Monday, 24 October 2011

Bye-Bye to the Ball Tree: Once a House of Repute in Sussex

The Ball Tree, 1 Busticle Lane, Sompting, West Sussex, is no more. Clips of its demolition have been posted on the Internet. It was already closed and boarded-up when a fire took hold of the premises on 9th May this year. The pub name was said to hark back to the days when local farmers used to gather under a nearby tree for a ‘ball’, probably with beer purchased from the previous retailer on the site, called the Ball but informally known as Aunt Annie’s.

Very much a community pub, the emphasis on families and children, it will no doubt be mourned by some locals but, to be brutally honest, not much missed by real ale drinkers. It did appear in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide during the late 1970s when selling beer from the now-defunct Gale’s brewery of Horndean, Hampshire. In the fall of 2006 I reviewed the Ball Tree for my fanzine The Quaffer. The only real ale was Fuller’s London Pride and in sadly substandard condition it was that day, stale with an off-taste of marzipan.

But I always regarded the Ball Tree as an elegant example of interwar pub architecture. The date 1935 was carved into the stonework support of the pub sign in the centre of the parapet. I regret the loss of the fine brickwork of the flattened front elevation, so typical of the period, and of the mock-Tudor stone-dressed doors and the mullioned windows with lattice-work in the central projecting bay.

The Ball Tree was of too late a date to be listed in a book of the early 1930s, “Houses” of Repute in Sussex, commissioned by the Kemp Town Brewery (henceforth, KTB), Brighton, but the building is so obviously hallmarked as their work. It is instructive to see the design of the Duke of Wellington, Shoreham-by-Sea, another KTB house just a few miles east along the coast, as a kind of inversion of the Ball Tree’s central front elevation. 

I have to thank Jimmy Hastell and his excellent Worthing Pubs web site for confirmation of the Ball Tree being KTB-built. In a black and white photo of the pub posted on the site, KEMP TOWN appears above the left door of the central elevation in white sans serif modernist letting. The Marquis of Granby, just up the road and another mid-1930s rebuild, was owned by the Portsmouth and Brighton United Breweries (it retains a fine set of United Ales leaded windows), while the Gardeners Arms in the village was at that time the local Tamplins outlet. 

The Ball Tree was one of those rare pubs that retained two separate bars. On my 2006 visit the left-side “Lounge Bar” contained little to write about: two raised areas, one with dining tables at the front window, the other at the rear where small TV was mounted; just the dark-brown woodwork of the ceiling was from the 1930s. But if my memory serves me correctly the “Sports Bar” on the right was - apart from the pool table and TV – much as it would have looked seventy years earlier: fully wood panelled with parquet floor and original lettering on the toilet doors.

Built at an oblique angle to the left of the pub, a gabled construction with dormer windows was advertised as a Gardens Restaurant and Children’s Room. It is likely that this was originally a wine office for take-away home use, a regular feature of ‘improved’ KTB pubs.

I was intending at some vague and ill-defined point in time to revisit the Ball Tree, trace the remaining architectural clues in more detail and take high-quality digital images, but will have to be content with these 35mm film snaps, taken for the purpose of supplementing my written notes for the 2006 review. They are, at least, a visual record of a now lost KTB house.


Kemp Town Brewery (n.d. but c. 1932), In and Around Brighton: “Houses” of Repute in Sussex, Cheltenham: Ed J. Burrow & Co.

Lowe, Trevor (2004), The Sussex Good Pub Guide 2004-5, Southern Promotions.

‘Sompting’, A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 6 Part 1: Bramber Rape (Southern Part) (1980), pp. 53-64. Date accessed: 24 October 2011

Worthing Pubs, Date accessed: 24 October 2011

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt

Just over a month ago I was invited by the press office of the supermarket giant Sainsbury’s to attend the grand final of their Great British Beer Hunt, to be held on the last day of September at “the Brewery”, Chiswell Street, London, EC1. The objective was to select two bottled beers to be stocked in Sainsbury’s stores throughout the UK for a minimum of six months. Sainsbury’s had invited entries for all UK brewers in February, then had held four regional judging heats in May – at Edinburgh, Watford, Bristol and Uttoxeter. Beer experts and selected Sainsbury’s customers helped to choose four beers from each region as winners from the 106 entrants. These sixteen beers then appeared at Sainsbury’s stores during September and the two top-sellers from each region formed the eight beers to be judged at the grand final.

Friday 30th was a day of radiant heat. After a stuffy stop-start tube journey on the circle line from Victoria, I changed at Bank for the northern line, emerged at Moorgate into the blinding lunchtime light and strode my way past wavering sheets of shimmering glass to the conference venue that in its former life was Whitbread’s Brewery.

Rushed and flushed I was glad to have the immediate opportunity to quench my thirst with one of the day’s eight finalists, Williams Bros Brewing Co Caesar Augustus, described on the label as a Lager/IPA hybrid. This 4.1% crisp-tasting golden beer was an ideal refresher. Over a leisurely buffet lunch beer-writers and Bloggers had time to chat to each other, to the organizers from Sainsbury’s, to those attending from the involved breweries while, of course, sampling the rest of the beers to be judged.

Our host for the day, Olly Smith, well known a wine-buff, but a beer lover nonetheless and a witty and ebullient compere, invited brewers and their representatives on stage, in turn, while the serious business of tallying the judges scores carried on behind the scenes. “Ladies and gentlemen it’s a close-run thing” Olly exclaimed in his excitement, having been fed the latest news of the count. It was like a cross between an Election Night Special and the Eurovision Song Contest but with a more feverish atmosphere.

As the tension became palpable I fell into conversation with Paul Walker of Hunter’s Brewery. Paul, with his wife and business partner, Eline, began brewing as Hunter’s at a Devon farm in 2008 on a 5-barrel plant. Their 8.0% Full Bore entry at this final was first born out of a mistake over ingredients that resulted in a stronger beer than intended. Dubbed Santa’s Ruin, it was enjoyed by all as a Christmas Ale and laid the foundation for the recipe of today.

Olly was right. It had been a close-run thing; but the two winners, finally announced, had been among my own top-three tips of the day. The runner-up was my first beer sampled, Caesar Augustus. The winner was the beer I’d been drinking most of since that point, Bad King John, by Ridgeway Brewing, a powerful 6.0% black brew with dark chocolate and fruit notes. Look out for these two at Sainsbury’s stores throughout the UK.

That concluded the official proceedings but let me say a word or two about my third favourite entry, the aforementioned Full Bore, by Hunter’s Brewery. Described in the tasting notes as “a full- bodied amber ale”, I found it more akin to a barley-wine and certainly one for keeping, at least until Christmas.

The other five beers? Harviestoun Wild Hop IPA; Ridgeway Ivanhoe; Wye Valley Wye Not?; Holts Two Hoots; and Sadler’s Worcester Sorcerer.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

The Dun Horse, Mannings Heath, Horsham

On the Brighton Road a few miles south of Horsham stands this white-plastered, red brick roadhouse, notable for its very fine Art Nouveau leaded and stained glass windows bearing livery from the long-defunct Rock Brewery, Brighton. The two identical, larger windows feature a dun horse in the central panel. The left side panel advertises ROCK ALES; the right side has WINES & SPIRITS. The windows of the central, projecting bay present (left-side) ROCK ALES and (right-side) PRIVATE BAR.

In the glass of the two doors we have, respectively, GOOD FOOD and GOOD CHEER. The emphasis on food was typical of the interwar ‘improved public house’, of which the Dun Horse is an example. Photographs of the pub c. 1900 show it to have then been a wooden-boarded cottage-style inn advertising Michells Ale from the West Street Brewery, Horsham, taken over by the Rock Brewery in 1912.

In 1794 the inn was called the White Horse but it changed its colour soon afterwards.

The present building dates from 1926, just a couple of years before Rock were acquired by Portsmouth United Breweries to form Portsmouth and Brighton United Breweries Ltd. The interior has two rooms and three distinct areas but it may have been built with four rooms. A left-side public bar has a dartboard and bar billiards table. The bar counter and panelling appears to be a modern replacement.

The right-side door leads into an extended saloon bar with a clear spatial division to the right of the counter.
The parquet floor and matchwood dados remain from the interwar rebuild. The raked and angular matchwood counter is also original but the top half of the bar back is new. This middle area most likely once consisted of two rooms entered by a now blocked-up central doorway. On the right of this arrangement was accessed the Private Bar, as can be deduced from the window glass.

The Dun Horse, Mannings Heath, Horsham, West Sussex.