Norwich Pub Detective: Remembering the city's Baron of Beef pub

Jonathan Hooton, the Norwich Pub Detective, outside his favourite Norwich pub, the White Lion in Oak Street

Jonathan Hooton, the Norwich Pub Detective, outside his favourite Norwich pub, the White Lion in Oak Street. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

He is known as the Norwich Pub Detective due to his fascination with all things to do with the city's famous pub legacy.

In a new series, Jonathan Hooton, a member of the Norwich Society, will shine a light on a different pub which has since closed its doors.

This week he looks at the Baron of Beef, which used to be on Norwich Market, as well as other pubs, past and present, around the city landmark.

It is a frequently quoted saying that Norwich had a Pub for every day.

However, in 1892 the map produced by the Gospel Temperance map listed 631 fully licenced premises in Norwich, so the real situation was much nearer two pubs for every day of the year. 

There would have been more drinking establishments than that because there would have been some beer houses as well that did not have a full licence and were unable to sell spirits.

Therefore over the years we have lost an awful lot of drinking establishments in Norwich and this can be clearly demonstrated in the Market Place.

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On the 1884 Ordnance Survey map there were 20 pubs that faced the present day Market Place whereas now there is only one, the Sir Garnet. Actually that should be two, since the Sir Garnet expanded and took over the building next door to the west which in 1884 was a separate pub called the Punch Bowl.

The Sir Garnet used to stand at the east end of a row of four pubs. The Punch Bowl has been assimilated and the other two, the Half Moon and the Church Stile (also known as the Beaconsfield Arms) were demolished. Many of the others were demolished in the 1930s to make way for the building of City Hall and the remodelling of the market.

Derek MacDonald

An archive picture of the former Baron of Beef pub building on Norwich Market. - Credit: Derek MacDonald

The one illustrated above is the Baron of Beef, which is the building on the right of the photo. The adjoining building to the left was also a pub called the Albion. These six pubs were so close that they literally could be visited by crawling from one to the other, a veritable pub crawl.

But what is a Baron of Beef? According to the Collins English Dictionary it is a cut of beef consisting of a double sirloin joined at the backbone.

The Sir Garnet had originally been a butchers shop and when it became a pub it adopted the name of the Baron of Beef. Even back in the 19th century pubs would change their name from time to time.

The Sir Garnet pub on Norwich Market during lockdown in 2020.

The Sir Garnet pub on Norwich Market. - Credit: Brittany Woodman

In 1874 it became re-named as the Sir Garnet Wolseley after one of the most admired Army generals, who became a household name in 1874 due to his successful leadership of the Ashanti campaign in West Africa.

He had a formidable reputation for efficiency which led to the phrase “it is all Sir Garnet like” meaning everything was in order. It was the Army’s equivalent of the Navy’s “all ship shape and Bristol fashion”.

The pub was then named after the popular British army general and its former name was transferred to the building a little to the south. This building clearly does not look like a pub and was not designed as such but became one later.

Although standing shoulder to shoulder with the Albion, they would have given you a choice of beers since the Albion was owned by Steward and Patteson and the Baron of Beef was part of the Bullard’s estate

Pubs have often had food names, probably to entice clientele in for meals.

We are still fortunate to have a Ribs of Beef still serving ales in the city but back at the end of the 19th century we could have drunk and eaten in the Hampshire Hog, the Lamb, (although this name may well have a religious origin), the Pheasant Cock, the Shoulder of Mutton, the Three Pigeons and the Turkeycock.

So it is not only the buildings we have lost over the years but many pub names that would give colour to the streets of Norwich.