atypical slant of this Society outing also attracted the Grimsby Telegraph which sent a reporter along to provide in-depth coverage of the evening.

The third pub in the listing, the Corporation Arms in Grimsby, was then closed and shuttered. This was particularly unfortunate as the building is Grade 2 Listed in its own right. In recognition of the significance of the CAMRA register, Admiral Taverns unlocked the building, giving the Society's Heritage Committee an opportunity to examine the renowned Smoke Room.

It was frustrating that a historic treasure was located in a shopping street which has arguably been dealt a critical body blow by market forces. Many of the surrounding properties were shuttered, or temporarily occupied by charities. The Local Authority had floated the possibility of compulsory purchases in order to redevelop the area with affordable housing. In such a development, members felt there was the possibility that the Corporation Arms has the size and the character to serve as a focal point for a revived community.

However, members were surprised by how quickly Admiral Taverns acted.

In December 2008, we were able to call in at the Corporation Arms, which had re-opened with a new tenant after refurbishment. The black and red exterior was repainted in lighter colours, and it appears that the mirrored strips edging the windows had been removed. Since we had originally been amazed that this detail had escaped the attention of vandals, it's perhaps not surprising that the strips were taken away.

corporation arms

The bar and best room were now much brighter, with a cream colour scheme, flowered curtains and brass candelabra's hanging from the ceiling. Even allowing for Christmas decorations, the pub felt immediately welcoming. Of course we headed straight for the historic smoke room at the rear of the pub.

The last time we visited the Corporation in April, it was shuttered and dark. With no electricity in the building, there were only torch beams and the grey light of a rainy morning seeping through the shutters. The desolate atmosphere was reminiscent of a mausoleum, and having heard a tale of reputed haunting from Grimsby Camra branch secretary Dennis Lister (see "Beer,Hope and Charity:Hewitts Grimsby Brewery remembered" by Graham Larn, available from Waterstones) we didn't linger, half expecting Vincent Price to come looming from behind the bar.

It was therefore satisfying to see the Smoke Room fully lit. Admittedly there was an artificial fire blazing in the modern fireplace, and Sugar Babes were performing on a flat screen TV, but the Victorians would have liked the Sugar Babes if only they'd been around then. The fact remains that it was still possible to go in and see what Camra called, "one of the best historic interiors in the region," for the price of a pint. The Smoke Room retains the original wood panelled seating with carved floral features, still bearing the tiny labels of the fitters, Frederick Eustace of Hull* and several large mirrors, one bearing the famous triangle logo of Bass brewers. (for more detailed photos, click here)

Despite the lighter décor, we were pleased to see that the larger bar has retained the display of photographs and newspaper clippings relating to the 1880's Wellington Terrace murderer Richard Insole. This display led to some remarkable discoveries for the Civic Society and we now have a separate page relating to this story here.

* Bulmers Directory 1892 shows Frederick Eustace, House Furnisher of Anlaby Road located between the Park Street Bridge and the entrance to Paragon Station excursion platform. A number of small businesses were located in single story shacks until the land was redeveloped around 1902.

Less than a year later in November 2009, the Corporation was once more empty and advertising for a new tenant. Nothing stands still, especially in the commercial world. (During the summer of 2009 we had already had the shock of taking members of a neighbouring Civic Society into the snug of the Nottingham only to see that the wall-to-wall seating and dartboard had been removed and the room redecorated as an extension to their successful bistro). It is sad also that the re-development of Freeman Street could not keep pace with the refurbishment of the Corporation. It was particularly worrying that the pub stayed empty through a bitter winter with one window cracked. Happily by May 2010 the Corporation Arms was open once again. The new licensee planned to keep the smoke room as a "quiet room" with the Tv removed and no loudspeakers. This is a difficult time for the licensed trade with several long standing pubs being adapted into shops or offics. We would urge members to pop in when they are in the Freeman Street area.

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Extra detail:

The Crows Nest, Balmoral Road, Cleethorpes. Described by CAMRA as: "Suburban estate house of spacious proportions and some quality", built in 1957 as a pub-cum-hotel by the Tadcaster brewers, Samuel Smith's. The three original pub rooms, planned around a central servery, all have generous fitted seating and deep windowed bays giving good natural light, and the counter to the lounge has curving canopy with integral lighting, redolent of its time. Some later changes have been a stage extension to the (otherwise intact) public bar, and creation of a big sliding-door opening from the lounge to the formerly separate hotel dining room (enabling the latter to be closed off for special functions).

Members were impressed by the exterior design of the Crows Nest and the atmosphere of the interior. Located just off the old Humberston Road, it still evokes the era of the roadside stop, when motoring was a luxury (indeed our President remembers lodging at the Crows Nest when he first came to Grimsby). All features noted in the Camra Inventory were confirmed. Although the seating had recently been refurbished, it had been done so in keeping with the "red leather" pub tradition.

The Nottingham, Seaview Street, Cleethorpes. According to Camra, "Old three-roomed town pub by the sea front which has not much altered since circa 1950, when it was re-modelled to plans by the Sheffield brewers, Gilmour's. These involved removing walls to create the elongated tap room and enlarged lounge, forming new counters to both, and altering entrances and fireplaces. "The Notts" is a real mixture though. The rear extensions (containing the snug) and some features including doors, are clearly from the inter-war period, but there is also an overlay of typical Tetley refurbishment work of the 1980's, not least in the bar fitments."

Again, members were able to confirm the details of the Camra listing. With its position on the main pedestrian area, it is not surprising that the Nottingham had been decorated to appeal to contemporary audiences. However, the pub still has a comfortable atmosphere in comparison to some of its neighbours.

The Corporation Arms, Freeman Street, Grimsby. According to Camra; "A once proud Victorian town-centre pub which has seen better days but which preserves, in its back smoke room, one of the best historic interiors in the region. This little room has superb fitted seating and wood panelling, originally installed by the Hull furnishing firm of Frederick Eustace (whose fitters labels can still be seen in situ) and its splendour is marred only by the crude removal of its entrance doorway and the insertion of a modern fire-hearth. The pub's other rooms have been considerably altered, but some remnants survive of excellent etched and frosted windows. One of the upper rooms was used as a music hall in the 1880's." In addition, this is the only one of the three pubs in the area to also be a Grade Two listed building.

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