If you follow me on Twitter and take note of any of my inane Twitterings on pubs you may already be aware that I am a tad fond of a particular Netherton pub. It’s a place I’ve visited numerous times over the years, but more so now I’m living back in my beloved Black Country. So, this one goes out to the one I love…
In recent months it’s been something of a comfort blanket due to its close proximity to the local hospital. A place of refuge to spend some time with family, supping on ale, eating hearty food and eavesdropping on conversations. I’m sure even the doctors would approve. Yow cor beat it.
However, until last Saturday, it’s a place that wench #2 had not even visited. This is surprising because wench #2 is one of the most well travelled people I know. Alongside her husband, chap, she’s visited most of the globe, yet the depths of Netherton have eluded her. It was obvious that this needed to be rectified before Noddy Holder and Lenny Henry cancelled her Black Country passport.
T’was a rainy day as we climbed the bonk by Saltwells Nature Reserve in the trusty chariot. I hadn’t told wench #2 or chap where we were going, but both guessed as we neared our destination and it’s difficult to hide as you drive down into Netherton to be greeted by the glorious message: PURE HOME BREWD ALES.
Like me, the pub in question has an impressive frontage, however I always tend to enter Ma Pardoes (The Old Swan Inn) by the rear entrance, off the car park. It’s quite a remarkable little car park as it contains an ivy covered gateway that reminds me of The Secret Garden. What wonders lie behind this gate?
The wonder isn’t necessarily to be found in the small-but-perfectly-formed-beer-garden, but as you enter the building the first thing you’re greeted with is a trusty old piano, a hint of what may come. As you turn right into the lounge the musical theme continues with a church organ taking pride of place. Atop sits a model of the RMS Titanic, highlighting a significant part of Netherton’s history. It was here, in 1911, that N Hingley & Sons Ltd completed manufacture of the Titanic’s anchor.
You may think me a little strange, but one of my favourite things about Ma Pardoes is the worn carpet that leads you to the bar. Now it’s not one of them fancy Weatherspoons carpets like those featured in Kit Calesses book and blog, however I imagine the many Black Country folk who’ve wearily trod that same path in search of fine ale, and the tales they have told.
For it is in this cosy lounge and adjoining rooms that I’ve heard many a tale. Tales of life, love and laughter. I’ll never forgot the afternoon I sat next to two men who, in the broadest Black Country dialect, discussed serious problems at home.
“Er indoors woz always bloody gooin shoppin.”
“Arrr, my missus is tha same, I cor stop tha wench!”
“Oh, I put a stop to my missus. Er woz always fillin up me freezer which I day loike. No room for me fish so I cut tha bloody plug off day I? Er cor fill it up now, er still thinks it’s bost!”
I often wonder about that poor Black Country wench who’s annoyed that her freezer is still broken!
The lounge was full of conversation on Saturday, packed with a busy lunchtime crowd (I’ve had to use pictures from earlier visits to show the lovely features of the pub) so we made our way through the lounge to the small bar which serves the rear and front lounge area.
Fighting past the crowds, we held our Bumblehole and Entire bitters (made by their very own The Olde Swan Inn Brewery) tight as we made our way to perch on the bar, ready to pounce on an empty seat. We did start to lose faith, especially when a bus load of blokes turned up, but there’s not much that can get between this wench and those homemade chips so when I saw one bloke move his coat off the back of his chair, I virtually invited myself to sit on his lap.
Seated appropriately in the front lounge, I was then able to share with wench #2 and chap a very important document: the Ma Pardoes menu. Whilst the pub shouts Victorian working class grandeur, the menu – printed in white, black and red – is a simple affair. But, my good folk, do not be fooled by this. Because hidden behind it’s simplicity is fine fare indeed, or as we would describe it in the Black Country: bostin fittle (good food)!
Both wench #2 and chap were impressed with our surroundings in the front lounge area, and enjoyed perusing the menu and the decor at the same time. I also drew their attention to a favourite vintage poster hanging opposite.
There was much discussion about the fittle. In the end I went for a favourite: the homemade burger with shropshire blue cheese, whilst wench #2 and chap decided to share liver and onions, and faggots (proper Black country aye they?). All came with Ma Pardoes usual homemade chips.
They were mightily impressed with the quality and rather excited that you can actually take faggots home. Yes, I repeat. YOU CAN TAKE FAGGOTS HOME!
To me, the fittle at Ma Pardoes is perfect pub food. Served all day (12-9pm) it’s fresh, homecooked, unpretentious, reasonably priced and bloody bostin! My step pa is a particular fan, although he limits himself to ordering the same thing each visit: two cheese and onion cobs, and chips. In his words: “they are the best cheese and onion cobs, and chips he’s ever had.” This is something of an ‘in joke’ which I hope he appreciates.
After filling our bellies discussion turned to a side project we are working on, but intrigued by our note writing, a friendly couple next to us asked if we were planning a wedding. Wench #2 and chap both confirmed they are in matrimonial bliss, whilst I explained that I am, alas, still waiting for my Black Country prince charming to fill my empty pint glass, before that pesky clock strikes midnight.
Our new friends at the next table were quick to share their plans for their own wedding later this year. Obviously very excited by the prospect, they described their courtship in glorious technicolour. We offered advice on eloping to Las Vegas, which is really our only wedding advice (chap and wench #2 having done so and me going along for the ride/unofficial stag do).
So full of beer, fittle and wedding talk, it only remained for us to enjoy the photo gallery (on route to the toilets) and a tour of the adjoining (and very busy) rooms.
As I wanted to introduce wench #2 and chap to another of my favourite places (Fixed Wheel) we needed to leave this wonderful place, so on this visit they missed out on the stunning Ma Pardoes bar. So, for them and for you, this is what was missed.
I wonder what the tee-totalling ex-landlady, Doris Clara Pardoe would make of the fact that still, in 2017, her name has endured. It is probably unsurprising given she was at the helm for some thirty years (1952 – 1983), before she handed over to her son-in-law a year before her death.
There are some descriptions of her as a matriarch, and when I imagine her behind that bar – as I often do – I imagine her as strong, warm and funny, like most Black Country women I know. Being a proud Black Country woman, such as I am, it gives me great pleasure that one of our finest pubs retains such a strong connection to a fellow wench.
So thank you, Doris Clara Pardoe, for your name and your legacy. May we always raise a glass to you, of an Olde Swan brewery beer of course.
NB: I also wrote about Ma Pardoes in Back for a bit of Bumble Hole.