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Previous Pint Pleasures - June 6, 2007

guinness eileen

White Lion, 615 London Road, Heeley, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

One drawback of living in a hilly city like Sheffield, especially if one lives on one of the hills, is that one tends to get stuck in a hill rut. In other words, if one lives high on a hill on the west side of town, the idea of descending the hill and travelling over to the east side of town just for a pint can seem daunting. Valid or not, this is my excuse for not having reviewed more pubs around London Road. It's not that I'm not interested in exploring the area. It's just that it's Way Over There, which seems like such a long way from Over Here, which is where I usually am. Call it laziness, call it poor time management, call it whatever you like. But I'm sure lots of busy city people suffer from the same malady.

So I was quite pleased recently to learn that the crosstown pub we would be visiting for a pool match was none other than the White Lion, a beloved pub for London Road cask ale lovers. The White Lion is situated in Heeley Bottom, formerly called Nether Heeley. Heeley is a corruption of the term "High Ley" which means high meadow. This part of Sheffield was once the location of a large district train station, but all that remains today are several large ironwork bridges and stone walls. Since the 1970s there have been a few efforts to develop Heeley, and campaigning by locals prevented a bypass which would have drastically changed the character of the area. Heeley landmarks include the old Meersbrook Tannery which has been converted into flats, the Ponsford furniture showroom which used to be the Heeley Electric Palace Cinema, and Heeley Millennium Park. And there is a White Horse in Heeley as well as a White Lion: at the top of the park is a large image of a horse carved into the surface of the hill and painted white. The carving is reportedly in honour of Barney, a popular horse at nearby Heeley City Farm who died in a fire.

The White Lion seems equally popular, being much loved among Sheffield's cask ale and traditional pub fans and designated a Tetley Heritage Pub. The first time I visited this pub was 6 years ago, before I moved to Sheffield. Because we were staying at a hotel in Nether Edge and wanted a decent pint and a meal, we found ourselves walking into a pub in London Road where we were greeted by a bearded man who queried "CAMRA?" It turned out to be the late Bob Watson, an ex councellor who was then Secretary of the Sheffield area Campaign for Real Ale, and he was there to celebrate the pub's new handpumps. Why he assumed we were CAMRA members was a mystery, as between the 2 of us there was only one shortly cropped beard and not a trace of a beer belly or plaid shirt. I suppose it was the lascivious manner in which we were eyeing the handpumps.

Before we knew it we were on a pub crawl with Bob, taking in another pub or two in London Road and ending up at the White Lion. I remember being struck with the selection of cask ales and the original tilework on the walls, and I remember we'd had pints of Burton Ale (4.8% ABV, Marston, Thompson & Evershed, Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire), and we were told the pub used to be an asylum. On this most recent visit the White Lion was as I remembered: a gorgeous Victorian pub. Sadly the Timothy Taylor Landlord wasn't quite ready to pour yet -- "too lively," the barmaid apologised -- but we did have excellent pints of Tetleys (3.7% ABV, Carlsberg-Tetley Brewing Co., Leeds). This time we sat in the back room around the pool table surrounded by lots of pictures on the walls and overlooked by a ledge piled with all sorts of old memorabilia. The jukebox was great as well -- one of those old-fashioned ones, eg. without the touchscreen PLAY buttons, and on which Richie and I were very happy to find a few less popular Pogues tracks. Apparently the White Lion's jukebox has been famous for decades.

So there you have it: good songs, good ales, and a good pool table in pleasant Victorian surroundings. What more could you ask? I think I'll get out more often...

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