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The British Oak pub in Stour Street in 1942

Take a trip down memory lane to the old beer joints of Stour Street

With the recent closure and winding up of Nasons, there were always going to be some unfortunate knock-on effects: what the Yanks like to call “collateral damage”.

For the Foundry BrewPub, which were tenants of Nasons, this came in the form of an eviction order, issued by the receivers liquidating Nasons assets, giving them notice to quit.

More happily, it would appear that the brewery and pub will re-open in the old Chromos building, on the corner of Jewry Lane and Stour Street, sometime in mid to late October.

Not only will this help secure a popular, successful business and about 20 jobs, but it will also see a return of commercial brewing to Stour Street, which was once as famous for its production of ales and stout as it was for its many pubs.

Although the breweries and pubs disappeared years ago, here’s an invitation to join me on a virtual pub crawl along Stour Street, which for one reason or another must have been a very jolly thoroughfare a hundred or so  years ago.

I should point out here that allow for a few adjacent “near misses” I’ve been a little flexible in my interpretation of Stour Street and also gone back a few more years, here and there, in order to include a couple of Canterbury’s lesser-known hostelries.

I’ll start at the farthest point of Stour Street where it becomes Church Lane St. Mildred’s.

The Forester’s Arms circa 1900

At the far end of this lane, more or less opposite Aldi and now in the middle of the ring road, was Wincheap Grove and its local, the Forester’s Arms.

Apart from a circa 1900 photo, little is known about this pub, other than it closed around 1914.

What had been the pub and the rest of Wincheap Grove fell victim to the wrecker’s ball and disappeared under the ring road early in the 1960s.

Walking back towards the city centre and located on the corner of Stour Street and Rosemary Lane was the British Oak: one of two pubs in Canterbury bearing this name.

Rosemary Lane may not be very long but it was a very busy street for refreshment, as it also hosted the Bricklayer’s Arms and the Cardinal’s Cap, now Limes Bar.

The Bricklayer’s Arms fell by the wayside sometime before 1900 but the British Oak (pictured top) soldiered on until 1931 when, for some reason, it closed. The only picture I have of this pub, taken in 1942, shows it in a very sorry, desolate state, probably not helped by the nearby attentions of the Luftwaffe.

Over the road from the the British Oak lay Delasaux Street, now Lavender Mews, and the Tanner’s Arms, which was run for nigh on 50 years by one landlord, John Sutton, builder and licensee. Acting on a report made by the Canterbury Constabulary, the Tanner’s Arms shut a few years before the First World War due, it was said, to the decrepitude of the octogenarian  landlord and the dilapidation of his pub.

A bit further down the road and next door to what until recently was the Willow Cafe, is a black and white timbered building, now called Exchange House, which used to be the Royal Exchange Inn. Again, not much is known about this pub, other than it sold Ash’s Ales and Stout, supplied by the nearby Dane John Brewery and that it closed around the time the First World War started: presumably an unfortunate coincidence.

The old Two Brewers pub

Staying on the same side of the road and now trading as Concorde Language School, was the Two Brewers. Opinion is divided as to exactly who the two brewers were but for my money, they were George Ash and his son George, who ran the Dane John Brewery in the early 19th century.

The Two Brewers was a busy, popular pub, pretty much right up until it closed in 1965: one of many local pubs to be closed in the 1960s as Whitbread’s bean counters cashed in assets to pay shareholders their dividends.

On the corner of Stour Street and Beer Cart Lane was a long-established brewery run by the Rigden family.

I’ll be writing a separate article on Canterbury’s breweries sometime in the future but for now, all I need say was that the Rigdens – whose family also brewed in Faversham – were major players in the local pub/brewing scene.

William and John Rigden inherited their father’s Faversham brewery in the 1870s and ran down the Stour Street site, which finally closed in the early 20th century.

On Beer Cart Lane, just over the road from the brewery, was the George and Hoy. Apart from its location and the fact that it closed c.100 years ago, nothing is known about this pub.

As far as I know, there are no images of it either. More recently, a few doors down, in what is now the Ambrette restaurant, was SmartyPants.

This was billed as Canterbury’s first “fun pub” which first opened its doors in the early 1980s but thankfully became O’Neill’s “plastic Paddy” bar around 10 years later, before reinventing itself as the Beer Cart Arms in around 2000.

If anyone’s prepared to admit to having visited SmartyPants, please feel free to comment on the experience. Looking back, perhaps my disinclination to visit the place represents a sad gap in my education.

Moving on towards the city centre, on the corner of Stour Street and Hawks Lane, used to stand the City of London Inn. Although this was a long-established house, it fell foul of early 20th century H&S regulations (the building being both structurally unsound and somewhat insanitary) and its licence renewal was refused.

In between Hawks Lane and Jewry Lane, there stands a large building with a weather-boarded first floor, these days called the Old Brewery Business Centre. Was it ever a brewery? Yes, two in point of fact.

In the mid-1990s the Great Stour Brewery tried to make a commercial go of taking home brewers’ products to the market. These days, that might be referred to as “cuckoo brewing” and wouldn’t be viewed as particularly remarkable but sadly, at that time, it was and the project failed.

Previously, this building had been Flint’s Stour Street Brewery, which went out of business in the mid-Victorian era. Members of the same family also owned Flint’s St. Dunstan’s Brewery, which is the imposing red-brick building, incorporating the Tudor Roper gateway, still dominating St. Dunstan’s Street.

Just over the road, opposite the Chromos building on the corner of Jewry Lane, stands a rather square, blue and white house, which used to be a pub called the Monarch. Sadly, another one of those pubs on which I have very little information and of which no image has yet come to light.

Jewry Lane, although barely 50m long, used to play host to two of Canterbury’s more obscure pubs: the Orange Tree and the Kentish Arms.

These were most likely simple beer houses – the Victorian equivalent of today’s micropubs – which probably owed their existence, according to Police reports of the day, to the fact that Jewry Lane and White Horse Lane were in the heart of Canterbury’s red light district.

The landlords of the Eagle and the General Havelock (later the Fleur-de-Lys Tap, now the Cherry Tree) located on White Horse lane, were both prosecuted for allowing prostitution on their premises. Perhaps this is why the Salvation Army chose to locate its Canterbury HQ in White Horse Lane?

Back to Stour Street, or Lamb Lane, as the upper part was known in the 19th century and the pub we know as the Old Brewery Tavern. A great name for a pub but as far as I know, this building was never actually part of a brewery!

And so to the last pub on our virtual tour. Now part of Abode, formerly the County Hotel, ballroom and function suite, the Prince Albert was originally called the King’s Head Tap but changed its name in honour of Queen Victoria’s consort in the 1840s.

The County Hotel had previously traded as the Saracen’s Head and briefly, the King’s Head and hotels often had Taps, which is where the hotel staff, guests’ servants, ostlers and tradesmen were expected to drink. I’ve never seen a picture of the Prince Albert but as it only closed in about 1939 I expect one will surface.

Back in the day, you’d have done well to have enjoyed a pint in each of Stour Street’s pubs, especially as some of them were falling down, a couple more were insanitary and a few were offering rather more than beer, by way of recreational entertainment!

I’m very certain that the Old Foundry in its new Chromos home will uphold the fine brewing traditions of Stour Street and be a worthy asset for us all to enjoy, as we slake our thirsts in this interesting quarter of old Canterbury. Good luck to them. Cheers!

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