Chesterfield's Brampton Mile - a true rite of passage
Few towns had an after dark induction assault course to match the legendary ‘Brampton Mile’ in Chesterfield.
The toll of casualties over the years must stretch into the thousands as groups steered themselves to attempt a rite of passage rarely matched in the entire country at the time.
It started, in the 1980s at least, in the middle-class surroundings of the Terminus Hotel (closed around 1999 and now demolished) – at least that was the start of our version of ‘the mile’, everyone seemed to have their own interpretation.
To have any chance of completing ‘the mile’ – and we’re taking 11pm finish here in the ’80s – you needed to have an early tea and be ready to rock around 5 to 5.30pm.
The Terminus had it easy. Though there was a sense of trepidation and excitement in the assembled masses, at least everyone was sober.
There was regularly a point to prove on the Brampton Mile.
The main one being the overriding ability to prove beyond reasonable doubt you could ‘tek thi ale’.
At this particular point it wasn’t an issue but it wasn’t uncommon for certain characters to start with ‘a pint’ to really prove their worth. It would regularly be their undoing later.
The need for speed was an integral part of the Brampton Mile – ’20 minutes a pub’ was a figure etched in your brain (whilst it was still working at least).
Many people missed the Terminus altogether because of the length of time it took to get to the second pub, The Star; in our eyes they’re already fallen at the first hurdle.
We agreed, ‘they’re not true mile drinkers’.
The Star a was long and thin, sprightly hostelry well known for its popular mid-week quizzes.
The only question to be asked at this point on this night was pint, half or short?
There were a total of *18 pubs before the chequered flag was waved as you sank your last drink the Square & Compass.
Even if you were drinking halves, that was still 9 pints, either that or 18 shorts. Anyone that could sink 18 pints in six hours and then take in a nightclub was a better man (or woman) than me. I’m sure it was completed by a few – whether they lived to tell the tale is questionable.
But you also have to remember that draught lager, on average, was less strong that it is today; its alcohol content stood at around 3% rather than the 4.5%/5% you get today.
Getting from The Star to the Peacock was a few second jaunt. It wasn’t much further to the next stop off either down a backstreet.
At this point there wasn’t the added time impediment of having to wait to be served. It was still early and regulars were still sobering up from Saturday dinnertime.
The Britannia and adjacent Rose & Crown were normally the first point of contact with non-mile drinkers. It was turned seven o’clock and the regulars were fast turning out – the gents regularly resplendently dressed in drainpipe jeans and white socks and the ladies in rah-rah skirts and white stilettos.
The next pub, the Three Horse Shoes, was regularly a crossroads for intrepid explorers.
Whilst the majority of the hostelries were deemed ‘old man’s pubs’ (we were still years away from the ‘The Brad’ turning the whole area into Ches Vegas’s answer to the Strip with discos in every bar), this place, run by the inimitable Fred Tipping, attracted a bizarre mix of pensioners, punks, rockers and goths.
The Three Horse Shoes boasted one great leveler – ‘loony juice’. A vile, 8% strength cider that could regularly fell a man at a thousand paces (hence it was only ever served in halves).
The liquid seemed to be responsible (or certainly blamed) for a multitude of sins: violence, adultery, larceny, getting arrested, being sick, kicking the living daylights out of the fruit machine at the back of the pub when it didn’t payout and keeling over being a few. The mere utterance of the words, ‘he’s been ont’ loony juice’, immediately confirmed you’d no control over your senses and the slate was wiped clean, whatever your sin.
Andrew Bannister said: “I remember the old man being like Mr Benn; we’d order some of the old loony juice, he’d disappear and reappear with two glasses of the cloudy stuff. Me and my mate David Moy got very drunk at the golden age of 15 !!!!”
Steve Waterhouse said: “Loony Juice… What an earth was in that? Chronic.”
Fights regularly used to break out in the ‘games area’ – the space in the back of the pub that was home to the aforementioned fruit machine and an antiquated, by today’s standards and it didn’t seemed that good in the eighties to be honest, video tank game.
Being ‘banned from the Three Horse Shoes’ for a spell wasn’t that uncommon but it never normally lasted long – Fred was a much loved and forgiving soul.
Most mile drinkers had sense enough to give ‘loony juice’ a wide birth if they were going to have any chance of reaching the end.
Next off was the Prince of Wales across the road. A rather more sedate place that didn’t mix punks with pensioners – these days it’s an upmarket French bar/eatery.
The next set of pubs was the Brampton Mile’s answer to the Bermuda Triangle.
It was a trio of hostelries that would by now be very busy; they’d contain punters regularly itching for trouble and have landlords always on the lookout for ‘mile drinkers’.
Intrepid explorers were often now three or four hours into some pretty hectic drinking. The clock was ticking and there were already queues at the bars.
Splits would already be appearing in the ranks of larger parties. Someone wouldn’t be paying their way, another would have been flagging and caught trying to hide their drink as to avoid getting in more of a state and another would gearing up to demonstrating just how hard they were.
Landlords and landladies knew ‘mile drinkers’ were on a fight for survival at this point – one wrong move and their pride and joy could turn into a warzone. If they spotted revelers wavering between being unconscious and getting locked up for GBH they’d ring ahead to the next pub and warn them to be on their guard – or worst still, call the old Bill.
It wasn’t uncommon for breakaway groups to throw in the towel altogether and dive on a bus into town whilst there was some semblance of order – there was a stop that sat between The Red Lion and the Barrel.
There was five minutes of respite if you survived. The next pub, though quite large, was the preserve of pensioners and it was more like entering someone’s house
There was rarely any hassle in the New Inn or the nearby Grouse.
It wasn’t too bad in the Alma either.
By now there was little chance of your party being in the same pub at the same time. You’d probably be spread out between two or three bars.
There’d now be at least one member of the party that would be totally annihilated and need holding up. One would invariably be covered in sick.
I must admit my first Brampton Mile attempt ended at the Grouse. I didn’t feel ashamed, it was like the first time you make the jump in the first ‘Matrix’ film – ‘no one makes it the first time’.
By my third attempt, I knew my strategy; a vodka and orange in every pub. I sailed through it.
People will regularly complain that ‘the Brampton Mile isn’t like it was’ and they’d be right. Even in the mid-1980s we were losing pubs and the pride that goes with necking a drink in 18 bars before you go clubbing.
We witnessed the end of the Bold Rodney as it was transformed into Ziggis fun pub and then ended up as Dynasty Chinese restaurant.
The Square & Compass shut in later years moving the chequered flag back a pub to the Masons.
It was probably more a feeling of relief than that of elation as you sank the last drink. If you finished without attempting to knock seven bells out of another member of the party or catching your girlfriend snogging some random stranger you were truly a veteran mile man (or woman).
Superhuman David McDermott gives his own interpretation of the epic 1980s pilgrimage. His expedition added a further three pubs to the total and completed it two hours quicker: “It was decided the mile started at the Terminus and included every one inside the Britannia included and the one that’s now the Chinese. It finished at the Market, Sun and Portland inc and was to be done starting at 7 and walking. You had to be done by closing and still standing. I must admit I did not complete on every attempt.”
Taken from the 'Dirty Stop Out's Guide to 1980s Chesterfield'.