The premier live music pub in the heart of Leeds

Barrie Pepper writes affectionately about the New Roscoe

Barry Pepper

In the beginning

In 1985 Joyce and Noel Squires left the licensing trade to run a cafe in Armley. But they were still searching for that elusive place; a pub or club that could become the New Roscoe. Noel looked at many possible sites and then he made a bid for what had been the New Forresters Club in Sheepscar less than half a mile from the old Roscoe. At first his offer was accepted but he was gazumped. And then this deal fell through and eventually he was able to buy the building. The Squires took over in early 1988.

The building's latter uses had been as an Indian restaurant and then a strip club neither of which had been successful and it was in a poor state of repair. Much work was needed and Noel was determined to transfer his own ideas to his new pub. This was to be his pub even if it meant ripping down all the internal walls and building them afresh.

It is not an easy job to convert a one-time club into a public house. They usually have no character and quickly become noisy drinking dens. But here two ideas were significant. A small lounge became the Roscoe Room with a facade based on the original frontage of the former pub. This was intended for myriad uses: informal music sessions, meetings, private functions, dining, or just plain old-fashioned drinking. And the bar in the main lounge was a reflection of the original although more than twice its size. In this room he separated a section to the right of the entrance and also made a raised area - it became the stage for music sessions - with dividers which created more spaces. The whole effect was innovative, imaginative and helped provide the atmosphere needed for a real pub to exist.

The tap room needed to be basic but even here new concepts were brought into use. The games area, which included three pool tables, was large, giving players plenty of space and separating them from other drinkers who were located in comfortable alcoves.

And so, amidst the usual turmoil and palaver that the opening of a new or renovated building creates, the New Roscoe arose, phoenix-like, from the ashes of both the old Roscoe and the former New Forresters club - the first spiritually, the other tangibly. On Thursday the third of November, 1988 the New Roscoe opened its doors to the public.

Into the Good Beer Guide

Within a year of opening the New Roscoe made its first entry into the Good Beer Guide. The 1990 edition was published in November, 1989 and the entry summed it up well: 'Large, friendly three-roomed former club, comfortably converted. Several mementos from the old Roscoe.' It has appeared in every edition since and the current entry (2000) reads: 'Large three-roomed pub adorned with images of its long demolished namesake. Test the three semi-permanent guest beers, listen to one of regular live bands or just soak up the wonderful, friendly atmosphere.'

More recognition was to follow. Noel always regretted that he had little opportunity at the old Roscoe to do much about floral decorations on the outside of the pub. Here was his opportunity. He grabbed it with enthusiasm and on hearing that the city council ran an award scheme in conjunction with the Britain in Bloom competition, he entered. In 1989 he was commended. In 1990 he received the award of 'Best decorated public house'. And in 1991 he not only took this award again but received a silver cup as the 'Best decorated building' in the city beating all the winners of the other categories including banks and commercial premises that had spent many thousands of pounds on their displays.

Andy's model

At the same time efforts were made to rid the place externally of its club image by adding steep, sloping roofs around the windows of the flat on the upper floor. The difference was amazing and it now difficult to imagine what the original building had been like both inside and out. Another Noel Squire innovation is the model of the front of the old Roscoe built by Andy Gibney. The one-sixth scale model has been built with the aid of photographs and is perfect to the last detail including missing tiles on the roof. The interiors of the bars can be seen clearly and identifiable regular customers picked nut. The model took him several months to complete. Andy, a Dubliner and a regular of both Roscoes, is a talented model maker and artist in wood. Several other pieces of his grace all three rooms of the pub.

Music festivals again

It was not long after the New Roscoe opened before a music festival was held. Live music had been re-established as part of the Roscoe tradition and at the final session of the first of several festivals in a marquee on the car park the Roscoe Ceilidh Band made yet another final farewell appearance with a promise to reappear when asked. These regular events are now known as the Roscoe Music Festivals, the word folk being discretely dropped to reflect the changes in musical taste. Irish and folk music are still represented but blues, rock and jazz have been added.

The New Roscoe is a free house although it has a firm attachment to beers from Joshua Tetley, the company that owned the old pub. But now other beers have appeared on the bars - guest beers mainly from the independent brewers - making it popular with real ale drinkers and adding to its character.

It is 18 years since the old Roscoe was demolished. I still can't forgive
the West Yorkshire county council for that crass piece of vandalism. But there is some satisfaction in the fact that four years after that event it got its comeuppance albeit for the wrong reasons when Mrs Thatcher's government, in a fit of political pique, abolished all the metropolitan county councils. If government or council of whatever political colour, ever tries such a thing again, I think I will organise a lie-down in front of the bull-dozers and set my dog on those responsible. Or maybe just get drunk. If good sense prevails then in another 18 years time if God is good I just might pen another essay. And then get drunk.

The Roscoe Inn - 1857 to 1982 a short history by Barrie Pepper

The Roscoe Inn had many unique qualities, and yet, superficially, there was not much going for it. It was small, inconvenient, often crowded and the beer, although usually excellent, could be matched in half a dozen other pubs in the city. But somehow it was different. It was the last beerhouse in the city and maintained that status until 1976. The first records of the place being licensed show that in 1857 it was "...a Beerhouse belonging to Mr. Herbert Thompson of 11 Chapeltown Road, Leeds." The house - or possibly two houses - had been built some years before and had been a private dwelling house for Mr. Thompson's family from around 1840.

In the mid-1850s the area was a teeming warren of back-to-back houses in narrow streets and courts. But Chapeltown Road was the main Harrogate turnpike with the toll house just below Sheepscar junction where it joined Roundhay Road. There were impressive shops and a whole host of tradesmen plied their wares and services. St. Clement's Church was just above Mr. Thompson's beerhouse and beyond that was the Cambridge Hotel. Opposite were the Chapeltown Police and Fire Stations and, later, the Branch Library which still stands was built. The Post Office was between the beerhouse and the church. The area was thriving, bustling, and it watched over the development of the north suburbs of Leeds - Chapel Allerton, Roundhay, Moor Allerton and Alwoodley.

Thompson died in 1863 and the licence passed to James Hopkins, who held it for three years. Then came Thomas Spence, who was in charge for a remarkable 31 years. He saw many changes, and was the man who named the house the Roscoe Inn in 1872. When he died in 1897 he was succeeded by the first woman licensee - Mrs. Mary Jane Carr - who was to conduct the Roscoe's affairs over the turn of the century up to 1906.

During the Edwardian era and the war years the Roscoe had several licensees with none staying for any appreciable period. But in 1923 the Crowther family took over and stayed for thirteen years. First, Thomas Gledhill Crowther, later his son, John, and for four years his wife Annie. John gave up the licence to his mother but carried on business as a potted meat dealer at the same address.

The start of the Irish connection

The Crowthers were followed by another series of tenants who came from one family and held the licence for 30 years. John Carroll became landlord in 1935 and stayed through the war until 1951. His brother-in-law, Joseph Hanmore took over and when he died in 1959 his wife Margaret held the licence for four years. Margaret's sister Bridie, the widow of John Carroll then came back into the pub in 1959 and was licensee for almost seven years. The 31 years of the Carrolls and the Hanmores started another tradition at the Roscoe - that of Irish licensees. The redoubtable Mrs Carroll employed Joe O'Dwyer as her bar cellarman and he acquired the licence when she died in 1966. Joe O'Dwyer - a Roscommon man - and his wife, Imelda, were at the Roscoe for twelve years before moving on. They saw what was perhaps the most significant change in the pub's status when, in 1976, it ceased to be a beerhouse and acquired a full licence. So the era of the beerhouse in Leeds ended after 146 years since the Duke of Wellington introduced his famous Beerhouse Act in 1830. This legislation was intended to counteract the social evils of gin and for two guineas any householder could purchase a licence and open a beerhouse. It also halved the duty on beer. 30,000 new beerhouses opened in a year.

There had been some road changes in Sheepscar in 1970 to provide a one-way system. It had no major effect on the existing road pattern except to alter traffic flow on many streets. But, shortly afterwards, the planners began to have new ideas. A massive new scheme with flyovers was envisaged and then, a new plan was thought up. The Sheepscar Intersection Scheme claimed to be able to reduce the number of road accidents and speed up traffic movement through the area. The Roscoe was under threat along with six other pubs. A public local inquiry was held in the nearby Leeds Trades Hall in May, 1981 and it lasted some six hours. The Inspector, Mr. R. F. Darling, adopted an informal, friendly and sympathetic approach throughout. He was told that a 'Save the Roscoe' campaign had resulted in an appeal signed by 326 customers including the former Lord Mayor of Leeds, Eric Atkinson, who had been born in the area, and Derek Enright, the city's Member of the European Parliament, who was a regular. Objectors to the scheme said that it had a unique atmosphere and enjoyed an international reputation. The BBC had made two films there, and a world champion fiddle player had chosen it to open a British tour. It would be impossible to transfer such an atmosphere from one building to another, concluded the inquiry.

The Inspector's report in which he approved the scheme - and consequently gave the death knell to the Roscoe - was published in July. He said that the case for confirming the order was formidable and referred to the regular build-up of traffic queues of half a mile, but admitted that the resulting delays were surprisingly short. He also thought the accident record was unacceptable. On the objections, Mr. Darling said: 'The Roscoe ... although unimpressive from the outside, even the proponents of the scheme agree it has a character and an atmosphere of its own which could not easily be transferred to other premises. The problems of leaving this building intact have been carefully and sympathetically examined by the County Council, who have concluded that the resulting impairment of the scheme as a whole would not be acceptable. I agree with this opinion.'

The final chapter is written

At this stage the Roscoe had less than a year to live and the final chapter was written. The last tenants were Noel and Joyce Squire. Noel continued the Irish tradition coming from Inchicore in County Dublin. He succeeded Joe O'Dwyer in 1978 and has done much to encourage the pub's tradition of Irish music. In October 1981 he organised the Roscoe Folk Festival. For three days, a large marquee echoed to the sounds of folk, jazz, even country and western. It was a huge success and at one time it was possible to hear four different strains of music - in the marquee, on the unique jukebox and in the two front rooms.

But before the Roscoe was demolished two things happened. At lunchtime on the final day of trading the Campaign for Real Ale held the media launch for the 1982 edition of the Good Beer Guide in the pub. It was the campaign's way of saying 'farewell' and of recognising a pub that had been in several editions of the guide and had been dearly loved by its members. And on the final night a booze-up of heroic proportions took place. There was wall to wall music and the pub was drunk dry. Completely. And pretty nearly stripped bare too by regulars looking for souvenirs. Sometime in the early hours as the final dram was lowered, a mouth organist played Carolan's Farewell to Music and many eyes were not dry. People look back on that last night, many with affection and most with varying degrees of sadness. As the mild ran out a toast was drunk. It was the same with the Guinness and then with the bitter. The memory of that evening is shared by many including some who were not even there!

On the third of March 1982 it was there, on the fourth it had vanished. The demolition men came and did their worst but you can't kill off an institution like the Roscoe overnight. In fact, you can't do it at all. The memory is preserved by a plaque in Chapeltown Road placed where the tap room had been. On most anniversaries a celebratory pint is drunk there sometimes by a crowd and once, on a wet Thursday morning, by just Noel and the author.

On one of these occasions I said: 'The tragedy is that the site is still here and there was no need to knock the old place down at all. Perhaps we ought to have fought a bit harder to save it. It is an object lesson for folk trying to preserve old pubs. Hilaire Belloc said: "When you have lost your inns drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England." And he knew a thing or two.'

The Roscoe is dead - long live the Roscoe

(C) Barrie Pepper 2000
Originally written in February, 1992 and revised in February, 2000.

Barrie has written quite a few books on pubs and ale drinking. Visit Amazon for more information.

This website has been down to the doctors to make it feel good and alright.

2006 - 2016 Steve Watkins
Fleadh Electronics Ltd