Big Issue in the North magazine.
Mark Metcalf has a few beers with Trevor Wraith, landlord of award-winning Sheffield pub Kelham Island Tavern
A Sheffield pub is in line to capture the Campaign for Real Ale Pub of the Year award for a record third time. Success would be a testament to the passion and endeavour of Trevor Wraith who acquired the disused White Hart pub in 2001 and converted it into a roaring success.
The renamed Kelham Island Tavern first won Camra’s award in 2008, repeating the accolade a year later. No other pub has finished first on more than one occasion. Having been picked – along with Broadstairs micro-pub the Yard of Ale, the Drovers Rest in Carlisle and the Sandford Park Ale House in Cheltenham – as one of the top four pubs in 2015 the Kelham Island Tavern could take the title again when the result is announced in February.
“I’d be delighted to win the award again,” Wraith tells me as I enjoy a few glasses of beer, some at just £2.40 a pint, early on a midweek evening before Christmas, when there are at least 40 people of all ages in the premises. “We serve a fine selection of real ales from right across the country, with a special emphasis on Yorkshire brews and especially North Yorkshire, where there are beers of exceptional quality.”
Wraith began working part time in the pub trade in Doncaster as a teenager in the 1970s. When his sales job at Don Valley Engineering came to an end in 1992 he decided to use the skills he’d learnt from serving customers and from running a local pub when the landlord was on holiday.
“I managed to acquire a ten year lease on the Rutland Arms in Sheffield and I expanded the trade considerably. But when the brewery sold the pub to Punch Taverns I did not like the idea of a being a middleman and I decided to try and strike out on my own.”
Wraith found himself outbid by housing developers when he tried to buy a number of pubs and was getting desperate when he was told that the White Hart, a site where there has been a pub since the 1830s, was up for sale. His bid was successful but he says, “I did wonder if I had done the right thing”.
Parts of the roof needed replacing before the small pub could be re-opened. Wraith then began the task of moving on the previous clientele, which included some unsavoury characters. He stopped serving certain drinks and began introducing real ale. Previous clients didn’t appreciate the changes and quickly left. To attract more customers he spent money extending the pub and installing a small kitchen to serve traditional food.
To help customers chat, Wraith has taken away background music. Folk and quiz nights are confined to one area. House rules include “no bad language or uncouth behaviour”. Wraith says: “We don’t do shots or fancy cocktails or allow people to swig out of bottles. People want to be able to relax when they come in here. I don’t want to be calling the police and it is a difficult enough job being a landlord without having to keep a check to make sure people are behaving themselves.”
The range of beers his pub serves is impressive. Customers can choose from up to 13 real ales including a mild, porter and stout. Regular beers include Abbeydale Moonshine, Acorn Barnsley Bitter, Bradfield Farmers Blonde and Pictish Brewers Gold. Wraith is passionate about real ale. “I make it my business to know the constituents of each brew and I visit the breweries where I order my beers from. I help educate all nine staff about the beers and that means customers can obtain reliable information before selecting a particular brew.”
Wraith’s current favourite tipple is Mosaic Pale, brewed by a new microbrewery – one of many that have proliferated in recent years – in Scarborough called North Riding.
“It’s marvellous to see the increasing popularity of good beer. Camra has done an excellent job in bringing about a major cultural change in people’s drinking habits. For that, whether I win the 2015 Pub of the Year Award or not, then everyone should raise a glass in celebration.”