The End of the Two Pigs

TWO PIGSThe news that another pub has closed for good comes as little surprise these days, so inured have we become to the steady erosion of community facilities by property developers and their ilk. Such things are now commonplace in a land where bonanzas for the few, austerity for the many and the rapid deterioration of the public realm are the order of the day.

Occasionally, though, a pub closure comes along that makes you sit up and take notice. The Two Pigs at Corsham was just such a pub, a proper traditional locals’ pub that didn’t serve food, but whose choice of real ales saw it awarded the coveted title of Pub of the Year by the local CAMRA branch a few years back. It’s still in this year’s Good Beer Guide, but anyone who turns up in search of a pint now will be disappointed, because as of 30 January 2017 Wiltshire Council granted the owners permission to convert it to a private house.

They applied for change of use back in November when the pub was still open, and it closed in December. Astonishingly, given the campaigns to save other popular hostelries when similar threats have occurred, protest seems – with the honourable exceptions of two strongly worded objections from regulars – to have been absent. And so the long, glorious (and occasionally inglorious) history of the Two Pigs has come ignominiously to an end.

It started out as a beerhouse in the 1830s, and was known as the Spread Eagle until the present owners took it on, changing its name, restoring its reputation, and drawing punters in not only for its beer and bonhomie but also for the Monday night blues sessions, which really could be something special – as I can confirm.

There are several other pubs in Corsham, including one a few yards away, but none of them was like the Two Pigs – which is why it made the Good Beer Guide, and why it was the boozer of choice not only for many locals but also for discerning drinkers from farther away. There seems no reason why it could not have continued in much the same way for years to come, especially as around 700 new homes are due to be built nearby over the next few years.

Given the Two Pigs’ continued success and clear fulfilment of a social need, you might have thought the very least the planning authority would have asked for is evidence that no one else was prepared to buy and run the pub. But they didn’t – and the Two Pigs is now history – or should that be bacon?

And, of course, with change of use confirmed, the former Two Pigs is almost certainly worth a good deal more than it was as a pub.

More on the Two Pigs at http://www.rudloescene.co.uk/news/pickwick

The Spread Eagle in the 1950s, before it became the Two Pigs
The Spread Eagle in the 1950s, before it became the Two Pigs

 

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Welcome to one of the country’s top pubs.

If you’ve ever watched the cult film Morris: A Life With Bells On then, inadvertently, you’ve seen glimpses of one of our favourite pubs – The Compasses at Chicksgrove, in Wiltshire. Much of the Morris team’s dancing is done in the car park and the cottage of the hero, Derecq Twist, is in fact Plum Cottage, where we have stayed.

According to the website the pub building dates back to the fourteenth century – Historic England says seventeenth century. The truth is probably somewhere in between. Cottages are notoriously difficult to date but there are records for the Sutton Mandeville estate which date back to the sixteenth century and it is possible at least one refers to the building. When it became an inn is unclear – it was certainly a well established one by the beginning of the nineteenth century because sales were held there.

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The interior is a glorious mixture of old artefacts, including a piano, modern photographic images and the usual mixture of chalkboards with the day’s specials.

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pianoToday the establishment is rather more than just being a picturesque pub with beer. The food is excellent, with an ever-changing menu of everything from bar snacks to delicious three course meals. The beers are usually local – there are always two and sometimes three available, all well kept. Why the local CAMRA has not included it in the Good Beer Guide is a puzzle to both ourselves and the landlord. It certainly deserves to be there. Perhaps someone should give them a nudge. For those who prefer wines, there is a comprehensive wine list.

And of course you can stay there. Not only are there four well-equipped letting rooms, there is also the cosy Plum Cottage.plum-cottage

You can self cater, but it’s more likely you’ll want to try the delicious Compasses breakfasts. With one double and two single bedrooms, it makes a great place for a family to stay. Islay the westie very much approved of the wood-burning stove when we had an autumn break there. In fact, the whole pub is high on Islay’s recommendation list.

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So we weren’t too surprised, when we went down a little while ago, to find that it is now in the list of the top ten pubs in the United Kingdom in the 2017 Good Pub Guide. It’s an award that is well deserved, and they’re rightly proud of it.

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Your only problem may be finding it. I think I overheard someone saying their satnav had tried to take them down a farm track. So I recommend going to the Compasses website where you will not only find instructions on how to get there, but a list of nearby places which are well worth a visit. For keen walkers, as we are, there are also many interesting expeditions that can be made.

But here’s my advice. It gets very busy at weekends, and you will need to book. If you can possibly visit mid-week, then I recommend you do so. At least for the winter months they are closed on Monday lunchtimes, otherwise the hours are 12 – 3 p.m. and 6 – 11 p.m. and 7 – 10.30 p.m. on Sundays.

Forty Years On

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In 1976, the slim booklet seen above made its appearance. Its author, Fred Pearce, who appears on the cover, described it as ‘a guide for those adventurous citizens looking for variety in their drinking habits’, and he did not pull any punches. If he thought a pub was great he said so, and if he thought a pub was rubbish he said so too, presumably on the basis that he wouldn’t be making a return trip to discover the landlord’s reaction to his comments.

Forty years on, it makes entertaining reading. He rated pubs on a star system – 4 stars for a great pub, 1 star for a rubbish one. Among those awarded a single star were the Kings Arms in Monmouth Place, memorable solely for ‘that peculiar pub aroma of loo disinfectant’.

The Oliver - 'a particularly nasty Berni lounge'
The Oliver – ‘a particularly nasty Berni lounge’

Other 1star pubs included the Oliver in Green Street – a ‘particularly nasty Berni lounge’; the Roundhouse in Stall Street (now Pret a Manger), another ‘nasty pub’ with a ‘small selection of expensive lunchtime food served in cardboard plates’; and the Chequers on Rivers Street, guilty of ‘ridiculously inflated beer prices’. And what were these inflated prices, you might ask? Ushers Best at 27p, Watneys Pale at 25p and Worthington E at 30p – ‘for no apparent reason other than profiteering’ according to Fred.

The Roundhouse - another 'nasty pub'
The Roundhouse – another ‘nasty pub’

Although these prices may seem extraordinary today, what is more remarkable is how little choice there was. Fred Pearce was a wholehearted supporter of the fledgling real ale movement, and his booklet was largely aimed at discerning real ale drinkers. So what did they have to choose from?

Of 44 Watneys’ pubs surveyed, only 15 served real ale, mostly Ushers Pale, although a few also served ‘the locally popular Worthington E’. Of the 78 Courage’s pub surveyed – almost half the total – only 37 served real ale, mostly Courage Ordinary, as well as Courage Best and Worthington E. Seven pubs were owned by Wadworths, while Whitbread, Bass Charrington and Allied Breweries each owned a handful of pubs between them. There were also 18 free houses, plus ‘a rare example of Devenish beer (brewed in Weymouth) served on a handpump at the Coeur de Lion’ and Eldridge Pope’s ‘new and excellent Royal Oak’ available at the brewery’s only Bath pub, the Huntsman. One of the highlights of the real ale scene in the city was ‘the availability of the highly regarded Marston’s Pedigree Bitter all the way from Burton on Trent’ at ‘two central Bath outlets’.

Fred's photos of drinkers in the Volly
Fred’s photos of drinkers in the Volly

Many drinkers, myself included, will remember what drinking in the 1970s was like, but it still comes as something of a shock to be reminded just how little choice there was. One of Fred Pearce’s favourite Bath pubs was Broadley’s in the Sawclose (now Gascoyne Place), which he described as ‘a real ale drinker’s paradise. And what was on offer? ‘Marston’s Pedigree Bitter from the wood at 23p a pint, Mitchells & Butlers and E on handpump, plus Brew XI, Tartan, Trophy, Tankard and bottled White Shield’.

Another 4-star pub was the Coeur de Lion, on the strength of its Devenish Bitter and IPA. The Huntsman also scored 4 points, largely because of its premium bitter, Royal Oak, which Fred described as ‘a very strong pint served direct from the barrel (28p in the public, 30p in the other bars)’. ‘Very strong’ actually equated to 5%, and in 1976 it was very much the exception; today, the chances are that you will find produce at least one beer stronger than 5% – sometimes much stronger – in all of the city’s top real or craft ale pubs.

There was also a new pub on St James Parade in 1976 – long since closed – called the Heath Robinson. This, according to Fred, was a ‘brand new real ale bar set up to take advantage of the boom’. Presumably at the cutting edge of the real ale scene, it served Wadworth’s 6X, Worthington E and South Wales Club Best Bitter, all at 26p, and Wadworth’s Old Timer (which weighed in at a hefty 5.8%) in winter at 30p.

The Old Green Tree, where Ushers PA and xx were available
The Old Green Tree, where Ushers Pale and Worthington E were available
The Hat & Feather, awarded 4 stars despite the presence of nasty long haired hippies
The Hat & Feather, awarded 4 stars by Fred despite the presence of ‘nasty long-haired hippies’

Fred’s other top recommendations included the Old Green Tree (Ushers Pale and Worthington E on draught), the Midland (now the Bath Brew House) with ‘well-kept Courage Best and Ordinary on handpump’. Well-kept Courage Best and Ordinary could also be found in the Volunteer Rifleman’s Arms, the Saracen’s Head, and the late-lamented Hat & Feather (which Fred awarded 4 stars despite describing it as ‘tatty’ and filled with ‘nasty long-haired hippies’!). He was also keen on the Star, and his description of it is worth quoting in full:

When the lights are off inside you’d be forgiven for passing the Star by thinking it long abandoned. But thankfully it lives on. Entirely panelled in wood the 3 small old bars (including one called the Glass Room) have a unique atmosphere. Real Bass and E are served direct from the barrel – the array of six handpumps that occupy the entire length of the main bar are disused. There’s no music or games but beer for CAMRA men to rave over, a thigh-high communal trough in the men’s loo, old Punch-type cartoons in the Glass Room and some photos of the pub’s exterior in the heady days of 1917 and a ‘Guinness Time’ clock in the main bar. A star pub indeed.

The Star - an unchanged classic, but with its long tradition of Bass from the barrel in abeyance, at least for the moment
The Star – an unchanged classic, but with its long tradition of Bass from the barrel in abeyance, at least for the moment

Although the handpumps at the Star have long been reinstated, the tradition of serving Bass straight from the barrel was kept up until a few weeks ago. It has now sadly been discontinued due to a decision by InBev (who now brew Bass) to stop supplying it in kilderkins but instead to use 10 gallon barrels, which are incompatible with the Star’s racking system (see previous post). Elsewhere the availability of Marston’s Pedigree served from the wood is but a distant memory. But, while the range of beers on offer in many of Bath’s pubs is as predictable as it was 40 years ago – even though the brews may be different from those back then – in the city’s top real ale and craft beer pubs, the choice – and the rapidity with which guest beers succeed each other – is one that would have seemed unimaginable in 1976. Whether Fred would have approved or not is another matter.

 

The end of a great tradition.

img_4847One of the great traditions of the Star on the Paragon in Bath is no more – thanks to a high-handed and abrupt decision by ABInBev, the brewers of Bass. For many years now, it has been the habit to bring Bass up from the cellar on a lift which raises the kilderkins – 18 gallons – to the bar area. Ask for Bass, and the bar staff will tap off the beer into a jug, ready to pour it into your glass. So popular is this that Paul Waters, the landlord, was a regular purchaser of kilderkins. It has to be admitted that this was slightly unusual – many pubs simply do not get through the same quantities of beer which means the beer would go off before they could sell it all. But this did not apply at the Star.

When he bought his most recent consignment, there was no indication of any trouble. So Paul had no inkling, when he received a phone call from InBev, of the bad news he was about to receive. ‘Make the most of those barrels,’ the spokesperson said ‘That’s the last you’re getting. We’re not going to do 18s any longer.  We’re reducing them to 10s.’

Paul Waters is usually happy serving beer - but here he sadly fills a jug from the barrel for almost the last time.
Paul Waters is usually happy serving beer – but here he sadly fills a jug from the barrel for almost the last time.

There’s a lot that’s wrong with that decision. Firstly, as a matter of courtesy, those landlords, like Paul, who were buying them should have had longer notice. Secondly, for busy pubs, 18s are more efficient. And finally, 10s are not a usual European size. It’s American.

Anheuser, the A part of AB InBev is an American company. Although they claim to be proud of their European heritage and of being a global brewery, it is a very big player in the USA. So despite all their claims of respecting heritage it is only their American heritage the company seems interested in. The grand old English measure of a kilderkin will be swept away. And if they are going to use 10s, one can guess that it won’t be long before the firkin – or 9 – will also go. Is this, perhaps, a result of Brexit? Are AB-InBev  getting ready to pull out supplying the UK market? It looks ominously like it. British pubs are geared up to the old sizes. A change like this will have far-reaching implications for many. The Bell in Walcot Street, Bath, for instance, has racks in its cellar designed specifically to take 9s.

For Paul Waters, it means some rapid rethinking. For the present, Bass will now take up one of the valuable hand pumps – the cradles are too big to take 10s. So that means one less guest ale. On busy evenings, such as after a Bath Rugby home match, you may find yourself waiting while Paul has to change the barrel.

Regulars at the Star, who have availed themselves of its tradtional approach for many years, are unhappy at the decision.
Regulars at the Star, who have availed themselves of its traditional approach for many years, are unhappy at the decision.

Like Paul, most regulars at the Star thinks it’s a ridiculous and ill-conceived plan by AB-InBev, forcing changes on the Star without even the courtesy of an apology.  AB-InBev should at least let the drinkers of Britain – who, despite qualms about changes in the company, have gone on drinking Bass with its historic trademark and putting money in the company’s pocket – just what their future intentions are. So come on, AB-InBev  – just what game are you playing?

I should add that the good news for regulars is that Abbey Ales’ Bellringer is still very much available!

 

 

Welcome to Eli’s

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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RAVEN’S BIKE-THEMED BEER FESTIVAL WELCOMES TOUR OF BRITAIN TO BATH

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