The Nowhere Inn is an eclectic back-street pub (Gilwell Street) with a varied crowd of regulars, from elderly locals to punks, and some students. Once rumoured to have the best jukebox in Plymouth, it still has regular gigs and open mic nights. It always has a good selection of ales on. The long-standing landlord of the Nowhere, Phil, died recently but thankfully, the pub has found new landlords who are keeping this establishment with odd opening times going. It is sandwiched between University of Plymouth's halls of residence but remains a stalwart of good beer and music. Before the construction of the student halls surrounding it, the Radnor Dairy stood in front of the Nowhere Inn.
We moved to Plymouth with our children in 1970 and soon moved into a top-floor flat on Radnor Place. It was a small place but we made it work. There were still bombed houses around Greenbank and we would get wood to burn from the ruins. The Nowhere Inn was a respectable pub at the time, in the sense that we were too ‘hippy’ for them at the time. We actually drank in the Clifton Inn at first. It was a real spit and sawdust cider house where scruffy hippies drank and played music.
We moved to Ham eventually. Many years later my son was studying at the Plymouth College of Art and he told me that he had discovered a great little pub. He took me to the Nowhere Inn where Phil was the landlord. I actually knew him from Swilly! After that my husband Raymond and me would come in regularly. Phil would sit us in the corner, maybe so we wouldn’t bother anyone or because he thought we were old. I wasn’t too happy about being relegated to the corner! I sang at Phil’s first wife's funeral. It was on an election day but I was given permission to attend before returning to the vote counting centre.
Raymond passed away in November 2019. His funeral was in November but the wake was held in March at the Nowhere. Bands were playing and were literally lining up to play between 2 and 11 pm. Many of the pub regulars were there and we raised £250 for cancer research. The pubs were closed because of lockdown shortly later.
In England, we have a tradition known as "Black Eye Friday". It is when everyone goes to the pub on the Friday night before Christmas. Traditionally, it is when all the workplaces finish for the Christmas break so everyone goes out drinking and because no one has any real responsibilities for the day after, no one takes it easy. Everyone gets drunk. The whole thing is like a tinder box and it only takes the smallest thing to set the whole thing off and everyone ends up with a black eye, hence the name of the day.
Everyone finishes work at roughly the same time, so everyone heads to the pub at roughly the same time, so everyone starts drinking at roughly the same time and somewhat problematically for the police, doormen and the emergency services, all the trouble starts at exactly the same time.
The police patrols start early on in the night and doormen as well are looking out for the ones that are likely to cause trouble. The most obvious giveaway sign is when someone is knocking them back at a session rate. I'm an event steward and I also have my Level 2 DS certificate so over the years I have built a professional working relationship with the police so it isn't out of the ordinary for me to give them the heads up on something I've seen. I'm not sure "grass" is the word I'd use but certainly you can tell when someone shouldn't be left to their own devices and when that alarm goes off in my mind, I've always found that highlighting that to the relevant person, whether policeman, doorman, bar manager, whoever, is a good idea so they can monitor it and intervene before anything happens rather than let it go unnoticed and then they have to deal with the aftermath of something happening, if that makes sense. Like, if someone's had too much, the barman saying they aren't serving them any more and them going home is far more preferable than that person carrying on, getting leathered, and lashing out. The guy doesn't want a night in the cells (and more), his victim doesn't want a night in A&E, the police don't want the stress of having to deal with it and the landlord doesn't want questions being asked about how he missed something that is fairly difficult to judge at the best of times.
Early on in the night, about 7pm, I saw this in the Nowhere and decided to film it. Then on my way home I walked up to a police officer, with a complete deadpan look on my face and said "Just spotted someone who's on a mission tonight so it might be worth keeping an eye on them as they work their way through North Hill..." They both looked really concerned. I showed them the video and said "As you can see, about two foot tall, brown hair and won't be told no... Just something to bear in mind."
Both of them just burst out laughing. I like to think that made their night just that little bit easier.
The plot that the Nowhere Inn and the student halls sit on used to be a dairy. At the back of the Nowhere Inn there was a chapel and the front was a pub. When men would get back to their wives on Sundays, these would ask: 'Where have you been?' And they would say: 'Nowhere'.
Favourite drink: Pale Ale
I remember the Nowhere Inn being a typical working mens pub.
One could be hired and fired on the same day working for Builders who frequented the pub.
If there wasn't a heated argument or some fisty cuffs on a weekly basis, something would feel amiss!
When the Radnor dairy was operating, workers would pop into the pub during their lunch break for a pasty and a pint. The dairy was also used as a short cut by pub goers moving between the Seymour Arms and the Nowhere Inn.
I remember playing both Pool and Darts for the pub teams.
Sunday afternoons the landlord /landlady would put out Roast potatoes, nuts, cheese and pickled onions on the bar for the locals.
I remember when the pubs had to close in the afternoon and reopen during the evening. However, I'm aware that some of the pubs in Greenbank closed their doors but had a 'lock in'.
When I was legally allowed to drink in the pubs, I fondly remember using the Nowhere Inn, Seymour Arms, The Fawn and the Friendship on a regular basis.
Picture by Tony Atkin, the Nowhere Inn in the early 2000s.
Dairy Queen 1980 and Radnor Dairy from the South West Image Bank.
TJ Langsford @tjtiptoes
Favourite Pint on Greenbank: Cold, cold lager or a good pale ale like Skinners (Lushingtons or Porthleven)
I was born in Greenbank in 1983, in the now long demolished Freedom Fields maternity hospital, PL4. Despite this auspicious start, I grew up in a small town in North Cornwall and so never actually lived in Plymouth when young. I was always proud of my PL4 connection though, and later was happy to discover that my paternal grandmother was born in a house on Prospect St. These facts of heritage enabled a sense of coming full circle when I moved ‘back’ to Plymouth from London in my mid 20s. I immediately took to the friendly edginess of Greenbank, the narrows. Those streets initially felt like a rabbit warren that I was fighting each time they would spew me out onto North Hill to the west, or Greenbank Avenue to the east, or even Regent St to the south. But I lived and loved and cried over spilt beer in several shared houses there between the years of 2008 until 2016, through several relationships and one misguided marriage revival. Towards the end of that time I had ‘PL4’ tattooed on my ankle in the home-brew pokey style, when a few of us lived on Wellington St, five seconds from the ever-welcoming Tucker’s Stores with their 90p cans of Oranjeboom.
Going back to 2008, I managed to find my way around those narrow front streets and narrower back alleys, and The Nowhere Inn soon became my local, even though my first few attempts to locate this boozer left me lost and scratching my head as I once again ended up at fucking Jake’s or Little India. I quickly appreciated the polarity inherent within the clientele of The Nowhere - a polarity which mirrored the eclectic jukebox, a 50p legend filled with mix CDs created by the regulars. Thinking of the blend of drinkers there, if I went when it was first opening at 4pm, the only other people would usually be male, white, older, manual workers, hitting their first official pints of the day. We’d say ‘hello’, I’d address them by name and ask how the day had treated them. They never seemed to remember my name. But I didn’t care. I was 25 or 30 years younger than them so I appreciated the fact they humoured me. I saw them as Bukowski to my precocious young turk (I’ve always looked younger than my age, so they must’ve thought even less of me than I hoped they would). Arriving at opening time was a norm in the summer, as my long standing/suffering partner is a secondary school teacher and could usually make it to the pub by the time I was only a pint in. We would grab a couple of stools and take them to the opposite pavement, where the sun was. The other side of the Nowhere coin was the punk crowd; a wonderful mix of old and young, male and female, still mainly white but not necessarily UK-born and certainly more open minded to differences in race, sexuality, drug use and all other variables. This crowd was there in the later evenings, or for the weekend live band shows that would take place, sweaty and loud and crazed… A particular stand out of live music at The Nowhere was the annual Sunday all day show, Plymouth’s Punx Picnic. Perhaps ironically, this event often fell on the same weekend designated for the student population to arrive in Plymouth University’s pastel painted student halls which surround the Nowhere, like sharks around a lone tuna. This dissonance lead to arguments between the pub (representing a bunch of punks wanting to get fucked up to loud music through a shit PA all day), and the main employer of the city who wanted their latest, darling, feepaying intake to be able to unload their TVs and Wilko toasters.
I’m a drummer and played a number of Nowhere gigs with various different bands - Thomas Ford and the Dirty Harmonies, Worried Shoes, The Waterboarders, The Die Hards. It was always wild, and I loved playing in my local pub. It felt safe, particularly as my penchant for panic attacks when on stage was taken care of by the knowledge that I could go and puke in the stage-adjacent ‘ladies’ if I needed to. I never needed to. But women had to keep walking ‘on stage’ just to take a piss.
Whilst the 4pm crew left their wear and tear marks on the low-rider bar (a lovely lean), the punk crowd left fantastic graffiti on the walls of the toilets. A favourite of mine, which survived upon the ceiling of the gents for several years, was “God is watching, while ‘Satan’ is out helping the community.” Tying all of the disparate factions together was the landlord, Phil. Phil was the welcoming mothership, the respected skipper and yet another reason to visit the pub. When he first got to know my name, I felt a flutter of belonging. I loved that recognition, it made me feel like a true-blue PL4 guy. Whether I went to the pub alone or with others, I looked forward to his smile, his sneer, his sharp put-you-down-but-that’s-ok-because-he-puts-himself-down-too wit. My brother, Simon, and I played in blues bands together for several years and, particularly if we were playing out of town - meaning Simon was driving (I am a license-less drummer: the worst kind), we would always hit The Nowhere for our post gig pints once we’d unloaded the gear and ditched the car. Phil would always greet us as we strode in on such occasions with the chant “Ford Boys! Ford Boys!”, as our surname is ‘Langsford’. We loved him for that. And for the fact that the bar was still open and we could sink a few before being politely sent on our way at dick-head-o-clock. Another tradition we experienced many times was Phil’s generous offer of a free shot if it was your birthday. Sadly, it was always a black sambuca, which none of us liked, but we would never be ungrateful and ask for something nice like a Jameson’s instead, so we ritually forced that black aniseed syrup down in gratitude. We saw that shot as an act of kindness as well as a token of being considered a local. And being considered a local in the Nowhere was high praise.
Phil has a son, Neil, a great guy who often worked behind the bar himself. The pair of them lived in the flat above the pub. I eventually became aware of the fact that Neil’s mother had died suddenly when Neil was very young and Phil had raised his son by himself. This explained their closeness and appreciation of each other. It also perhaps explained Phil’s supreme pride when Neil became an airline pilot. A closer father and son I have rarely seen. After several years of living and breathing in, and crawling home, from the Nowhere, (during which a diverse line up of bar staff naturally came and went), I left the true narrows, moving further up North Hill to a flat on Hill Park Crescent. Although it was still only a 10-minute walk down the hill, I found I visited my old local less, and then less. This distance became particularly acute when a close friend took over the Junction on Mutley Plain, which was around 60 seconds from the flat. It became my new local. My Nowhere days were done. I would still pop down there occasionally, but I saw myself as a fraud, especially if Phil was there. I felt like I was cheating on the pub and what it had once represented to me, how much I loved it, how it’d helped me get over bad times and appreciate the good ones. I seem to remember that Phil had been diagnosed with and treated for lung cancer the first time when I was still a local. We would know he was upstairs, convalescing, getting better. Missed at the bar. He did get better though, which was a huge relief.
After I ‘left’, I heard he got ill for a second time through my brother and was shocked and so saddened to hear of his death very shortly after. A pub and its people can feel like a tribe. Perhaps this is why I didn’t attend Phil’s wake at The Nowhere, as much as I wanted to. I couldn’t stand feeling like a part-timer or a tourist by going to honour the man I found so consistent and full-time. But I raised a glass to my old landlord, my old friend, in a private fashion at home with a big bag of cans. Phil’s legacy is huge in so many ways. Many, many people will have their favourite stories of him and of the pub that he ran. Personally, I will always watch with fondness the music videos we shot in the Nowhere, that he was kind enough to open up early for, allowing us a creative space with gnarly charm and an accommodating gatekeeper. These videos still exist on Youtube and feature candid cameos from the great man himself; ‘Longtime Runner’ and ‘The Chalk Divide’ by the PJP Band and ‘The Things I Used to Do’ by Thomas Ford. But my favourite and most vivid memory of Phil happened one night of one summer - god knows which year - when, the pub being unusually quiet and another member of staff being on hand to steer the vessel, Phil said to me ‘shall we get out of here, go for a wander?’ I jumped at the chance to feel like a friend to the guy I knew primarily as the captain behind my booze ship. We wandered over to the nearby (and similarly deserted) Seymour Arms, I brought him a pint and we played a game of pool while chatting the usual nonsense; a bit of gossip, occasional profound insights. After that one beer, he sauntered back to his own pub, while I made my way home, feeling a sense of belonging and privilege.
The best pub landlords in small local areas such as PL4 are appropriately beloved and, when they die before their time, a hole is sensed in the community - I’m minded of Steve Smith from the Fortescue as another example. As sad as their loss is, this hole should be celebrated as it’s a sign that they leave a wonderful legacy: the enjoyment they brought to many 100s as we pursued that most human of past-times - getting fucked up in a safe environment surrounded by good people. I hope they enjoyed it as much as we did.
Go Nowhere, Be Nobody.