Pub scene from Karel Reisz’s 1960 film version of ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’.
The White Horse: Then and Now
Originally published in 2012 as part of theSpace arts project funded by Arts Council England and the BBC
If Arthur Seaton fell down the stairs of the White Horse and woke up in 2012, it wouldn’t be because he’d just necked eleven pints and six gins as he does in the novel. It’d be because his gut was full of curry and he was legging it to the toilet. Now that his favourite watering hole has become an Indian takeaway the only way for Arthur to exert his masculinity would be in consuming the hottest dish on the menu.
In 1958 hundreds of factory workers desperate to quench pay day thirst would have filled the tap room, filtering in from the nearby Raleigh factory. This closed down in 1992 and has since been replaced by student flats and the University of Nottingham’s Jubilee Campus. Now instead of knocking back a skinful of ale your Arthur 2012 is more likely to sit back with a coffee and enjoy one of the many flavoured Shishas. Enough, perhaps, to have tempted Chumley, the silent Indian lodger shacked up with Doreen’s mother, for a night out.
When it came to drinking in the late fifties, Britain never had it so good. You could do a pub crawl without ever once leaving the estate and more or less guarantee that each pub you visited would be rammed. There were nine breweries operating in Nottingham, each with their own individual products, their own pubs, and their own followings.
The big two – Shipstones Brewery and Home Ales –divided loyalties across the city as much as Forest and County football clubs did. Pubs were what Al Needham, our second commissioned writer, describes as “Community Centres”, the place where everybody knew your name, your friend’s name, as well as your personal business.
Now the breweries have gone they’ve taken most of the pubs with them. The Flying Fox where Arthur’s sister Margaret and her husband Eddie cadged free drinks off a bloke with a fancy car was probably based on The Flying Horse which, as Al Needham points out, now has Vivienne Westwood as the landlady. The only way Margaret and Eddie would be able to cadge free gifts off of her is if they were high flyers in PR with useful contacts within the media.
But not all the pubs have gone. The Trip to Jerusalem where Arthur and Sam go on a pub crawl is still going strong as is The Peacock on Mansfield Road, where Arthur confesses his infidelities to his older brother Fred and that some army ‘swaddies’ are after him.
The demise of the British pub can be attributed to many factors; it’s certainly a more complex problem than current theories labelling the blame on the smoking ban. If anything this has helped foster a greater sense of community by forcing smokers to talk to each other, albeit outside in the rain. Town planning has played a big part in breaking up communities, with St Ann’s, the Meadows and Hyson Green each being torn down and flattened.
The phasing out of the manufacturing base was also disastrous for a factory-based city like Nottingham. Raleigh alone accounted for 64 acres of covered factory in the city. When this went it not only took jobs but a whole way of life as well. A pint doesn’t quite taste the same after stacking shelves in Pound Stretcher for minimum wage.
The White Horse pub was the perfect setting for ‘angry young men’ as it was also the home to the Radford Boys Boxing Club, set up in the late 1960s by Alan Smith and his brothers. The club started out upstairs in the pub but later took over the building at the back of the pub.
The Boxing club would nurture the likes of Herol ‘Bomber’ Graham and former British and Commonwealth flyweight champion Jason Booth over the years, while playing a vital role in the local community by keeping bored and frustrated teenagers off the streets and, ironically, off the booze. Its survival was largely determined by the brewery only charging a nominal fee for rent.
When the ‘Hoss’ was converted in to an Indian restaurant, the boxing club had to leave and took with them forty years of history. The harsh reality is that people had simply stopped drinking there as they have done elsewhere.
Prior to the new tenants taking over, the pub had had various owners. At one point Lee Froch, brother of boxing champion Carl, was the landlord, giving up his lease in 1993. It is a particularly bitter, somewhat spicy pill to swallow, that Arthur Seaton’s favourite watering hole is now called the White Horse Café but at least it has not completely gone. The White Horse Tesco Express just doesn’t have the same ring.
The Sillitoe Trail
Take your own interactive tour of the author’s city and follow in Arthur Seaton’s footsteps around Nottingham, exploring the real locations of key scenes from the novel. You can go back to the Old Market Square or visit The White Horse pub, the Raleigh factory, the River Trent and Goose Fair.
Follow: Arthur Seaton @Thespacelathe on Twitter
Download: Sillitoe Trail Factory Handbook (17MB PDF)
Fillingham and Walker 2020