Wednesday 4th December 2013
This is a pub that has emerged from amongst the dead! It is a thriving watering hole nowadays and serves as a lesson to those who proclaim a pub it not viable, when of course it is when run by someone else! Its recent history goes back to February 2011 when it was owned by Punch Taverns. They have a reputation of not being able to run community pubs such as the Volunteer Arms in a profitable manner. They are noted for slowly strangling them with high rents (and rent increases) along with charging high prices for their beer.
The decline at this pub was probably acerbated by all of those things, but they also appointed a series of managers that depressed the pub's popularity further, none of them lasted very long. By 2011 they declared the pub to be unviable and applied to demolish it and build flats on the site. Luckily York City Council Planning Committee rejected this proposal in March of that year, but only just, by four votes to three.
Then two knights in shining amour entered the scene: Paul Crossman and John Farrow. The pair already own the Slip Inn in Clementhorpe and Mr Crossman is licensee of the Swan in Bishopgate Street. These are two really excellent pubs with the Swan having been that way for some time and the Slip Inn has been completely turned around following its release from the clutches of a pub-owning company. A similar future is what they intend for the Volunteers Arms.
The pub closed for a period over the summer of 2011 for refurbishment and reopened as a free house on 26th August 2011. It was a very cold night when I visited, with high winds that prefaced a severe storm the following day causing the highest tidal surge for 60 years. In respects I was lucky as I was away from my home village which was affected and I'm told that the area resembled an island, which it once was. Fortunately my house is thirty metres higher than the mean sea level. I was glad to get into the safety of the Volunteer.
On entering I noticed the main room almost encircled the bar. There is wood panelling to half-height and, as can be seen the photographs the red walls are decorated with framed prints and mirrors. A bit of money has been spent on recovering and re-stuffing the bench seating, making the pub really comfortable.
There is a good selection of beers with five regular offerings: Treboom (Shipton, North Yorks) Yorkshire Sparkle (4.0%); Saltaire (Saltaire, West Yorks) Saltaire Pride (3.9%); Leeds Brewery (Leeds, West Yorks) Yorkshire Gold (4.0%); Timothy Taylor (Keighley, West Yorks) Landlord (4.3%) and Brown Cow (Barlow, North Yorks) Thriller in Vanilla Porter (5.1%).
In addition there are two pumps dedicated to guest beers and these were: Rooster's (Knaresborough, North Yorks) Fort Smith (5.0%) and Rat Brewery (Rat & Ratchet pub, Huddersfield, West Yorks) Smoked Rat (4.7%). There was also Broadoak (Clutton, Somerset) Prickly Pear Perry (7.5%) and Cornish Orchards (Duloe, Cornwall) Cider (4.8%).
I'm not sure of the history of the pub except that it was in existence in 1877, but probably not much more before that, simply because that was when this side of the railway line was developed with housing and pubs. The signing looks as if it might have been inherited from Tetley's of Leeds. This could be so as Punch definitely took over the pub estate of Allied Breweries, then Tetley's owner. However more information on this subject will be gratefully received as I would really like to know what brewery built it and its intermediate history.
An interesting fact is that it is the original hanging sign has now been re-installed after being found in the pub. Another notable facet of this hostelry is the wonderful stained glass window over the entrance doorway depicting a volunteer with a hay fork. I am presuming the pub's name refers to the volunteer battalions of the British Army that were a feature of the 19th and 20th centuries and now known as the Territorial Army.
A lot goes on in this boozer. There are live Blues and other Americana-themed bands on Saturday nights and there is a quiz on Sunday nights. There are Open Mic nights on the first Friday and live traditional music is played on the last Thursday night of each month. There are often Brewery themed nights when a single producer takes over most of the pumps. These can also be "Meet the Brewer" evenings and sometimes are a themed music and beer night; a unique concept if I am not wrong. This pub is well worth the short walk out of the city and there is a relatively frequent bus service, see below for details.
The Volunteer Arms, 5 Watson Street, York YO24 4BH. Tel: 01904 541945
Open: Monday-Thursday 17.00-23.00; Friday 17.00-24.00;
Saturday 12.00-24.00; Sunday 12.00-23.00
The pub is about 15 minutes walk from York station. The directions are a little complicated. Firstly follow the signs to the car park. Walk diagonally across this, if you can, and ascend the zigzag ramp in the opposite corner. Turn left in to the road. Then go right, you should find Holgate Road at the end after walking past some flats. Turn right and walk past the Crystal Palace (or not, as it is a Sam Smith's of Tadcaster pub, with very cheap beer!). Walk over the Holgate Bridge and you will find the pub down Watson Street on the right.
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.
Several bus routes stop outside the station including the Coastliner route from Scarborough via Malton, continuing to Tadcaster and Leeds. City Buses 1, 5 and 10 can be caught from across the road at York station. There are a few longer distance routes serving Holgate Road, which is very close to the pub.