18th-century Leeds pub upgraded to Grade II * -listed status | Heritage

An 18th-century pub described by the poet laureate John Betjeman as the “very heart of Leeds” has been awarded Grade II * -listed status as part of a drive to protect historic drinking houses across the country.

Whitelock’s Ale House, Leeds’ oldest pub, dates back more than 300 years. Originally called the Turk’s Head, it served merchants and traders at the nearby Briggate market.

In the 1880s the Whitelock family took over and relaunched the pub as an upmarket luncheon bar, with stained-glass windows, brass barley twist columns, mirrors and a ceramic tiled and copper-topped bar counter. It was believed to be the first building in Leeds to have electric lighting and an electric clock.

In the 20th century it became a favorite rendezvous of actors and celebrities. Prince George, later the Duke of Kent, held a party in a curtained-off area. The actor Peter O’Toole, the ballerina Margot Fonteyn and the writer Keith Waterhouse were regulars.

Whitelock’s Ale House exterior. Photograph: Alun Bull / Historic England / PA

Betjeman, who was poet laureate from 1972 until his death in 1984, said the pub was “the Leeds equivalent of Fleet Street’s Old Cheshire Cheese and far less self-conscious, and does a roaring trade. It is the very heart of Leeds. ”

The building was Grade II listed in 1963, and its upgrade to Grade II * gives it additional protection as a historic building.

Duncan Wilson, the chief executive of Historic England, which manages the national heritage list on behalf of the government, said: “At a time when many historic pubs in England are susceptible to change or at risk of closure, we are pleased to celebrate pubs that have kept their remarkable interiors. These rare interiors help tell the fascinating story of pubs over the centuries and how they reflected society. ”

The Prince Alfred in Maida Vale
The Prince Alfred in Maida Vale has five well-preserved bar compartments divided by screens. Photograph: Chris Redgrave / Historic England / PA

The Prince Alfred in Maida Vale, north-west London, has also been upgraded to Grade II * to protect its rare etched glass “snob screens”, designed to provide privacy to women ordering at the ladies’ bar.

The pub, built in 1856, has five well-preserved bar compartments divided by screens and each with its own entrance and low service door to allow “pot boys” to duck through when collecting empty glasses.

Two London pubs have been given listed status for the first time. The Admiral Vernon in Dagenham was built between the wars to serve the Beacontree estate, one of the largest council estates in the country. Its wood-paneled interior is largely unchanged from when it opened in the 1930s.

The Blythe Hill Tavern in south-east London has an unusual T-shaped layout, with one counter serving three separate rooms.

Blythe Hill Tavern in Forest Hill
Blythe Hill Tavern in Forest Hill. Photograph: Stella Fitzgerald / Historic England / PA

Historic England has worked with the pub heritage group the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) to protect historic pubs and their interiors. Paul Ainsworth, the group’s chair, said: “Times are tough for all pubs at the moment, including those with important historic interiors. The more protection they can receive, the better. ”

Nigel Huddleston, the heritage minister, said: “Our historic pubs are national institutions that have sat at the heart of local communities for generations, bringing people together and shining a light on our shared past. These listings recognize and celebrate the importance of the local pub to people across the country and will make sure their legacy endures for many years to come. ”

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