The Barman, January 11, 2019
In 1712 the government passed the Stamp Act which levied stamp duty on newspapers.
I was looking to blame our own Robert Walpole for this, but at the time he was serving six months in the Tower of London having been found “guilty of a high breach of trust and notorious corruption”.
It was not until the following year that he gained re-election to parliament as the member for King’s Lynn.
However, the tax, which was in force until 1855 had its effect and reduced the sales of newspapers, especially to the working classes for whom a penny a sheet tax was a fair sum of money.
This led to the establishment of news rooms in pubs where the customers could borrow a copy of the paper, or perhaps where public readings of the important stories of the day took place.
You may be lucky enough to come across an etched glass window advertising the news room alongside the snug, parlour or tap room if you can find one of the pubs that has escaped having its interior gutted and all the small rooms combined into a large barn like space.
On a recent visit to Nottingham we were taken to a pub that gained its name from that very activity.
Nowadays, the Newshouse is a 50’s building clad in blue tiles a short walk from the railway station, and the etched glass features an old-fashioned radio microphone rather than a broadsheet.
It was rebuilt after the war but occupies a site where the previous building would have echoed to the news of the Battle of Waterloo or the Relief of Khartoum being recited to eager listeners.
The tradition lingers, with framed examples of newspapers adorning the walls, with their headlines proclaiming important events that shaped our lives.
Being as much an admirer of pubs as I am of beer, my attention wandered to the ceiling where I spotted the strange sight of a playing card apparently bearing a signature stuck there.
A glance around revealed a couple more, and despite our hosts being regulars in the bar, they could shed no light on this.
Fortunately the barman was a cheerful and talkative fellow and he explained that the ceiling used to be covered with them until it was redecorated after the smoking ban was introduced.
One of the regulars was a member of the Magic Circle, and his favourite trick was to ask a member of his audience to select a playing card from the pack, write their name on it and return it to him.
The magician would then throw the pack up into the air, where all the cards would fall to the floor, except for the marked one, which would stick to the ceiling.
The landlord told us that he wanted to replace them after redecoration, but the magician wanted to reuse the special adhesive which has to be imported from America, so there are only three left there now, from post redecoration times.
Great beer, super sandwiches, CAMRA discount and an interesting story made for a very pleasant lunchtime, but unfortunately the magic ended later in the afternoon where Bury failed to beat a resolute Notts County side at nearby Meadow Lane.
Still, it is good to know that in the era of pub closures there is at least one around that serves good beer and filling food, has a story to tell and a pleasant landlord.
If there is a secret to a good pub, maybe this place has found it. Start spreading the news.