Britain’s creative city
Interview with Jen Dalby, Publican and Brewer, The Hand in Hand, Kemp Town, Brighton
Arguably the smallest and one of the best loved pubs in Brighton, The Hand in Hand is still brewing its own! I catch up with Publican and Brewer Jen Dalby to find out more….
Jen moved from Newcastle to Brighton via a slightly circuitous route including New York and London some 14 years ago. She was actually heading to Prague but a flooding incident changed her plans. Finding herself at London Euston, she called a friend who lived in Brighton to arrange a visit and an hour later she stepped off the train and never looked back!
“It was the North Laines that took me. I didn’t even see the Pavilion or the sea until quite some time later! I think I spent the first few months lapping up the vibe of the town and its inhabitants – there was never a dull moment!”
At the time she was starting out as a musician with Brighton band Gloria Cycles only later to strike out on her own as Jennifer Left. Like many musicians it was imperative for her to earn some hard cash around the touring and it was through her part time job at The Hand in Hand, her love of Brighton and its folk deepened.
Located in Kemp Town, The Hand in Hand is arguably the smallest pub in Brighton and boasts a clientele of wonderful people from every walk of life. Jen says, “From what I have found out about the place, it first opened in 1850 and was owned by Issac Landridge. That makes it one of the older pubs of the town. In 1989, the then owners decided they wanted to introduce a brewery and so ‘simply’ lifted the roof off the building, installed the brewery apparatus and then the replaced the roof!! They know how to create a stir in Brighton. From this point the pub began brewing and the drinks have flowed in this way for many years”.
After extensive touring Jen decided she wanted a little more security and began working full time for a promotional staffing agency based in the heart of Brighton called Hel’s Angels – but her love of The Hand never left her. She was regularly found either pulling pints or propping up the bar.
As if by luck, the lease came up just as she felt she needed a change at work and she jumped at the chance to run the pub full time. For just over a year now, it is her name you will find above the door, and her face you will see behind it.
“When I arrived, Gary Sillece, of Brighton Bier fame, was currently brewing his own beer along with the home beer, ‘Kemptown Brewery’. However, after three years of Gary brewing on the premises, he had outgrown The Hand in Hand and had built his own brewery down the road. It was now up to me to source a new brewer and to take over fully. Since then we have rebranded and now produce beer under the name the Hand Brew Company. I’m very happy to say that Jack Tavare has been brewing with us here since July 2016, and times are very exciting. I never would have thought two years ago that I would be not only researching and brewing the stuff – but also living in a brewery too.
“To me this is all part of the job – alongside ensuring the soul of the pub is kept alive and well and this has been of huge importance since taking over. Keeping the regulars happy – some of whom have been drinking in here for thirty years or so, but also welcoming the new people who drop in as they pass. We have the most incredible eclectic mix of people visiting – musicians, authors, bin men, actors, promoters, IT wizards, doctors, train drivers, solicitors – seriously every walk of life!
“It seems the Hand has always had landlords who have been real characters. The ceiling in here pays tribute to one of them – Brenda. On a Friday night she would snip off the ties of all those popping in for their post work pint and secure them to the ceiling. These still hang across the pub and are quite a talking point. Apparently, punters couldn’t afford the upkeep on this tie snipping activity and so would purchase a tie from one of the many charity shops on route to their beer so Brenda would have something for her ceiling!”
“In the same vain, the traditions of the Hand continue year on year. We have a Christmas Craft night where we lay on mulled wine and all the crafty tools for our punters to create the pubs personalised Christmas decorations.We also have a Bonfire Night trip to Lewes every year where we hire a mini bus and about 30 people go to enjoy the fun. There is weekly jazz on a Sunday night and Gramophone nights too when one of our regulars brings his gramophone and records down for everyones entertainment.
Living in Brighton and being the landlady of The Hand in Hand is a fabulous thing – everyday brings something new and wonderful. In the next few months I hope to sell our beer into more Brighton venues as well as further afield. Brighton is a place for opportunity if you want it – and I am taking a hold of all the opportunities that come my way!”