Category Archives: Somerset Pubs

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.

 

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.

The Mystery of the Golden Lion

QUERY GOLDEN LIONThis photograph is the first in a series of ‘mystery pubs’, which we’ll be posting in the hope that someone will be able to identify them. Over the years we have come across a fair number of photos of pubs with no indication of where they are. Many of them we’ve managed to track down, but some of have eluded all attempts at identification. This one, despite providing plenty of clues, has proved a particularly tough nut to crack. The photo dates – we think – from the 1940s, although someone who knows about cars and car registrations might be able to be a little more specific. What we do know is that the car has a Somerset registration, which suggests that it is likely to be Somerset. It was a George’s house, which indicates that it was probably in Somerset or Gloucestershire – although there were George’s houses in nearby counties, as well as some in South Wales. The licensee was Thomas W Leonard, and it was a beerhouse. A trawl though Kelly’s directories for the 40s and 50s for the relevant counties would probably come up with a result but unfortunately we have not been able to get our hands on them. It may be still open, it may have changed its name, it may have become a house, it may even have been pulled down. We’ve no idea, but if you can suggest any leads we’d be delighted to hear from you.

Islay’s Guide to Five of the Best in Somerset

#dogLet’s get a few things straight to start off with. When it comes to pubs, I realise that what I look for in a good pub is a bit different to what most of you are looking for. One thing we can be agreed on, of course, is the importance of a decent drop of real ale – although it has to be said that the measly amounts I get served up my little bowl are a disgrace. Anyway, having got that off my chest, what else am I looking for in a good pub? Well, to start off with, biscuits. I don’t suppose many of you put the quality of dog biscuits that high on your agenda, but this can make or break a pub as far as I’m concerned. As can the range and quality of the chips and other dropped morsels I can forage off the floor – messy eaters, I hear you cry – benefactors of the canine kind, as far as I’m concerned. The only problem is I’m not allowed to wander off that far in search of them – or to follow enticing smells – and why is it that the most tempting smells always seem to come from the one place I’m never allowed to go – behind the bar! Life’s a real bark sometimes. Anyway, enough moaning. Other things that count as far as I’m concerned are a nice cool floor to crash out on, lots of people to make a fuss of me, friendly dogs for a meet and sniff session, and decent helpings of food, so that my owners aren’t tempted to trough it all themselves and plenty of treats find their way down to me. And it goes without saying that there has to be plenty of open country nearby for a good run. So here is the first of what I hope will be a regular series of updates on my favourite pubs, starting with Somerset.            

1#FOX AND BADGERTHE FOX & BADGER, WELLOW:  I’m becoming something a regular here now that that nice lady Jo from the White Hart in Widcombe has taken it over – and there’s always a biscuit or two ready when I walk in as well. I’m also partial to a drop of Butcombe, which is kept very nicely here, and as lots of other people bring their dogs here it’s a sociable sort of place. It’s particularly good in summer because there’s a ford at the bottom of the hill where I can go for a good swim. Food-wise the chips and bits of fish that make their way my way are especially good – the problem is my owners think so too, so I never seem to get enough.

Lots of fantastic places to explore just up the road from the Hunter's Lodge

HUNTER’S LODGE, PRIDDY:  Another proper country pub, in the middle of nowhere – or to be more precise with some fantastic walks just up the road – woods, lakes, old mine workings, just the thing for working up a decent thirst. Jolly good beer in barrels behind the bar, hearty platefuls of food accompanied by thick wedges of bread – and I’m always partial to a bit of bread. Interesting people, interesting smells and a nice fire in winter.

3#crownCROWN, CHURCHILL:  Like all the best pubs, this has fantastic walks on the doorstep – in this case to the top of Dolebury Warren, a great place for a run. I heard that it was called a warren because there were rabbits up there, but I haven’t seen any, more’s the pity! This is another proper country pub with barrels behind the bar – lots of them – and splendid food at lunchtime – big helpings too, which means that I don’t go hungry. All that running around builds up quite an appetite.

The view from Dolebury Warren - but not a rabbit to be seen!
The view from Dolebury Warren – but not a rabbit to be seen!

OAKHILL INN:  This is another great country pub, with lots of room to stretch out and wander around, and it’s kept by those nice people that run the Garrick’s Head and King William in Bath – both excellent dog pubs, although the Oakhill has the advantage of great walks nearby – some terrific woods for tearing about in and rooting out all sorts of odorous delights.  

Woodland walks near Oakhill
Woodland walks near Oakhill

5#INN AT FRESHFORDINN AT FRESHFORD:  Another top recommendation, and as it’s just down the road from Bath I’m becoming quite a regular here as well. Good dog biscuits, lots of people to make a fuss of me, and a fantastic field just across the road where I can go for a really good run.