Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Hogshead

We couldn't decide where to go before the Preston game. I have all of the pub details in a spreadsheet: address, post code etc and sorted them on order of post code.

"Pick a number lower than 280" I said.

"1." Came the reply.

This led us to the discovery that there is, indeed, a criterion which lists the Hogshead as #1 pub in Plymouth. (It also must say something incredibly Freudian about myself for being so anal as to sort pubs by post code and my mate Robbie for being as lacking in imagination that when asked to pick a number lower than 280 he chose "1". I guess we deserve each other really.)

Anyway... The Hogshead. What can you say? It is a big pub located on Plymouth City Centre's most significant thoroughfare: Royal Parade and as such is on just about every bus route in the city. Sitting opposite Plymouth's biggest and most important protestant church: St Andrew's.

I have hazarded guesses at when some of the pubs I have reviewed were built. I will do so again with this one and guess with no little confidence at around 1950. Why? Well it isn't rocket science. In fact rockets have nothing to do with it because Plymouth was too far away from the continent for the doodlebugs to reach us during the blitz. That did not stop Hitler ordering the Luftwaffe to utterly destroy Plymouth which over a period of time they more or less did. There must have been hundreds, no, thousands of tons of bombs dropped on Plymouth. Basically very little of what had been there pre-1939 remained post-1945. The devastation was pretty much total for vast swathes of the city. In fact as a kid walking to school in the '70s from Peverell to the city centre I quite clearly recall that a few of the unlucky houses that had been hit by stray bombs were still just piles of rubble and were yet to be rebuilt.

There is a story that describes the morning after a particularly heavy night's bombing hidden away in the link to St Andrew's above and written by Brian Mosely.

During the air raid of the night of March 20th/21st 1941 the Church was, as Twyford described, 'mauled but not beyond repair'. The main building had been saved although it was not easy to gain entrance as there was fairly extensive damage outside the doorway.

But that relatively happy situation was not to last. During the following night the Church was laid to ruin and on the Saturday morning (22nd) only the walls and tower were left standing. The carillon of bells in the tower was damaged as were the north and east faces of the clock. The church bells themselves were undamaged. The four-manual organ was totally destroyed. At this time, when spirits were low, a board was fixed over the north porch door upon which was carved the one word "Resurgam" - 'I will rise again'.

When I was at school there was a visit to the Central Library and on that visit we were shown a map which showed where every bomb had fallen. Strangely there were none that fell within the boundaries of the dockyard... Well they did but the Official Secrets Act proscribed their inclusion.

Plymouth's role in the blitz is well documented and it is not the only city to have suffered so terribly but it was one of the very worst affected along with some fairly bizarre other targets. Apparently Hitler based the whole bombing campaign on a Tourist Guide that he had acquired and so chose the victim cities on a fairly ad hoc basis. Plymouth and Portsmouth (both naval cities) and Coventry (heavily industialised) made obvious targets but Exeter? Apart from a cathedral and it's county town status there was nothing there worth bombing. Needless to say Exeter suffered hugely too.

Once the war was over a city had to be reborn. There were no shops, churches, houses, pubs... everything had gone. It was a rare opportunity to any city and over time the ravages of post-war austerity were addressed and gradually a plan began to emerge. That plan became known as the Abercombie Plan and led to the building of the City centre as we know it today.

I have found a drawing from the Abercrombie plan and placed it next to an overhead from Google Maps. I've tried to scale each as close to the other as I can. If you click on it it will enlarge.


The Abercrombie Plan was a visionary piece of work. It had to be. A whole country was reeling from the after effects of winning the war and Plymouth needed to be rebuilt. "Now all of this is very interesting" I can hear you thinking to yourself. "But what has it to do with Argyle?"

Well apart from the rubble being reused to help rebuild the often bombed ground:

Thousands of tons of rubble from the devastated Plymouth city centre ... then under reconstruction ... was dumped at Home Park to fill in bomb craters and extend the banking, obsolete tramcars became temporary offices, discarded Army huts were converted into dressing-rooms and a gymnasium for the players, a boardroom-cum-grandstand was constructed from two Army huts perched on iron girders for the directors, and disused railway sleepers provided excellent terracing for the enclosure spectators.

(With Thanks Steve at Greens On Screen for finding that, and the photo of the church above, in W.S. Tonkin's All About Argyle 1903-1963)

Argyle rose from the wreckage just as the city did and with splendid judgement adopted the "Resurgam" motto for a while in the post-war years. In fact the coupling of it with the image of a Phoenix showed something of the optimism of the times. It was not only the terraces and stands that needed to rise from the ashes but the Home Park pitch too was also bombed twice leading to sections of it being filled in at a later date. This causes problems with drainage to this day with sections of the pitch having entirely different soil types leading the groundsman Colin Wheatcroft to pull his hair out in frustration at at times.

Well at the time Plymouth had a young and thrusting Labour MP. Well Devonport did and that is the same thing. He went by the name of Michael Foot and still does and we all know and revere him. Jill Craigie met him then whilst making a documentary film about Plymouth's rise from almost complete and utter destruction and they were later to marry. The film is a wonderful evocation of time and place. The narrator arrives at Plymouth Railway Station to have a look around and his journey around the city is the vehicle used to examine the City as it was and as it hoped to be. As he arrived in Plymouth it was pissing down with rain (plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose as they say in France). There is also a priceless interview with an Efford resident of the time "there's nothing to do for the kids around here..." says a woman with what seems like hundreds of kids ~ there was obviously little for the adults to do after dark either!!

...and here is some of it!!

The Plan For Plymouth

Anyway the grid-like lay out of the City Centre, the preservation of the Hoe, the building of the outlying housing estates, the rather grand frontage to Royal Parade with every building being fronted by Portland Stone and every building being slightly different. In fact there are some architectural marvels hidden away in Plymouth that we walk past pretty much every day and The Hogshead is one of them.Dingles is another. Or at least it was until it got rebranded this week and is now simply House Of Fraser ~ another tiny little idiosyncrasy of the city gone and before very long every city centre everywhere will be identical. Do we really want that? What would Abercrombie have thought?

That does not make it a good pub though. Far from it. I had a fairly long wait whilst I was there for my mates to turn up. It was quite busy. The bar staff were very pleasant but this place just is not what pubs are about as far as I am concerned. It served food, kids were welcome, the beer was good, it has good transport links to anywhere you want to go but drinking there is a soulless and largely unenjoyable process. I suppose it offers a meeting place that is warm, dry and clean. A swift wet might be preferable to being dragged around town shopping and it did have a large screen TV with Sky football showing on it so it wasn't all a bad.

All in all I suppose pubs like the Hogshead provide a service but it feels rather like drinking in a recently converted Argos which is funny because that is just what it was.

Eventually just before I lost the will to live my friends arrived and we were free to continue on our little lunchtime session."Where's next?" "Yates" came the reply. It was only a few doors down and since it was raining offered a good option. So off we went only to discover that it has been closed down. Almost next to that is branch of Peter Briggs which was also closed.

Now all those years ago when the Abercrombie Plan was proposed Royal Parade was the jewel in the crown with the city's most magnificent church to one side, the Guildhall next to it and the dazzling array of new shops across the road. Now all we seem to have is rather more empty shops than we might consider to be healthy in what is, in effect, Plymouth's High Street. You could say that I am reading too much into a closed pub and a closed shop but they are symptomatic of much that has happened to commerce in the City Centre and to pubs in general. Pubs seem to be closing at an unrivalled rate in the city and even landmark pubs with long histories are no longer with us. Those ladies from Efford can no longer have a port and lemon in the Royal Marine. Another near alternative the Old Road Inn is up for sale and may not continue to trade as a pub and pubs in Devonport, which was, of course, old Footie's stomping ground for so long are closing at an alarming rate.

There were 280 pubs on the list I compiled at the start of this little adventure. I wonder how many there will be once it is completed?


At 12:15 pm, Blogger rb said...

hi baba, interesting pubs/history post!

i quoted and linked to you on jojoblog re: jonathan richman (and used your sbe pic)

just wanted to let you know- couldn't find an email address to contact


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