Thursday 8th August 2013
The name Tap & Spile was once common around the land if you go back twenty-five years. They were a respected chain of pubs that majored on cask ale, the first to do so. We had the Firkin pubs, which had their in-house breweries and often supplied a few other pubs in the chain. Yet, Tap & Spile were the first group of pubs that brought us beers from small breweries around the country. The concept was created by Pubmaster who acquired the pub estate of Bass after the infamous Beer Orders.
It worked well for the drinker but there was a problem with licensees being able to order beers directly from small producers, as well as off the company's own approved list. There was little room for control at HQ. When Century Inns took them over from Pubmaster they cut off around fifty small brewers from the chain and it set off a decline, what with many new free houses able to compete on choice.
Nevertheless a number of the pubs continue to this day, although many more have become indistinguishable from the average chain-owned boozers, some even regaining their previous names. Most are now leased from Century, or who ever owns that company these days. A small number keep the Tap & Spile name which is a good marker, as their licensees have reverted to supplying the public with beers from small brewers.
The Tap & Spile in York is no exception and is an extremely good pub with a little bit of history which I am now about to bore you with. It was built in 1897 for the John J Hunt of York. Their Ebor Brewery was just a few hundred yards (metres) away inside the city walls on Aldwark, near the Minster, and was built in 1898, one year after the pub. This implies that the brewery replaced an earlier building. The company and its 102 pubs were taken over by Cameron's of Hartlepool in 1955. I don't know when the brewery closed, but the Hunt company was would up in 1959. The old brewery was demolished in 1972.
The pub was named the Black Horse, a reference to Dick Turpin's horse, Black Bess, maybe? It was designed by W G Pentry and I would describe it as being in the Flemish, Dutch or even Hanseatic style. Yet, the expert chronicler of British architecture, Nikolaus Pevsner, in his definitive survey of British buildings, states the style is Free Jacobean. I've no references to this form, but he could be right, especially the windows. Please look at the photo at the top of the page.
In June 1983 it became Grade II listed building but as usual, nothing of the interior is mentioned. Although I find this generally typical of the descriptions, I think it is a national disgrace that so many notable pub interiors have been destroyed because of the lack of protection. I'm not sure about this, but I think it might have been a replacement for an earlier Black Horse, as in 1834 there was a pub of that name recorded at 34, Monkgate.
Inside, a few steps up, there is a small room on the right, with a lovely fire-place and wooden cabinets. The main bar room has several alcoves and a lot of beautiful stained glass and wood panelling, There are etched glass mirrors behind the bar and there are few more steps leading to an upper area, This pub also has an extensive beer garden out the back. It was renamed Tap & Spile in 1988.
When I visited there was the usual good selection of beers. The choice was: Roosters (Harrogate, North Yorks) Yankee (4.3%) and Wychwood (Witney, Oxfordshire) Hobgoblin. I believe these were the two regular beers and the remainder were guests: Copper Dragon (Skipton, North Yorks) Golden Pippin (3.9%); Marston's (Wolverhampton?) Ashes Ale (4.1%) and Old Bear Brewery (Keighley, West Yorks) Airedale Pale (3.9%). Weston's (Much Marcle, Herefordshire) Old Rosie Cider (7.3%) was also available.
There are a lot of things going on in this pub like live music and karaoke. It is also host to York's Annual Pork Pie and Cider Festival each September. Food is served from Monday to Sunday from 12.00 to 15.00.
This is a pub that is well worth stepping just out side the City walls to visit.
The Tap & Spile, 29 Monkgate, York YO31 7PB. Tel: 01904 656158
Open: Sunday-Thursday 12.00-23.00; Friday-Saturday 12.00-23.30
The pub is about 20 minutes walk from York station through the city centre and past the Minster.
York station is well connected to the rest of the country. Main operator is East Coast trains and they link the station with London, Peterborough, Newcastle and Edinburgh. They also have through trains to Aberdeen and, once a day, Inverness. Transpennine Express connects York with Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Scarborough, Leeds, Huddersfield, Manchester and Liverpool. Cross Country trains run through York from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Sheffield, Derby, Birmingham, Bristol and South West England, right down to Penzance. Local services are in the hands of Northern Rail and go to Hull and Harrogate amongst other destinations. There is the occasional train operated by East Midlands Trains.