Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Andrew Liddle
Guest Writer
1:00 AM 20th April 2024

Scarborough Calling: Part Three - A Pub At The Gates Of Paradise

After ascending to Paradise, I pay my respects to Anne Brontë, buried here in 1849, and stand amidst the daffodils in the grounds of St Mary’s Church.

From here is a magnificent view over the red pantiles of the Old Town down to the harbour, and a quite stupendous vista stretching to Flamborough Head’s chalky cliffs. This area of Scarborough’s Castle Hill is well named even if ‘Paradise’ properly signifies the former presence of a walled garden attached to a monastery.

The French Cistercians were here almost a thousand years ago, probably brewing the same sort of beverage that I am now in search of. I know where to find it. It’s but a short jaunt down a weathered flight of steps to St Mary’s Street, at the bottom of which is the best real ale pub in Scarborough - for an old pubman like me.

The Leeds Arms, a grade-2 listed building is the sort of place I used to seek out for solace and stimulating conversation. It is one of a declining number of such premises offering the congenial surroundings in which the inner man can fortify himself.

The owners are Tony and Sarah Nicholson. His is a name I like. It conjures up so many memories of the namesake swing bowler who partnered Fred in the 1960s and early 70s, a wonderful time in the history of Yorkshire County Cricket. A great trier - who always toiled up the hill where Fred preferred to pick up speed going down it - ‘Nick’ seemed to get better as the years went on, as his waist thickened and his sweaters grew longer.

Sarah, who previously spent 10 years supporting people with learning difficulties and mental health issues, clearly has the personality, ‘people skills’ and capacity for hard work necessary to run a pub along friendly and well-ordered lines – and keep their pipelines clean! This last was once a given but sadly these days is not.

Commendably, they do not allow television in the pub, except for the Rugby 6 Nations. Nor do their customers have to put up with the flashing lights and infernal pinging of gaming machines and gimmicky things. It’s not that sort of a pub, one of those where the real and the virtual worlds are blurring.

Once a month Sarah hosts a night of acoustic music with a group of up to 10 local musicians coming together to play folk music, sea shanties and whatever takes their fancy, with food laid on. There is also food at the weekends, uniquely provided by the customers themselves, who bring their own and often share it around. Ordinarily, however, this is refreshingly not a place to go to eat!

Landlord, Tony Nicholson.
Landlord, Tony Nicholson.
Landlady, Sarah Nicholson;
Landlady, Sarah Nicholson;
Speaking of food, once a year the pub is the venue for a local pork pie competition. This began over 30 years ago when the then landlord, Simon Carolyn-Evans; local fisherman, Colin ‘Dilt’ Jenkinson; and motorcycle enthusiast, Jack Raper, famously challenged each other to make a traditional pork pie, after sampling those bought from local shops. On the first Saturday of December the grand competition takes place and, following the judging, slices are sold with proceeds going to the Fisherman and Firemen Charity Fund which supports needy families in the Old Town.

For me, the pub’s crowning glory is the Timothy Taylor’s on tap. Now this was always my beer of choice, produced by an independent brewer in the pre-Camra days when the big five were buying up all the local ones and changing them for the worse. Brewed at Knowle Spring in Keighley, it flowed like water and tasted like wine in nearby pubs like The Cricketers and The Globe, of fond memory.

I am always happy to reacquaint myself with the taste, particularly of Landlord, the classic pale ale, when it is as well kept as this. But then I would expect nothing less from a landlord of the old school, especially one who spent many years as a training manager for Cameron’s, schooling prospective publicans. Not for nothing have Taylor’s conferred on this pub the rare distinction of being part of their Championship Club.

Tony also intriguingly was a closed-circuit tv analyst specialising in counter-terrorism – but having signed the Home Office’s official secrets’ act is unable to tell me more.

You’re getting the idea, though, that this is no ordinary publican bending with the modish winds of commercial pressures but a stout oak of his generation. Of course, as freeholders, he and Sarah are at liberty to run the pub as they want and according to the wishes of their locals.

They bought The Leeds Arms in December 2019 and closed it for a refurbishment in February 2020, a few weeks before a national lockdown was announced. It was clearly not the best of starts but fortunately trade picked up the moment it re-opened.

The locals remained loyal and flocked back to their pub, the social centre of the Old Town community known as the “Bottom-Enders”. The majority are from families that have lived here for generations, mostly with ties to fishing or yachting. The photographs of seamen and vessels that line the walls are a reminder of how important the trade was.

Their ranks are swelled from time to time by people taking holiday lets in the Old Town. It is an altogether different clientele, Tony points out, from the day trippers who drift into the bars on the front, whose idea of what constitutes a pub might be different.

A well-known local playwright often drops in. No not Sir Alan Ayckbourn! Another familiar face is a much-admired artist from Bradford. No, not Hockney, who is not actually to everyone’s taste in his native town, but Stuart Hirst who won the hearts and minds of Bradford folk with his first exhibition in the 1970s and is still as popular as ever. (A Bradford millionaire recently commissioned him to produce thirty of his distinctive wet street paintings.) Stuart has turned his attention to Scarborough and his work can be seen at the Dorothy Rowan Gallery which he owns in Eastborough. He will undoubtedly feature in this series.

If you want cocktails or chicken nuggets or Sky Sports or Karaoke nights - well this pub is not for you. But if it’s a warm and friendly atmosphere, good ale and locally produced spirits and a natural bonhomie in a pub with no frills but strong historical associations then you can’t do better in Scarborough.

To me it’s a throwback to when pubs were pubs, run by real landlords and real landladies, serving real ale to real people engaged in real conversation.