Welcome to Eli’s


One of the reasons this blog went into abeyance was that one of your bloggers was suffering mysterious and somewhat drastic symptoms. With the problems finally sorted out one of the joys of recuperation has been revisiting old haunts. High on our list has been the Rose and Crown at Huish Episcopi – better known to all its aficionados as Eli’s.

Pub enthusiasts come with many different requirements. It might be good beer – to others the food is more important. History lovers enjoy old buildings – preferably picturesque – and finding a freehouse which has been in the same family for generations is a bonus. Eli’s ticks all these boxes. If there were a competition for the perfect English country pub, Eli’s would be a strong contender.

We first visited this pub several years ago, so when we were putting together our book Somerset Pubs we were delighted to discover an old postcard from around 1907. We received much useful family information from the then landlady, the much-loved Eileen Pittard.


The photo shows that the landlord in 1907 was William Slade, and a young lad we believe to be one of his sons stands outside the door. Presumably the plan was that one of these boys would have become landlord, but the First World War put paid to that. Both sons were killed, and the pub passed instead to William’s daughter and her husband Eli, Eileen’s father, from whom the pub acquired its popular name.

The pub looks now much as it looked over a century ago. There is no bar counter – you get your beer from the tap room, served from an old beer engine and occasionally straight from the barrel. They only acquired an electronic till in 2007.


The menu is short and rarely changes, but the home cooked (and homely) food is excellent. It’s not gastro but it’s not the usual pub grub with chips/jacket/new potatoes/salad that turns up at so many hostelries either. It’s genuinely home cooking. The pork and cider cobbler is a particular favourite of ours, and the desserts are well worth investigating too.


Dining in the room off the bar is a bit like sitting in the family home, with cherished pictures on the wall, an upright piano, and an old clock gently measuring away the hours. Faded photographs of the Slade brothers in their army uniforms gaze down on customers who now enjoy food and drink where the brothers once lived and worked for most of their all too brief lives.


Sadly, Eileen was taken ill and passed away not long after our book came out but the next generation has taken over. Steve Pittard is often found behind the bar, while his sisters Maureen Pittard and Patricia O’Malley are usually in the kitchen or serving. Maureen has also taken on the role of family historian, and has arranged a series of three photographs showing the pub through the ages.


The pub is popular with families – it has a large beer garden much enjoyed by parents and children in summer. Classic car enthusiasts are regular visitors and you will often see some interesting motors in the car park. A bridge leads over the stream from the car park to the pub – a stream that caused problems in December 2009 when it burst its banks in a flash flood. The pub had to close for a few months but the loyal regulars soon came back. It is, after all, a real community pub, with quizzes, bands, and other events.


Teignworthy Reel Ale is always on and there is a changing choice of other, usually West Country, beers as well as cider. All the usual drinks are available but with such well kept beer on tap, why bother? Dogs are welcome and healthy treats can be bought for them in the tap room.


Opening hours are lunchtimes and evenings Mondays to Thursdays and all day from 11.30 over the weekend, closing at 23.30 on Friday and Saturday, and 22.30 on Sunday. The pub is on the main Wincanton road from Langport – the A372 – and is a few hundred yards from Huish Episcopi church – look out for the impressive church tower.

Somerset Pubs is available from www.akemanpress.com at £8.50.


Bill Smarme’s Piss Up in a Brewery

It had to happen – the wonder is that it took so long. If there were ever any doubts that Bill Smarme, international entertainer, ladies’ man and founder of Twerton-based building company, Smarmerection (slogan ‘No Erection too Small – or too Large’), could run a piss-up in a brewery, they were laid to rest last Thursday (13 October). Mind you, while a well-oiled time was had by all, it soon became apparent that Bill’s idea of the perfect brewery was Watney’s circa 1966 rather than Electric Bear in 2016.the-band

The bar at Electric Bear
The bar at Electric Bear

Electric Bear Brewery was established in August 2015 on the Maltings Trading Estate at Locksbrook in Bath. It stands on the site of the old Bath Brewery, which closed in 1923 after being acquired by George’s in Bristol and was converted to maltings. The old building has long gone, but the return of a brewery with a 15-barrel plant on this historic site marks a significant milestone in the revival of brewing in the city. Set up by local entrepreneur Chris Lewis, the head brewer is Guillermo Alvarez, previously of St Austell Brewery and Rebel Brewing Company. The brewery shop is open from Monday to Saturday, and the tap room is open from noon to 9pm on Fridays and from 2pm to 6pm on Saturdays. There is also enough space, once barrels and equipment have been moved out of the way, to stage events, and Bill Smarme’s takeover of the venue was the latest in a series of popular events.

Bring back Watney's Red Barrel
Bring back Watney’s Red Barrel
Cocktails for One
Cocktails for One
The attempt to get Bill to switch to soft drinks was a dismal failure
The attempt to get Bill to try a soft drink was a dismal failure
The man in the gold lame cape
The man in the gold lame cape

Proceedings got underway in grand style with the legend that is Bill Smarme making a dramatic entrance from the gents, adjusting his dress and launching into his iconic Space Cowboy routine. Pausing for breath before launching into a more intimate number, and sipping on a pint of Electric Bear, ‘bring back Red Barrel’ he was heard to mutter. There followed a paean to the aphrodisiac qualities of keg beer, harking back to the heady days of Younger’s Tartan, Double Diamond, Party Sevens, and, of course, Red Barrel.

And so it went on. At one point, a waitress appeared, offering Bill a tray on which several of Electric Bear’s brews were displayed – but, mistaking her for a cocktail waitress, he proceeded to mix them up, with predictable results. But, as the beer continued to flow, he seemed to mellow somewhat – and, making a dramatic entrance clad in a gold lamé cloak down a long staircase to kick off the second half of the show, he chose to take it gently – backwards and clutching the handrail.

By any reckoning, a memorable evening – proof that you can run a piss-up in a brewery if you get the right man to organise it.

A Bright New Chapter for the old Piccadilly Alehouse

The London Road in Bath has lost more than its fair share of pubs over the last decade. Some of them, to be fair, seemed well past their sell-by date. Having said that, even pubs that seems to have reached the point of no return can still make a spectacular comeback. Take the King William at the bottom of Thomas Street, for instance – the first pub on the London Road you come to as you head out of town. Opened as a beerhouse in the 1830s, this was the sort of tiny street-corner boozer that – according to industry analysts – should have disappeared years ago, and when it closed in 2002 few people thought it would ever reopen. It was an archetypal local’s pubs, with card players, a thick fug of tobacco smoke and curtains drawn against the outside world even on the sunniest day.

But instead of being snapped up by a developer and converted to flats, it was acquired by Charlie and Amanda Digney who cleaned it up, preserving as many of the original features as they could, and reopened it as a combination of local boozer and gastropub that hit the mark from day one – and continues to do so well over a decade later. Superb food, superb beer, and a place where a loyal band of regulars are joined by a constant stream of newcomers who almost invariably vow to return. It’s got no parking, still has its old two-room layout, and is well out of the city centre – yet with all that it is one of the most inspiring  success stories of the Bath pub trade in the 21st century.

Carry on along the London Road, though, and the story is less cheerful. A little further on was the Long Acre Tavern, a 1960s rebuild of another nineteenth-century pub which now houses Domino’s Pizzas. Across the road was the Porter Butt, which had a hall at the back – known as the Walcot Palais – which was one of the best small music venues in the city. It was – or at any rate had been – a very well-appointed pub, some 200 years old, but with lots of fittings dating from an extensive refit in the 1920s or 1930s, and was crying out for some serious investment to realise its potential. In this case, unfortunately, however, its decline led to its conversion to a branch of Richer Sounds.

And so we come to what was the Piccadilly Ale House on the corner of Hanover Street. Built around 1805, this was originally an upmarket hostelry called the Britannia. Masonic lodges and the local militia held their meetings here, and it was a focal point for local political groups. In the mid-twentieth century it was renamed the Piccadilly after the terrace it stood in, but, as the world moved on, it stayed just as it was – which would have been OK, if there had been sufficient investment to keep it up to scratch. But there wasn’t, and its slow spiral of decline ended with closure, followed by a short-lived reopening as the Hive – part family-friendly cafe, part music venue, part-pub. When that closed and the building was placed, on the market its conversion to flats, offices or a retail unit seemed unavoidable.

Step forward Michael and Emma Heap, with a new spin on what a pub should be, and the determination to make it work. In the case of the Piccadilly, that meant an enormous amount of hard graft, reversing the effect of years of neglect and creating a venue that looked to the future with confidence rather than muddling along in a time-worn timewarp. Dingy old fittings and decades of encrustation were stripped away – to reveal a light and airy space which, while harking back to its origins as a Georgian tavern, could accommodate the cutting edge of interior design.

Michael and Emma behind the bar at Chapter One
Michael and Emma behind the bar of Chapter One

After months of hard graft, Chapter One finally opened its doors in May this year, a new and very welcome addition to Bath’s pub scene. The emphasis is very much on beer, with up to five craft ales on tap at any one time. Cask ales are not offer at the moment, because of the logistics of serving them in a pub which is currently only open four days a week. Plans are in hand, however, to open on other days, and lines for cask ale (the pipes that will bring it up from the cellar) have already been installed. So, as soon as opening hours are extended, pumps will appear on the bar and cask ale will flow.

Michael and Emma are passionate about beer, and eager to introduce locals to as many small independent brewers as possible. So far, the list has included Kernel, Cloudwater, Ilkley, Siren, 5 Points, Arbor, Burning Sky, Bristol Beer Factory, Wylam, Beavertown, Saltaire, Wild Beer, Dark

The team from Kettlesmith Brewery at the tap takeover on 8 October
The team from Kettlesmith Brewery at the tap takeover on 8 October

Star, Wiper & True, Moor, Tiny Rebel, Thornbridge, Left Handed Giant – and many others. There have already been two tap takeovers – Good Chemistry from Bristol on 23 July and, more recently, Kettlesmith from Bradford on Avon on 8 October.

In line with their policy of supporting small independent producers, especially from the local area, Michael and Emma also serve Handmade Cider and Somerset Cider Brandy, as well as a carefully chosen range of wines and spirits. A range of Scotch eggs – made in Bath – are also available should you feel peckish.

The bar in Chapter One
The bar in Chapter One

Chapter One has already attracted a loyal band of regular customers, who come to enjoy its laid-back atmosphere, relax over a beer or two and maybe play one of the many board and card games on offer. And, although it is a fair step from the town centre, word is getting around that, for those keen on trying craft beers from an ever-changing range of cutting-edge brewers, it is well worth the effort of getting to know.

Chapter One is open from 5pm on Thursdays and Fridays, and from 2pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

... and dogs are very welcome.
… and dogs are very welcome.



Launching Devon Pubs.

One reason we were too occupied to attend to this blog in 2014 was the final push to complete our book on Devon Pubs, finally published in 2015. We’d entered into this enterprise in a light-hearted manner ten years previously. Researching them seemed like fun then, but as the years went on, the book often seemed like a lament. Over and over again, we came across pubs that had been recently closed or converted to other uses. Perhaps the saddest was at the Woodpecker Inn, South Brent. It was closed when we were investigating it, and to our alarm we saw men in suits with clipboards drive up. They did not seem pleased to see us. Although it is likely that parts of the building were quite old, it was demolished in 2007 by the developers. It was all for nothing. A planning application for a business park was turned down in 2014, and the appeal was rejected. The site is now completely derelict.

Equally sad is the tale of the Toby Jug at Bickington. When we brought out the book, its fate still hung in the balance, but a month after the book came out, Teignbridge Council finally put corporate interests before those of the community and granted permission for change of use to residential. To be fair, they had done their best, but it had become an eyesore.

So our trips down to Devon were often tinged with sadness. Two landlords who keep two of the country’s best pubs, constantly encouraged us and jollied us out of our despondency. When we finally launched the book, it was lovely to have both of them there. It was a joy for them too, for they had never met.

Who are these two stalwarts and which are their pubs? Buy the book and you’ll find their pubs on the cover. Gracing the front cover is a reproduction of an old painting of The Bridge at Topsham run by the indomitable Caroline Cheffers-Heard. It’s the only pub the Queen has ever visited by request. It’s not known how old the building is – parts may go back to the 14th century, when Exeter Cathedral was being rebuilt. Beer is from the wood and an ever changing menu of beers – often local – can be found on their Facebook page.

From L to R Andrew swift, Islay the Westie, Roger Cudlip, Caroline Cheffers-Heard, Kirsten Elliott
From L to R Andrew Swift holding Islay the Westie, Roger Cudlip, Caroline Cheffers-Heard, Kirsten Elliott

On the back cover, you will find what was once known as the White Hart at Spreyton, but it now called the Tom Cobley. Yes, the very same Tom Cobley who went off to Widecombe Fair with … well, you know the rest. To the delight of the landlord, we found a newspaper report that showed that the Tom Cobley buried in Spreyton churchyard, after which the pub is named, was indeed known as Uncle Tom Cobley. There had been those who had pooh-poohed the theory that he was the one in the song.

And it was the landlord – the redoubtable Roger Cudlip – and his family who kindly agreed to have the launch at their pub.

We’ll be putting up some excerpts at various times but if you haven’t visited either of these pubs, you should. The Tom Cobley has a string of awards, including National Pub of the Year, and a huge range of beers and ciders. The Bridge menu is limited – lunch times only, simple but local, reasonably priced and tasty. The Tom Cobley has an extensive menu, the food is all home–cooked by Roger’s wife Carol, and served by their daughter Lucy. A warning – make sure you’re hungry before you go. The portions are ample. As Roger was once a butcher, you may get his homemade sausages for breakfast if you stay there in one of their lovely B&B rooms.



Did South Stoke save the Packhorse? Here’s the answer.

As writers on the subject of pubs, we so often find now that we are describing the demise of yet another well- loved watering-hole. In 2012, when Punch sold the Packhorse at South Stoke, it was, after some toing and froing, sold to a buyer who declared he intended to turn it into a private house. It seemed that an all too familiar story was about to be repeated.

Punch’s excuse was that the pub was failing. This was partly due to the fact that they had put an inexperienced person in as landlord. It’s a favourite ploy by pubcos – it helps to run the place down. It’s very sad for the landlord and also sad for the village when that happens. But to say it could never be a pub was clearly nonsense – several experienced publicans who were far from starry-eyed about the place expressed an interest and offered over the asking price.

The village was incensed and started a campaign. The first move was to have the pub declared an asset of community value. But the owner refused the offer that the community made to buy it. He then submitted a planning application. Like many others, your esteemed bloggers were aghast at the condition the building had been allowed to fall into, and wrote a fairly pungent objection. Without warning, after three months the application was withdrawn.

The owner then notified the village he intended to sell the building on. The village asked for time to raise the money to buy it. They had to raise £525,000 to buy it as well as more to refurbish it with planning consent.  The deadline was Saturday 10th September.

With a few hours to go, they were tantalisingly close. With five days to go, they had raised £498,000. Could they do it?

An excited crowd gathered at the pub on Saturday 10th to hear the announcement. This is what they were told.

The crowd gathers for the announcement of success or failure.


We’re delighted to report that our share issue has been a huge success! At 7pm yesterday, after a late flood of money, over 200 investors had contributed a total of £601,000 – and there are more share applications in the pipeline. We now have the capital both to buy the Packhorse for the community and to begin to develop detailed plans for the refurbishment!

We are thrilled, relieved and hugely grateful for the generosity of supporters of the Packhorse. Thank you so much! And to the two hundred or so people who assembled in the pub garden yesterday evening to hear the news – we hope you enjoyed the occasion as much as we did.

We’re not quite there yet – we still have to raise around £265,000 for refurbishment and working capital. But the money invested so far will not only buy the pub but also buy us time to raise money for building work in early 2017 with a view to reopening early Summer next year.

They are leaving the share issue open for the time being, so there is still time for others to join this special project – just look for the prospectus and share application form on the Save the Packhorse web site.

Meanwhile, we now have time to be more creative in our fundraising. We’ll have details in due course but we expect this to involve grant applications (we have our eye on the Heritage Lottery Fund), accepting smaller donations and, among other things, events.

One such event will be an illustrated talk on “A History of Bath Pubs” by Dr Andrew Swift (yes, that’s one half of the Awash with Ale blog team) at 7:30pm on Wednesday 21st September in South Stoke Village Hall. Entrance is free but arms may be twisted for a donation to the Packhorse fund! Refreshments will be available and all are welcome. So do come along. The strange history of the Packhorse Inn is sure to feature.



bikeThe Tour of Britain sweeps into Bath tomorrow (8 September), and to welcome it to town the Raven in Queen Street has not only made the natty addition to its sign seen on the left, but has organized a bike-themed beer festival. Over 30 beers are featured (12 at any one time) and, as the cycling links of some of the beers are a little obscure, there is a competition to work out what they are. Whoever gets the most right gets a prize –  whoever doesn’t gets to try some cracking beers. And there are somblackboarde rarities on offer – I was particularly pleased to discover Metal Head stout from a new Bristol Brewery called Beat Ales – one I’d not come across before, but on the strength of this, one I’ll certainly be looking out for in the future. The bikes roll into town tomorrow, the festival runs till the beers run out, but with the crowds likely to turn up tomorrow and Bath playing Newcastle at the Rec on Saturday, you’d be advised to turn up sooner rather than later

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Dugges at Hunter and Sons

For a number of reasons, this blog has been dormant for too long.

Much has happened since our last post. We have published two new pub history books, while in Bath, as elsewhere, new pubs and breweries have opened, while others have closed.

So a revival of the blog was long overdue – and there’s a lot of catching up to do. But what better way to get back into the swing of things than to feature a tap takeover at one of Bath’s top craft beer bars.

The Brewers

On 1 September, from 6pm till late, Swedish brewers Dugges took over the taps at Hunter & Sons in Milsom Place. It was a great evening – fantastic beers, good company, with the brewers on hand to explain the thinking and the processes behind the range of brews on offer.

While Hunter & Sons are experts at showcasing an ever-changing array of beers from cutting-edge brewers around the world, a tap takeover like this gives the chance to discover and explore the work of particular brewers, and get an insight into their philosophy of and approach to brewing.

The beers

In this country, Dugges are probably best known for their sour beers. Sour is a term that covers a wide range of beer styles, but, with their Tropic Thunder, Dugges have managed to come up with something new. The idea behind this beer was to come up with something that tasted like a popsicle – a beer, in their own words, ‘as refreshing as those ice cold, fruity treats we loved as kids.’ They have certainly succeeded – so much so that a bar back in Sweden serves this beer as a slushie for the full-on popsicle experience. Tropic Thunder, brewed with lactobacillus and fermented with mangoes, passion fruits and peaches, was joined at Hunter & Sons by Tropic Sunrise, a variation on the same theme, with raspberries added to the mix. Both beers provided an intriguing yet very satisfying combination of sweet and sour, while another sour, the laconically named Black Currant, neatly managed to avoid the syrupy overtones of Ribena that often linger around beers featuring blackcurrants.

The T-shirt

All the other beers on offer were just as good, but for my money the two absolutely stand-out beers were High Five, a rich and complex IPA brewed with American hops, and Imperial Geisha, a fantastic Imperial Stout pepped up with Panamanian coffee, smooth, rich and sweet, with none of the heaviness or bitterness sometimes found in Imperial stouts.

If you check out the brewery at http://dugges.se/, you’ll see that their beer range is eclectic and wide-ranging, including such delights as a Raspberry Liqorice Imperial Stout, Rum Barrel Aged Barley Wines, a Berliner Weisse, a Coco Nut Imperial Stout, none of which made an appearance on the night. Dugges beers will, however, continue to appear on draught on a regular basis at Hunter & Sons, and bottles will also be available.


Reading Matter

Interesting article on the craft beer revolution in the Guardian today, very balanced and not taken in by the hype. It also addressed the issues of big brewers jumping onto the bandwagon and of artificially inflated prices for anything that can be labelled craft beer. Among those interviewed was Pete Brown who ‘railed at the opportunism – generally third-party distributors, bars and restaurants adding unreasonable mark-ups – that means even average craft beer can increasingly cost £5 a print.’ The article’s balance even extended to CAMRA, represented by an affable spokesperson who, while admitted that CAMRA would ‘always promote cask beer … anything attracting new drinkers to the joys of beer has got to be a good thing’. The CAMRA types I tend to come across, however, seem to regard craft beer either as a return to the bad old days of Watney Red or as overpriced novelty juice appealing to those whose lack of beer knowledge is matched by a willingness to fritter away money.

CAMRA also figures largely in a splendid book I’ve just finished reading called Brew Britannia by those indefatigable bloggers Boak and Bailey. It looks at how brewing in this country – and indeed elsewhere – has changed from the days before CAMRA came on the scene to now. It is a story that has been told many times before, but rarely as well and never as comprehensively. Not only have they carried out loads of new research, they have interviewed many of the key players from way back as well as many of the new kids on the block. There are also some fascinating brewery family trees at the end, showing how new ideas and techniques have been disseminated through the industry by innovative brewers training others who have gone on to put them into practice elsewhere.

The Small Bar in Bristol, decked out for the Harbour Festival
The Small Bar in Bristol, decked out for the Harbour Festival

For local drinkers, the book has the added appeal of an introductory chapter set in the Small Bar in Bristol, which, although the authors don’t actually say so, seems to stand for the best of today’s cutting-edge beer culture – and that’s something I’ll certainly drink to.

Craft Beer comes to the King William

london rd king williamAnother Bath pub joins the craft beer revolution. The King William on Thomas Street, long a standard bearer for cask beer, as well as one of the top places to eat in Bath, now has a range of three craft beers on keg. A visit today found three keg crafts on offer, including Wiper & True’s Amber, plus Wiper & True Mosaic on cask. The lunch – £15 for three courses – was superb as well, and a quick visit to the Bell in Walcot Street afterwards was rewarded with a pint of one of Bristol Beer Factory’s Independence. Would that all Monday lunchtimes could be like this – our excuse, Kirsten’s birthday.

IPA Day and Wickwar’s White Lion

A visit to Bristol a week or so ago coincided with ‘IPA Day’. I have no idea whether this was a local or national initiative but it gave me the chance to try some interesting brews. Supernatural from the New Bristol Brewery was one I had been hearing about for some time – not least from Noel the brewer – and I am glad to say it lived up to expectations. A splendid beer – richly-flavoured, amber-coloured and well-balanced – that lets you know it weighs in at a hefty 7%. Definitely one worth seeking out. Somewhat more challenging was Arbor’s collaboration with Indy-Man Brewhouse, a Lemon and Lime IPA that weighed in at 8.2%. Given its name – and its pedigree – it is hardly surprising that the ‘citrus notes’ so beloved of beer bloggers were to the fore here. Verdict – not a session beer (obviously) and maybe not something I’d want to drink regularly, but certainly interesting enough to want to try again if they get round to another collaboration.   IMG_8197

The same evening, I decided, largely because it came on to rain rather heavily, to call into the White Lion on the Centre. This Wickwar brewery pub was one I called into quite regularly when Les (most recently at the Vittoria on Whiteladies Road) was the landlord, but after he left my visits grew more infrequent as the quality of beer grew more unpredictable, and I had not been in for about three years. I am very pleased to report that, under Martin, the current landlord, the White Lion has returned to form, and the selection of Wickwar beers was on top form.IMG_8300