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The Ten Pubs That Made Me Part 2 – The Jacksons Arms and Hartlepool

 

 


 

For an introduction to these posts see Part 0. 

 

People find their homes. Some visit cities and find that they are suited to the cosmopolitan lifestyle. Some find idyllic spots in the Lakes or in little villages in the Peak District or along the North Yorkshire coast. These become frequent holiday destinations, or a retirement plan, or even their actual home. You can never be sure where that place is until it imprints upon you.

 

For me, there was great surprise that my place was Hartlepool.  I felt an instant connection to it back in 2008 and moved there for a year in 2009.

 

Others have never quite understood this. From an outside perspective the appeal of the town is minimal. Even the locals were hard-pressed to relate with my sense of local pride when I lived here. More often than not my enthusiasm for the town and surrounding area was met with a confused “…Why?”

 

The New Alma. Shut circa 2014. Still unused

 

 

When I decided to embark on these trips to these ten pubs for this little blog series, I wasn’t sure how I’d find a time to visit Hartlepool. I couldn’t come for a weekend away – “Why on earth have you brought me here?” – and it isn’t somewhere that I would be passing. Thankfully a Town away game at nearby Middlesbrough in October 2022 provided the perfect excuse to stay in the neighbouring town on the Friday before the game.

 

As I sat on the train from Thornaby to Hartlepool, I had goosebumps. There was a sickening excitement in my stomach as I alighted the train. I doubt many people have been this giddy to walk under the 'Station Approach' sign by the station exit; to see the 'Whitby Street' arch sign opposite. 

 

I decided to walk around the town centre to begin with; to the outdated Middleton Grange shopping centre. I expected to see some shop closures here but it was even worse than anticipated. Many of the shops on the southside have gone, including the much used Grainger Games and even the nearest Greggs to my flat. The M&S, always endearing as it still had the old Marks & Spencer font and signage long after the rebrand, is also missing. Charity shops are nearly all that punctuates the unused properties. The British Heart Foundation window is smashed in. 

 

What was "The Vault"

 

 The roads outside remain as busy as ever though. Unnaturally busy. It is as though all traffic in the North-East of England must travel through the centre of Hartlepool to reach anywhere else. Crossing the roads without use of the designated traffic stop areas is nearly impossible, no matter the time of day. It was always this way.

 

I head back to the train station area, near to the flat that I once called home and the pub that is the focus of the visit. But I’m saving this place for later. A higher education building or two has sprung up here that construction had just started on when I was leaving the area. Unfortunately though, on Church Street and its tributaries, pub after pub is shut. I count six in a row that have gone since my time here. Derelict. Unused. Signage still hauntingly intact. A few others have been repurposed as late night bars or cafes but are no longer pubs. It is saddening and the guilt washes over me as I reach my first intended stop of the day.

 

The Ward Jackson

 


 

The Ward Jackson was a Lloyds No.1 Bar in my time here, but it is now officially a Wetherspoons. It was two minutes from my door in 2009 and a cheap option when money was tight. Despite its slight brand change, it is relatively unchanged inside. The “Real Ale” festival is on when I visit  but I see no sign of the cask pumps. I’m not here for that anyway. I do, however, spot that one of my three favourite booths to sit in is vacant. To the right of the bar, these three booths are only big enough for a person sat on each side – or one man and a bag in this case.

 

It doesn’t look any different; a reassuring familiarity after passing so many fallen establishments to get here. I can only order my favourite drink of 2009, or at least the components to make it. “A double Spiced Rum with Coke and a slice of lime. And half a Guinness please.” The rum isn’t as nice; it needs something with more vanilla. It was the original Sailor Jerry’s recipe back in the day. But as my manually poured Guinness settles into the spirit and froths at the top it is as creamy as ever. A joy. A moment in time. A sense of place. The ultimate beer cocktail before everybody failed at making them. This is what I would order when I was here.

 

The Ward Jackson itself is just a ‘Spoons but I’m already warm with nostalgia, sat in this squashed booth with a ridiculous drink.

 

 

The Owl

 


 

Whilst in the Ward Jackson, I had a re-read of Jane Stuart’s post on Hartlepool from January of this year. In it, there was mention of a scuppered planned visit to a place called “The Owl” that was just behind my current location. Jane was put off visiting by some locals because of the price, but some of my own researched online images of the place suggested it had a decent beer choice.

 

I couldn't recall The Owl or its previous use and so i did enquire behind the bar upon arrival. It had been previously "a solicitors or recruitment agency or something" which explains why I had never paid it much mind. Either way it is a beautiful building full of exposed brickwork and nice booths. It feels like a craft beer bar, even though there is only one other person in, drinking coffee working away on a laptop, as I order my house lager. The beer options are decent but not revolutionary.

 

Two minutes after my arrival, three guys walk in who I assume are going to order 3 pints of Northern Monk Faith. They seem the type. They have the look of beer bros, the first that I have ever seen up here. There's almost a slight relief that there is demand for this type of bar for this type of clientele in the town.

 

But that stereotype proves to be false. They order two coffees and a glass of water with a straw. It is 3pm on a Friday and I don't know where I fit in anymore. One of the group stays on a phone call the entire time, making a generic business negotiation, whilst the two friends stare at their phones. It is a remarkable interaction. With The Owl's only other patron also doing work, it gives the impression that this is a place that people stop by during the day to get lunch, coffee and connect to The Wi-Fi. Perhaps it is more of a drinker’s place at night but I was ready to leave. The food offerings looked good though.

 

The Royal. Now gone too.

 

I visit two supermarkets after this. Hartlepool is surprisingly condensed. All three major supermarkets have a store within a stone's throw of each other and yet function. I get to my hotel and prepare for an evening of many revisits. 

 

I decided to walk to The Headland to clear my head and to pass through the Marina. In 2009, the Marina at Hartlepool was receiving heavy investment and a large number of thriving bars and restaurants opened here. It became quite the nightlife hotspot, but was equally busy in the afternoon with people enjoying drinking and eating amongst the boats. On my last visit in 2014, much of that had disappeared and it appears to have never fully recovered. The small number of spots that are still in use have few customers. 

 

Earlier in the day I'd witnessed other derelict building besides pubs. The Hartlepool Engineers Club looks long gone. The Grand Hotel (Best Western) is empty. The central leisure club and adjoining building is a pigeon house now, with few windows and little roof remaining. It is all rather sad. Part of me understands why the townspeople had become so fed up with 11 years of neglect that they voted in a Conservative for the first time in 2021. Unfortunately, this shows a basic lack of understanding of how local councils get their funding. Hartlepool was being heavily funded and was really developing... until 2010. I can't possibly think what changed at that point... 

 

The Globe

Anyway, walking to The Headland took 35 minutes. I detoured to walk along the front promenade and visit the Victoria Fairy Cove Gun Battery.

 


 

Unlike in the main town, no pubs seem to have closed in the Headland. Some have been remodelled as more food focused, but they haven't shut.

It is 5pm on a working Friday at The Globe. The pub is nicely busy. Most people are in shorts or work pants. It has a teatime crowd atmosphere as all proper pubs thrive from. I'm not unwelcome but I am out of place. 22-year-old me would have probably sat outside and made a phone call to pass my awkwardness. Not these days though. I'm sat next to the bar.

 

Most remarkably, The Globe exists on the corner of a housing estate and is full. These are the sort of the pubs that have been dropping like flies for the last 20 years. Many of those that remain are hanging by a thread. But not here. And judging by the number of banked pours being pulled, such a novelty could be helping. 

 


 

 

Oh yes, I should probably mention that shouldn't I? The Globe is a fan of the traditional "banked pint" that captured the imagination of online beer drinkers earlier in the year thanks to this excellent article on Pellicle. The Globe was heavily featured. I witnessed a few online discussions of people planning a pilgrimage to Hartlepool to experience this phenomenon, new to many that read the article. As an ex-resident, the thought of many beer wankers descending on this town amused me. As I sat and watched the many local characters drinking in The Globe, I was even further amused to envisage their faces as a myriad of photo taking enthusiasts took up shop here. I hastily took a picture of my own pint here, keen to avoid the gaze of regulars thinking what the hell is that guy over there doing? Does he think there is something wrong with it? 

 

I could have stayed here all day. If The Headland had been more accessible then this could well have been the regular that I was revisiting on this trip. Alas, I've many other places to visit. Did I mention that it was £2.20 a pint? It was £2.20 a pint.

 

The Fishermans Arms

 


 

A short walk through The Headland's housing leads to The Fishermans Arms, a place that I certainly visited before but couldn't recall. It is a high ceiling affair that consists of one large room to the right of the entrance. The wall decorations are heavily influenced by the likes of Motorhead and Iron Maiden. Online photos suggest they get a good range of Cask beer here but sadly this isn't the case on my visit. 

 

However this may have been a conscious decision as the pub is mostly closed for their bi-monthly Whisky night. Cheese and drams adorn every table and a seating plan is on the bar. I ask politely if I can just have a quick pint of the bar and they are happy to let me, even though everybody else there is in for the event. The King Charles themed beer I had wasn't my favourite but was served fine. The atmosphere is really welcoming. The owners were really friendly. By the end I am offered the chance to join in the raffle and have the whisky tasting paddle of a no-show. I decline through politeness but respect the thought. A great little place.  

 

The Pot House

 


 

 

That was supposed to be it for The Headland but my haste in leaving the Fishermans allows me time for another pub visit whilst I book a taxi. My gaze has lingered on The Pot House - called The Harbour of Refuge when I lived here - sitting on the sea front with the phrase "Free House" on its signage.

 

Oh this is a pub. Oh boy howdy this is a pub. A room to the right and one to the left. Bar service at either. Exposed beams with cups hanging by hooks. Cakes available on the bar. Proper bench seating. Jägermeister sponsored Halloween decorations strung tackily about. The clientele are a mix of ages, as are the staff. There's definitely a younger crowd here comparatively but it isn't exclusive. The beer choices aren't exotic though. They've not exactly taken full advantage of this Free House status that I would question.  So, a Guinness it is. It wouldn't be my place of choice if I lived here or were to visit again but it is just full of people having a good time in a pub again. Based on how many had closed in the Town centre, I cannot argue with anything that this place is achieving. 

 

King Johns Tavern

 


 

On my return to the town centre (that I won't go heavily into but, let's just say, Hartlepool taxi services have not improved) I decided to find out what had become of the original Wetherspoons, the King John's Tavern. No longer a Wetherspoons, this place has retained everything that Tim Martin would have put in place. Indeed the outside hasn't changed at all but for the one word company name removed from the sign.

 

Inside it is the same story. Everything about it is the same, including the carpets. Except for the customer numbers. It is incredibly quiet. And there are cakes on the bar. There are a few cask beers on and my locally made Crafty Monkey beer is perfectly okay. Other than that, I have nothing to say about here but I cannot see it surviving long like this. It is probably more expensive now but to a visitor to the town all beer seems incredibly cheap, so I hadn't noticed. This is a Friday night and it is near empty. 

 

Sometimes when a 'Spoons fails it is because the locals have rejected it in favour of the other pubs available. Here I suspect that its failure is due to lack of trade everywhere in the centre. The food must have been doing better at The Ward Jackson and so they've chosen that site over this.

 

The alarm repeatedly went off at the King Johns Tavern during my visit but none of the staff seemed concerned. This will not last a long time.

 

Hops and Cheese

 


 

 Dear Reader (if it feels like a trap, you're already in o...sorry, it was release weekend) I am close to the final destination and reason for my visit. I promise. Hops and Cheese on Tower Street, back towards the railway station, is the penultimate stop. 

 

And for good reason as this micro-pub and cheese counter is just next door to the final pub. This had been the offices of a building contractors in my time. It is good to see the same company has just moved to the building next door.

 

Hops and Cheese is a room - a "shop bar" as my uncle would say. It is a theme that runs through the following day's trip to Middlesbrough that I gave some thoughts on here. It has none of the homeliness of a pub and the social club/function room style fabric chairs do nothing to squash this. The cheese counter is shut so people are just here for the beer at this time. A quick scan of the room suggests that many are, sadly, on the draught Brewdog lager.

 

I'm on another Crafty Monkey beer and find it all... okay. Underwhelming. I feel a little disappointed. Then snap myself out of it, remembering what we had available in the town in 2009 and what has been lost. Had Hops and Cheese existed back then it would have definitely been my local and I would have been delighted. Considering the choices in 2022, this has by far one of the more interesting beer line-ups of the day. Maybe I need to come when there is cheese alongside the hops. Maybe it comes alive when the cheese is being served. On this particular visit it felt as though the last dregs of people were leaving a packed earlier event. It's the chairs, I'm sure.

 


Jacksons Arms

 


 

 

I'm full of nervous energy as I leave Hops and Cheese. I made the last sips of my pint there last a little longer than necessary as I rock a little in my chair. I'm ready to walk through the doors for the first time in 13 years. 

 

I can hear the reaction to this: For God's sake, it is just a pub.



I don't know where to begin.  I didn't quite understand my love for Hartlepool when I departed the train earlier in the day. I didn't fully process it until a long walk along the sea front to Seaton Carew, the morning after these pub visits. Something finally clicked whilst my shoes dug into the blackened sand. My time living in Hartlepool represented the final months of my life in a unique hovel of happiness that existed before depression consumed me in a way that I couldn't rescind. Everything after that time has been a fight and a struggle. This town represents a simpler, freer time to me, almost as though it was part of my childhood. The Jacksons Arms is the public house physical form of that; sat in the front bar area that you could see from my flat window with a pint of well-kept Reverend James.

 


 


It is rubbish now. It has gone as a pub. The interior is still beautiful; multi-roomed with faux stained glass panel dividers. But what was once both the best pub and best cask ale experience in town is no more.

 

There are no cask beers available. I don't think there ever is anymore. Guinness is back to being the default. Two of the rooms are dominated by a younger crowd, friendly with the young bar staff. This isn't an issue; it is just very different to how it was, when the crowds were older. It was always loud and chatty but the burliness and surliness was always friendly at heart. 

 

It is also over £4.00 a pint for the first time all day. 

 

I was getting emotional now. This is the wrong place to be on a Friday night with tears in your eyes. I'm desperate for the toilet but scared to ask anybody for directions and am having a complete blank as to their location. After a few minutes of seat bouncing I am saved by a group of "lads" arriving to show the way. Four walk through the front door -  three of whom give each "a look" before heading off to the toilet. It is that sort of pub now.  

 

Out of the ten pubs needed to visit for this run of posts, this was the one that I was most worried may have closed. Perhaps for my own well-being it would have been better that it had. The memories would have been different. But obviously I'm glad that it is still going. I hope the people who use it regularly now cherish it.

 

It just isn't my pub anymore. 

 

Maybe there is a metaphor here in this pub - and throughout this visit. The past is gone. Life has moved on. We can't cling to the hope of recapturing a moment and a feeling. This idyllic, peaceful and stress-free memory that I have of these places is not my world anymore. Everything has changed. 

 

Or maybe it is just a pub that has had a change in trade, offers and clientele in 13 years, as most pubs do. Either or. 

 


 

 

It is an anticlimactic end to the trip. It was a long journey and a very full day. I've not felt a range of emotions like that in a single 24 hours for some time; the excitement, the nostalgia, the sadness, the joy and then the disappointment. Sometimes it is nice to go back for a time but as I leave Hartlepool via the promenade the following morning, I wonder if I'll ever be back now. There was a closure to this trip. 

 

There are plenty of other pubs to visit in the town, some superior to the ones here. These were just those that I wanted to revisit or happened to be passing. Do not be discouraged from taking a trip out for banked pints and a walk around the marina. Perhaps a day trip will suffice though.    

 

 

Comments

Dave said…
Really wonderful post. Appreciate your writing on this one.
electricpics said…
I used to work for Camerons and the Causeway was our usual haunt, for excellent banked head pints of Strongarm, but I used to nip into the Jacksons occasionally as it was a cracking pub too. Shame it's declined so much.

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