Published on May 3rd, 2018 | by Alastair Gilmour0
D’ye ken yon pele?
One Northumberland pub has Alastair Gilmour reaching for the history books
A North East micropub isn’t named after the greatest footballer of all time, despite the majority of visitors’ assertions. The Pele in Corbridge is pronounced “peel” as you would a sliver of fruit – and quite definitely not Pelé, the nickname of Brazilian football legend Edson Arantes do Nascimento – although it could be fair to describe both as Grade I-listed and classed as a national monument.
The Vicar’s Pele was built in the churchyard of St Andrew’s in 1318, and used as a fortified vicarage. It is built largely from stone taken from a nearby Roman nearby fortress and was in use as a vicarage until the early 17th Century. In the summer of 2016 the tower was reopened as a wedding and events venue after a three-year redevelopment project.
But today, its three storeys serve as one very unusual pub – a ground floor bar, with two upstairs “lounges” where drinkers can peer through narrow windows at Corbridge going about its business down below or over the rooftops to the rolling countryside beyond.
“The building is 700 years old and it’s where the vicar of Corbridge would have protected himself and his family from marauding Border Reivers,” says Paula Williams, who took a lease out on it in September 2017 with husband Darren. “They would bring their animals and keep them on the bottom floor and live in the warmth on the upper two floors. The front door is believed to be original.”
Paula and Darren had been publicans in Cumbria for 17 years, running businesses in Whitehaven and Cockermouth, which included the Brown Cow, one of the town’s premier venues.
“We’ve been open seven months, sas Paula, “and not really benefitted from any great weather, so we’re really looking forward to summer.”
According to Robert Forster’s 1881 History of Corbridge, there were 37 such pele towers around Northumberland, used for calling out to each other from the top of the stairs when trouble was approaching.
And those stairs are narrow – and steep – and so daunting that people take extra, extra care on the up and down, particularly the rather eerie parts with inlaid headstones and narrow lozenge-shaped doorways. The second floor features a metal and glass mezzanine floor, a rare splash of modernity. Above that is a timber-framed roofspace displaying yet more historical significance.
Paula says: “The height of the average man in the 14th Century was five-foot two, so everything is built around that – so watch your head.
“Everything has to be free-standing and because of its Grade II listing, nothing can be fixed to the walls to protect the integrity of the building.”
The Pele’s beers include The Pele (4.0% abv) from Allendale Brewery, made exclusively for the pub; Tyne Bank Vicar’s Pele (4.1% abv) and Lemon Pele (3.8% abv) from The Great North Eastern Brewing Company, a heavily citrus ale that probably counts for more than one of the recommended “five a day”.
Rotating beers are a speciality with the likes of Tyne Bank’s Cabana (5.3% abv) plus Pandarillo (4.2% abv) and Allelic Drift (5.0% abv) both from Mordue Brewery. They are dispensed by gravity from a gantry behind the tiny ground-floor bar and supplemented by ten ciders, Hop House Lager, 50 gins, 30 whiskies and 30 rums. There are plans for a nanobrewery to snuggle into what is currently a large cupboard.
Regular live music is a feature – folk sessions on the first Sunday of every month – with Steve Daggett and Russ Tippins (to drop a couple of names) pointing to the quality of gigsmanship.
Most of the high-backed seating is hewn out of driftwood and surprisingly comfortable despite their throne-like grandeur. Barrels have been pressed into service as tables.
On one of the narrow doorways is a set of carved initials, J.H.S. It’s anybody’s guess who J.H.S. is or was. Given that there’s a stone step there too, our money’s on Just Hit Shins.