JD Wetherspoon

Wetherspoons – Norfolk

As I bored everyone with here, my travel has meant that I’ve managed to visit a lot of JD Wetherspoons over the years. So in an attempt to remember them all, I’ve decided to try and write about them. As explained elsewhere, other perfectly good pubs are also available and of course should be visited   🙂

There are eleven JD Wetherspoon outlets in Norfolk, and another two which have closed. I’ve now visited all of the eleven open pubs and both of the closed two. Two of the pubs, the Whiffler and the Bell, opened in the 1990s, so were part of the early expansion of Wetherspoons out of London.

There is talk of opening an outlet in North Walsham in what were formerly the council offices, although it must surely be a close call as to whether a pub would be viable in a town of that size.

Figures: (which are more for me than to interest anyone else):

Number visited : 11/11 (open pubs) 2/2 (closed pubs)

Favourite pub in county : City Gate

Bell (Norwich) – The Bell was one of the first pubs that JD Wetherspoon opened up outside of London and it’s a former inn which has a central location in the city. It’s a large building and although it’s often known as the Bell Hotel, it no longer provides accommodation. There was a large expansion to the pub in 2017 which caused it to close for several months, which took over space in offices next door.

The pub, before the renovation, had customer areas on three floors, although it’s now just over two floors as the toilets have been closed on the top floor. There is a downstairs area to the pub which has its own bar, although unfortunately the quiet little seating area that was once down here has now been turned into toilets following the renovations.

The upstairs of the pub is now much larger, with corridors shooting off opening out into new rooms with plenty of space. It’s another well thought out design internally, with the introduction of many more power outlets for customers. Customers like me, who find it a handy location to do work in for a few hours.

The real ale selection is usually extensive, although sometimes rather lacking in darker ales. The staff have always seemed knowledgeable and interested in the selection of ales, only once did a staff member not know, but they sought out help immediately. Despite the extra seating areas, the pub can still fill up quickly, especially during lunch-times. It has a rather too busy feel to it for my liking, but it’s usually possible to find quiet areas.

I do wonder what they do with breakfasts here though, I’ve never been in a Wetherspoons where there are so many complaints about cold food. Perhaps their heat lamps need replacing…..

[closed] City Gate (Norwich) – This was always my favourite JD Wetherspoon outlet in Norfolk, primarily because it never felt overly busy. Although, that’s likely why they closed it, and it was quite an early closure, I think having opened in 1999 and lasting only for a few years. It was then taken over by another pub company who renamed the place the Regal and then turned into an all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant, called Merge. I quite liked Merge, other than when they had someone singing on the stage, which didn’t really work. However, they received a poor food hygiene report, and although they turned it around, combined with the opening of Cosmo in the city, they couldn’t make it work. It’s now a part bar and part bowling alley.

The building has previously been a cinema, known as the Regal (explaining the later name change of the pub) and Wetherspoons converted it into a pub. Slightly ironically there was a pub next door called the Barn Tavern, which was closed in the 1990s. The City Gate was a slightly strange design internally, as although it had a lot of height, it didn’t have a great deal of seating space. The bar often got congested and although it was turned into a pub into a sensitive manner, it clearly wasn’t viable financially.

Glass House (Norwich) – This has always been my favourite Wetherspoons in the city as the building is quirky with lots of hidden little corners. It used to be a glass factory, hence the pub’s name, and it opened at a similar time as the Queen of Iceni at the turn of this century. It can be tricky to know where to stand for service as the bar is split into sections, although the far end nearer the pub garden is usually the best location.

There’s a usually quieter room upstairs which overlooks the road, as well as a balcony which overlooks the large pub garden. I find that the service in this pub is generally friendlier and more engaging than some of the outlet’s other pubs. Not that it’s of much importance, but I’ve never established whether the pub is called the Glass House or the Glasshouse, and Wetherspoons themselves seem to use both forms.

More recently they’ve ditched one of their grills, seemingly so they can make pizzas, which has meant the menu hs heavily reduced and steak club and chicken club have been lost.

Globe (King’s Lynn) – Now the only remaining JD Wetherspoon left in King’s Lynn, following the closure of the Lattice House, this is also a Wetherspoons hotel. It’s a large and cavernous building which has plenty of seating areas across the ground floor. The building dates to the eighteenth century, although the interior has been stripped of any historic interest by twentieth century renovations. These though took place before JD Wetherspoon purchased the building, otherwise I suspect they would have been kept.

It has always seemed a welcoming pub during my visits, seeming to be organised and well managed. I feel marginally sorry for the staff given the 2019 Christmas meal debacle, which seems to have been causing problems in many Wetherspoons outlets what with not supplying gravy and using unusually low quality ingredients. This review probably sums it up….

“What a mess the Xmas Dinner is trash says gravy but wasn’t and nincompoop staff says doesn’t come with any”

[closed] Lattice House (King’s Lynn) – This quirky little pub (and by quirky I partly mean that there were several bar areas, making it difficult to know where to stand to be served) is perhaps the most historic that Wetherspoons operated in Norfolk. Unfortunately they closed it in 2016 and it briefly became a Hawthorn Leisure pub, before closing for a period. It’s now a private restaurant, which has managed to hit the news for banning anyone under the age of 23. I’m unlikely to go there now, not because I’m under 23, but because there happen to be many people in that demographic who like fine dining and appreciate it, and I can’t see why they can’t enjoy it.

The pub was formerly a private residence which was built in the medieval period, and archaeological investigations over the last couple of decades have discovered that it has been extended and rebuilt on numerous occasions. The exterior and interior of the two-level pub kept that historic integrity and JD Wetherspoons did a rather neat job with the renovation. There are numerous original exposed beams and I recall the real fires adding character. It was though just a short walk away from their other outlet in the town, The Globe, which was larger and had hotel rooms.

The freehold of the building still appears to be owned by the local council, who has leased it for a long period. The bulk of the current building dates from the fifteenth century and it was already a pub when JD Wetherspoon took it over.

Limes (Fakenham) – I’ve never been to this pub when it has been anywhere near full, and I note that their menu prices are some of the lowest in the area. I’m not entirely sure how it justifies staying open, but since it wasn’t on the list of pubs that Wetherspoons sold off, it is clearly doing sufficiently well. I’ve received either exceptionally good service here, or pretty indifferent service, it’s rarely somewhere in the middle.

The Limes was a pub before JD Wetherspoon took it over, although it wasn’t one that I’d ever visited, although the internal renovations seem substantial from the photos I’ve seen. It opened as a Wetherspoon pub in 2012 and was also a private residence for a period before the 1980s, as well as having been a hotel.

Queen of Iceni (Norwich) – Located on Norwich Riverside and often still referred to as Lloyds, this is rather more pleasant on weekdays than on weekend evenings. The music goes up, most of the customers seem to leave and then, er, I’m not sure as I’ve already left. I’m still trying to establish why the pub moved its stairs a bit to the right last year, something which very much confused me when I tried to go upstairs…

There’s a corner behind the bar which overlooks the river, which is usually quieter than the rest of the pub. It’s also where a few months ago I sat whilst listening to an elderly woman say to her husband (or what I assumed was her husband) that “this is the worst meal I’ve ever had, it’s dreadful”. Thirty seconds later a staff member comes by to offer a check back and the same woman said “everything’s delicious”. She then berated her husband, after the staff member had left, for not saying anything.

The pub is rather open plan and lacking in any historic interest, although this is primarily because the site doesn’t have much history. Indeed, twenty years ago there was a road underneath what is now the pub.

Red Lion (Thetford) – Opening in 2012, this building had previously been used as both a pub and a restaurant, receiving an expansion when JD Wetherspoon took it over. They created a rather pleasant courtyard area in front of the bar, with the external wall they’ve cut through still clearly visible, although this is still a relatively small pub for Wetherspoons. It is though one of the better reviewed Wetherspoons in the county, perhaps excellent management, or perhaps the people of Thetford are just nice.

It’s a generally quite busy location, although I’ve never seen any trouble in there. It did though get national publicity in the years before it was a Wetherspoons when some thugs attacked it during some national football tournament, causing significant amounts of damage and injuring some inside. They committed the attack because the owners were Portuguese, and that apparently justified the violence and hatred.

And I like a bit of excitement in a pub, which I assume happened to this customer judging by the TripAdvisor review….

“This is the second time I’ve visited the red lion weatherspoons in thetford with my girlfriend, and the first time I have ever used the toilets. Upon arriving, I needed to use the toilet before I sat down to eat. My girlfriend said she also needed to go so we both made our way upstairs. I then left the men’s toilets with the intention of waiting outside for my girlfriend, however I could not locate them, I was faced with 2 other wooden doors that read ‘private’ and another semi-opaque divider with no sign whatsoever. I concluded that the female toilets were either downstairs or the entrance may be somewhere beyond the glass divider. I entered the mysterious glass doorway only to be rudely shouted at by the branch’s manager in a disgusted tone as if I was some kind of sexual deviant. Realising my mistake I then left the lobby/lounge/seating area of what I discovered to be the ladies toilet and enquired as to the lack of signage.”

Romany Rye (Dereham) – This pub opened in 2011 and was a conversion of the former Phoenix Hotel. It was a very comprehensive conversion as it’s hard to establish the pub’s former lay-out, but it has remained in use as a hotel. There’s a comfortable lower area at the front of the pub with more traditional tables, and there are higher tables in the back bar. The male toilets are slightly difficult to find, located right near to the entrance of the bar.

I’ve always thought that this pub has rather a relaxed and informal atmosphere, although I’ve seen more disruptive customers in this pub than in any other Wetherspoons outlet in Norfolk (other than Lloyds in Norwich) and I’m not quite sure why. The staff are always particularly knowledgeable about the real ale which is a substantial bonus, and there are usually some ales or ciders of interest that are a little different.

Troll Cart (Great Yarmouth) – Until 2017 I usually avoided this pub, but only because it was nearly always full. It had originally opened in 1996, making it one of the oldest Wetherspoons in East Anglia. The pub recently closed to incorporate offices which were located above the bar, which has now meant that there’s more space and there’s also a hotel at the Troll Cart.

The building isn’t of much historic interest, but the modernisation has greatly improved it, as well as making it much easier to find a seat. I’ve experienced problems ordering at the bar here, just by being overlooked, but this is no longer a problem as I can just order by using the app.

The pub is named after the carts which were used to navigate around the town’s narrow rows, scores (although I’m not sure if that’s just a Lowestoft and Beccles term) and alleys.

The Whalebone (Downham Market) – This Wetherspoons opened in 2018, and it took me a few months to get to visit it, and I’m surprised that there’s enough trade to justify it being here. However, when I went it was certainly busy enough, although another local publican has complained that the chain has destroyed the trade for other pubs in the town. There’s quite a modern feel to the pub, which happened to be rather untidy when I went, although the building itself is historic. The conversion into a Wetherspoons has been sympathetic, although this has long since been a pub, so it wasn’t a change of use. In the nineteenth century, there were whalebones placed outside the pub, but sadly these have long since disappeared.

Whiffler (Norwich) – This is one of the most untypical Wetherspoon pubs that I’ve been to in the country, let alone just in Norfolk. It’s an estate pub which is quite a way out of Norwich city centre, indeed, about three miles from their other central pubs. It’s a large pub which opened in 1938 and which was nearly demolished in the 1990s to be turned into some anonymous retail outlet.

Wetherspoons opened the Whiffler in 1999 and given the number of other local pubs which have closed, I suspect it wouldn’t still be trading without their involvement. It’s perhaps not a pub that they would purchase now, but there’s a strong community feel, which is hard for any large national chain to develop. The service is generally brilliant, one of the friendliest and most helpful of any of their pubs in the county.

The William Adams (Gorleston) – This opened in 2018 on the site of a former garage, although its construction was delayed following an archaeological dig which found a number of bodies. The pub takes its name from the local lifesaver and swimmer who it is thought saved around 140 lives. He died at the age of just 49 and was honoured at first with a road which was named after him, but now he has this pub.

There are a few pieces of artwork which liven the interior of the pub up, although it’s quite a bland interior in terms of the pub design. There’s a long bar long the right-hand side, a variety of different seating types internally and an external garden area. The toilets, as usual for a Wetherspoons, are upstairs. The staff seem enthusiastic and efficient, with the pub being clean and organised when I visited. There are a generous supply of power points around the pub, which are particularly useful for me.

As an aside, I’ve never seen such a high percentage of customers using the app to order food and drinks as I have here. That does have the advantage of meaning that queues at the bar seem minimal. Two younger customers managed to order meals here, I assume via the app, and the pub took the food off them and shoved it into boxes according to this review, not entirely classy….

“Was told you had to be 16 to order food, had passport with me and was 16. Was then told I had to leave because my friend was not 16 bearing in mind we had ordered our food already. Because our food was already made they didn’t give us a refund they put our food in cardboard boxes with no fork or kings and expected us to eat it as it was. The beans were mushy and the it was all cold. We also ordered 2 large Pepsi’s and they were put in tiny take away cups with the ice taking out and there was most definitely not the full drink inside”