Old Settles, Wooden Floors

Pub Walks in Hastings and St Leonards – Walk 3

A Taste of St Leonards – The St Leonard

At first glance, there is nothing to London Road except a mishmash of shop fronts, infills and traffic and that can often offend those more used to gleaming shopping centres and pedestrianised streets but you must look further into the character of both the shops and the people who belong to London Road.

My wife and I grew up in Nottingham and we both remember similar streets, indeed, my father had a thriving pharmacy on one such street now demolished. Everyone knew my father and so everyone knew me. St Anns Wells Road, Alfred Street and Arkwright Street all provided everything that you needed from sweet shops and cake shops, milliners, butchers and bakers, green grocers and grocers, a Home and Colonial, a Dewhurst’s, book shops and cafes, a pub on every corner and almost as many churches. To me, London Road is the same.

St Leonards PosterA pint in the CAMRA award winning St Leonard, creaking with atmosphere, old settles, wooden floors and life, helps the musings for ‘Pub Walks in Hastings and St Leonards’ and the forthcoming ‘Pub Walks in 1066 Country’.

The St Leonard is not some country pub but a warm and friendly town pub, refurbished in 2012, (it was formerly known as The Warrior Gate a corruption of the original 1833 name Warhouse Gate, taken from the name of an old lime kiln).

Now its wooden floors, mismatched tables and chairs, local art work and three regularly changing guest beers create a busy urban chic.

There is popcorn served with drinks and a food tasting menu available that includes sausage rolls, scotch eggs, charcuterie plate and pork pies and pizzas can be delivered to your table.

On one visit, I tried Brighton Bier South Coast IPA 5%, St Austell Trelawny 3.8%, Hogs Back TEA 4.2% and a taste of Prehistoric Amber 4.5%. All were well conditioned and well-kept but on the next visit, they are likely to have changed. Another time, I was impressed with the Franklins St Leonard, Franklins Greedy Guvnor as well as the Hogsback T.E.A.- again!

There is always a welcome and despite the restricted hours (Wednesday to Saturday 5pm -11pm and Sunday 3pm – 9pm) it is one to visit, to drink a pint and to sit and think – after all, they say that there is a book in us all! With such restricted opening hours it may be one to note in that black beer stained notebook to return to later.

If it is closed, there is consolation opposite in The Oak Bakery where money can be invested in their wonderful and moreish ‘Portuguese tarts’!

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Book 6 v2 Cover newPub Walks in Hastings and St Leonards is available from Hastings Tourist Information and from The Bookkeeper, Kings Road, St Leonards and by mail order from www.1066haroldsway.co.uk

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The Perfect Finish

The Royal and The Secret St Leonards Walking Trail

Royal Picture

The railway came to Gensing and the station, designed by William Tress (architect of most of the stations on the line to Tunbridge Wells) was built in 1851, marooned a mile from the seafront.

The station made St Leonards and Hastings accessible by train on a direct line from London and from along the south coast. First class for the wealthy and second and third for everyone else and suddenly St Leonards was on the map.

The coming of the railway heralded the development of both London Road, King’s Road and Warrior Square and the Railway Inn was opened in 1854, first as a beer house and later with a full licence, on the corner of Kings Road and Western Road. There was little else around.

As the town grew and grew, the land around the station developed with a hotel built (1876) on the opposite corner to the Railway Inn. By 1884 it was known as the Royal Hotel with a large and classy saloon bar, a public bar and a ‘snug’ that catered for all classes, but everyone knew their place in the drinking hierarchy.

One can imagine the quiet snug, the spit and sawdust bar and the upmarket saloon of wood panelling, polished floors, glittering chandeliers and maybe a potted palm or two all reminiscent of the large Victorian pubs that still exist in parts of London.  The commercial traveller, his trilby and heavy three-piece suit, his pocket watch and his case of samples, eating lunch, buttons straining and perhaps time for another bottle of beer and a cigar before the train home.

In his place today are suits and open necked shirts, bringing the noise of shared jokes and conversation, grouped by the bar and ladies sat, with a bottle of white wine in a chiller, sharing gossip. It is a meeting pub, a drink straight from the train or from work pub. It is like the bars that I used to visit, straight from work in London, some 45 years ago but without the layers of smoke. I’m glad to see that it is alive and well in St Leonards and that pint of London Pride brings back more memories (Theakston Lightfoot was the alternative) and Pride wins it for me.

I would have liked to have seen the Royal in all its Victorian splendour but, after its recent doldrum years, it has been transformed into a one roomed destination pub. The high ceilings and sense of space are remnants of its former grandeur and although the wood panelling is now deep blue it is the clientele that has changed the most in this mix and match pub – it is now the perfect finish for the Secret St Leonards Walking Trail.

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