Pub/Bar of the Month July 2010: The Beacon Hotel
The Beacon Hotel, Sedgley, West Midlands, UK
Ten years ago, in a feature for What’s Brewing, I described The Beacon Hotel at Sedgley as the sort of pub big brewery architects would give their eye-teeth to vandalise.
They must still be champing at the bit with frustration because this wonderful, Victorian hostelry has not changed one bit.
The pub is probably best known as the home of Sarah Hughes brewery but it’s a cracking little boozer in its own right, a rare survivor that takes you right back in time to the days when pubs were all about simple pleasures such as good beer and lively conversation.
Although on a busy road through this congested part of the West Midlands, between Birmingham and Wolverhampton, The Beacon stands in proud isolation, a detached building on a street corner, with a large walled-in car park on one side.
At the rear rises the classic Victorian tower brewhouse that is still in use today.
Brewing began here in the 1880s, or possibly earlier, then, in 1920, a lady named Sarah Hughes acquired the pub at an auction, using insurance money she had been given after her husband had been killed down the mines.
She took to brewing the beer herself and, in 1921, developed the recipe for Dark Ruby, a 6% mild ale that she continued to brew until her death in 1951. The brewery closed seven years later.
The pub remained open but was not restored to its original splendour until in the hands of Sarah’s grandson, John Hughes, in the 1980s. Brewing resumed at the same time.
Sarah Hughes beer is but one reason to visit the pub. Climb the few steps to the front door and venture inside. You’ll be confronted by a central servery, isolated by glass but with hatches open to each of the main drinking areas. You have to lower your head to speak to the bartender and state your choice of drink.
Beers are likely to include the celebrated Dark Ruby along with other beers such as Sedgley Surprise and Pale Amber. They don’t brew a lager, but Samuel Smith’s Pure Brewed Lager is a good choice to bring in.
Where to sit is the next decision as there are four distinct and completely separate rooms leading off the central corridor. On the right is the tap room, warmed by an old-fashioned kitchen range.
To the left is a small front parlour, almost a Victorian museum piece with its sombre, patterned wallpaper and upright piano.
To the rear is a simple conservatory extension, the least interesting part of the premises, but alongside runs a delightful, wood-panelled back lounge, furnished with House of Lords-style claret bench seating and award certificates for Sarah Hughes ales.
A real coal fire burns at the far end alongside a plant-filled conservatory that gives access to the conveniences and the brewhouse.
Sitting here enjoying a pint is the rarest of pleasures. The atmosphere is so redolent of ages past. If someone told you that the pub was still lit by gas, you’d believe it, although that is not the case.
Local people make full use of its welcome. Black Country accents fill the air as they chat to their neighbours, discuss the latest sporting headlines and deliberate over answers to crossword puzzles.
A rare survivor is really a very apt description for The Beacon Hotel. I only hope that those vandals who masquerade as architects are never allowed near it.
The Beacon Hotel, 29 Bilston Street, Sedgley, West Midlands DY3 1JE
Tel. (01902) 883380
Opening Hours: 12–2.30, 5.30–11; 12–3, 6–11 Saturday; 12–3, 7–10.30 Sunday