Howard Arms – A step back in time

Howard Arms not Howards way

Walking into the recently refurbished Howard Arms on Lowther Street is a delight for people looking for a pub packed with charm.

The green and gold Doulton tiles out front give every indication something special awaits inside and as soon as you step through the door the central bar beckons, as do the cheeky bar staff in their 1920’s garb waiting to take your order.

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With your drink in your hand, there are countless nooks and snugs in which to sit back and soak up the atmosphere.

“It was important we kept it authentic,” explained new owner Dianne Irving.  “This is an iconic Carlisle pub that people hold dear and when they heard it was going to be refurbished there was a lot of concern it would be opened up and ruined.

It’s a grade two listed building, the history and heritage was what I wanted to preserve.  We’ve kept all the original features like the panelling and enhanced these to help us hark back to the time when the pub was a State Managed Establishment.”

Dianne Irving

The State Management Story began in 1916 as an attempt to curb the enthusiasm of Carlisle’s drinkers.  Navvies from the largest munitions factories in Europe, near Gretna, would flood into Carlisle with high wages and thirsts to quench.

The old spit and sawdust pubs were packed and the behaviour shocked respectable citizens.  Carlisle was so lawless it became an issue in Parliament and it sparked a policy of transforming the cramped, overcrowded and unhygienic public houses.

It also reduced the number of hungover munitions staff handling explosives… which was not a great combination.

Nearly half the existing public houses in Carlisle were closed and the rest were radically improved.  By 1925, a new policy was introduced for providing comfortable bars where women could also enjoy a drink and this is the era the Howard Arms successfully harks back to.

The exterior Royal Doulton tiles were added to the front of the building around 1895 but State Management rules prevented advertising outside pubs, which meant the iconic tiles were boarded up and hidden until 1979.


The interior of the Howard Arms is a great example of a pub from that era with its snug-like rooms and a central bar.  The new menu continues the retro feel explained Dianne:

“It’s the type of thing your granny would make, like spam fritters, which have proven very popular.  We have traditional foods and also a pie and mash menu where you pick the pie, the type of mash you want, the peas and the liquor to go with it.”

Pie and mash and liquor

A new Gin bar, “Said the Actress to the Bishop” will open soon upstairs, this will further add to the history, said Dianne:  “It will have lots of references to the theatre that was across the road.  A lot of performers would come over to The Howard Arms after a show including the legendary Laurel and Hardy.

Reading between the lines of the official history books there were all sorts of goings-on and shenanigans upstairs during these times.  Actresses were pretty scandalous so our new gin bar will have a saucy edge but it’s also a great place to enjoy afternoon tea.”

With old fashioned games like dominoes, cribbage and bar skittles the Howard Arms retains the traditional experience and the small rooms contribute to the conversation.

Dogs are welcome and there is a rehydration station out the back which was made from old barrels by the cooper at Theakstons brewery.  So to was the bespoke furniture throughout the spacious beer garden.

That Old Joanna

With its city-centre location, The Howard Arms is the perfect setting for a bite to eat and food is served 12 – 8 Monday to Friday and 12 – 7 on Saturdays.

With four real ales on at any time and a wide selection of drinks on tap, bottles and microbrewery cans, there is something to suit all tastes.

Find them on Facebook @howardarmscarlisle or give them a call on 01228 648398

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