Published on July 12th, 2016 | by Alastair Gilmour0
Railway pubs and station buffets have a life force of their own. Perhaps some of them don’t serve the travelling public like they once did, but they still hang on to something special, writes Alastair Gilmour
THE STATION HOUSE, DURHAM
One of the new wave of micropubs popping up all over the country, The Station House, sits far below Durham Station under the magnificent industrial arches that carve through the town. You’d be forgiven for thinking this former bespoke furniture shop had been a pub for ever – it’s got that lived-in, easy-oasy style that pubcos pay a fortune to create – and rarely actually succeed.
The Station House – the building was always known as that, so it seemed daft to change it – is owned by Susannah and Chris Mansfield, although Susannah is the day-to-day presence. The couple had been looking around for premises and couldn’t believe their luck. It’s location (x3) all right.
The Station House adheres to the micropub principles set out by Martyn Hillier in 2005 at The Butcher’s Arms in Herne, Kent. Take advantage of relaxed planning laws, seek out an old shop or office – possibly on a high street – serve decent beer and cider, and don’t allow television, gaming machines or music to interrupt the flow of conversation and banter.
“We’ve been open about eight months,” says Susannah, “actually since December 8 2015. We’re seeing a lot of return custom and new faces all the time.”
One recent group came up from London specifically because they’d heard of it (dare say they were doing other things in Durham, but it’s encouraging to hear). By the same token, many locals enquire regularly if it’s really a pub.
Beer is served from a stable-type door that leads into the cold store. The stillage system, visible from the bar through large windows, is an impressively efficient sight. Four beers are generally on at one time; five at busy weekends, sourced from a mix of local breweries and from further afield. Cider too is a major consideration.
Psychology plays a part in a pub’s ambience, as Susannah and Chris discovered in a pub in Broadstairs, Kent which had a couple of high tables in the bar. This forces people to stand or sit on high stools together – in a gentle way – then they inevitably talk to one another.
“It’s back to how pubs used to be, a community with great beer,” says Susannah.
An upstairs room has ten tables which could be used for functions, but the real star is the snug which sits down a few steps from the bar and where a couple of long tables and wall-hugging pews fashioned out of scaffolding planks are highly sought-after with groups of drinkers.
The good thing is, Durham Station is a mere 17 minutes from Newcastle Central…
RAILWAY HOTEL, BIRTLEY
Recently refurbished, the Railway Hotel, with its solid brown façade of Ionic pillars and picture windows (some with their original glass), is an imposing building on Durham Road in Birtley, Gateshead.
Inside, it’s absolutely sparkling, from deep-buttoned upholstery ranging in colour from rich green to bright red, to the impressive island counter. A highly coloured, domed stained glass skylight catches the eye, as does the tartan carpet – and it all seems to hang together well. A pool table and dart board sit in one corner though it would be dangerous to play them simultaneously.
A dozen or so mirrors adorn the walls with several advertising McEwans, William Younger or Bass ales. There are seven more of them along one wall in what might have been the snug before the pub was opened out into one large area, looking like they had come straight from a 1950s film set.
Also dotted around are framed adverts showing old Birtley retailers from the days when you could buy a three-piece suite for less than £10 (that’s suite, not suit), as are other old Birtley images and railway paraphernalia. But perhaps more could be done for the areas of empty wall which are simply crying out for something appropriate – and big – to be hung as focal points and reduce the spartan feel.
As for the beer, the brewer of Black Sheep Golden Sheep would have been pleased with the way it presents itself in looks and flavour. Sadly, Birtley no longer has a station – frequent No21 buses, though.
THE STATION HOTEL, GATESHEAD
For the past 18 months or so, Cheers readers have been enquiring about the opening of The Station Hotel in Gateshead, bought at auction by Hadrian Border Brewery. Progress has been slow and now the decision to open up one of the railway arches it sits in front of on Hills Street has delayed the project further while landlords Network Rail take another look.
A new roof has gone on, interior work is steaming ahead and the exposed brickwork looks a treat now that the old paint has been stripped off.
Hadrian Border managing director Andy Burrows says: “Obviously we never envisaged the job to take this long. We have encountered a lot of complications and with hindsight it might have been better to have knocked it down and started again.
“However, I’m glad we didn’t. It seems like an awful lot of time and effort has gone into saving, essentially, one wall but it has preserved that little bit of historic Gateshead where the pub was built between 1844 and 1848 as far as we can tell. It should be secure for another century-and-a-half now.
“The project is now nearing completion and the façade is only part of it. Behind is a railway arch which will be used as a room and at the moment we have to decide whether to use a second arch.
“We can only apologise to everyone waiting for the opening, but quite frankly this work was essential.
“But we hope when it opens everyone will agree it will be asset to Gateshead and the surrounding area.
“Opening date? Dare I suggest September?”
PLATFORM BAR, HEXHAM STATION
High House Farm Brewery, based near Matfen in Northumberland, is still waiting to hear if its application to convert a disused first-class waiting room into a micropub has been successful.
Hexham railway station is a Grade II listed building and dates back to 1835. In their application, brewery owners Heather and Gary Scott detail an extensive list of restoration work to reinstate many of the waiting room’s original features – which include refurbishing the fireplace, restoring the original clock above the doorway, replacing the flooring and filling in missing cornicing.
A traditional railway-style sign is expected to hang above the door so travellers on the Newcastle to Carlisle line will be left in no doubt as to what lies within – The Platform Bar.
“We haven’t had planning permission yet, so we can’t do a thing until it’s all signed, sealed and delivered,” says Heather. “We’ve all met and everyone seems happy but we’ll just have to wait.
“Everything is in place ready to go – the bar, handpulls, cooling equipment, the lot – and it’ll take about two months to get it how we want it. So, we’re realistically looking at a September opening, that is, if we don’t find anything that might delay it.
“It’s a gorgeous room and our vision is to bring it back to the first-class waiting room it once was – with our real ales.”