THE BLACK BULL INN
5, Kirgate, Birstall, West Yorkshire Tel : 01274 873039
In alphabet terms, they don't come much better than the Black Bull in Birstall (that's three B's and should entitle me to at least a free pint of beer). And if you like your pubs old, characterful, stewed in history, and cozy, they don't come much better than the Black Bull either. Nobody quite knows how old it is : there are certainly 17th century features but other bits and pieces have been grafted onto it over the centuries. It is one of those long pubs, the type that look as though they started life as a normal pub and got stretched over the years, like a stick of seaside rock. It needed to stretch to meet the demands on its services because, although you would not think so when you see it now, this was once the focal point of a busy local community.
It owed its eighteenth and nineteenth century popularity to two factors : it is situated opposite St Peter's Parish Church and it stood alongside the important Elland to Leeds turnpike road. St. Peter's was originally the centre of a wide ranging parish and parishioners would need to travel to Birstall for important occasions and possibly need overnight accommodation. Thus the Black Bull was a kind of Travel Lodge of its day. The Elland to Leeds turnpike was one of the great turnpike roads built in West Yorkshire in the 1740s which, for the first time, provided relatively efficient road transport between the emerging industrial towns of West Yorkshire. Thus the Black Bull was a kind of motorway service station of its day.
During its heyday, the Black Bull was also a kind of community centre. The local Magistrate's Court met in a room - which is still preserved - upstairs. The Inn was used as an auction house and as a polling station for local elections. Village life revolved around the Black Bull and there can be few Birstall inhabitants or visitors who have not passed through the low-slung doors. No doubt this included Charlotte Bronte (is there a pub in West Yorkshire she didn't visit!) for she had strong connections with the village and her great friend Ellen Nussey is buried in St. Peter's churchyard.
In the twenty-first century, the Black Bull feels a little cut off. The main roads have by-passed it and Kirgate is now a quiet little back lane. The parish of St. Peter's was divided up in the nineteenth century and the Victorian church has a leafy and sleepy feel about it. But the Black Bull battles on in the way that so many pubs are forced to do in these most pub-unfriendly days. It serves real ale (I samples a rather pleasant pint of Ingleborough Ice from the Yorkshire Dales Brewing Co which went down a hell of a lot better than most of the ice we have suffered from recently). It normally serves food (it didn't on the day I called it so I was unable to try it out). It has function rooms, it has wi-fi and it has managed to get itself included in the latest CAMRA Good Beer Guide.
So good luck to the Black Bull, may it continue to thrive and continue to represent all that is best about the West Yorkshire village inn. It has survived over 400 years by adapting to the changing times and becoming a conglomerate of local history (there is a stone built into the end wall, the precise provenance of which is still unknown). May it survive the next 400 years by adopting the same strategy.