Category Archives: Pubs we like

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!

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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.

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.

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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