Thursday 28th April 2016
This pub is a true slice of living history that is still performing its original function as beneficial institution. So what is a Gothenburg pub? As can be gathered by the name, this type of pub originated in that Swedish city. Back in 1860 actions were taken to prevent the misuse of alcohol, especially spirits, in that country. Simply, the City Council introduced a license for spirit distilling and issued just one, to a trust.
This trust set up pubs that actively discouraged the drinking of spirits and this was the system adopted in Scotland. The Industrial and Provident Societies Act of 1893 paved the way for their establishment and they would thereafter always be known as “Gothenburgs”, or more commonly just “Goths”.
A number of investors would put up the money to build one and these shareholders received back 5% of the profits. The remainder was spent on good works and community projects such as libraries, museums, parks, sports clubs and the like.
In the pubs there was a deliberate use of plain materials, the complete opposite of the “Gin Palaces” that were still being created at the turn of the century.
Women and families were welcomed, consumption of spirits was not. Many Goths sold meals and gambling was prohibited.
They were to be found all over central Scotland, mostly in coal mining communities, with over twenty being established in Fife, the county with the most. Previously the coal companies made objections against pubs being established in the pit villages. But now, they became investors in these projects.
Over the 135 years of their existence some have closed and others have become normal pubs. However a handful still exist in their original form, owned by Public House Societies. These are the Dean Tavern at Newtongrange in Midlothian, south of Edinburgh, that has a station on the recently reopened Borders railway. Others are the Goth at Armadale, West Lothian and the Goth at Fallin, Stirlingshire. Like Prestonpans, all of these are in former pit villages or towns.
The situation at Prestonpans is slightly different. This was mainly caused by it closing down in the 1990s. So step in the local Baron, Dr Gordon Prestoungrange. When in 1997, he inherited his family’s feudal lands around the town he wanted to revitalise Prestonpans and had in mind a similar town in Canada which had done just that. So he founded the Prestoungrange Arts Festival.
He then learned of the history of the Prestonpans Goth and the way it was financed along with the good works that it had instigated. He was also aware of it current plight; boarded up and unloved. He decided to restore it and that was done between 2002 and 2004 when it reopened. The profits from the pub finance the Arts Festival. He always wanted it to have its own brewery and this dream was realised. So good was the restoration that the pub was awarded CAMRA Best Pub Conservation award of 2005.
I visited on a bright but freezing cold evening. The pub faces out over the Firth of Forth and there was a vicious wind coming off it. The first thing I noticed was the pub is designed in the quite rare Arts & Crafts style of architecture. When it was built in 1908 the style was in its heyday. Also very noticeable was the historic illuminated Fowler’s Brewery sign, a theme continued inside.
I was with Steve and Russell and we entered through the right of the two front doors. This leads to an internal porch with doors either side, both of which would take us into the main bar room. We went to the left side of the rectangular-shaped bar counter. Looking around this side of the room I noticed there were two fitted corner units with green-tiled walls above. These are separated by the door to the Lounge Bar. There is a lot of stained glass, both internally and to the outside world.
There is a small alcove at the front of the pub. Walking around the four-sided bar with its rounded corners I noticed the rear of the room and right side feature a lot of white-painted wooden decoration. At the rear there is an arch surmounted by a large clock. The floors are varnished wood and the right side wall is covered with wooden panelling. There is another wooden archway which has acquired a sign proclaiming it to be Fowler’s Haven. This is a reference to the old Fowler’s Brewery of Prestonpans, see below.
Within the alcove that is framed by the arch there is a coal fire in green-tiled fireplace surrounded by varnished wood. I mentioned the Lounge Bar earlier; I had a quick look at it. It is very comfortable and is used as the restaurant. It is carpeted and has a lovely French Dresser. The seats are of black leather and look very elegant.
There is varnished wood panelling to above head height. Through another wooden arch there is one more fireplace. There is a strange-looking samovar in one corner. There is a separate entrance to this room. Its official name is the James Park Bistro. Although I didn’t go upstairs, that is where I would have found the Lord Mayor’s Bar and the Thomas Nelson Suite, which is used for functions.
Now, back to Fowler’s Brewery. It was founded in 1745 and although it only owned around forty pubs their beers were exported to Europe and were very well known throughout Scotland. Their most famous product was Fowler’s Wee Heavy. Using today’s measurements it would be around 7.5% abv or even stronger. It is thought the “wee” part of the name referred to the nip-sized bottle it was sold in. Its official name was Twelve Guinea Ale.
The brewery traded successfully until it was acquired by Northern Breweries of York in April 1960. By the next month they had acquired the William Murray and the George Younger Breweries in Edinburgh. By 1962 the John Jeffrey Brewery of Edinburgh and the James Aitken Brewery of Falkirk had also fallen to them; the writing was truly on the wall.
They changed their name to Charrington United Breweries and closed the Fowler’s brewery in March 1962, although the maltings continued for a while longer.
The micro-brewery in the Goth opened in 2004 and the brewers were George Thompson and Craig Allan. Now, the latter name rang a bell and I started to think about it. About six or seven years ago I visited the French town of St Omer with a CAMRA party. It was a reward for those who had worked at the Kent Beer Festival. Whilst there we had a presentation from three local brewers and one was Craig Allan.
He had moved to France and married a French girl. He started Brasserie Craig Allan and brewed his products on other breweries in France and Belgium. He seems to have quite successful as, in June 2015 he installed a new brewery in a brick barn on the farm where he now lives. It is in the village of Plessis de Roye and most if not all of its production leaves in bottles. He has accounts with some prestigious restaurants in Paris.
Back to 2004 and East Lothian, the partners named their brewery in honour of the erstwhile Fowler’s. There were three regular beers: Prestonpans 80/- Ale, Prestonpans IPA (4.1%) and Gothenburg Porter (4.4%) in the Scandinavian style. Although they used the Fowler’s name by arrangement with the owners of the title, the recipes for these beers are new.
As said Craig Allan went off to France, but brewing continued at the Goth until there was a change in the autumn of 2015 when the brewery was taken on by Sean Wood and Lewis Kent under the Kentwood Brewing banner. New beers were developed although the Fowler’s range is continued.
When we visited the range on offer was: Fowler’s Prestonpans 80/- (now 4.4%), Kentwood El Tropicana IPA (5.2%) and Kentwood John Muir Way Traveller’s Tipple (3.2%), a dark mild. We had the first two and thought the 80/- was very typical of the style, having a dominant malt taste with only residual bitterness. We all thought the IPA was excellent.
In early 2016 Baron Prestoungrange announced that as he was now 80 years old he wanted to divest himself of the Goth. It was offered to the community at a very good price and they have a year to raise the necessary funds. If they cannot make it the pub will go on the open market in April 2017.
This is a great pub to visit both for its history and its unique beers.
The Goth (Prestoungrange Gothenburg), 227 High Street, Prestonpans, East Lothian
EH32 9BE. Tel: 01875 819922.
Hours: Monday Closed; Tuesday-Wednesday 10.00-15.00;
Thursday 10.00-15.00/17.00-23.00; Friday-Sunday 10.00-24.00
Food is available: Monday Closed; Tuesday-Wednesday 10.00-14.30;
Thursday 10.00-15.00/17.00-23.00; Friday-Sunday 10.00-21.00
The 26 Bus stops outside. It comes from the west of Edinburgh, and passes Haymarket railway station. It runs along Princes Street the turns left just before Waverley station.
It also passes through Musselbrough which has some good pubs.
Overall the journey time from Haymarket station to the pub is 55 minutes and there is a good frequency. Monday-Saturday: every 7/8 minutes, every 10 minutes in the evenings and all day Sunday.
Trains get to Prestonpans station from Edinburgh in 13 minutes and run hourly Monday to Sunday. However the station is about a mile from the pub.
Leave the station by Platform 1 and walk down Station Road / Gardiner Terrace, turning left on Preston Road then immediately right down West Loan. This road becomes Ayres Wynd just before its junction with the High Street. There, turn left and keep walking until you reach the Goth on the left.