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Bradford's Thriving Survivors....

A look at a trio of classic traditional Bradford pubs which seem to have always been at the forefront of the scene in a city that has lost some mighty fine pubs over the years. Here's what I found....

A couple of guys blocked my entrance into Jacobs Well in Bradford, staring at a notice pinned to the wall. They stepped aside so I could go through and get to the bar. I noticed a few more similarly staring at pictures and other features in this traditional pub a stone's throw from the city's Interchange, each clutching a piece of paper, with much stroking of chins and scratching of heads. Undeterred but curious as to what I had walked into, I ordered a pint of Abbeydale Deception and retreated into the small room at the side of the bar. I sat there quietly nursing my pint, a young guy listening to his headphones with a couple of suitcases at one table, an older guy sipping a pint at another. The guys from the doorway came into the room, and looked over the top of the older guy's head at a picture on the wall above, almost oblivious to his presence. What was going on? A familiar face then walked into the room, a CAMRA member who lives not far from me. I asked him what was happening, and seemingly it was a treasure hunt organised by Bradford CAMRA, taking in several of the city's pubs, which I suppose gives a different twist to a pub crawl.

The beer, incidentally, was in good form, and I reckoned worthy of a National Beer Scoring System rating of 3.5. Meanwhile, the young guy with headphones and suitcases appeared to fall asleep, providing an additional touch of quirkiness in this fine ex-Tetleys pub which now sells beers from a number of breweries, which today, in addition to Abbeydale, were all from Yorkshire - Half Moon, Sunbeam, and Wensleydale. Jacobs is always worth popping in, and with a bus stop on the road just up the steps from the pub, as well as the Interchange, it is in a convenient location.

Jacobs Well, Bradford

I was later arriving in the city than I'd hoped and as I was planning to visit a couple more pubs across the city rather than going to a specific area like North Parade, I decided I would use Uber to ferry me around, and a few minutes after finishing my beer in Jacobs I was stood outside the Fighting Cock on Preston Street in the Listerhills area of the city. I decided to take the obligatory photo whilst it was still light, but as one high-performance BMW raced down Preston Street at some ridiculous speed closely followed by another, I realised crossing the road and taking a picture wasn't quite as simple - or as safe - as it should have been! I eventually managed to get my shot and make it back across the road without coming to any harm. The Fighting Cock is a pub that for a number of years was a regular haunt as I worked on Ingleby Road at Grattan, who subsequently opened a warehouse and distribution centre nearby on Thornton Road. Over the years the number of visits I made here dwindled and I honestly can't remember the last time I had visited. 

I walked in and the pub was similar to how I remembered it when I first walked in back in the 1980's. A basic room as you enter, with wooden floorboards and bench seating with tables running down two walls with a bar servery opposite. A series of framed CAMRA awards line up on a shelf down one wall. The bar continues through into the room beyond, which is behind a wall which features the list of beers above a mutual stove. A further area now exists beyond the bar, with the toilets - which used to be outside - off to the left.

The Fighting Cock, Bradford

Back in the 1980's, the unassuming Preston Hotel had become a free house and was managed by 'Big Jim' Wright, a larger than life character from darn Sarf. The unassuming street corner pub was by now called the Fighting Cock, and it started to sell beers from all over the country, many of which had never been seen in the area before, and the pub began to attract custom from far and wide. Big Jim's presence likewise drew the punters in, and with his partner Sal, they hosted a friendly pub pitched firmly at the beer drinker. Back in those days, the pub lunch was still a big thing, and as a counter to the prevailing pie and a pint they used to serve wonderful warming bowls of steaming chilli with crusty bread. I remember some great lunchtimes and a reluctance to go back to the office, but Fridays were a different thing as we used to finish early, so many a lunchtime gradually merged into an early evening, and a journey home in the dark. Such was the success of the pub that Jim eventually bought the Fighting Cock and formed TFC Alehouses, which included the Red Rooster in Brighouse, the Duck and Drake in Leeds - both of which are still around today but in different hands, plus two that didn't survive, the Woodcock in Halifax and the Gamecock over in Ashton-under-Lyne. Big Jim's contribution to the pub scene was massive, spread far beyond the area, and should not be underestimated, bearing in mind that back in the 1980's most pubs were still tied to breweries, genuine free houses were few and far between, and most beers were limited in their distribution.

Returning after all these years, the pub was fairly quiet in the first room, with a small group sat at one table, although it got busier while I was there. In the area beyond, there were lots of folk who seemed to be having a good (and noisy) time, whilst beyond a couple of guys were having a quiet chat over a pint at the bar. I ordered a pint of Taylor's Boltmaker, which was very good and the best beer I had had from the Keighley brewery for yonks. NBSS 4. Most of the beers on the board were from Yorkshire, but I spotted True Grit from Millstone, which I hadn't had for ages, and whilst this 5% premium golden ale wasn't quite up to the standards set by the Boltmaker, it was still worthy of a 3.5 rating. I enjoyed my return here, and whilst this time it wasn't as lively as I remember it being, the staff were friendly and the beer quality makes it a place that definitely warrants a visit. 

Last year, when CAMRA celebrated its 50th anniversary they awarded a special Gold Award to pubs that had been in the Good Beer Guide for more than 30 of those, and the Fighting Cock was one of only two in Yorkshire to achieve this. It was supposedly up for sale last year, although I am not sure what the current situation is, but it would be a tragedy if anything were to happen to this classic pub.

I booked another Uber, and it wasn't long before I was at the Corn Dolly (opening picture). As with the Fighting Cock, this serial award-winning pub was another that I hadn't been in for years, even though it isn't far out of the city centre. This was the other pub that had achieved over 30 years in the Good Beer Guide and received a Gold Award. Set on its own on Bolton Road, I noticed there was a large area at the side of the pub full of tables and chairs, no doubt a legacy from those not-too-distant days of no drinking inside, well for us masses anyway! 

I walked in to the pub and was hit by a wall of noise. The pub was pretty busy with most tables occupied and a scrum of mainly guys around the bar. The pub has a dividing partition on the right as you go in, the area beyond featuring a pool table, and likewise this was busy, with a mix of younger people and a few family groups hanging around the table. The atmosphere was buzzing, and the scene, bar the inevitable trappings of the 2020's, could have been from 30 years ago. Despite it being busy, I managed to get served pretty quickly and I ordered a pint of Millie George, a 4% pale ale from Pennine Brewery, who are based near Bedale in the Yorkshire Dales, having started out just down the road in Batley. And I have to say the beer was in excellent condition, and the fact that within a few minutes the pump clip was turned around as it was getting to the end of the barrel just shows the quality of the cellar work and the pride the staff have in what they sell. My beer was clean and crisp, and easily worth a NBSS rating of 4.

Busy Saturday teatime at The Corn Dolly

The beer selection has Taylors Boltmaker, Moorhouses White Witch, and Abbeydale Moonshine as regulars, with 5 guests which this evening included the Pennine as mentioned above, Thunderbridge Stout from Small World, Acorn Barnsley Bitter, White Lightning from White Rose Brewery in Mexborough, and Kirby Lonsdale Devil's Bridge IPA, which was a pretty good selection. As a regular drinker of White Witch at the Dusty Miller at Hove Edge - where it is always spot on - I thought I would compare notes. And I have to say this too was in excellent condition, another NBSS 4 rating.

My phone rang, and because of the noise, I had to pop out to the doorway, where seating had thoughtfully been provided, along with a small shelf on which to rest a pint. I finished the call and went back in, and spotted a vacant table where I could plonk myself away from the bar. A final pint ensued, and this time it was Moonshine's turn to get a 4 star rating. Three different beers, all in tip top condition, and after some very good beer in all the three pubs I had visited, the only thing to do now was head off for a curry at Sheesh Mahal where the seekh kebabs and chicken pathia were in fittingly fine fettle.

It was great to discover that these three stalwarts of the Bradford beer scene are still more than holding their own after all this time. Not just surviving, but thriving too....

Follow me on twitter: @realalemusic


  1. I hope you are right about them thriving. Three excellent pubs I used to frequent about 20 years ago. But me and my mates stopped going into Bradford as Leeds expanded and became a beer destination city. Bradford seems to be on the mend in that regard which is good to see.

    I suspect the Fighting Cock will find it hardest to survive in the 21st century with its out of town location.

  2. Top post...never been pubbing i Bradford but always imagined it would be gritty with lots of 'proper pubs' like haven't disappointed!


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