Sunday 10th March 2013
I don't think I've ever visited the Brunswick without calling in to the, almost, adjacent Alexandra. The two pubs are around 100 yards (metres) apart, just out of sight of each other, around a bend in the road. They are on two different streets, yet on the same thoroughfare. Confused? You will be! Actually it is simple when you're there. Coming out of the city, the Alex is the last building in Siddals Road, keep walking in the same direction, going around the aforementioned corner and there is the Brunswick, the first building in Railway Terrace!
This pub is another in this area of Derby that has connections with the Midland Railway as when it was opened in 1871 it was named "The Midland Coffee House". It probably got a lot of trade from the workers off that railway as it passes by on the other side of the road and had some offices there. It is not known when it acquired its present name but I don't think it was long after it opened. It was named after Princess Alexandra from Denmark who married the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. Shipstone's were the owners back then and continued as such until the 1987.
Shipstone's were a large regional brewing company based in New Basford, Nottingham.
They were independent until 1978 when they were taken over by Greenall's of Warrington. To be fair, it worked for a while, as it was a marriage of two large independents. Shipstone beers were promoted quite heavily but the bombshell came in 1990 when Greenall's said they would get out of brewing throughout their estate to become a purely pub-owning company. Shipstone's Star Brewery closed in early 1991.
However, I have fast-forwarded a little too far as the pub was closed in 1987.
This is where it gets a little vague as, when leaving Derby on a train some time after that, I noticed it had reopened and was a Bateman's (Wainfleet, Lincs) pub. They were expanding their estate at the time. Very soon afterwards I visited the pub and liked it, yet I think it closed a second time after that. Eventually it was bought by the adventurous Tynemill Company which is nowadays known as Castle Rock following their take-over of that Nottingham brewery. I don't know when the pub opened again (or did it actually close a second time?) but it soon became very popular, a situation that lasts with us today, thank goodness.
It still retains its two bar layout and on entering the main bar is on the left. On this visit there was a coal fire roaring away. This is a "theme" bar and the theme in this case is, very appropriately, railways. It is like a display in a museum. There are replica steam locomotive name plates on the chimney breast and photographs and other artefacts on the walls.
Possibly the most quirky thing is the pub's clock, as it is a real, ex Network South-East, platform LCD display example, see above. And, what's more, it actually works and displays the correct time, which is more than a lot of its contemporaries did.
The saloon (lounge?) bar is, in a similar vein, also a shrine to history. This time the subject is brewing. The walls are covered with framed posters, collections of bottle labels, photographs and much more. It's a fantastic collection. On my visit this bar was home to a creature. Actually a rabbit in a cage, but it was still is a bit strange.
The pub has been operated by Anna Dyson and Ralf Edge for the last few years. They have been activists in CAMRA's Derby branch and this is where they first met. As can be imagined the beer selection is very good and on the occasion I called in it was as follows. From the owning company there was: Castle Rock Harvest Pale (3.8%), a regular; Screech Owl IPA (5.5%); Sweet Woodruff (3.7%), the February monthly special and Jay Porter (5.5%), the March special. The rest of the guest list was: Moorhouse (Burnley, Lancs) Black Cat Mild (3.4%); Oakham (Peterborough) Bishop's Farewell (4.6%); and from Stewart (Edinburgh) Pentland IPA (3.9%) and Edinburgh No 3 (4.6%). The cider was Weston's Old Rosie (7.3%).
It is especially appropriate that this couple are running the pub today as it was the location of the formation of the CAMRA Derby branch in 1974, back in the days when it was a Shipstone's pub. Food is not the emphasis here, although cobs (rolls) of various varieties are offered. They sell fruit wines from Gales, once a brewery themselves. The title of the pub is not a misnomer as it is actually a hotel, having four letting rooms, two twin and two single, that are offered at very reasonable rates.
If you are anywhere near Derby, divert if necessary, and visit this magnificent pub.
The Alexandra Hotel, 203 Siddals Road, Derby DE1 1QE. Tel: 01332 295993
Open: Sunday to Thursday 12.00-23.00; Friday 12.00-24.00; Saturday 11.00-24.00
The pub is just five minutes from the front of Derby station. Walk to the road in front, Railway Terrace, turn right, pass the Brunswick and around the corner you will find the pub on the left. It's possible to cut diagonally right across the station car park.