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The Crossroads and The Northern Thirst....

After a gap of at least 40 years, a re-visit to a pub on the hills, which set me off thinking. Here's the results....

Last Sunday, a family lunch was convened at the Crossroads Inn at Wainstalls, high on the hills beyond Halifax. It is a sturdy, solid-looking pub and needs to be to keep out the weather that comes in from each and every direction in this lofty location. It was the first time I had been there for well over 40 years, back when a former schoolmate who had discovered real ale in his first term at Loughborough University was keen to try every pub in the Halifax and Calderdale area when he got back home, and dragged a few of us along the way. Not quite up there with those intrepid travellers* who roam the country with a military precision in their quest to visit every CAMRA pub there is, but it was a local equivalent, and did set me off on the journey of appreciating the rich heritage and incredible variety that there is out there!

Back then, the Crossroads was a Websters tied house, indeed the works cricket team used to play in the field at the back of the pub. I vaguely remember playing against them there once, and my Dad, who had played there maybe a couple of times, remembered the short boundary as we chatted over our Sunday lunch. The cricket pitch though is long gone, as is the team, as is the brewery, which was situated a couple of miles or so away at Fountain Head, long since developed as housing.

I was never really a big fan of Websters, which I used to drink at the Friendly pub on the outskirts of Sowerby Bridge when I began visiting pubs in my late teens. But at the time, Pennine Bitter or Green Label were ambrosia, a liquid gateway to the delights that were to follow over the subsequent years as I stumbled into adulthood. Until I discovered Taylors....

The brewery had been set up by Samuel Webster way back in 1838, and he opened his first pub a few years later. Gradually, Websters became very successful, taking over several local rivals such as Heys of Bradford along the way, and adding their pubs to the estate. Websters moved from being a local to a regional concern. Meanwhile, Watney Mann, one of Big Six brewers that dominated the national scene, had been acquiring an increasing number of shares in the company over the years, and following a number of reciprocal trading deals, in 1972 the inevitable happened, and they were taken over. It was looking good for a time, though, with the brewery receiving significant investment, and brands such as Holsten began to be brewed there. By 1979, over 1,500 were employed throughout the company, and for a time, Websters flirted with national recognition. Yorkshire Bitter, the successor to Pennine, despite similarly being fairly bland and devoid of much character, was massive for a time, a big seller in both the cask and off-trade markets. But more changes were afoot. Watney Mann had themselves been taken over by Grand Metropolitan, who in 1985 merged Websters with Manchester brewers Wilsons. Not long afterwards, the Wilsons Brewery in Newton Heath was closed down, with brewing of their Original Bitter and Mild moved over to Halifax.

Further changes ensued in 1990, when Grand Met sold Websters to Courage. This presented an immediate problem as Courage brewed John Smiths, which they continued to push as their number 1 bitter. Websters began a decline which was then compounded when Courage were taken over by Scottish and Newcastle, who had at that time Theakstons Bitter within their portfolio. In 1996, the Websters brewery was closed, and whilst brewing was continued elsewhere for a time by S&N, it gradually fell by the wayside. It was a sad and ignominious end to what had been a proud local brewery, whose TV adverts in the 1970's for Pennine Bitter featured Yorkshire fast bowler Fred Trueman, who claimed it "drives out the Northern thirst". Websters may not have been the best for its beers, but they were our beers, it was our brewery, and it touched the lives of so many people not just in and around Halifax, but throughout the North.

The Crossroads Inn, Wainstalls, near Halifax
Today, the Crossroads is a relatively new member of the tied estate of Timothy Taylor, who are based just over the hill in Keighley. 4 hand pumps are on the bar, all featuring beers from the Taylors range, but it was clear today, at least, that everybody - the pub was extremely busy - was here to dine. And the food was excellent, I didn't hear one complaint from our table, and my poached haddock with crushed new potatoes, seasonal vegetables, and a leek and butter sauce hit the spot marvellously. The beer, though, did nothing to alter my view that Taylors is not anything outstanding these days, the Knowle Spring bitter was pleasant, the Golden Best slightly better, but inevitably in 40 years your tastebuds do change, and back in the days when I started drinking Websters, Taylors was a breath of fresh air! But if it is good quality food at a decent price that you are looking for, I can strongly recommend the Crossroads....
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Meanwhile, this weekend is a Bank Holiday, so that means there are loads of events going on up and down the country. In these parts, the INDYFAX Festival is taking place in some of Halifax's finest pubs, running through until Monday 27th August at the Grayston Unity, Pump Room, Alexandra, Lantern, and the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe. As well as the usual excellent beers you would expect, there will be plenty of extra delights on both cask and keg for your enjoyment. And mentioning, the Grayston, on Sunday they are hosting a musical event, featuring loads of artists with the legendary Blue Orchids at the top of the bill. And finally, over in Hipperholme, the Cock of the North is holding its annual Rock o'the North Festival from Saturday through to Monday with a host of local artists on over the weekend including The Rainey Street Band, Psychoslinkies, Gaz Thompson, and International Party Doctors.

So, wherever you are, and whatever you are doing, have a great weekend!

*You know who you are...!

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