Category Archives: Pub News

Chapter 1 – Community Pub

In all the stories of doom and gloom, with pub closures a running theme, it’s always good to relate a success story. Emma and Mike at Chapter 1 have taken a pub that looked as though it was dying and turned it into a community asset.

Readers of this blog will know that Chapter 1 has almost become our local – although it’s the other side of the River Avon, a quick jaunt down to the canal, over Folly Footbridge, under the GWR and over the Avon then through Kensington Meadows and we’re there. It’s become such an institution with the London Road crowd that it seems hardly possible it’s only been there a year. The weekend of 20th May incredibly saw the first birthday of the pub in its new guise.

Enjoying the incredible cheese birthday cake were, among other guests, Chris Scullion of Independent Spirit and Harry Speller of Albion Brewing Company, not to mention regular visitor Bertie the Cockapoo. Among the beers was the innovative Cream Soda from another small brewery, Hubris Id, whose beers can often be found on the list.

Chris Scullion of Independent Spirit checks out local brews.
Chris Scullion of Independent Spirit checks out local brews.
Harry Speller and other customers enjoy the cheese birthday cake.
Harry Speller and other customers enjoy the cheese birthday cake.
Bertie waits patiently for a treat - this is very definitely a dog-friendly pub.
Bertie waits patiently for a treat – this is very definitely a dog-friendly pub.

The owners Mike and Emma also got into the spirit of the election, offering a free beer to newly registered voters. Local issues were also discussed at Campfire Conversations, on May 28th. Organised by Pete Lawrence, it’s a new initiative being held at places like Hay on Wye, Lewes, Brighton, Malvern and Frome. Among the speakers were Erica Seo from Vegmead, Emma Adams from Meadows Alliance and Luke Emmett from Theatre Bus. The Green candidate Eleanor Field and the Labour candidate Joe Rayment also dropped by. As might be expected, the discussion got a bit heated at times, but Pete Lawrence was a firm chairman, and it all ended amicably.

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Erica Seo animatedly tells the listeners more about how Vegmead is progressing.

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It’s not all political discussion (although Johnny Clayton of Hubris Id wittily brewed Covfefe, an APA, at the end of May). Throughout the summer there will be a rare chance to see the paintings and prints by PHIL KELLY 1950-2010, in an exhibition called From The London Road to Mexico and back.
Phil lived in Bath in the early 1970s, in a flat just up the street from The Britannia – now Chapter One.
He moved to Mexico in 1980 and was a very successful, exhibiting at The Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City and in many prestigious galleries. His work is a distinctive feature in Rick Stein’s Seafood Cafe in Padstow and his paintings are in many significant private collections.

The Spanish conversation group Todo el Mundo has already held one event there, and look to be planning more, while from time to time, local bands can be found playing there. There are plenty of other drinks from choose from if you’re not keen on beer – they have been known to turn their hands to cocktails.

What you won’t find are tv screens but you will find board games and newspapers. Emma and Mike are collecting some rave reviews from visitors and many local people are now dropping in. Chapter 1 is turning into a real hub for the rather diverse community on the London Road – and that’s what pubs should be all about!

Popping up at the Packhorse

Work and play at the PackhorseIMG_8254The controversy about the dropping of the word Easter from Cadbury’s Egg hunts, despite being exposed as fake news, also showed that Easter is a very ancient tradition which, wherever and in whatever religion it is celebrated, marks a new beginning, a rebirth. So it was very appropriate that it was on Easter Sunday that a pop-up bar opened at the Packhorse at South Stoke to mark the new beginnings of the pub. This is not the first such event, but it’s clear that visible work is now progressing to bring back this pub to its former glory as the centre of the community.

Not all the work involves actual hard graft – besides the craftsmen busy at work with their tools, there is also research work in progress. The secrets the building is giving up as inappropriate alterations are removed are revealing a surprising history. For instance, there’s the splendid fireplace exposed on the ground floor in the south room, now carefully restored and repaired by Nigel Bryant (Master Mason and Conservator) and his talented wife, Becky.

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The newly revealed fire surround – now throughly repaired and restored.

The fire surround is certainly seventeenth century and may be older. Dendrochronology has revealed that some of the floorboards are older than the building was initially believed to be. Floorboards and fireplaces could, of course, be recycled – building materials often were because they were expensive while labour was cheap – but there is a real sense of excitement among historians that the building has a longer history than was first believed. So some of the Packhorse team have been delving into the archives and have come up with a new theory. They are asking themselves if it was built as a church house. It is, at present, just a theory but it would increase the importance of the Packhorse both to Somerset historians and to the community. Although there are a lot of church houses in Devon they are much rarer in Somerset, so this would be an exciting discovery if true.

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Discussing history at the information desk.

However, history was not on the mind of the many people who turned up to enjoy the chance to have a drink at the Packhorse as they had done in the past. Honey’s cider was one of the tipples on offer, as was Abbey Ales’ Bellringer, but in good old Somerset pub tradition, there was also some cider made from local apples, pressed at the open day at the pub last October. It was, as I was warned, mouth-tinglingly dry, but once I’d recovered from the initial shock, I could see how a good cider could have replaced white wine. It is known that, after the restoration of Charles II, cider moved considerably up-market, competing with fine wines from the mainland of Europe.  The king himself enjoyed drinking it and the price went through the roof.

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Chatting about cider at the bar.

There was plenty going on during the day. There was an Easter egg hunt for children, music, a plant stall and a busy cake stall. Given the number of four-legged visitors, it seems clear the pub will have to be dog-friendly. It is certainly on Islay’s list. If the pub can attract this number of visitors by word of mouth and social media for a one-off event, without being able to offer cooked food (beyond homemade cakes baked by local people) it shows how well it could do when it is established.

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It was busy in the garden ….
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… and it was very busy at the bar!

Events like this are a rebuke to the naysayers who said it closed because it wasn’t supported. This is a building which has been at the heart of the community for centuries, perhaps even more so than was earlier suspected. It was heartening to see it so busy.

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A pub is a place for all generations to get together.
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Even though it’s a building site at present, Islay the Westie gives the Packhorse her seal of approval.

I hope to return at a later date to investigate the historic features which aren’t, at present, on show to the public – I will put up photos when I’ve been.

Good News and Bad.

Over the Easter weekend we received some good news – an application to convert the Red Lion at Ampney St Peter to housing was turned down. This pub was a real gem, with just two rooms as the pub and no bar counter, but perfectly served beer. It was a Mecca for pub and beer enthusiasts but the death of the landlord had seen it close. Now it looks as though the present owner will have to rethink her refusal to accept offers to run it as a pub.

Sadly, however, while chatting in the garden at the Packhorse, we received the unwelcome but not unexpected news that Tucker’s Grave is on the market. Watch this space for more news.

 

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.

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!

 

 

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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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Two Bath Pubs Reopen

The King's Arms gets a makeover ready for its reopening on 2 December
The King’s Arms gets a makeover ready for its reopening on 2 December

Two Bath pubs that closed suddenly over six months ago are to reopen – revamped and revived – in December. Given the number of recent closures that have quickly become permanent, there were fears that the loss of the Green Park Tavern on the Lower Bristol Road and the King’s Arms in Monmouth Place – both owned by Enterprise Inns – would become permanent too. Happily, this was not to be the case. The King’s Arms has had a thorough makeover, its opening party was last night (29 November) and it opens for business on 2 December. As befits one of Bath’s top music pubs, live music will once again be high on the agenda and punters will doubtless be impressed at how the old place has been transformed. The Green Park Tavern, set to reopen later in December, is to re-emerge in a somewhat different form, as the GPT Smokehouse & Bar, courtesy of the former owners of Banglo, the bar and restaurant next door which was badly damaged in an arson attack in May. The Green Park Tavern was also one of the city’s top music venues – the gigs lined up there for the Bath Folk Festival had to be hurriedly rescheduled at the nearby Belvoir Castle pub when it closed – and live music will be once again be on the menu at the renamed GPT.

All of which is very good news, with two of the Bath pubs that closed in 1913 up and running again – and with enthusiastic new owners rather than holding companies. Unfortunately, there is still no news on the fate of the Wadworth-owned Olde Farmhouse on Lansdown Road, once the city’s top jazz venue but now sadly silent. There were once plenty of pubs in this part of town – one of the last was the Belvedere Wine Vaults across the road which closed in 2012 – but, apart from the Rising Sun on Camden, all have now closed. We can only hope that, like the King’s Arms and the GPT, the Old Farmhouse soon finds a saviour – especially as it lies in one of the most sought-after residential areas in Bath.

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