Monthly Archives: September 2016

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.