The Shoulder of Mutton is situated in the village of Northowram, a couple of miles north of Halifax. This is the village I grew up in, and I remember passing the Shoulder many times as a child and wondering what secrets those child-free rooms held. For one reason or another, I never visited the Shoulder during that short window of opportunity between my looking old enough to get served in a pub and my leaving the village for ever. And so my recent visit to such a familiar landmark was my first to the pub. After offering up a short prayer to Bacchus for having kept the place open long enough for my visit, I gathered all my childhood memories around me and entered this fine Yorkshire village pub.
As you can see from my photograph, the pub spreads over three, conjoint buildings. On the right is the somewhat formal lines of what, in the eighteenth century, was known as Priestley Hall (built by Nathanial Priestley in 1723). The middle building - which was most likely originally a farmhouse - is probably the oldest and incorporates a stone lintel which is dated 1622. The building on the left looks as though it was grafted on to the farmhouse at some indeterminate date, long lost to memory.
And my impressions of the visit to the pub have almost been long-lost to memory as well, because I forgot to write them up when I returned home. So the following notes are taken straight from my notebook, but on re-reading them they seem to give an accurate taste of the place.
"Note the address - evocative: the phrase "Mutton Fold" should have a wider currency. How pleasant to discover a pub that has not been "themed". Tables and chairs look as though they have emerged over time rather than been imported from a warehouse. The beers are not too beery, there is a jukebox and there is a pool table. Some walls have been knocked down, but still possible to see the lay-out of the old houses set on different levels. Beamed ceilings, but not low beams nor over-ancient beams, nor fake beams. Pleasant but empty, like touring the British Museum on a wet Tuesday morning. You want people to be here, you want gossip, you want neighborly chatter, you want romance - you want life. There is music somewhere in the background : a pulsating bass line with tendrils of voice flirting with meaning. Is this ale making me poetic? If so the culprit is Timothy Taylor Golden Best : beery with distinct notes of beer. I shared the pint with a good honest packet of Seabrook's Potato Crisps and I am reminded that crisp must be one of the finest inventions of the entire twentieth century. Soon the pubs will be closed, the beer transformed into ice-cold tasteless lager, and crisps will be banned as junk food. Sad"
I may have got slightly carried away, but the Shoulder Of Mutton is a good, honest village pub and a visit there should be made a compulsory part of the school curriculum. If it had been so in my youth I wouldn't have had to wait fifty years to enter its doors.