Jim Butler: Documenting The Flying Pig, The Cambridge pub facing demolition.
Artist Jim Butler has spent years sketching the locals and music acts at his local pub. But a redevelopment plan for the area means the pub's future is almost sealed. Jim penned this article in late 2019 and since then the pub has battled through the pandemic and fought off development plans but now has been told it must close for good.
To anyone living in a British city today, the sight is familiar: an area is being redeveloped and the ordinary, vernacular buildings which give a place its character are being lost. The Flying Pig, an early Victorian pub, now stands isolated on a site that has been earmarked for development for the last decade.
This is not a story about a dying pub. The blue-painted exterior is fresh and well-maintained, while the blackboards on either side of the door boast an eclectic line-up of live music and real ales. Inside the floorboards are stripped and walls are dark and covered in posters. The décor dates back to the late 80s and then landlord "Mick the Pig" Clelford, who also changed the pub's name from The Crown to The Flying Pig, apparently after himself. The bent propeller over the front door is from a plane he crash-landed.
Early afternoon is a good time to observe, and there are usually some regulars in. Once someone orders a second drink I know they're in no great hurry and there'll be time to draw them. I usually ask first, though with my sticks and bottle of ink I'm hardly inconspicuous. Jim had a couple of quiet pints of weissbier standing at the bar - we talk a bit about drawing and how he likes to paint with acrylics. Later I show the drawing to Woody, one of the bar staff: "Ah yeah, the guy who wears the really nice jacket."
One afternoon, I am fortunate to catch two of the pub's live music stalwarts, George Breakfast and Fabian Bonner playing an acoustic set in the back room. The back room is known to everyone as the pool room although there hasn't been a pool table there for about a decade. George was originally George Bacon but changed his name to Breakfast on account of his vegetarian wife. The name change cost him 15 guineas at the time.
Another evening Nick Barraclough is playing as part of the band CBT. He recently published A Disorderly House, a history of The Flying Pig. There's a wonderful extract from an 1857 newspaper: "Supt Jaggard said that he had been informed that the young women who had the management of the house were no better than they ought to be." Given some of the bawdy goings on in the premises over the years, it seems remarkable that Justine, Matt and their two daughters have made the upstairs a family home.
It's almost impossible to experience live music in Cambridge without seeing the distinctive figure of Michael Guy. Michael worked as a mathematician in Cambridge University on the theory of polyhedra in higher dimensions, but it's his unruly white hair, beard and tweed jacket that interest me. I've had a couple of pints standing at the bar so the drawing itself is becoming unruly in sympathy.
Award-winning illustrator and printmaker Jim Butler was born in Dublin and currently lives in Cambridge, where he leads the MA in illustration and book arts at Cambridge School of Art, Anglia Ruskin University. More of his work can be found on his website and on Instagram