Portsmouth 375 folks' new mission: English pub surveyors
PORTSMOUTH — When you’re conducting a survey of English pubs, it helps that all the drinking holes are within walking distance.
“We did 12 in the first two days and we got dizzy,” said Gary Gump, one of five local residents who made a return trip to Portsmouth, England earlier this month as part of "The Atlantic Compact" that grew out of the Portsmouth 375th anniversary celebration last year.
Their primary mission was to present the lord mayor and lady mayoress, Councilor Lynne Stagg and Anne Taulbut, respectively, with a proclamation thanking them for visiting Portsmouth, R.I. last Labor Day weekend. The group also attended a moving ceremony that marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
But during their stay in the sister city June 1-7, the party undertook another assignment: reviewing many of the taverns and bars in and around the port city that lies about 64 miles southwest of London.
“We did a formalized survey of British pubs in Portsmouth UK,” said Mr. Gump.
Members of the group — Mr. Gump, Esmond "Doug" Smith, Bob Hamilton, Andrew Kelly and Rich Talipsky — even had cards made up, declaring they were members of the “Portsmouth Atlantic Pub Survey Team USA.”
“We had a list of criteria and we were able to go to 26 pubs,” said Mr. Smith, who said although the team took the task seriously, the project was done in a “tongue-in-cheek” manner.
They had 10 categories that were rated on a scale from one to five — everything from quality of food and ale, the pub's atmosphere to the friendliness of the staff to overall cleanliness.
“It’s quasi-scientific,” said Mr. Smith, adding that one member of the team was assigned to check every pub’s “loo.”
"The end result is we’ll come up with the top three and we’re going to send them certificates which they can put up in their bar. We have to explain that this is Americans’ views of English pubs.”
The rankings will also be posted on the group's website.
Among the pubs they frequented were The Jolly Sailor, The Honest Politician (Mr. Kelly, a member of the School Committee, posed for a picture near the building), The Isambard Kingdom Brunel, The One Eyed Dog, The Florence Arms and others.
One of them is considered my many to be the oldest in England. The Royal Oak Pub & Restaurant in Winchester dates from 1002 and has been located in the existing building since 1630.
“It started when King Ethelred the Unready — great name — gave the land to his wife, Emma, as a wedding gift. We decided we had to make King Ethelred the Unready the patron saint of pub surveys," said Mr. Smith.
His favorite pub, however, was a different Royal Oak — dated from 1712 and located in Havant, right outside the Portsmouth city limits.
“It’s right on the water and the tide was out," said Mr. Smith. "But when the tide’s in, sometimes it comes over the doorsill. A guy said, ‘We just put our boots on and keep drinking.’”
Not once did they have to step foot in a car, even though
“That’s the great thing about Portsmouth (England). If you go one street over, there’s another pub. We were able to walk to everything," said Mr. Smith.
According to Mr. Gump, the survey team would like to continue its work in the states. “We want to take the same criteria and go to Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Portsmouth, Virginia, and invite them to Portsmouth, R.I.,” said Mr. Gump. (The Atlantic Compact is an agreement between the four Portsmouths in England, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Virginia to enhance economic, educational and cultural opportunities.)
Although the UK pub crawl was a nice diversion and the ale was great, there was one buzz-kill for the team of surveyors.
“Despite having these cards and giving them to these guys usually at the beginning, nobody gave us a free round," said Mr. Smith.
In between pubs, the five men managed to get down to the real mission of their trip. Mr. Smith thanked the lord mayor and lady mayoress in a formal proclamation before the Portsmouth City Council, and also attended a "making ceremony" and dinner for the new lord mayor, who serves only a one-year term.
The group also made a stop at Portsmouth Cathedral originally built in 1180. That's where art tiles created in Rhode Island through the "My Portsmouth" cultural exchange project were hanging. “We sent 10 over and England sent seven back with us," said Mr. Gump.
The Rhode Island contingent also attended a Drumhead Service — originating from the use of a drumhead as a makeshift altar for religious services — that marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
“Most of the fleet left from Portsmouth (England) and went over to Normandy. D-Day obviously means a lot more to them. These people were being bombed on a daily basis," said Mr. Smith, adding that the group also got to meet about 30 American veterans.
They had a rare chance to meet a member of the British royal family, as Princess Anne attended the service.
"She came over and chatted with us," said Mr. Smith, adding that the contingent's "Portsmouth, RI" baseball caps drew some attention. "Then she asked me, ‘Where were you in the war?’ I felt like saying, ‘Do I look 90 years old?’ I’m old, but I was only 4 years old (in 1944).”