Sunday 26th January 2014
This pub goes under several different names as I have seen it described as "Whitelock's Ale House" which is probably a new affectation or sometimes, its name from the late nineteenth century: "Whitelock's First City Luncheon Bar". For simplicity's sake I'll use the name displayed on its metal sign, which is just plain Whitelock's. Off Briggate there are a number of yards, the old heart of the city, and there are pubs up four of them, hidden away from the hoards that throng the main thoroughfare.
In fact, from the main road there is very little evidence that there is indeed a pub here. Obviously, from its location this is a very historic house. In reality it is the oldest existing public house in the city. It opened in 1715 and there is a big clue to its former name as it is to be found in Turk's Head Yard. This pub name is very ancient, dating from the crusades.
In 1867 it was purchased by John Whitelock and it remained owned by his descendents until 1944 when it was sold to the successors of the Scottish & Newcastle Breweries. In the late 1880s a row of three cottages further up the yard were acquired by the owners and the reconstruction and redecoration of the pub began, and this is the look that has persisted almost unaltered to today 125 years later. It was in 1897 that it became "Whitelock's First City Luncheon Bar" rather than the Turk's Head.
There are many features that are worthy of note. Over the luncheon bar itself is a wonderful illuminated art-deco stained glass sign. Also, there is the magnificent copper topped bar that looks so welcoming. Especially if you'd just walked in from the rain as Linda and I had done. Basically, for descriptive purposes, it is possible to divide the pub into two sections. Nearest to Briggate is the bar and further on is the restaurant. This was once divided from the rest of the pub by a purple curtain. The lower half of the bar is faced with magnificent green, white, yellow tiling along with some brown ceramic work. The whole ensemble looks fantastic.
Facing the bar are red leather wall mounted stuffed benches in traditional northern pub style. There are also some nice old varnished wood dividers between each small seating area. The pub was listed at Grade II in the 1960s.
At the far end is the restaurant, now opened up. On the left there are mirrors fixed in amongst the varnished wood panelling. On the right there are frosted glass windows to the yard outside. These have some nice stained glass inlays. Like the bar area there are also red leather settles along the walls. There is a superb mirror at the end, promoting Vaux's Stout, if only....
Recently a rather good documentary, narrated by (Sir) John Betjeman entitled "A poet goes north" has been discovered in someone's attic. This was made by the BBC and maybe was a pilot for a series that was never made. Worse than that, they never showed it!
The former Poet Lauriat travels up to Leeds by train and looks at its buildings and institutions. It was made in 1968 and includes a good section on Whitelock's. As the camera panned along the bar I was frantically trying to identify the beer on the hand pumps.
It was an S&N house but what brewery did they own in Yorkshire? I can think of none. Help on this would be greatly appreciated. In the 1980s it was known to be selling Younger's IPA and No 3.
Over the years there have been many visitors other than Sir John. Prince George, later Prince of Wales, entertained here, behind the curtain of course. Both actor Peter O'Toole and journalist / diarist Keith Waterhouse have been known to have been regular visitors. The pub is now in a sort of golden age as it has new owners in Mason & Taylor, who have acquired a good reputation for reviving traditional pubs in London. Ken Mason, one half of the partnership, hails from Leeds and is very enthusiastic regarding the pub.
It hasn't always been as good because, back in 2004 Scottish & Newcastle divested itself of 2,500 pubs and many, including this one, were purchased by the Spirit Group. Luckily, they didn't hold on to it too long as it was sold on in 2006 to a company called Chenning & Arnold. It is possible there was another owner before the present team took it on in 2012.
Yet, bearing in mind all of its history, the beer selection is now better than it has ever been with a deliberate policy of the new owners to resource the guest beers from local small breweries. Nevertheless, there are still some beers from the bigger breweries. Please see below for the selection that was available when we visited.
If I have got this right there are three regular beers and six guests. The regular beers were at the far end of the bar and they were Timothy Taylor's (Keighley, West Yorks) Golden Best (3.5%), Theakston's (Masham, North Yorks) Old Peculier (5.6%) and John Smith's (Tadcaster, North Yorks) Cask Ale (3.8%).
The guest beers were: Sonnet 43 Brewhouse (Coxhoe, Co. Durham) Brown Ale (4.7%); Black Dog (Whitby) Whitby Abbey Ale (3.8%); Acorn (Barnsley, South Yorks) Drop Kick (4.0%); Kirstall (Kirkstall, Leeds, West Yorks) Black Band Porter (5.5%) and from Moorhouse's (Burley, Lancashire) there was Witch Hunt (4.8%) and Witches Cauldron (4.2%).
As can be seen above the beer selection is good and the food menu (times below) is a mixture of English favourites along with some international dishes.
This pub is not to be missed should you be in Leeds and desire a good beer in civilised surroundings, away from the bustle of the city streets.
Whitelock's, Turk's Head Yard, Leeds LS1 6HB. Tel: 0113 245 3950
Open: Monday-Thursday 11.00-23.00; Friday-Saturday 11.00-24.00; Sunday 12.00-24.00
A note regarding the opening time on Sunday: one source says it opens at 11.00. This may be right as we entered at 11.50 and there were already some customers in the pub.
From Leeds railway station turn right at the exit into New Station Street, This short road bears left at the Leeds Brewery Tap, continue to the junction of Boar Lane and turn right into it. At the first opportunity, cross to the other side of the road and continue in the same direction. Turn left into Briggate and you'll find Turk's Head Yard on the left after about 100 metres.
Leeds station is very well connected by rail to most towns and cities in the country.