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West Riding 25 years in the Good Beer Guide – How it all started

Tonight, 23rd January 2020, is the wrap up night for the West Riding’s 25th Year celebrations and a night where we receive an award from Heavy Woollen CAMRA for 25 consecutive years in the Good Beer Guide. To mark this event, former Heavy Woollen CAMRA chair, Andy Kassube, interviewed our founder Mr Mike Field to shed some light into how The West (& Beerhouses) started and became what it is today.

Mike was involved in the set-up of the Heavy Woollen CAMRA branch. He has led a very interesting life, so I hope you enjoy this insight into why an accountant and Insolvency Practitioner thought it would be a good idea to open a pub in a railway station!

Mike’s background is Dewsbury born and bred, he was born in the Moorlands Hall Maternity Home and lived in North Park Street. He went to St Johns School before going on to Wheelwright Grammar. From there the bright lights of Lancashire beckoned and he decided to go to Manchester University to study Politics and Modern History. (A little-known fact is that Judge Rinder took the same course after Mike!). It was while at university that Mike slowly started to develop his taste for Real Ale with Boddingtons a particular favourite as it was still brewed next to Strangeways prison at that time and was a cracking pint. However much to his shame like most people in the seventies he does remember drinking the “infamous” Watneys Party Seven and its keg Manchester equivalent the “Bodkin”.

On leaving University Mike took some labouring jobs whilst harbouring ambitions to be a journalist but with little success and after only one unsuccessful interview in a year (with the Sheffield Star) he decided he needed a change of direction. He decided to join Finney, Ross and Welch Accountants in Leeds as it was a profession with a reasonable income and working conditions. In 1977 he decided to start Insolvency work for a firm in Leeds and this became his area of expertise and he eventually qualified as an Insolvency Practitioner and went to work for David Horton in Leeds in 1983. It was whilst travelling to Leeds that Mike became more aware of the de-manned waiting rooms at Dewsbury station, but more of that later!

Before graduating from university the Real Ale attraction hit Mike on a visit to London in 1973. He was introduced to Fullers ales and realised how good beer could taste. At the same time, he saw an article about CAMRA in the Observer and this got his attention. The organisation was still in its infancy at that time and the only local branch was ‘West Yorkshire’. Meetings used to take place at either the Black Swan, Thornton Road, Bradford or the Brownroyd WMC in Bradford where the only beer was Yorkshire Clubs 4X which Mike believed was brewed in Huntington near York. The branch also met at the White Lion in Huddersfield and the Bowling Green in Ravensthorpe.

As CAMRA grew Mike became a member of the Kirklees branch and it was from there they used to take train trips and a regular venue was the Stalybridge Buffet Bar which was to become Mike’s inspiration and fuel his ambition. So, Mike had by now decided he wanted to introduce a bar into the empty waiting rooms in Dewsbury station and after four years of wondering he decided to take the plunge and on the 5th December 1992, he had a meeting with Ian Simpson at British Rail to pitch his proposition. Mr Simpson left the room to consult his colleagues and came back to give Mike the go-ahead. The hard work begun now!

Mike had estimated it would cost £75k to set up the bar which he had divided into thirds, one third his own money, one third bank loan and one third brewery loan. He had saved the first one, Dougie Johnson at the Co-Op Bank agreed the second, but the third element was not to be so easy. Mike wanted something different for the pub so approached Manchester breweries, but they were not keen to venture too far from home so had little success there. He approached Courage but they basically wanted Mike to sell his “soul and everything else he possessed!” so they were dropped and in desperation he approached Tetleys who agreed with a second charge on Mike’s home however he already given that to the Co-Op bank so this was a non-starter too.

So things were not looking good, however it was on Kirklees CAMRA weekend minibus trip to Batemans in Lincolnshire (organised by Jim Turney) and this was prove to be key to Mike’s dream. Jim organised an introduction to Batemans. Within a week, the iconic figure in the brewing industry, George Bateman, wanted a visit to the West! George turned up to what could be politely described as a building site and even despite his senior age clambered over the rubble inside to get a feel of the place and agreed to loan the monies to Mike as he saw the potential.

The rest is history as the West opened in January 1994, the pub was originally tied to Batemans and this relationship lasted for between four to five years until Batemans decide to concentrate on its local Lincolnshire markets. The loan was repaid, Black Sheep (who featured as a guest from the start) and Timothy Taylors were introduced in late 1998 as the core beers (as they still are today) with guests such as Durham and Roosters becoming regulars at the start.

The pub has won numerous CAMRA branch awards since its opening including the prestigious Yorkshire Regional Pub of the Year Award in 2006. It was also featured on the Oz Clarke and James May Drink to Britain TV programme on BBC2. Since the opening of the West, the company has grown to include The Sportsman in Huddersfield, The Cricketers in Horbury, The Old Turk in Dewsbury and Idle Beerhouse to their now Beerhouses pubs as well as Stalybridge Buffet Bar, which was of course Mike’s inspiration all those years ago.

Mike’s influence on the beer scene did not stop with the West Riding as in 1998 he decided to open a brewery in the town. At the time Paul and Cressida Klos were managing the pub for Mike and Paul had always shown an interest in brewing. Paul had done a little brewing at Rother Valley and was keen to continue his interest. Mike decided to back the brewery and as a “stop-gap” name the Anglo-Dutch brewery was born as Paul was from Holland, however the name became permanent!

The brewery was set up in the Savile Town part of Dewsbury with Paul literally building the brewery from scrap metal and pallets! As the brewery expanded tanks were bought from pubs and breweries that had surplus. There was soon a solid range of beers with Jaspers Pale Ale and Spike’s on T’Way named after Cressida and Paul’s sons. However, the beer that put Anglo Dutch on the map was Tabatha the Knackered which appeared at the Great British Beer Festival. This was a 6.0 Belgian Tripel style ale which also won a SIBA Gold Medal in 2003 and was renowned in the West Yorkshire area. In 2010 when Mike reached 60 he and Paul decided to sell the brewery and it eventually led to the formation of Partners brewery.

As mentioned earlier, Mike was very involved in the set-up of the Heavy Woollen CAMRA branch and along with Dave Johnson in 1994/95 they set up a sub-branch covering the Dewsbury, Cleckheaton, Batley, Mirfield and all surrounding areas. As the branch grew it lost its sub-branch status and is now recognised and established in the West Yorkshire area.

The interview finished by asking Mike to name some of his favourite beers and or memories. He will always remember the original Boddingtons at the Ducie Arms and Royal Oak in Manchester or the Tetleys when it would come fresh out of the brewery in Leeds. It is hard because both of those beers have changed so much over the last 30 years but to “older” drinkers we know what Mike is talking about. As for his favourite pubs there was The Old Still in Peterborough, sadly closed but an icon of its day serving real from jugs, The Golden Rule with its roaring fires and the original Hartley XB, and finally the Nags Head on Vicar Lane in Leeds for a cracking pint of the original Tetleys and entertainment as people often left by the window not the door!!

Hopefully you have appreciated this small tribute to Mike as he is certainly a hero to many of us as he was a man who followed his dream and made it him come true. He helped to put Heavy Woollen (& Dewsbury) on the Real Ale Map for the UK and further afield. When I say Dewsbury to people generally they say the town with the pub on the railway station and this helped to establish the Rail Ale Trail which has helped other pubs in our area and Huddersfield branch. He certainly had many tales to tell and some I cannot repeat but his contribution to real ale in our area cannot be underestimated!

Mike has now retired but still enjoys keeping involved in Beerhouses, the beer scene & CAMRA as well as his regular trips to his now local, The Cricketers.

Cheers Mike!

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