A historic pub interior of national importance
Listed Status: IIUpper Gate Street
This corner local in the historic core of Conwy is easily the best example of an inter-war pub in Wales and is a great place for a drink. It closed in 2010 but was revived by a consortium of four Welsh micro-breweries two years later with the backing of a far-sighted businessman. Rebuilt in 1921, it has a brick ground floor and pebble-dashed first floor plus a touch of half-timbering. A corridor, with attractive green tiling, gives access to three well-preserved rooms. The public bar (right front) retains its long 1920s bar counter and fine mirrored bar-back. The off-sales which led up to the far end of the counter went at some stage and the screen separating it from the bar has been placed against the wall. On the corner is a lovely smoke room with some Art Nouveau touches in the glazing and a mightily impressive inglenook fireplace set behind a timber and brick canopy. The seating and bell-pushes survive. A second smoke room at the rear retains a massive, attractively detailed brick fire-surround, fixed seating, bell-pushes and hatch to the servery: the herringbone flooring incorporates an unusual diamond shaped feature in the centre. In 2013 the Albion was awarded the CAMRA/English Heritage Conservation Award for the restoration work and also the Joe Goodwin Award for the best street-corner local.
Re-built in 1921, this is by far the best surviving example of an interwar pub in Wales. It has three well-preserved rooms and the only significant changes were in the late 1970s by Ansells Brewery and include the incorporation of the off-sales into the public bar (on the right-hand side). The exterior has a brick ground floor, and pebble-dashed first floor with a touch of Tudor half-timbering. There are three well-preserved rooms approached off a corridor with some attractive green tiling in the dado and red tiling on the floor. The pub closed for a year or so and was rescued by an enterprising businessman. After a sensitive refurbishment, it reopened in February 2012 as the Albion Ale House selling real ales from four north Welsh micro-breweries. It is an excellent example of how to restore a heritage pub interior – also, it is making a success of concentrating on the essentials of a good pub i.e. good conversation and good beer – there is no TV, no juke box, fruit machine or pool table. The Albion won the CAMRA/English Heritage 2013 Pub Design Awards in the conservation category.
The public bar (right) retains its original counter and new owner has added a new top over the original – look for the join. Also retained is the fine mirrored bar-back incorporating a round clock by Parnell & Sons, Birmingham, and lots of shelves with columns. The counter front and bar-back fitting have recently been rubbed down to the bare wood and French polished to look a lovely shade of light brown. Only three sections of the lower bar-back shelves have been removed to accommodate two fridges for bottles and one for snack storage. The original brick fireplace in the public bar has been painted black. The corner fixed seating in the public bar has been re-positioned as it covers the original door – it possibly rested against the partition that separated the public bar from the off sales? Black paint has been removed from the ceiling beam. The public bar has a bare wood floor whereas the other two rooms have parquet floors. Locals say the original parquet floor was ripped up to be used as firewood – in the 1970s the landlord kicked up a loose piece one night and then threw it on the fire so, locals say, the rest of the wood blocks went the same way! That said, the boarding looks old and it would have been appropriate to have such basic flooring in a public bar and wood blocks in the 'better' rooms and the replacement story seems a bit fanciful.
A partition with glass panels on the top once separated the off sales from the public bar. You can see markings on the counter where the partition was fixed. When removed in the late 1970s the partition was attached to the wall on the right side of the room and covers a tiled dado. The present owners have carefully removed a tiny selection of panelling to expose some of the 1921 brown tiled dado. The former off-sales entrance has a ‘Public Bar’ panel in the door (revealed by a previous licensee which had a dartboard over it). Originally it may have had a ‘Off Sales’ or ‘Jug & Bottle’ one so it is likely the panel was originally on the original door to the public bar from the hallway into the public bar (but locals claim that originally stated ‘Men Only’!).
The plans for the rebuilding in 1921 show that originally the door into the bar was just inside the lobby, but moved further back in the late 1970s - hence there are no tiles on the right-hand side of the lobby but they remain intact in the lobbies and passageway. In the hallway the mainly red-tiled floor runs to the rear and it looks as if the staircase, originally an open one, now locked, is a later addition. However, the green dado wall-tiling continues up the left-hand side of the staircase to the first floor. The top section of the green dado tiling is missing below a window looking into the left hand smoke room so was presumable removed (damaged?) when the window was added ‘for supervision purposes’ in the late 1970s.
After many years of closure the entrance on the Bangor Road side with a 'Smoke Room' panel in the exterior door has been re-opened – it has a black and white tiled floor, lovely shades of brown dado Art Nouveau tiling and twin inner doors with round-headed doorway – note the ‘Room’ etched glass door panel is a recent replacement for a long lost original one (locals say it has a bullet hole in it!) with the ‘Smoke’ and other plain panels being the originals. In the angle of the streets is a smoke room, now called the Lounge, with an impressive baronial-style fireplace set behind a timber and brick canopy. Recently black paint has been removed from the heavy timber over the inglenook fireplace and taken back to the bare timber. The interior of the inglenook is now well-illuminated making the fireplace the stunning feature it was meant to be. Note the quality design of creating an alcove with 1920s round brick arch matching that of the inner doors of the lobby i.e. left and right of the inglenook. The alcove has fixed seating for just two people. The fitted seating in the alcove and both sides of the inglenook are not 1921 originals but were added later. The room retains its original seating still with bell-pushes. The room has Art Nouveau stained, ellipse-shaped windows, but has lost its door.
The rear Smoke Room is served via a hatch, which still retains its doors that can be closed. The smoke room has an impressive wide brick and tile fireplace, and retains its fixed seating, bell-pushes and a parquet floor with an unusual diamond-shaped feature. Now called the Snug, it has a 'Smoke Room' etched panel on the door and there is one original decorative etched window but the right hand side one has been lost. The room is popular for meetings, particularly as the hatch has retained its doors, which can be closed for privacy. The present ladies’ was the original gents - in 1949 an extension was added to create new gents’ toilets.
Update 2016: Manager Stuart Chapman-Edwards is having the bell-push system brought back to life in the two smoke rooms so, unless the pub isn’t too busy, you won’t need to leave the comfort of your seat to get a beer. He’s acquired an indicator box from about 1900 which by now should be connected up to the bell-pushes. A great tradition revived.