No Surprises Living In Devizes: Wander through Wadworthshire

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The hand-painted sign on The Three Crowns in Maryport Street, Devizes


DELIVERING around London is stressful at the best of times. By last drop all I wanted was to go home; away from congestion, box junction cameras and uncaring masses. Yes, back to charming countryside; if anything spurred a familiarity of home, I sensed it.

Outbound at the Hogarth Roundabout I might catch a whiff reminding me of Devizes. Like Weetabix left in hot milk there’s a distinct odour; a brewery located nearby.

Early weekdays this familiar smell rinses Devizes, as the striking Victorian redbrick landmark begins the beer-making process. By mid-week the shire horses are out delivering barrels to local pubs, leaving outsiders in awe.

Exploring all that makes Devizes uniquely Devizes, tradition plays a humongous part. I’ve covered many in this column but omitted one. I’ve mentioned the Wadworth Brewery in passing but not covered it. I was waiting for the right opportunity, but if it’s good enough for Prince Charles, well…..

Henry Wadworth founded the brewery in Long Street in 1875 and moved it to its current site 10 years later. In 1887 his brother-in-law, John Smith Bartholomew slapped six grand on the table for a quarter share and together, it is said, they perfected the beer they still brew today, as well as, I suspect, a competitive moustache growing contest.

Kept in the family, the brewery’s chairmen today is Bartholomew’s great-grandson. Henry died after falling off a horse in 1929 without leaving a male heir.

If you think you’re being cool on a Devizes pub-crawl, Henry virtually invented it; all in a day’s work. Apparently he would visit each local pub to test the beer personally; well duh, who wouldn’t? I imagine his wife calling, “hard day at the office darling?”

“Yep love; fink I need a ickle lie down (hic!)”

The distinctive Wadworth tang originated from a well a hundred yards from the original site. Known as a “tower brewery,” gravity lifted raw ingredients to the tower’s top, combining them; some of the original equipment still being used today.

You can see this since the visitor centre and tour opened. I tried blagging a tour but they weren’t having any of it, Prince Charles Spitting Image mask or no. Unscathed by rejection, documenting the brewery is fundamental to building a picture of Devizes, and essential to the economics here; plus, it’s kinda nice isn’t it?

When the wife and I took a weekend in Bournemouth, we searched for a decent pub. Starting at a typical Yates’s establishment with sticky dancefloor and images upon a giant screen above the bar of floosy adolescents dancing, the bland lunch fitted the surrounding.

Exploring, we found a mediocre raucous sports bar where, if perched against a fireplace and strained our necks left we could glimpse half of the football on the screen.

Next “pub” had the minimalist décor of a 1970s futurism art-film, with auburn cubic seats, mirror table-tops and dusty neon lighting. Thankfully my delivering knowledge vaguely directed us to a pub called, “The Goat and Tricycle.” From arrival a homely sensation sweep us, and we remained faithful to it for the remaining break.

Far from being standardised, The Goat and Tricycle had the certain something I expect from a pub; warm welcome, friendly punters, quality food and drink, unique and vintage design. Yep, definitely “Waddie’s”.

With an authentic atmosphere to each of Wadworth’s zillion pubs, despite price tag, they’re always worth going the extra mile for. In a competitive market business decisions will be scrutinised, but certainly it’s the pride of Devizes.

I saunter into a Wadworth pub outside our area holding nose in air as if I’m VIP: “We’re from Devizes don’t you know, and demand luminary treatment!”

Identifying the authenticity and quality is the distinctive Wadworth pub sign. Functionally graphical, aesthetically exquisite hand-painted scenes or emblems created, since 1992, by David Young. I had to chat with David, be rude not to being he’s been in the spotlight, rubbing shoulders with Prince Charles.

Typifying Devizes folk; easy-going, amusing and interesting, officially he’s freelance but told me, “98% of my work is for Wadworth.”

“I paint the pictures and two lads do all the worded signs,” he explained. Wadworth being the only brewery left to still hand-paint pub signage. He uses tolerable exterior grade oil paints on hard wood, as is the fading tradition.

“Must’ve painted over 500 by now,” he continued.

Does he paint outside of Wadworth? “I’ve have enough of painting during the week so no ‘busman holiday’ for me… Mrs does all the painting and decorating at home!” I like this guy already!

I had to ask him if he had a favourite. “Poplars at Wingfield won Pub Sign of the year,” David answered, “so most proud of that one; has a cricket pitch at side of pub… hit a six and yer out!”

I wondered if David was asked to paint in a particular style or if he’s free to interpret the sign, “I mean, if you pitched a Jason Pollock would you be pointed towards the door?!”

“I’m free to interpret as I feel,” David enlightened, “but stick to quite a traditional style as that is part of Wadworth selling point.”

You can’t argue; tradition is what it’s all about in Wadworthshire; reflects our proud town.

It must have been nerve-wracking meeting Prince Charlie. I’d probably say the wrong thing; just like his dad. But now they’re best buddies, I asked David how his painting skills were and what they chatted about.

“Prince Charles was a genuine chap and apparently is in the top 10 money makers list in the UK from his artworks!” Which is nice, the guy could do with an income on the side.

I’d like to thank David for his time, despite shire horses Monty and Max being the real public figures they didn’t have a great deal to say to me, so you decide who the sensible ones are!

DARREN WARROW

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