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Backwords: An Old-Fashioned Pint

…Those were the days when the barmaid could actually hear you ask for a pint. Now you have to stand there like a tic-tac man and hope she can understand your frantic hand signals…

Mike Shaw recalls Yorkshire pubs as they were in his younger days.

…Those were the days when the barmaid could actually hear you ask for a pint. Now you have to stand there like a tic-tac man and hope she can understand your frantic hand signals…

Mike Shaw recalls Yorkshire pubs as they were in his younger days.

Backwords by Mike Shaw

Before the Pub Revolution

I had my first drink of beer long before the revolution that turned so many pubs into plastic palaces peddling expensive eats and disco din.

Those were the days when the barmaid could actually hear you ask for a pint. Now you have to stand there like a tic-tac man and hope she can understand your frantic hand signals.

The Rose and Crown on the top of Slaithwaite’s Cop Hill was far from noisy on the summer’s evening when I was initiated into the ranks of beer drinkers.

I’ve forgotten, perhaps conveniently, how old I was at the time. But my pal and I were probably nearer 16 than 18 when we popped into t’ Rose for a swift half.

What I do remember is that the pub then was just a cosy little drinking den, with a handful of old farmers sipping their pints of Ainley’s bitter.

Later in life I was to discover that there was a spacious upstairs room where I attended noisy meetings of the Cop Hill residents when they were campaigning for a bus service and a public telephone. They got their phone box all right. But they’re still waiting for their buses.

When I wasn’t trudging up to the Rose and Crown for their protest meetings I would often be stepping it out along the road from Marsden station to the Junction at Tunnel End.

That was where the local farmers formed a Fox Club to shoot the four-legged killers of their poultry. Their meetings were not really meetings because that implies they had some semblance of order, which these very rarely had.

The get-togethers were supposed to start at 8pm. But it invariably was 9.30 at least before they got under way. Then they had a break every 10 minutes or so to replenish their glasses.

In that way the ruddy-faced poultry men kept things going nicely until closing time. Which for me meant an extremely brisk walk of a mile or so to catch the last bus from Marsden.

My “local” in those days was the Olive Branch on Manchester Road, midway between Marsden and Slaithwaite.

As a schoolboy I was cuffed around the ear by the landlord when he caught me carving my initials on the woodwork while sheltering in his doorway.

Which reminds me that over a century ago the Olive Branch offered shelter to thousands of Jewish refugees from Central Europe. While walking from Hull to Liverpool, before sailing to America, they were always sure of a night’s rest on clean straw, thanks to the hospitable licensee of the day, Joseph Sykes, known locally as Jooa o’ th’ Olive.

One of my favourite Colne Valley pubs has always been the White House at Holthead. Even when it lacked modern amenities such as indoor lavatories for men.

The White House dates back to 1799 and when I was a teenager I thought the outside urinal was probably the original. It was a primitive structure with no roof and a door that had a two-foot gap at the bottom.

Putting the wind up you took on a whole new meaning when you were standing there with a gale blowing around your legs on a cold winter’s night.

Even that experience was not as unpleasant as the fate that befell a one-time landlord of the White House. Alexander Holroyd -- an eccentric character after whom the pub was dubbed Alcander’s during the19th Century -- was convinced he could take to the air.

So he made himself a pair of wings and climbed on to the stable roof. But his bid to emulate the birds came to a sticky end when he flopped into a manure heap.

Another popular character called Little Matthew was inextricably linked to the Bath Hotel in Manchester Road, Linthwaite, through an ancient and quite extraordinary jug named after him.

Matthew was reputed to be as fat as he was tall, with a 50-inch waistline no doubt achieved by supping plenty of the Bath’s beer.

The story goes that over 100 years ago Matthew was among a party of trippers from the pub when he fell off the wagonette and lay in the road, apparently dead.

But, after what seemed an eternity, he staggered to his feet little the worse. And his fellow trippers were so delighted that some of them who worked in a local pottery made the jug to celebrate his survival.

Little Matthew’s Jug measured, at its widest part, 50 inches to match his girth. It was reputed to hold 45-and-a-half pints of beer and two double whiskies and used to be filled up on special occasions.

It’s more than 30 years since the Bath closed. But I still wonder what happened to the famous Little Matthew’s Jug.

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