Whitelock's in Leeds, the Blue Bell in York, the Angel at Hetton and Beverley's White Horse Inn captured beautifully for Great Pubs of England book
He is reported to have thrown a party in a curtained-off section of the saloon in an era when the alleyway tavern off Briggate - which over the years has also been patronised by literary powerhouses like Keith Waterhouse and JRR Tolkien - employed liveried doormen who enforced a dinner jacket dress code, while women were not allowed at the bar.
Thankfully, serving policy has moved on since then. What remains, though, is our common appreciation for magnificently decorated pubs with a storied history.
With that in mind, four Yorkshire spots - including Whitelock’s alongside the Blue Bell in York, the Angel at Hetton and Beverley’s White Horse Inn (or Nellies, to the initiated) - and stories like that of the Prince’s party in Leeds are included in a new book of photography and barfly tales from pubs around the country.
Great Pubs of England: Thirty-three of England’s Best Hostelries from the Home Counties to the North has been put together by snapper Horst A. Friedrichs and writer Stuart Husband.
Having previously worked together on the release of Bookstores: A Celebration of Independent Booksellers, they decided to follow up with watering holes.
Unsurprisingly, the plan came together over a pint, in the Princess Louise in Holborn, London.
“The history lives in the walls and the floors of these places,” says Stuart, referring to the Blue Bell, in York’s Fossgate.
German-born Horst, who is half-Greek, has lived in England for 25 years, but says he felt “quite a responsibility” while taking pictures for the book and was impressed by decorative features such as the gas lights in Nellies.
“This is something you Brits are so good at,” he says of pub interiors.
“It's kind of like an effort towards Romanticism and nostalgia. I'm a very nostalgic German, that’s probably why I moved here, to be involved in this atmosphere. It’s sometimes a bit like being in a theatrical play being in these historical pubs but I love it - the textures and scratches in walls and materials.”
But it is not only about nostalgia. Stuart, who lives in Hastings, says: “I wanted as broad a sweep of pubs as possible. Not just the classic, Victorian gin palace thing because people go to pubs for all kinds of different reasons these days. Some people still go for a pint, some people go for fine dining, some people go because it's a bolt hole, some people go for a Sunday lunch with family, friends or whatever, some people go because they love the landlord or landlady. For me, I wanted all those things reflected in the spread that we were going to put into this book.”
Some of that diversity is shown in Yorkshire entries.
The Edwardian, 60-capacity Blue Bell and Whitelock’s - the “very heart of Leeds”, said former poet laureate Sir John Betjeman - may be bustling city sites, but the rustic charms of the Yorkshire Dales are represented by the Angel and its Michelin-starred offering, while readers are told that the White Horse Inn is often mistaken for a museum, such is its impressive appearance in the East Yorkshire market town.
Tales of comically taciturn landladies, unusual punter-related questionnaires that unlock bartenders’ bonuses, culinary renaissance and sage locals can be found within.
“The main challenge is to take 33 pubs and try to make them sound very dissimilar and not repeat the same old tired old cliches about all of them,” says Stuart.
“That's what is interesting about the Angel at Hetton, is that while some pubs are sticking to old tradition, or have got plenty of laurels to rest on, Michael and Johanna (the couple who run it) are making new traditions up.” They may have a 15th century inn but it “rubs up closest to a fine dining establishment that any place can whilst still identifying as a pub,” he says.
He adds: “The Blue Bell in many ways is like the ultimate local. I mean one, because it's so small no one can escape when they're in there. Everyone gets involved with everyone else. And for another, John, the landlord and his staff make it their business - not intrusively - to get to know everyone.”
The pair also visited big names such as Tom Kerridge, at his pub The Butcher’s Tap and Grill in Marlow.
One of Horst’s favourites was the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London, where he captured a packed, post-pandemic drag show.
However, earlier this year it was revealed that the number of pubs in England fell to a record low, with fewer than 40,000 still operating - a fall of more than 7,000 compared to a decade ago, according to real estate advisers Altus Group. While they faced huge pressures during the pandemic, hospitality businesses are now confronting a second crisis in two years with rising energy costs for landlords and customers.
If a pub offers something special, Stuart believes, it gives them a chance of survival.
“Obviously, some factors are outside of a pub’s control - you know, prices, costs - but if you give people a good enough reason to go, they'll keep going to the pub.”
He refers to a conversation with one landlady. “She said: ‘I think as long as pubs can stay open, people are going to come to them to have a bit of heat, bit of food, bit of light conversation, rather than stay at home with all the heating on, huddled in eight layers of clothes’. She said: ‘As long as pubs find a way to keep going, there’s always going to be a place for it, no matter what's going on in wider society’.”
Great Pubs of England will be released on October 4 by Prestel, with an RRP of £35.