My expanded and annotated illustration project about the pubs and clubs of Northampton tayn I visited as a child growing up in the 1970s and 80s
I thought my childhood was pretty ordinary
Not much different to how I imagined everyone’s childhood was. But as a grew older and met more people I realised that we did some things a bit different to most. My old man, Henry, or ‘ar Billy had a big family and they all lived in the tayn. My Mum’s family or though smaller were also an interesting bunch. All these family members meant I had this huge extended family and a great many of them would meet up on the weekends in the pubs and clubs of Northampton. I thought every body spent there childhood in pubs and extended house parties, and the Working Men’s Club on a Sunday night. We also lost our Sunday afternoons in my house as after the old man got home from the pub and we had eaten our Sunday dinner we would be sent to bed for a few hours so we could go to the Working Men’s Club Sunday night. As I grew older I realised not everyone did this!
I was born in Northampton, at the Barratt Maternity Home, which opened in 1936 with a generous donation of footwear entrepreneur William Barratt. And grew up here in a council house during the 1970’s. I had two older sisters, loads of cousins and dozens of Aunties and Uncles. Plus the neighbours on our terraced road would become my Aunt’s and Uncle’s, as was the way back then, when the front doors were still unlocked and the road you lived on became an extended family. Fond memories of the power cuts and everyone being in one house on the row with candles and playing games. Sitting on steps outside and the women taking turns to make the pot’s of tea and pass round the biscuit tin.
Like many other working class families my lot would meet up and drink in many of Northampton’s pubs and clubs. Some of these pubs had been around for years and others newly built during the modernisation that took place during the late 1960’s and 1970’s. If you lived in Northampton you know that they ripped the heart and soul out of this old market tayn. A place that could once boast as having the largest open market in Europe. A castle where parliament once sat. But by the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s, this old shoe tayn with so many beautiful and distinctive buildings was changing. Gone were the old shoe factories, the terraced rows with a pub seemingly on every corner. The tayn began to morph into what we have now. Featuring at it’s centre, and often crowned the ugliest building in the UK, and with the nickname of the gates of hell, was the Greyfriars Bus Station, see my other project Northampton Dreaming. Sat beside the Bus Station was the Grosvenor Centre. Which saw the wonderful Emporium Arcade demolished along with many more buildings and old Northampton pubs. What was not torn down fell foul to mysterious fires, which Northampton seemed to have more than it’s fair share of. Beautiful buildings like the Notre Dame High School in Abington Street and the St. John’s Street railway station went, as roads were widened and seventies new builds erected. All in the name of progress, and the lining of someone’s pocket.
It was in this new dystopian market tayn that myself and my many cousins would be dragged along, looking forward to afternoons of adventures, while the family moved from pub to pub and club to club, as venues shut down, lost favour, or someone was barred.
On this page you will find my illustrations featuring pubs from my childhood and youth. Each illustraion features a little story of what I remember and I will keep adding more as time goes by.
To be hopefully included are . . .
The Fire Fly in Dallington (also known as the Red Earl). I can’t remember much about this place except my family used to drink in there and it often crops up in conversation. I have tried to find images of The Fire Fly but I can’t find any decent ones. I think it had a long single story building and a larger more house like one, a big car park and was opposite Dallington brook. As children, my old man, ‘ar Billy, and his 8 brothers and 5 sisters would live around the corner from where the pub would stand in a terraced house on Merthyr Road. The Fire Fly was without doubt a local pub with a somewhat acquired taste. I have the vaguest of memories of being in The Fire Fly when a big bar room brawl happened, and in my head the younger me remembers it as being like one of those bar fights you would see in an old western film. A chair was definitely smashed over someone’s head, and I’m sure me and my cousin Scott, hid under the pool table, but that well be my imagination getting the better of me. I asked my parents and they said it probably did happen.
We also visited the Spencer Working Men’s Club which was not far from here. We used the working men’s large room facilities for weddings and birthdays. Some of the family still lived in Spencer and Kings Heath. I remember this place having a stream at the bottom of the car park where me and my cousins would mess around after jumping the wall at the bottom of the car park.
Another lost pub from my childhood was The Morris Man in Kings Heath. This place had previously been a nightclub called Fantasia. Hazey memories of lot’s of levels in this pub. If my family were drinking there during the day, my cousins and myself would be free to run around Kings Heath dodging the, what seemed like, endless puddles of sticky carrier bags that the local glue sniffers had left lying around. There used to be a sweet shop on the Kings Heath arcade where you could buy the biggest brick of honeycomb that you could ever imagine and all for about 10p.
I remember the old man and my uncles would to take on the Morris Man in charity football and cricket matches on the grass land behind the pub. I have memories of a couple of tug of war battles that took place over the mill, this was before the new bridge was put in. The two teams stood either side of the river and the losers were declared when one of the teams ended up being pulled into the Nene. After this spectacle it was back to the Morris Man for more beer.
The Silver Cornet, situated down the road from the Morris Man, was also visited by my family but I don’t remember it being as often. You’ll often hear the statement ‘Did you know Bob Marley played the Silver Cornet’ but I have never met anyone who was actually there.
We also went to The Kingsley Park Working Men’s Club. A huge club where my Uncle would do a meat raffle on a Sunday lunchtime. Long before the pubs opened all day (except for lock-ins) I remember we would end up at peoples houses and the drinking would continue. Myself and some of my cousins would try and sneak a bottle of cider and can of lager from the kitchen and make snakebites in my cousin’s bedroom and then talk to strange lorry drivers his CB radio, amazing really the old CB thing, 10 year old kids talking to lorry drivers all night in their bedrooms?! And we worry about WhatsApp and Fortnite! One such boozy day me and my cousin were building soapbox carts, you know the type of thing a death trap on pram wheels. I’m guessing we were around 10 years old. As we were sawing the wooden box to make the seating area of the cart a wobbly chap appeared in the drive. He came over with a can of beer in hand and a fag on the go, ‘Er let me have a go!’ he said. Taking the saw, he tried to concentrate and squint, the poor chap was so pissed he was probably seeing at least two saws. With his hand holding on to the wood to steady himself he continued to nearly saw his finger off.
Another memory is being taken to the County Tavern by me Dad. His oldest brother and would take the divvy there on a Friday night. Going to the cobblers is also a fond memory. As a kid we would jump the turnstiles at the Wantage Road end, the steward always let kids in for free, or always let us kids in for free. I remember my Dad and his brothers standing at the Hotel End, drinking pints from the County Tavern, there was a hatch you was able to get pints from without leaving the County Ground. If it was a full County Ground a river of piss would wind it’s was down behind the Hotel End past Ansell’s burger kiosk as the drains were unable to cope. I continued to go to the cobblers on my own during my teens and it was a great time at the cobblers with Graham Carr managing, and players like Peter Gleasure, Brian Mundee, Ian Benjamin, Richard Hill, Trevor Morley, and Graham ‘Rambo’ Reed in the squad.
I also remember being taken to the Pomfret down in Cotton. Every now and again on a Sunday morning I was allowed to tag along and get a taste of the Sunday Lunchtime session. My old man and all his brothers worked on the railway. Some starting with Permaquip and then for British Rail, and later some for Lionverge. Being railway men the Railway Tavern and the Pomfret Arms were frequented as the railway yard was round the back. So on a Sunday morning we’d get the bus into tayn and walk down Bridge Street to Far Cotton. The pub looked shut from the outside, it was always pretty early and the first stop on the Sunday Lunchtime sesh. You’d go down the passage that led round the back, knock the window and be let in that way. On the bar would be a spread of pork pie, dripping sandwiches, jellied eels, black pudding, scratchings, all good healthy grub. The smoking head above the fireplace used to scare me with it’s grimace and a fag sticking out it’s mouth. The tradition went back years, the back draft from the fire would cause the lit cigarette to be actually drawn and the head would indeed smoke on it’s own.
Other places from my past, but more as a teenager who had just starting to drink, in no particular order of preference include; The North Star in Acre Lane (a great music quiz on a Sunday); The King William IV (King Billy) in Kingsthorpe, The (Old) Fox and Hounds in Kingsthorpe, The Duke Of York in Semilong, and The Overstone Arms (later to be the very successful Lamplighter) I loved the old layout of the pub and the secluded booths it used to hold, it was a pub I took girlfriends too as you could find always find a booth and not get bothered. It also had a music quiz but I can’t remember the night it was on, but would go there with a mate of my old man’s after a few beers in the Queens Park Working Men’s Club first.
I will hopefully remember more as time goes on before my memory, like those pubs, goes for good.
Whilst I was doing this project my mate Richard told me about a book he had purchased by a local author which was all about lost pubs in Northampton. The book is a history and directory of Northampton Pubs and Inns trading before 1945. It is called ‘Last Orders’ and the author is Dave Knibb. You can find out more about this book by following the link at the bottom of this paragraph. Where you’ll find an article in the Chron. I met Dave recently and he is a jolly nice chap so please buy his book.
Northampton Pigeon Fanciers’ Club circa 1977
The Pigeon Fanciers’ Club was a Working Mans Club in Great Russell St. Northampton. It was built in 1977 by J. Roscoe Milne Partnership, and was called a blown up industrial product design aesthetic. It looked like a blummin’ spaceship had landed in the centre of tayn. The interior was a highly fashionable 1970’s orange and brown. Ladies would cross the road from the Friendlies, another Working Men’s Club which sat exactly opposite, where they would play bingo in both of the establishments on the same night criss crossing the road outside. Many people have forgotten the venues full correct title and it is often remembered simply as the Fanciers.
Later this venue was to become a night club called Top Of The Town. I have very happy if not blurry memories of Tops. I would go most Friday and Saturday nights to dance to the Stone Roses, Housemartins, and do the dying fly, like Bluto Blutarsky’s famous gator scene from National Lampoons Animal House. Unlike Cinderella’s, which was a night club in St. James, you didn’t have to wear a shirt and tie! I wasn’t a fan of Cinderella’s but did enjoy the Under 18’s night on a Tuesday around my 13th birthday. Dancing to Motown round and round in a circle ? ! I would often go the opposite way to everyone else, bloody sheep.
As an additional note the Top Of The Town bouncers were on the whole a pretty horrible lot. Except one, my mate Jim who I worked with at Michael Jones. I was working as an Horology apprentice and Jim was a Silversmith apprentice and was a bloody lovely chap. Back to the bouncers, I saw them beat up loads of people and a few mates. They would get you to the door and then throw you down the steps onto the concrete below. The night club closed in 1991. But happy memories.
Friendlies Working Men’s Club circa 1977
The Friendlies, another place remembered fondly from my youth, was a Working Men’s Club, as stated above, opposite the Fanciers on Great Russell Street. It was newly build when the old club which I think had been in Earl Street was demolished. My Mum’s family, the Halls, used to drink here, I think it was one of the nearest clubs to the shoe factories they worked in. I spent many a Saturdays there playing the table top arcade machine. Every Sunday evening we were there at the disco in the concert room, we went there until it closed in the late 80’s. On Saturdays I seem to have a recollection of a drummer and organist playing in the top room, the concert room was not open on Saturday lunch times. There was a room to the left of the bar that was out of bounds to children and women! They had 2 snooker tables down stairs and another bar down there with the skittles and darts. The concert room had a sunken dance floor and a stage where bands would perform and the Bingo numbers called. My Uncle Dick would have his head shaved once a year at the Friendlies to raise money for Cancer charities. A claim to fame is that snooker player Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins used the Friendlies for his base when he played in the World Snooker Finals, played at the Derngate during the 1980’s.
In 1999 the venue reopened as a music venue, and became the Soundhaus. It was part of Bill Davison’s Purplehaus empire, which consisted of the Roadmenders, The End in Far Cotton, and the wonderful and but short lived Black Cat Jazz Bar, have a look a couple of posts down for more info on The Black Cat.
Any way back to Great Russell Street. I would see loads of bands play at the Soundhaus and even did DJ support there, it felt odd that two venues I’d played and danced in as a kid, the Fanciers and Friendlies, were also the places I played and danced in as a young adult. The men only snug of the Friendlies became the green room and later where the DJ booth was moved to. It was closed in 2008 after being open for just 8 years. It remained empty for a few years and then became a boxing club and is currently (November 2019) a Romanian restaurant called the Moldova.
The Sportman’s Arms circa 1930
The Sportsman Arms in Bath Street. I can remember this as being a very smokey pub as a kid. My biggest memory of the Sportman’s was one of my many uncles let me drive his Capri from outside the pub after an afternoon session there, I think we was heading to The Firefly, a threw me the keys and I got in the car and rolled down the hill crossing on to St. Andrews Road and mounting the pavement opposite, I didn’t know how to drive and I may or may not have been only 15!!!
My friend Lionel, one of Northampton’s great characters, was the landlord at The Sportman’s for a while, he also went on to manage the Duke Of York in Semilong for a bit, and the infamous Winchester Private Members Club in Grafton Street, a short lived place but etched into my brain for life, it had the most wonderful sprung wooden dance floor and had been a dance studio for a while. I always thought it would have been great to put on Northern Soul does there.
The Welcome Inn circa 1900
My Nan, Violet Hall, worked behind the bar in The Welcome, and my Uncle Dick used to drink there. I remember going there as a kid. They had a small car park around the rear and I remember going up stairs into a room with a pool table and a long bar further into the building on the left hand side.
This pub was notorious because one of it’s landlords murdered a prostitute and hid her in the pub toilets.
The Rifle Drum circa 1967
The Rifle Drum, known simply to us as the Drum, has been around since the 17th Century, and according to Dave Knibb’s book it had a name change to the Crown for a while. It’s interesting, see the story below, that the public toilets on Wood Hill had thought sufficient for customers until 1938, when they finally installed customer toilets for the first time and replaced the existing spiral stair case.
One of the last remaining smaller bars left in Northampton, that had licensing hours to suit the Market Traders.
The Drum has a pretty unique clientele full of old Northampton faces, and is still a place where you can hear the old Northampton accent. At least one member of my extended family can be found in here most Saturday afternoons.
Opposite is another old tayn pub called Shipmans (see post below). Women would cross Drum Lane jitty into the Shipmans to use the amenities, you see, the ladies room in the Drum is upstairs, and the men’s are down stairs. Anyhow, I do remember being in there one dinnertime and it was while the Shipmans was shut (as it still remains now in 2019) an older lady couldn’t manage the stairs and was given a bucket to piddle in, while everyone looked the other way politely.
Shipmans circa 1980s
The Shipmans sits opposite The Drum on Drum Lane and also had an entrance on the Drapery. I used to enjoy popping into this pub in my youth as it was a really old unique pub. Not many people my age would venture in but being as I would also use the Drum me and my mate Cama would drop in for a bottle of beer. It had the barrel room and then the bar down one side. It is sandwiched between it’s neighbouring buildings and might be the slimmest pub in tayn. The Northampton based McManus Pub Company have owned the building since 2015 and they keep saying it will re-open again soon, 5 years seems a long time to be doing up such a small bar so let’s hope it opens it’s doors again soon . . .
According to Dave Knibb’s book ‘Last Orders’ ( go and buy a copy ) the pub started life in the 1700s calling itself The Roebuck. It was in 1767 that the new landlord changed it’s name to The White Hart. 1785 the pub was selling rums, brandies and wines. ‘Last Orders’ states that Whitmy & Shipman were selling wine and brandy from the property in 1827. By 1832 The White Hart Wine Vaults had appeared. The Shipman family continued to run the pub until the early part of 1900s.
There have always been talk that the property was haunted, some say by Harry Franklin who committed suicide there. I always thought he was an old landlord but it seems Dave Knibb dug up proof he was the manager of the Shipman wholesale business and lived on the premises. He was found in the cellar after cutting his own throat.
I couldn’t find any old photos of the pub so this illustration is dated from a photo from the 1980s but I can’t image it has changed in the last 150 years.
The Keep circa 1974
The Keep was built along with the Kingsthorpe shopping arcade in 1973, opening it’s doors in 1974. It was part of the new build of shops down ‘the Front’ as us locals would call it. There was a set of doors leading down the staircase into the underground pub. It was a very local establishment, but as a kid drinking in Kingsthorpe it would be part of the pub run we would do. It had a disco at the weekends, Tim an older lad who lived near me was the DJ. It had a pool table which I remember as always being busy. It is odd to think back now but I had a gun pulled on me once in here, but that’s another story.
As a Bective lad (both Lower and Middle) I lived right on the edge of the permitted border to be allowed to say I was from Kingsthorpe. A council house in Sunnyside, I not sure the post office use the Sunnyside as a place name anymore but it is still the name of the local pub.
Anyway a gang of us would do the Kingthorpe crawl, this would have been around 1988/89. Starting in the Fox & Hounds (before the refit, I loved this old pub as it was, with the skittle spit and sawdust bar at the front and the carpeted saloon in the back, we would then hit the Old Five Bells, The Snooker Club (this was the only place I could get served as a 17 year old, an old babysitter of mine worked behind the bar and thought I was a year older!), The Keep, The White Horse (or Dirty Donkey, coined by my mate Cama), The Cock Hotel, down to the village and the King Billy, up the hill to the Adelaide, another walk up the hill, pausing so Big Kev could be sick, and then back in the Snooker Club for last orders. All this before going to Top Of The Town, hopefully getting off with a girl, and then hitting Up All Night for food and if money allowed we would cross the road to the taxi rank or walking the 3 miles home.
French Quarter hairdressing salon was at the opposite corner of the block of shops, I used to think that place was really posh as a Bective boy, it looked like another world. Blockbuster Videos was next door to The Keep in later years, before the whole place was pulled down.
Garibaldi circa early 1900s
I have a hazy memory of my family and their friends drinking in the The Garibaldi. It’s still opening now but a lot more trendy than back then. It is situated in Bailiff Street, opposite the Vocal, behind the the Mounts and used to be frequented by uncover policemen as it was behind Campbell Square.
It must have been around the late 70’s early 80’s when we drank there. I wasn’t old enough to drink. The grown ups would take court in the seating under the windows at the front and play a massive game of Bastard brag. Bastard brag is a variation of 3 card brag, 3 cards are dealt into the middle, 2 up and 1 is face down, the name is from the frustration players would feel when another player picks the card you wanted, and ‘you bastard’ might be muttered or shouted depending on your mood and how inebriated you are. I remember the lovely shiny green tiles of this pub that still sticks in my mind even through the smokey haze of all the pubs back then.
As already mentioned opposite The Gari was the Vocal & Instrumental Club, simply known as the shortened Vocal by many people in Northampton. I remember the shoe factory my Nan used to work in was near by and my Uncle Richard, or DIck as he was known, lived on Thomas Street, just up from the Vocal. The shoe factory and his house were both eventually demolished, just another part of Northampton’s modernisation.
I have put on a few bands at The Garibaldi over the years and have played records there on occasion too. Another of my family pubs that I frequented as an adult.
The Black Cat Jazz circa 2007
Okay the earliest image I have found of this building was dated 1904 and shows how Regent Square looked back then. The main road was Sheep Street and the trams went up there, it wasn’t until they widened Broad Street and pulled down surrounding buildings and pubs that things changed to what we have now.
I first remember this building from the bus stop outside, what I mean is the number 36 bus from Kingsthorpe, on a Saturday morning to go and meet my Nan in Lawrences on St. Giles Street for a Towcester Cheesecake, before going to the market and Fish Market before coming back home. The bus would pull in at the stop adjacent to this building and the first sign I remember was the building being called the 101 Club upstairs and Shine’s bookmakers downstairs. When I was a lad The Bull Hotel was still on the corner of Campbell Street and the Bird In The Hand (now called The Edge Of Town) was where my pap drank was close by.
It was also known as The Regent, I had my first taste of hearing acid house at this venue. The only nights we went there was on a Thursday night, as the DJ would play this exciting new music, Acid. It was a start of new subculture and the time for raves had begun. The Regent also had a karaoke in the upstairs bar which wasn’t very big. That part of the club was eventually closed off, as the Fire Department said it was a hazard and didn’t have a working fire escape. The stairs going up to that top bar were a bloody nightmare, and I saw people fall down them more than once. I was also in there with my mate Cama, when I somehow wound someone chap up in the queue and a fight started, I spent most of the fight trying to retrieve Cam’s glasses that had been knocked off, when things settled down I emerged from under a table holding his unbroken glasses. I seem to recall once chairs and tables were turned the right way up everything carried on as though nothing had happened.
It had other names too, some I remember are Sinatras, short lived Herman’s which quickly changed to Macbeth’s, and also became one The Cookie Club franchise venues.
But by far my favourite was Bill Davison’s The Black Cat Jazz Bar. I had been doing for a while with two friends as Blackcatfound and always wondered if this influenced the name he chose?. Any way I was asked to play on Sunday afternoons, while people ate wonderful Sunday dinners and drank wine. I adored DJing there every Sunday afternoon, playing a 4 hour set and drinking wine while reading the Sunday papers. Such a shame it just didn’t stay open for longer.
The Victoria Inn circa 1875
Referring again to Dave Knibb’s wonderful book ‘Last Orders’ I found out that The Victoria Inn, situated on the corner of Poole Street and Military Road, opened in 1875. It was a popular venue for local political meetings in it’s early days. Around the 1960’s the Victoria Inn closed it’s doors as a public house becoming the headquarters to the Northampton Nene Angling Club and for a short time the the Navy Club, before reopening again as pub in the 1980’s. I used to like popping in to the old pub after visiting The Bat & Wickets to play bar billiards as it was one of the few pubs to still have a table.
It gained popularity as part of the Mounts triangle, which consisted of The Vic (as it was rebranded), The Garibaldi and The Lamplighter. I used to DJ here on a Saturday night with my mate Dixy, Uncle Seltzers Kosmik Surgery spun plastic discs of joy for many lock-ins. Gregg Cave also booked wonderful folk gigs at this venue too, and The Northampton Folk Club would also meet here for a sing song.
Unfortunately in 2016 The Victoria Inn has definitely closed it’s doors for the last time, it became another pub closed and brought by property developers and is now a block of flats.
Hope you enjoyed reading about my memories as a lad growing up in Northampton ~ Paul Hillery 2019