Saturday 12th September 2015
Chester is one of our most ancient cities, being founded by the Romans as Deva. It was the initial terminus of Watling Street, which I believe is a Saxon name for the road that extends from Dover via London. It is said to have the most complete City walls of any in the England and there are many ancient buildings all over.
However this doesn’t apply to the pubs. Yes, there are a few of them but most of the city’s pubs are more modern with quite a lot of them in a mock-Tudor style. Nothing wrong with that of course, I personally like the style. Should you have read any other articles on this website you will know that I like a pub with a history and/or a good story and this pub is no disappointment in that regard.
However this one is considerably different from the norm in Chester. It has only recently become a pub, yet it is ancient. Its history goes back to Saxon times when there was a large Scandinavian population here from the 8th Century; descendants of Vikings. A reminder of this is needed when you look from the balcony of the pub across to the other side of Lower Bridge Street to see a tiny church.
The church is dedicated to St Olav, a Norwegian martyred in 1030. Obviously the original church on this site would have been made of wood and probably succumbed to fire, most of them did. It wasn’t unusual for whole towns and villages to be destroyed this way. However St Olav’s was rebuilt in stone and parts of the present structure date from the 12th Century.
Back on our side of the road it would appear that there was a building on the site of the pub at the same time. The present structure is a complete mix of styles with lots of additions. It really comes to our notice during the early 1600s yet most of it dates from medieval times. Its “modern” history is well documented as it was owned by Thomas Gamul.
Thomas Gamul was the son of Edward Gamul who was the city’s Mayor on no less than four occasions and he himself was the City Recorder. His son Francis was another Mayor in the 1630s. He was a Royalist and lived in the house during the English Civil war between 1642 and 1646. During this time he was in charge of the defences of the city.
The Battle of Rowton Moor, which is three miles from the city was fought on 24th September 1645. The night before King Charles 1st stayed at the Gamul House. After he lost the battle he fled the city. He was executed in January 1649 and Sir Francis lost most of his property and land confiscated by Parliament in the aftermath.
Behind the bar there is a magnificent 17th fireplace made of sandstone. Near this is a plastic screen over an area of exposed wattle and daub, by which method the building was constructed. In this respect the front of the building is deceptive as it was covered by bricking following a city ruling of 1671.
Previously there was much wood outside and the Great Fire of London in 1666 caused this change. On this subject I am I the only one that thinks the red colour on the rendering is garish and out of keeping with its age?
The building has had many uses over the years. In the middle of the 19th century it was part of a boarding school. It was later been used as an organ-maker’s workshop and an antiques showroom. Also during the 1800s the stone steps were built up to a balcony outside which gave access to the great medieval hall.
The shops underneath were constructed about the same time obstructing most of the lower level of the house. Maybe controversially, I think these are a bit of an eyesore even though they are quite old.
The fabric of the building deteriorated and was rescued by the City Council by a restoration programme. Its big day was on Thursday 20th November 2008 when it opened as a pub under the auspices of the Spitting Feathers Brewery of Waverton, near Chester, as their brewery tap. The building is now Grade II* listed, a grading not often used, indicating its value.
On entering the layout proves to be quite simple. One big room with the bar in front of you; the beautiful fireplace is behind it. Right of the bar is a smaller ante-room and the entrance to the kitchen. On the left are the toilets.
This room is so high it must have been very impressive in days of old and I think it still is. There are some tapestries on it and high up there are cross-shaped brackets holding electric lights. In one corner a hop bine dangles down. There is a little open beam work and the furniture is all wooden.
The array of hand pumps displayed a good selection of beers, some of which were new to me. Of the eight pumps seven were dedicated to beer and one to cider.
I had probably expected more from Spitting Feathers. However there were two: Thirst Quencher (3.5%) and Northgate Ale (4.9%). This last beer is very interesting as it is a recreation of a 1902 recipe, presumably from the long-defunct Northgate Brewery.
The remainder of the beers were: Brewsmith (Ramsbottom, Lancs) Oatmeal Stout (5.2%); Thornbridge (Bakewell, Derbyshire) Sequoia (4.5%); Acorn (Barnsley) Mosaic IPA (5.0%); Facers (Flint, North Wales) Mountain Mild (3.3%) and Cross Bay (Morecambe, Lancashire) Halo Pale Ale (3.6%).
The cider pump was dispensing Gwnt y ddraig (Pontypridd, South Wales) Black Dragon (7.2%).
This is a great pub and shouldn’t be missed if visiting Chester. It has been awarded a first in the CAMRA/English Heritage Best Pub Conversion competition. There is a full menu and the pork comes from pigs raised on the farm where the Spitting Feathers Brewery is located. Similarly, the honey used is from bees kept at the farm.
Brewery Tap, 52-54 Lower Bridge Street, Chester CH1 1RU. Tel: 01244 340999
Open: Monday-Saturday 12.00-23.00; Sunday 12.00-22.30
The pub is located within the City walls and is just south of the centre.
There is a shuttle bus connection between the Railway Station and Frodsham Street in the City centre. It is just over five minutes walk from there.