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Will the Barge Sink...?

News has broken in the past few days that one of the most iconic pubs in Calderdale, the Barge and Barrel in Elland, is reportedly under threat, not this time from flooding, but from owners Punch Taverns, who wish to transform it into a destination foodie pub meaning that decades of commitment to real ale could be washed away.

This would be a further blow to a pub that has recently been hit by flooding, the loss of footfall due to the closure of the historic bridge beside which it sits, and bereavement. 

The Barge has been a real ale mecca for 30-odd years, since it became the West Riding Brewery's first and only tied house. It had originally been built to serve the customers of the long-closed Elland Station. It was called the Station Hotel and carried on quietly for decades, before having a few years as a disco pub(remember them?) called Barbados.

In the early 80's it became the Barge and Barrel, and attracted visitors from far and wide to sample the West Riding Brewery's beers, including the iconic Tyke. The beers were brewed in Huddersfield at the time, but when a fire affected the brewery, brewing ceased and the pub - one of the area's first free houses in a time when they was still rare -began to stock Oak Beers of Ellesmere Port, who took over the brewing of Tyke under licence. One of Oak's beers was a strong reddy-brown ale called Wobbly Bob, which clocked in at over 6% ABV, and which began to attract a cult following. To this day, Wobbly Bob is still served in the Barge, only now it is brewed by the brewery into which Oak evolved, Phoenix, based in Heywood. And it still attracts a cult following; indeed, Big Ted visits the pub virtually every day from his home in Brighouse for his pint of Wobbly Bob, just as he has done since those early days.

For me, just like Big Ted and countless others, a whole chunk of my life is wrapped up in the Barge and Barrel. When my elder two, Cherry and Luke, were small, I used to call in on a Sunday afternoon as the pub had a family room which included a ball pool. The kids loved it, and the risk of being hit by a flying plastic ball was a small price to pay for the opportunity to sample some of the wonderful ales that were on offer. I gradually began to visit the pub without the kids and as you do, you get chatting to people. One of the lads behind the bar, Martin, was a keen walker, and we arranged to go up to the Lakes to do some walking - the Coledale Horseshoe, if I remember correctly. Another of the bar staff was the lady who became our Tom's mum. So you can see, for me, the Barge and Barrel has had life-changing properties!

For over 10 years, the Barge and Barrel was more than just a local for me. I had by now moved to Elland, the walking had become serious stuff as our little group evolved into the Barge and Barrel Knackered Fell Walkers Society. At least once a month we would head up to the Lakes or Dales to take on some unsuspecting fell. We visited some fantastic places, experienced the best and worst weather on offer, but always did it with a smile on our faces.
And a lot of our time in the Barge would be spent re-living previous walks or planning the next one.  

Our Tom's mum continued to work behind the bar, so I would call in to see her most times. We got engaged, having our do in the big function room upstairs. When we got married, we had our reception in the Barge. And all this about turning it into a foodie pub? The Barge has always done food, indeed we even had Christmas Dinner there a couple of times!

Another regular feature of the Barge was the Monday night quiz. For many years it was hosted by my good friend Allan Davies, another of the Knackered Fell Walkers. These were always keenly contested affairs, often livened up by Allan's own take on pronunciation. All great fun though!

Whether it was the legendary teatimes with Paul 'Smurf' Firth dispensing bonhomie and great beer to everyone who was 'matey', or the evenings with our gang, or the family, or the times sat outside in the sunshine with the canal and the occasional barge passing by, the Barge has been a major part of my life. And I, and many other people, will be sad to see it go. You could walk in at any time, lean on the horseshoe-shaped bar, and strike up a conversation with a perfect stranger, it just encouraged that interaction.

I visited the Barge the other week, as sadly Allan had just passed away, but where else could the wake be held? The pub is still very much the same. The big bar, the little snug, the games room, and the old family room, though no longer used and which has been used as a brewery on several occasions, including by the legendary John Eastwood, are still there.

I surveyed the recent damage to the area around the pub. The historic bridge is likely to be closed until the end of the year, although at least a footbridge has now been provided. There were a number of canal barges that had been swept out of the canal and left sadly marooned on dry land.

Last weekend, a big crane was brought in to lift the barges back in to the canal, so at least their future looks more promising. Unfortunately it seems that on the other bank, the future for the Barge and Barrel looks decidedly uncertain....






Santo Bugito has written an excellent article on this, here's the link:
http://www.northernbeer.co.uk/?p=2144

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