A, AA, AAA.

A is for apple – every four-year-old knows that, or aardvark if you're a taxi firm hoping to appear near the top of directory listings. AA is for American Amber, or Alcoholics Anonymous if you can't stop consuming far too many American Ambers than are good for you. AAA is for Aldwark Artisan Ales or, when reaching a certain age, abdominal aortic aneurysm. Having attained that certain age I recently received an invitation to be scanned for said condition and so not really wishing to die having emptied the contents of my blood system into my abdominal cavity – about 85% of folks whose abdominal aorta ruptures end up attending a surprise funeral and don't even get to have a drink or bit of cake afterwards – I set off for my appointment.


The whole process is a bit like a pregnancy scan, not that I've had one of those. Pull my T-shirt up, have a load of cold gel slapped onto my belly, have the probe whizzed around a bit, wipe off the gel with the absorbent paper provided, re-cover belly with T-shirt and leave. It might be a bit like a twelve week scan but the state of my current non-racing snake stomach suggests that I might have turned up for my twelve week appointment twelve weeks late.


I can't recall the last time I was in Matlock and as I leave the surgery I decide that I'd make the most of the sunshine and have a wander around. Passing the window of a furniture shop my attention is caught. Not by the nice light oak wardrobe or the luxury mattress promising me an unbroken night's sleep, I hasten to add. Being the proud possessor of a bladder the size of a walnut I know that there's little chance of that. No, what caught my eye weren't potential personal chattels of a domestic nature but a pair of old Dawes bikes – an almost pristine Lightweight and an even finer example of their classic Galaxy tourer. Both of them were for sale and at a very nice price too. Hmmm? Do I have room for them? When would I use them? Further hmmming ensued.


Finally, having decided that it would probably be a good idea not to return home to Mrs. Bygone Boozer with bikes number twelve and thirteen I proceeded to make my way up Bank Road, the venue of my club's promotion of the 2016 National Hill Climb Championship. (If you fancy a peek as to what it was like to ride that event you can click here. WARNING – contains scenes of heavy breathing and serious discomfort. And this effort was only good enough for 29th place!) On arriving at the former Gate Inn, where the gradient increases from its already leg-wrecking 12% I cross the road to escape and continue on my way along the somewhat less severe slope that is Smedley Street. It's not long until I come across this bygone boozer.


Crab Tree Inn or Willows Matlock
The former Crab Tree Inn/Willows in Matlock.

The furthest back that I can trace the Crab Tree Inn is to 1881, but I'm pretty certain that it would've been in operation before then. That year's census shows a James Rawson living in a beer house on Matlock Bank and although neither the road nor pub are named some of the neighbours listed strongly suggest that this was the Crab Tree.



1881 census extract.

Ten years later it's in the hands of Jesse Arms.


1891 census extract for Crab Tree Inn Matlock
1891 census extract.

Jesse's still there, with hands, arms and legs, at census time a decade later...


crab tree inn matlock
1901 census extract

...but he'd moved on by the next one and Kelly's directory of 1912 shows us that Thomas Frost was in residence.



Extract from Kelly's 1912 directory.

It certainly seemed a popular stopping-off place for horses, whether in groups...


Crab Tree Inn or Willows Matlock

...or on their own. Going down the hill...


Crab Tree Inn or Willows Matlock

...or up it.


Crab Tree Inn or Willows Matlock

Even the postie would stop outside.


Crab Tree Inn or Willows Matlock


All of the above images were taken whilst Thomas Frost was landlord and the pub was being supplied with ales from brewers Hutchinson & Sons. In 1914 they were taken over by Nottingham neighbours Home Brewery and it's their wares that were served thenceforth.


Jumping forward half a century or so, up until the 1970s, possibly even stretching into the early '80s, Matlock had a teacher training college and in 1962, as the UK's second folk revival was in full swing, the Matlock Training College Folk Song Society was formed and their regular meeting place was the Crabtree. (Quite when the name morphed into a single word I've no idea.) In 1964 they got around to producing a privately-pressed album which was named after it – Crabtree '64. Some of the tracks have even made their way onto YouTube.




As well as their own performers they managed to persuade some pretty well-known names in the folk world to play there. The likes of Richard and Linda Thompson, The Spinners, Jake Thackray, Martin Carthy and Richard Digence all put in an appearance at some time


As for when the pub actually shut up shop I can't really recall. It was closed for a bit whilst the interior was 'restructured' and it was certainly still serving in the early 1990s. It was also known as The Willows in its later years but my ageing brain just can't be certain about the correct sequence of these events. One thing is certain though and that is that it's gone and has been subdivided into residential units of some kind.


Another thing that is certain is that with an aortic diameter of 1.6cm I don't have yet another medical condition that needs adding to the list for monitoring. Time for one of those Aldwark Artisan Ales to celebrate. A Nostrum, perhaps. It might not be an American Amber, but it is an amber.


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