Next in our mini tour of Norwich pubs was the West End Retreat, first opened in the 1840s although the gardens are a little less extensive than they once were as the bowling green was sold off for housing at the turn of this century. An advert in the Norwich Mercury on 25 May 1859 notes:
“To Builders, Speculators and Others. To be sold, by private contract, the well known premises called the West End Retreat. This freehold estate comprises house, containing bar and bar parlour, and other rooms, pleasure grounds, ninepin ground, stables and coachhouse; also baronial hall capable of holding 3,000 persons, conveniently fitted up with galleries, bars, etc; and also another large room with bars, and other conveniences therein, and contains, with the site of the buildings, about 2.25 acres. The above is admirably adapted not only for a public house and pleasure gardens, but also for building purposes.”
The extent of the bowling green is visible from this map from the 1870s.
On 4 August 1860, the Norfolk News mentioned the case of a 16 year old who had smashed the windows of the home belonging to his parents and they said they didn’t know what to do with him. He kept going out and getting drunk, with the Chief Constable of the police commenting that “the Orchard Gardens, the West End Retreat and such like places were perfect sinks of iniquity”. Those pubs are the favourites of Julian S, I can imagine he’d be there until late in the evening… The Mayor told the Chief Constable to arrange visits so that the magistrates could take action, but the pub continued trading despite its reputation.
I won’t spent too long on the history of this pub, but there were no shortage of press reports of fights, disturbances and issues at the pub throughout the 1860s to 1890s. It would be fair to say that the pub seemed to be attracting all manner of issues, it wasn’t a pub at ease with itself, although I make no comment on what happened in the twentieth century but matters seemed to calm down judging by newspaper reports. The structure was though damaged during air raids during the Second World War and so there was some rebuilding necessary. I will though quote from CAMRA in what appears to from around 2010.
“Built in the early twentieth century it retains the floor-plan of two bars and an off-sales. The little altered interior from c.1960 is rare and due to the fact that the pub was run by Jan & Jack Wakefield for 37 years until they retired in 2005. On the right the public bar with a ‘1’ on the door has a 1960s flat roof extension which almost doubles its size and retains an old counter which has a new top over a Formica one, 1960s bar back with an old till drawer and old Bullards Ales window. Opposite the front door is the separate off-sales with a ‘3’ on the door and a red Formica top counter – intact off-sales like this are very rare. The former lounge on the left with a ‘2’ on the door is now a games room which retains its 1960s counter with a red Formica top, classic 1960s bar back but the fireplace has been lost. To the right is a now disused bowling green which is due to be sold as building plots.”
It’s evident that someone has recently removed all of this, as CAMRA now note:
“A pub interior of limited or no national historic interest.”
The remainder of the pub’s gardens, with the building on the right being placed on what was the bowling green.
This was my only interior photo as it was quite busy and I didn’t feel entirely comfortable going around taking too many photos of the arrangements. The service was polite and immediate, although there were no real ales available. The customers mostly seemed to be regulars and I can’t say the welcome was unfriendly but I suspect our presence was noted. Incidentally, the document above relates to the Bricklayers Arms on Bull Close which closed in 1995.
There weren’t many seats available, so we went out into the garden area for our drinks, something which is most unlike us.
It’s not Stella, as I would never be seen drinking that, it’s instead Camden Hells and it tasted as expected and was reasonably priced.
We had some company in the garden.
It appears that new owners have taken over the pub relatively recently, so it’s not clear whether the fish and chips will be making a return. Indeed, I can’t find out much from social media or the venue’s web-site exactly what is going on.
All told, this is another pub survivor and we should be most grateful for that. It was busy on a weekday afternoon which is the sign of a proper community pub, with the welcome being warm and friendly. They accept card and cash, with the surroundings feeling inviting and clean. The lack of real ales is sub-optimal, but that might have just been a temporary matter as one pump clip was just turned around so perhaps there’s one available at the weekends. There’s plenty of external space and I hope that they get the fish and chips going again, a most agreeable situation for those visiting the pub.