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One Cleck Of A Town....

All over the country there are countless small towns which simply carry on at their own pace and in their own way as they go about their daily business. And with that in mind, I recently paid a visit to a neighbouring town to which I rarely go to check out the local pub and bar scene. Here's what I found....

Cleckheaton is a small town in West Yorkshire, situated just off Junction 26 of the M62, otherwise known as the Chain Bar roundabout. A town of around 17,000 souls, it lies about 4 miles to the east from where I live in Brighouse, and is south of Bradford, west of Batley, and south west of Leeds, and part of its name is sometimes used somewhat disparagingly by folks from other parts of Yorkshire to refer to this part of West Yorkshire as Cleckhuddersfax. Cleckheaton though can proudly claim to be the centre of the Spen Valley. It's growth came about through the textile trade and is historically part of the Heavy Woollen District. The town prospered through the latter part of the 19th century as the textile industry flourished, and it became known as the carding capital of the world, named after a process used in the production process for a certain type of cloth. It wasn't just textiles though; in 1903 the Lion Confectionery Company began making the world-famous Midget Gems, whilst in 1904 Panther motorcycles started to be produced in the town.

The town's success led to many large and important buildings being erected, including the town hall which harks back to the time when Cleckheaton had its own council, although it subsequently became part of Spenborough along with neighbouring towns and villages, and since 1974 has been administered by Kirklees Council. The presence of these buildings gives the town though something of an air of grandeur, and with plenty of local shops and businesses these days it is quite a busy little place. A few other points about Cleckheaton: historically the town had always had something of an independent streak which saw many of its citizens follow the nonconformist teachings of movements such as the Methodists, Quakers, Baptists, and Unitarians. And like many of the towns and villages in this part of the world there is a connection with the Bronte Sisters, in this case through Charlotte's novel Shirley. Nowadays, Cleckheaton also attracts plenty of visitors to the town when it holds its annual folk festival.

Grand: Cleckheaton Town Hall 

Despite its proximity to Brighouse, it is not a town I have drunk in very often, and so when there was another train-less and football-free weekend, I decided I would head over there to check out the town's pub scene. Mind you, with the town having had no railway station since the 1960's that wouldn't have been an option anyway, so I went by bus. However the service between Brighouse and Cleckheaton is daytime only, although later services run from Bradford, Dewsbury, and Leeds. 

I ended up getting a bus early on this particular Saturday afternoon, and it was the slower service, which took about 35 minutes to get there. It did have the benefit though on what was a beautiful sunny afternoon of passing through some attractive villages such as Clifton, Hartshead, and Scholes, and via some very pleasant countryside which despite being close to home I had rarely travelled through before. After a few loops through a couple of estates, and passing the Mill Valley Brewery Tap and the afore-mentioned Lion Confectionery factory, we finally arrived in Cleckheaton.

The first pub was only a couple of minutes' walk from the bus stop. This was the Rose and Crown, whose windows, a plaque on the wall, and various features inside, refer to Whitechapel Brewery which despite the local area having plenty of references was actually a trading name of the former Haworth Steam Brewery who were operating a few years ago rather than some long gone local brewery from Victorian times. It was also the last pub in Cleckheaton to make it into the Good Beer Guide, although it hasn't featured in the last year or two. I walked in and there was a pleasant, friendly atmosphere, with the odd guy sat at the bar, and a few people eating in what seemed to be quite a popular pub for food. A friendly guy with grey hair appeared from the kitchen to serve me, and from a range of 5 beers on hand pump I ordered a pint of Little Critters Blonde Beer. Other beers available were from Yorkshire stalwarts Acorn and Copper Dragon, whose Golden Pippin still keeps popping up. I retreated to one of the side rooms where a group of ladies with dogs were replaying the walk they had just done before coming here for food and planning where they should go when they next meet up. Sorry, I wasn't being nosey, but the volume dictated that I had no option but to hear! As for the beer, it was pretty decent, an NBSS 3 by my reckoning. In summary, the Rose and Crown is definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in Cleckheaton. 

The Rose and Crown, Cleckheaton

From the Rose and Crown it was about a 10 minute walk to the next pub. This is another one that has occasionally featured in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide, albeit not for a few years. The Marsh is something of a novelty as it is an Old Mill Brewery house (although there is another nearby in Mirfield) and has been for some years now. Old Mill, who are based in Snaith in East Yorkshire, are a traditional brewery who started out nigh on 40 years ago and have quietly built up an estate of around 17 pubs with outlets in the central areas of Yorkshire stretching out to the coast and into Lincolnshire and Derbyshire. I had been in the Marsh before, but not for a few years. It is a flat-iron shaped roadside pub beside the busy A638 Dewsbury Road just past the bus station on the edge of the town centre. I walked in, plenty of people were sat around with drinks, and one of the uniformed staff greeted me cheerily. I ordered a pint of the Old Mill Bitter, which is an excellent traditional example of the style, and very good it was too (NBSS 3.5). The pub is nicely decorated with some exposed brickwork, and has been extended to include a conservatory restaurant since I last paid a visit. There was a good atmosphere as well, and I enjoyed my half an hour or so there.

Two views of The Marsh, Cleckheaton

I headed back into town, where set back slightly from the crossroads across from a small park next to the bus station is The Wickham Arms. It is a large and rambling ex-Tetley pub and hotel which hangs on to its heritage well, with several rooms and much traditional wood in evidence, the large bar (opening picture) being particularly attractive. Tetleys Bitter is still available here, although of course the original version has long been gone. Along with the Tetleys there were several other beers on hand pump, including Taylors Landlord, Black Sheep Bitter, and Copper Dragon Golden Pippin, so a fairly standard sort of range, but at least a choice. The pub didn't seem especially busy, but with this amount of space, there were plenty of places to find a quiet corner, and there were several customers dotted around, skewed towards the older end with a predominantly 80's soundtrack playing over the speakers. I ordered a half of Copper Dragon and as I took my seat at the bar in one of the rooms off to the side, an unseen woman joined in on ABC's When Smokey Sings, which I have to say didn't add much to Martin Fry's lead vocals, and then other familiar songs were given a similar treatment. It is that kind of place. The beer was in good condition, but it's not a beer I actively seek out these days, but it was decent enough (NBSS 3). The Wickham is something of a step back into a time from a few decades go, but none the worse for it, and another friendly place if you ever call in. If you decided to stay the night, the hotel has 9 rooms and has received several 5 star reviews on Trip Adviser.

The Wickham Arms, Cleckheaton

I left the Wickham, and headed towards the Town Hall, and just before the town's branch of the Wetherspoons chain, The Obediah Brooke (named after a guy who in the 18th century owned a field near to where the pub is located, and whose family owned a tannery in the town in the following century), I turned left up Cheapside and headed for The Chain Bar, named after the aforementioned roundabout. I had called in a couple of years ago not long after it had opened, when it focussed on selling keg, bottles, and cans predominantly from Yorkshire breweries. Since I last visited it has changed ownership and three hand pumps have appeared on the bar, and the selection of beer has been broadened well beyond the county border. There were a few blokes stood or sat at the bar talking to the guy serving, but otherwise it was fairly empty. One of the three hand pumps was not in use, and the choice was either a coconut stout or Brew York's Calmer Chameleon, their 3.7% American Pale Ale, which is what I went for. I went and sat in the room to the side of the bar. Despite a hop bill comprising Columbus, Simcoe, Mosaic, and Idaho 7, I've always found this beer to be rather thin and lacking in much character, and sadly I have to add that on this occasion it was only on average form (NBSS 2.5). I drunk it fairly quickly and decided to give the coconut stout a miss. A somewhat disappointing visit, but hopefully it was just an off-day. 

The Chain Bar, Cleckheaton

Mindful of the last bus to Brighouse being around 5.30, I knew the next place would be the last. It was though on the way back to the bus station and only a couple of minutes from where I was. It was the latest addition to Cleckheaton's bar scene, the Spen Tap, which was opened a few months ago by my friends at the Halifax Steam Brewery who are based less than a mile up the road from where I live. Owner Sam had mentioned that he was opening a new bar, the brewery's 2nd, but until now I had not had the chance to visit. It is situated on a prominent corner in the town centre opposite the main town centre car park where you can still get 4 hours of free parking. It is situated in a former shop and as the light outside was fading there was a warm glow emanating from the large window at the front of the bar. Inside, I found a small, comfortable bar with three hand pumps and several keg lines serving beers from Halifax Steam. The girl behind the bar lived locally and was very chatty when I ordered my pint of Blonde, which was a pleasant NBSS 3. They have a cosy upstairs room to which I took my drink, where there was subdued lighting and a number of board games, although the light was probably not conducive to giving them a go. I sat on my own for 15 minutes and had a good chill before I needed to get to the bus station for my bus. Incidentally, the toilets are upstairs and I have to say the hand drier was probably the strongest I have ever come across! I liked the Spen Tap, great vibe, everyone was relaxed and friendly, and definitely worth a return visit.

I wandered down to the bus station, where the display said the bus was running 12 minutes late. Cleckheaton might not be an obvious place to visit and the beer choice overall was a bit lacking, but I'd had an enjoyable afternoon in some interesting and varied places, with the added advantage of all of them being only a few minutes' walk from each other.

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  1. A great read as always, Chris.

    I'm always glad you add your honest beer scores and I often find they support my view that the Good Beer Guide gets it right more often than not !

    Locals singing along to music is surely one of the things that makes English pub culture !

    Cleckheaton has a VERY large Indian restaurant from memory.

  2. Thanks, Martin, for the kind comments. It did have, the Aakash, but sadly it closed a couple of months ago.

  3. Had a very good couple of hours in the Chain Bar - drinking Fairytale of Brew York. Friendly but small.
    Surprised Poor Bens didn't warrant a mention alongside Midget Gems!


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