Paul Whitelock on Pubs
But the Yarborough Arms was the den of iniquity. Who was the old chap who used to get in there Di? Used to sing.
Arthur Wills was his name. Arthur was something of a character and Ted Owdridge who used to manage the Yarborough Arms, he’s gone now.
It was a real old spit and sawdust pub with a flagstone floor, a rudimentary bar and a stillage behind, I don’t know what you call …the big barrels of beer would be put up on there to settle. So they would come from the Brewery and they’d be put on there to settle and there’d be four barrels of bitter sitting at the back there and maybe one of mild and they were covered in the summer with West of England sacks that were soaked in water to keep them in condition and it was brewed by Mews the Brewery at Newport, M E W S and they used to make something called ‘XP’, a wonderful bitter.
And Arthur would get in the pub and Ted Andrews had a mallet and spiral for spiralling his barrels and he kept an old tin tray behind the bar for Arthur, who would beat the time out to his songs on the tin tray with his fist, and of course he would bend the tray and so Ted would bash it with a mallet and get all the dents out and give the tray to Arthur and Arthur would sing.
And he’d sing all sorts of songs. Most of them were a bit naughty and every year at the Ventnor Winter Gardens, there was a talent contest, and after winning it three years in a row, they banned Arthur Wills from entering because the holidaymakers who made up the majority of the people who went, kept on voting for him, but he was quite a character, particularly when he’d had a couple of beers and was singing.
But Mews, I can tell you an amusing story about Mews. We used to, I told you the Colin DeFue kind of recruited me into Scats and because I was the boy, I’d be sent out to take samples of the crops, the barley and the wheat and oats and so on and bring them back before we would bid on them.
And so I would go with an auger and I would sample the crop in store, either in sacks or in the bulk and try and get a representative sample and I’d take it back. And the farmers were always interested in selling their barley for malting because malting barley would make more money.
Generally speaking the yield was lower because you couldn’t put very much Nitrogen on it because it spoilt the starch in the barley and the old rhyme was ‘White and mealy, not grey and steely’ so when you cut the barley and you looked at it, if it was white and mealy, it was probably going to be good barley for malting.
If it was grey and looked a bit steely, it wouldn’t be very good. So we’d take the samples back and I’d take them back to Colin, and Colin would say to me, “Take this one and this one round to Mews and see if he’ll make an offer on them.”
That means buying for malting. So we put them in a paper sack. We wouldn’t identify them to the farm, we’d just give them a number because otherwise, well he might have gone round there and bought them himself, so we used to take them round to the Brewery.
Now I never met Mr Mew, but he used to have a bloke there who sat on a high stool at what I think must have been a, like a counting house table, you know where they kept the accounts, this thing was really high and he had a high stool and so I almost passed the sack, used to have to look up to him and pass this sack of barley to him (laughs).
It was all part of the thing and he had a machine which you could shake the barley in to and it would fit in to little slots and you could close the lid on it and then push a knife through it and take the lid off and you could see the barley would be cut and you could see actually what it was like.
And according to what he thought, and he’d smell the nose, it was a big ritual that would go with this, he’d either buy it or not. He’d make an offer or not. And on several occasions I’d take barley in there and some he’d buy and some he wouldn’t, and some he wouldn’t (laughs), I am ashamed to say, we used to take back, put it in a different bag and take it back to him another day (laughs) and on several occasions he’d buy it (laughs) but of course he didn’t know about that and nobody at the time was ever told but it was Colin’s and my little secret (laughs).
But the beer was wonderful and as all things happen and times change and he … I don’t know if he passed away or if he sold it before he passed away but he sold it to Strong’s of Romsey and Strong’s made something called Trophy Bitter and the barrels in those days were all burnt and they had the name burnt on them, the Brewery and the Bitter and the first barrels that came to the Yarborough Arms, bearing in mind they’ve just taken away the bitter that we were all weaned on, it was like mother’s milk as far as we were concerned, they delivered these barrels to the pub and whoever had been branding them , hadn’t got it quite right and instead of saying ‘Trophy Bitter’, it said ‘Ropey Bitter’ and it was known thereafter as Ropey Biter and it was, compared with our experience it was pretty ropey.
But they took our microbrewery away but now they’re all back which is wonderful. We’re all back in fashion.