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The Town That Thinks It's A Village....

My time has been a bit limited recently for venturing too far afield, so last weekend I made the short journey to Elland to check out a few of the town's pubs and bars. Here's what I found....

Elland is a small market town in West Yorkshire, located between Halifax and Huddersfield beside the River Calder. It goes back a bit, being recorded as Elant in the Domesday Book of 1086, and over the centuries the town grew as a result of the woollen industry, with the town becoming home to several large mills. The coming of the Aire and Calder Navigation and the railways further helped the growth of the town. The subsequent decline of the woollen industry in the town meant that there were a number of empty mills left standing, and those that didn't burn down were put to other use, such as the home of Gannex, the now-defunct textile company whose raincoats were worn by the rich and famous, including former Prime Minister Harold Wilson. More recently, several mills have been converted to flats and apartments, whilst amongst other things the town is home to Joseph Dobson and Sons, who make traditional boiled sweets and Suma Wholefoods, the largest worker co-operative in the country.

I lived in Elland for most of the 1990's. It was a friendly place, a mate of mine who'd settled in the town from out of the area described it as "the town that thinks it's a village", as people you didn't know would say hello as you passed in the street. Back in those days, it was full of pubs, but over the years many have disappeared - the Pressers, Martin's Nest, Spring Gardens, Rising Sun, Old Bailey, Bridge, and a brace of Samuel Smiths pubs: the Malt Shovel, and the Colliers Arms by the canal, although I have heard that once the road to Brighouse is re-opened after almost 2 years of landslip-induced closure, it may be brought back to life. The Colliers was a fairly regular haunt of mine in those days, its location by the canal in the days before the Lowfields area on the opposite bank became the home to warehouses and industrial units, made it a pleasant place to chill and out and enjoy a pint. The Colliers was also the scene of one of the brewery's feudal owner Humphrey Smith's eccentric and illogical decrees; the removal of the pub's conservatory and dining room overlooking the canal which was popular with those looking for decent, good-value pub food.

Colliers Arms, Elland - currently closed

I had been back to Elland fairly recently, meeting some old friends for a curry, but I was back again on a cold January afternoon, with a wintry sun finally breaking through a cold and persistent morning fog. I got the 503 from Halifax and got off at the stop by Morrisons, with my first pub only a minute's walk away. This was the Drop Inn, which was a place I used to call in quite regularly in my Elland days as I only lived about 5 minutes walk away. For the past few years it has been run by Ossett Brewery. The pub was originally called the Oddfellows, but colloquially it was always known as the 'Drop' because it was a handy stopping off point for those who lived or worked locally who would literally 'drop in'. It was always a friendly place, and typically, even though I hadn't been in for years, there were a couple of familiar faces sat at the bar, Mark and Liz who ran the Barge & Barrel beside the canal for a number of years. I was on a tight schedule, so I ordered a half of White Rat, but as I was in conversation I followed up with a half of Yorkshire Blonde, both of which were pretty good. It was nice to re-visit, the girl behind the bar was very welcoming, and I look forward to calling in again soon.

The Drop, Elland

I set off for my next pub, remembering there was a walk through the park by the river which would save a few minutes. I crossed over the road down to Elland bypass and towards Morrisons, then turning off towards the river and left towards the park. It was a short but pleasant walk before I emerged near to Elland Bridge, passing a few indications of the town's industrial past and present. As I emerged from the park, a couple with kids in tow said hello, reminding me of that phrase my old mate used to say about Elland being more like a village.

I was soon at the Barge and Barrel (opening picture, taken several years ago), which is a place where I have spent many a happy hour. It is where I met our Tom's mum, where the walking group I still belong to began, and is a place of which I have so many fond memories. It is a large, cavernous building, and I walked in to find the pool room to the right busy with a gang of student-types, and the odd couple dotted around elsewhere, but otherwise quiet. I ordered a pint of Abbeydale Moonshine, which was spot on, and just went into memory mode as ghosts from years ago flickered through my mind. That night when, that day that this happened, long-forgotten characters coming back to life, a tear in my eye one minute, a suppressed chuckle the next. Some of the characters that hung around the familiar round bar were a big part of my life and the Barge will always be special to me. Today, it was quiet, no doubt trade has not been helped by the closure of the road to Brighouse, but it always had its quiet periods, and whilst it might not be quite as it was 30 years ago, it was good to go back, and I wish the Barge well and look forward to visiting again soon.

The Barge and Barrel these days

I walked over Elland Bridge, crossing the Aire and Calder Navigation, on to which the Barge and Barrel backs. and River Calder, and headed up Northgate, passing Dobsons and St Mary's Church, into the town centre. After years of pubs closing in the town as I mentioned earlier, Elland now has a number of new bars. I walked past one I hadn't heard of, Jacks, and a couple of minutes later I spotted The Heist, based in the former Lloyds Bank. But it was the place next door I was aiming for, which had been recommended by a number of people. This is a bar is housed in the premises formerly occupied by Cooper Kitchen, a long-standing kitchen goods and hardware shop, which has now been turned into a stylish bar called, cleverly I thought, Cooper Kitchen & Bar. There is no real ale on, but there are a couple of Vocation beers on tap, the Hop, Skip, and Juice keeping me happy whilst I was there. The bar was quite busy, with a wide mix of people ranging from couples, the older end, and girls on the cocktails, which all made for a pretty good atmosphere with manager Kirsty and her friendly team dispensing the drinks with ready smiles. The bar, spread over three floors is very smart, and one unusual feature is a replica of a Moorgate Dwarf Roadster safety cycle, which was invented by Cooper Kitchen, on the wall behind the bar which was also on display in the old shop. I enjoyed my visit, and despite the lack of cask beer, I would happily call in again. Incidentally, Kirsty gave me a leaflet detailing the current pubs and bars open in Elland and its immediate surroundings, which actually totals 13, although not all are beer-focussed.

Cooper Kitchen & Bar, Elland

It was just a minute or two's walk then to my final destination, a place that  I have always enjoyed visiting although it isn't often enough. The Elland Craft and Tap is a wonderful, friendly, welcoming bar owned by Elland Brewery and based in a former building society branch which I wrote about when it first opened in 2018, since which, lockdown asides, it has continued to go from strength to strength. Beers are not only from Elland, on this occasion the 6 pumps featured 2 dedicated to Craft and Tap Blonde, another from Elland, Summit For The Weekend, a 4.6% pale gold described as "fruity, rich citrus", plus Salopian Oracle, Millionaire Milk Stout from Wild Beer, and Crag Bitter from Fell Brewery. The craft beer selection included beers from Buxton, Tiny Rebel, and Seven Brothers. I went for the Oracle, which was in excellent condition.

Elland Craft and Tap

As usual when I have called in, there always seems to be somebody in there that I know, and this occasion was no different, with a couple I have known since I lived in the town enjoying a drink, plus an old friend who I hadn't seen for ages prompting a conversation involving much reminiscing. Moreover, another old friend, Lynne, was dispensing the beers, providing another reminder of the Barge and Barrel as she ran it for a year or two. It really is a small world! Mike the boss appeared and we had a quick chat, and whilst I didn't see them on this visit, Alan and Alyson, who opened the area's first micro pub, Calan's in Hebden Bridge, are involved here these days, with Alyson working some shifts behind the bar and Alan doing the cellar work. Sadly, after an excellent hour or so, it was time to go, once again the Craft and Tap had provided everything you look for in a pub - excellent beer, welcoming staff, and friendly customers in comfortable and relaxing surroundings.

It was very much a trip down Memory Lane for me, but if you find yourself with an hour or two spare, Elland is well worth a trip based on this visit, and it is good to see that the town seems to be coming back to life. To get there, whilst there has been no railway station serving the town for years, buses from both Halifax and Huddersfield are frequent. Over to you....

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  1. Good read, Chris.

    I think you're spot on about the Barge, not quite what it was but still excellent and good beer on our Autumn visit. As was the Elland Tap.

    A really characterful town, sorry, village

  2. Wonderful read, IV lived in elland since I turned 21 and with the exception of 3 years I'm still here at 56, and IV no plans of leaving.
    I have seen pubs shops people come and go empty places left and leaving an incomplete town. But I now see the growth of our little town shops changing into new bars new business, and I'm liking it,
    In all the ups and downs like you say the folk still say hello or give a smile many behind a mask for now.
    And in all this a town that comes together in time of sadness happiness and in need.
    Keep going Elland xx


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