Updated: Mar 6
Before I begin, I would just like to say that the title is not a euphemism for my lifestyle whilst living in the vicinity Staffordshire's renowned brewing town. For those of you unaware of the term, Burton snatch is the name for the slightly sulphurous scent of newly-poured pale ales, especially those from, or in the style of those from, Burton upon Trent.
During fermentation yeast uses sulphates dissolved in the water to produce the amino acids methionine and cysteine. Low nitrogen levels and/or an excess of sulphate will result in the production of hydrogen sulphide with its characteristic whiff of rotten eggs. Burton's water is rich in sulphates, in fact in my short spell at the Bass brewery I was informed that the brewery's well water had to be diluted with Severn Trent's finest as its sulphate concentration was now too high to use neat. So, to summarise, Burton pale ales should have a slight, barely detectable whiff of hydrogen sulphide when freshly poured. However this was not the case on the occasion of my last visit to this bygone boozer and my olfactory organ isn't the most keen of examples. This was simply a case of the beer being off.
It was early on a Monday evening in the early summer and I was out for an early pint with Aled. We liked to do things early. We met by the Memorial Arch which, along with the town clock in those days before instant personal communication that were the mid-1970's, was one of the regular rendezvous points in the city. I often wondered why the city had a town clock, but I digress.
We crossed Deiniol Road into Glanrafon and entered through the door of the black and white, mock-Tudor, eponymously named hotel. Whilst not a frequent haunt of mine, preferring the offerings of the Bulkeley, the Albion or the Union, I did used to pop in every now and then. The Glan, as it was affectionately known, was popular with both the local and student populations and with nobody waiting at the bar, and only a handful of other folks out so soon in the drinking week, we were served quickly.
"Two pints of Double Diamond, please." This keg version of the Burton pale ale first brewed by Allsopp's in 1876 looked to be the best thing on offer, its pump standing out from the other bar fonts on parade, each one of which seemed to be advertising a very Germanic-sounding piso dryw passing itself off as a lager. I proffered a fifty pence piece and the young lady serving small dropped a few small coins into my palm Those were the days. A pair of pints for less than ten bob. Two star-bright pints with thin, pale, heads appeared on the bar. I handed one to Aled and turned back to pick up mine.
"Cock uhh garth!"
Well, it sounded something like that. Even this monoglot anglophone could detect that all was not well in Aled's world and as I lifted my glass towards my mouth I got a pretty good idea what it was. It may well have been many years later that I first came across the term Burton snatch but even then I knew that no pint should smell like this one did. It was as if Lucifer himself had beaten Gary in an egg-eating contest and was now releasing the gaseous consequences.
Aled was already in conversation with the barmaid. Although I didn't recognise a single word I was in no doubt about the topic or Aled's displeasure. He was becoming increasingly animated.
It seemed that, according to the young lady behind the bar, there was nothing wrong with the beer, there was no need for us to get replacements and I certainly wasn't going to get my money back.
"Come on!" Aled turned and gestured towards the exit. I followed.
"Cont cars egg!" Another phonetic interpretation of Aled's utterances. This one aimed over his shoulder towards the bar as he opened the door onto Glanrafon.
"Cont cars egg?" I returned, with an upward inflection, as we turned to the right, heading for the Albion and a palatable pint of Burtonwood.
"Cont cars egg. Like the Duke of York." he replied.
I stared back blankly.
"You know. The Duke of York. Ten thousand men and all that."
"A Double Diamond works wonders" was the oft-heard tagline used by Ind Coope in TV adverts for their brew in the 1970s. That one worked wonders for me in that it stopped me from ever ordering another or from ever setting foot in that establishment again. And so there endeth my history with the Glan, but what about the Glan's own history.
Located on the corner of Glanrafon and Sackville Road in Bangor, the Glanrafon Hotel replaced an earlier hostelry which had occupied the site, the Three Salmons.
Absent from Pigot's 1829 Directory of North Wales, it had appeared by the time the edition six years later was published with a Robert Humphreys as mine host.
He was still there when Pigot passed through again nine years later.
In fact the Three Salmons is regularly mentioned by name in directories and census returns until it is demolished in 1890 for the redevelopment of the area, which included the construction of the building which stands in its place today. It's even mentioned by name after its supposed demolition in 1890 which makes me wonder if it was actually demolished after that date or perhaps its replacement was also originally named the Three Salmons.
Let's start with that 1890 date. The Gwynedd Archaeological Trust, in their survey of Bangor published in 2007, states '...cottages and an inn called the Three Salmons were
demolished when the Glanrafon Hotel was built in 1890.' That means no Three Salmons after 1890, but in the 1891 census...
and again a decade later...
James McCarter died in 1897 and it looks as if mum has moved in to keep widowed Annie company now that she's running the Three Salmons on her own – eleven years after it was demolished!
Annie herself died in 1902 and perhaps it was then that the Three Salmons died with her. It was certainly trading as the Glanrafon Hotel by the time that the headcount came around again in 1911.
But things are never straightforward, are they? Jumping forward a decade or two, in the mid-1930s Samuel Allsopp's brewery merged with Ind Coope, forming Ind Coope and Allsopp Ltd. As a part of the process over 300 of Allsopp's tied pubs were conveyed to the new company. One of those tied houses on the list was... the Three Salmons in Bangor.
OK. Lets think about this a little. The Three Salmons was demolished to make way for the Glanrafon Hotel in 1890 but was still serving in 1901, but had been replaced by the Glanrafon by 1911, but was conveyed as the Three Salmons in 1934 or whenever. Then, in 1939...
I'm struggling to know what to think. At the time of the brewery merger the Three Salmons was a leasehold property, held on an 80 year lease which had started on the 12th May 1905. My best guess, without the ability to access any other documentation in the current situation, is that it was demolished some time after Annie McCarter's death in 1902 and the new pub constructed in time to be leased in 1905, but with no new name as yet was simply referred to by its old one. Allsopp's then named it as the Glanrafon Hotel when the new premises opened. However, I could be, and probably am, well wide of the mark.
[EDIT 06/03/21. Since posting I have heard from Phil Hughes who worked on the recent renovations. He was pretty sure that he could make out the Three Salmons name in the external render, so the new building may well have retained its original name – at least for a while.]
If the name thing was a bit tricky early on in its life it certainly went through a few more appellations in its time. During my residency in north Wales it was always the Glanrafon but by the time the mid 1980s had arrived and a friend was studying at the university it had been rechristened as Dylan's Wine Bar. In 1991 Allied Breweries, the behemoth into which Ind Coope had been subsumed thirty years earlier, bought the Firkin Brewery chain and a nice bit of Wenglish, the Ffesant & Firkin, appeared on the corner of Sackville Road. Was 'Ffesant & Ffircyn' too much of a deviation from corporate consistency? Maybe they didn't want any furious pheasants. Or firkin' pheasants even.
1999 saw the entire estate of Allied pubs, including the Firkin brand, being acquired by Punch Taverns who then sold 110 of the pubs to Bass. I hope you're following all of this. One of these was the former Ffesant & Firkin. Bass went on to brand the boozer as one of their Scream chain of 'student-oriented' pubs, renamed it Yr Hen Glan (The Old Glan) and painted it in the yellow which was associated with a number of the brand's other places. It became known to many folk simply as the Yellow Pub.
In 2010 the Scream brand was sold to the Stonegate Pub Company who have since closed, disposed of or rebranded the pubs. Our pub falls into the first category. Yr Hen Glan served its last pint of whatever corresponded to Double Diamond in 2016 and the following year planning permission was sought to convert it to a ground floor restaurant with a number of student apartments above. The renovation included returning the Yellow Pub's appearance to one that I remember and the ground floor now houses the China Hot Chilli Chinese Restaurant which seemed to be getting pretty good reviews before this Covid thing intervened.
That's the Glan's fate dealt with. What was Aled's? The last I heard of him he was teaching maths, or mathemateg as he'd have it, in Brymbo or Ruabon. Somewhere that way. But that was around the time that Fiddler's Dram were enjoying "a beautiful day... lunch on the way and all for under a pound you know..." so he could be anywhere now. Or, like the Glan, he may no longer be with us. Sadly, there's enough folks from those days who no longer are.
Some phonetic transcriptions in case you want or need them so you can look up any translation can be found below.
WARNING! Please bear in mind that these are phonetic transcriptions from a Naarfuk bor tha rarely loikes a bear and so might not be too close a representation of the original when spoken with the reader's own accent.
Cock uhh garth = coc y gath
Dee owl = diawl
Cont cars egg = cont caseg
Meirion's image is copyright and reused under this license – cc-by-sa/2.0.
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