Thursday, 24 February 2011

John Bull Memories


From 1973 until 1987 I lived in York and it's still dear to me. Somehow I became associated with an organisation called the Campaign for Real Ale, can't imagine why. Another CAMRA member was Neville Hobson, who worked in his family bakery and yearned to be a publican. When his father passed away, Neville sold the bakery and sought to realise his dream. At that time (1982) there was only one pub in York that was a "free house" (the Spread Eagle): all the rest were tied to breweries. It was a struggle for anyone without years of experience to break into the licensed trade as Nev wished to do. At length he found an ex-pub, built in "road house" style in the 1930s, in use as a store by the Mazda garage next door. He and, as I recall, a bunch of CAMRA members cleared out the old pub, and eventually the John Bull opened. Thanks to a succession of highly responsible bar staff (Jeff, for example, and Rowan), the Bull became recognised as a great place to meet and socialise, where you could get an excellent range of beer and stonking sandwiches. Rowan used to get supplies for the sarnies from Sainsbury's just round the corner and across the river Foss. Half a loaf, a slice of cheese an inch thick, ditto of pickles and about two inches of green salad, were combined into a sandwich you had to dislocate your jaw to eat, anaconda style. On Youtube are two videos of the pub in its last days. The Mazda dealership wanted to expanded their showroom, and the John Bull was in the way, so in 1994, some while after Nev himself had moved on, it was demolished. On the first of the videos you can see the list of sarnies! Cheese, Houmous, Beef, Ham....

There was no juke box, no piped music, and no TV. Particularly nice was that as a female I could go into the John Bull on my own, or on one occasion with the cat in her carrying box (the vet was just up the road) and find good conversation on any topic whatsoever. Many of the regulars were staff or students of the University. This week we welcomed two of those ex-regulars to our house in France - they live less than ten miles away in Charnizay! Who'd have thought it?

5 comments:

Niall & Antoinette said...

It was very good to see you:-)
Ah memories!! You're so right about those sandwiches--I'd forgotten how much it literally hurt your jaw to get a bite. We also have great, if blurred memories of a Christmas lock in. Neville did us a brilliant medieval subtlety when we (Lords of Misrule) did a Medieval Christmas piece for YTV's Calendar programme. Niall did a gig in the JB garden [in 87] with 2 friends Mike Burns & Jimmy Richards. They were called 'Worrying Symptoms'...

Antoinette

Jean said...

It certainly beats the "Old Tom Cobbly" style of imitation old-world pubs, serving soggy cabbage and tasteless carrots with their two-for-one dinners. I can't understand why on earth anyone ever goes to them.

Pollygarter said...

Lovely to see you two too! In the 1984 York Mystery plays, Nev played Satan! Imagine a round man in tights. He always enjoyed theatre and actually put up a couple of actors on tour, upstairs at the John Bull, like a theatrical landlady. The live music was good most of the time, except for the Sunday sessions when all the fiddle players in the region congregated to play the one Irish tune that they all knew, at the pace of the lowest common denominator. The video has pictures of the Morris team, many of whom were colleagues / pals of mine. And Dave Gamston appears, talking about the architecture. I recognise a few faces, but can't put names to them.

Niall & Antoinette said...

I remember him telling us about that. During the Mystery Plays in 84 we performed a medieval wagon play at the east end of the Minster. Used to cause lovely traffic chaos in Dean's Close when we moved the wagon from the CMS to the east end every day :-)
Like you saw a few faces which looked familiar but couldn't name.

Terry Morrison said...

I remember earlier than 1979 when my mother played darts for the John Bull's Ladies team, the landlord was Awin Glover. Sheila Waites also played for the ladies darts team her parents had the pub for a long time before retiring, I played darts for the men's team when I was 16 under a false name