Welcome to South Oxfordshire CAMRA.
Pub of the Year
It's with great pleasure that we can announce that South Oxfordshire's 2015 POTY is the Plum Pudding, Milton. Jez and Mandy Hill bought this pub from Greene King at the end of 2013 (it was previously the Admiral Benbow) and quickly placed their stamp on it by serving four quality ales supported by a selection of good pub food. Some readers may remember Jez and Mandy from the days when they ran the Cherry Tree in Steventon, and made it a Good Beer Guide regular. They then went on to run another Good Beer Guide pub: the Blue Boar in Aldbourn, Wiltshire. Their successful model is now being applied to the Plum Pudding – a great, friendly pub with regular live music. There are two beer festivals a year: the first of 2015 is 24th and 25th April. Congratulations to Jez and Mandy, and best wishes for the next stage of the competition! (www.theplumpuddingmilton.co.uk)
Pub of the Season
On the subject of awards - four times a year the SOX Branch makes a Pub of the Season award. This often (though not always) recognises licensees who have been making an effort to improve pubs that previously may have been under-performing a bit. The Winter Pub of the Season is the Miller of Mansfield, Goring. This pub was taken over by Mary and Nick Galer about nine months ago. Mary was formerly the general manager at the Goose, Britwell Salome. (The Goose has since reverted to its original name of the Red Lion.) Nick was sous-chef when the Goose was awarded a Michelin star in 2009. Then for four years, Nick and Mary worked for Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck Group. Nick was head chef in the Crown at Bray, whilst Mary was a core part of the management team at the Hinds Head, Bray. Now we're fortunate to have them back in South Oxfordshire because the Miller has quickly gained a reputation for top-quality food and well-kept ales. In fact, the Branch Pub of the Season award comes only a couple of months after the Miller won third place in the restaurant category of the Best Thames Local awards. These are run by the River Thames Guide and were presented on board the luxury motor boat, the Edwardian, at Butler's Wharf in London. (http://millerofmansfield.com)
After an absence of 12 years, Brakspear's Old Ale (4.3% ABV) has made a welcome return. The beer is being brewed at Brakspear's micro-brewery in the Bull on Bell Street, Henley. The brewer there, Malcolm Mayo, made it after consulting Peter Scholey - previously head brewer at the original Brakspear Brewery in New Street, and who now runs his own successful enterprise Ridgeway Brewery (www.ridgewaybrewery.co.uk). The micro in the Bull marks the return of the Brakspear name to brewing in Henley. The New Street brewery was closed and redeveloped in 2002 and the pub estate was bought by the current owners, JT Davis. The most frequently seen Brakspear beers, (e.g. Bitter and Oxford Gold) are contract-brewed at Marston's plant in Witney. Old Ale has been on sale at the Bull, as well as at the Angel on the Bridge, Henley, the Reformation in Gallowstree Common, and the Perch and Pike, South Stoke.
West Berkshire Brewery is to raise £4m through the government's Enterprise Investment Scheme to build a new brewery with bottling, kegging and canning lines together with a new visitor centre and a shop. Like-for-like sales increased 17% in the six months to September 2014 and West Berkshire is expected to outgrow its current brewery at Yattendon within two years. It was started in Frilsham in 1995 by Dave and Helen Maggs, and only moved to its current site in 2011. The firm also plans to purchase its first freehold pub to serve as a showcase for its beers. Last year the company raised £1.23m through offering family, friends and real ale lovers the opportunity to become shareholders. The current share offer is open until 30th April: details can be found www.wbbrew.com/eis.
2015 marks West Berkshire's 20th anniversary and to they have gone into the archives and selected a dozen favourites for the monthly specials. First out of the bag are:
March: March Hare (4.3% ABV). First brewed in 2000.
April: Coolship (4% ABV). First brewed in 2006. (A coolship was the upper-most part of the older style of brewery and used for cooling and ventilation.)
May: Skiff (4.1% ABV). First brewed in 1996 for the then newly established Reading Beer Festival.
In October the Bird in Hand, Sonning Common, was taken over by Santino Busciglio and his partner Helen Catchpole. Santino, who was born in Sicily and moved to England as a baby, has more than 25 years' experience as a chef and has worked in a number of Michelin-starred restaurants in London. His particular claim to fame is that he has appeared on the BBC's Masterchef and also Ramsay's Best Restaurant on Channel 4 while he was working at the Mennula in Charlotte Street, London. Real ales are from Lodden and West Berkshire. (Phone 0118 972 1857.)
In the previous issue of SoxonAle we noted reports that the Prince of Wales, Didcot, was to be demolished as part of the Didcot Gateway development of the wide strip of land opposite the station. Since then the developers have held a consultative exhibition at Didcot Cornerstone and, indeed, the Prince doesn't appear anywhere. It is to be replaced by a six or seven storey hotel, with only a "bar" indicated as a replacement. This is a big disappointment. Didcot's population is expanding rapidly but its pub-base is not only shrinking but some of those that remain are in dire need of modernisation. Apparently a Harvester pub/restaurant is planned for the A34/A4130 interchange, but that's three miles out of town and Harvesters are not generally considered to be great places for real ale. Failure to replace the Prince with a proper pub would be a big mistake.
Remaining in Didcot, Punch Taverns has submitted a planning application to SODC for a convenience store in the gardens of the Wheatsheaf. The shop would be separate from the pub and only part of the land would be needed for it. A Punch Taverns spokesman said that they plan to spend £170,000 on to refurbishing and developing the pub early in 2015.
News Archive - Autumn 2014:
The SOX Branch makes a regular award of Pub of the Season - four times a year, in fact. At a recent Branch meeting the members voted for the King William IV, Ipsden, to be Summer Pub of the Season. Anyone who has been to the King William is immediately struck by two things. Firstly, it has one of the finest views from the pub garden that I, for one, have seen anywhere: this alone makes it a great destination pub, very popular with cyclists and walkers. Secondly, once inside you will see that the ale is dispensed straight from the barrel – quite unusual in pubs these days. The King William has been developing steadily under tenants Alan James and Nicky Cooper, who have been running the pub for 18 months now. Although it's their first pub, Wallingford-born Alan has worked as a chef for many years. So not surprisingly they are gaining a reputation for good food and quality ale. (www.kingwilliamipsden.co.uk)
Some more good news. Regular readers will be aware that the Bottle & Glass, Binfield Heath near Henley, has been under threat for some time after having been closed by Brakspear in July 2013. Max Tilney, a marketing manager who used to drink in the Bottle & Glass regularly, made tentative plans for a community purchase. But in a somewhat unexpected turn of events the pub has been bought from Brakspear by the Phillimore Estate. The Estate is run by the Phillimore family and is the biggest landowner in the area, holding 3,500 acres covering Dunsden, Binfield Heath, Sonning Eye and Shiplake. Lord Phillimore is a retired barrister with the title of the fifth Baron Phillimore. The estate plans to extend and refurbish the pub, hoping to submit a planning application within the next couple of months. (This is not entirely straightforward since the pub is in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is a Grade II listed building.) The pub will be let and it is anticipated that the new tenant will sell beer from the Loddon Brewery, which is brewed on the estate in nearby Dunsden.
Last year the Parish Council registered the pub as an Asset of Community Value (ACV) with South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC). This power was introduced in the 2011 Localism Act. A designated ACV cannot be sold immediately on the open market because first the local community has six months to come up with a suitable bid. This does not guarantee that a pub will be saved but puts a brake on over-eager developers and provides locals with the opportunity to preserve their amenities. The outcome here reflects well on both the Phillimore Estate and the Parish Council, and we look forward to seeing the Bottle & Glass back in business very soon.
And yet more good news. In the last edition of SoxonAle we said that the Greyhound, Whitchurch, looked to be in trouble and could be sold. Happily, this proved entirely incorrect because the pub has a new tenant, Ruan Keegan. Ruan's 38-year experience in the licensed trade is formidable. He started out as a 15-year old, helping in his brother's pub in Ireland. He came to England in 1978 and worked in the Hollybush in Hampstead before returning to Ireland to serve a four-year apprenticeship in bar and cellar management. Since then, among other things he has worked in a Bass house, managed an O'Neills and spent ten years running an Irish Bar in Amsterdam. More recently he has been part-owner of a Dublin pub. Ruan is busy building up trade in the Greyhound and now has three handpumps on the go - Black Sheep, Doombar plus a guest. It's good to see the Greyhound in such capable hands and the pub's future is looking bright – particularly since the long-closed Thames bridge between Whitchurch and Pangbourne is due to reopen at the end of September.
|Speaking of bridges, the one over the main railway from Paddington linking Didcot and South Moreton was closed last November as part of the work to electrify the line. It should have reopened in March but didn't, due to unspecified technical problems. In the last SoxonAle we compared this with the 1892 conversion of the entire line from broad to standard gauge, which took less than 48 hours! This obviously stung Network Rail into action because the bridge finally opened on 29th August. Good news for the people of South Moreton, and particularly the Crown which can now get back to normal. |
|The Barley Mow in Blewbury has been closed for a while but was recently bought by a local company, extensively refurbished and relaunched a couple of months ago as the Blueberry. One unusual feature (for a pub) is the new wood-fired pizza oven. Not surprisingly, the menu features a range of fresh pizza dishes which are available as takeaway. There is also a cafe and delicatessen – again, for eating in or takeaway. Up to four real ales are available. (www.blueberry-blewbury.co.uk) |
|The Bird in Hand, Sonning Common, has reopened after being closed for a couple of months. It has been bought by businessman Trevor Hunt and will be run by James Allen, previously duty manager at the Dew Drop Inn in Hurley.|
|The Unicorn, Kingwood Common, recently closed for two weeks for refurbishment and improvement. The kitchen has been refitted and doubled in size and the pub flooring and furnishing were replaced. The outside of the pub was redecorated using a £2000 hospitality award from the owner, Brakspear. |
|The Red Lion, Britwell Salome, has won a prestigious award for the quality of its food. The publicans' trade paper the Morning Advertiser named it best food pub in the South-East and London in the Great British Pub Awards. The pub is run by Eilidh Ferguson along with her partner and head chef Andrew Hill. In October, the pub was listed for the first time in the Michelin Guide and awarded a Bib Gourmand. Real ale is always available, notably West Berkshire's Mr Chubbs. (www.theredlionbritwellsalome.co.uk) |
|However, it's not looking good for the Sprat, Didcot. Wantage-based BJP Construction has submitted a planning application to demolish it and build houses on the site. Although a previous plan for housing was rejected earlier this year, the current signs seem to indicate that this time the application could succeed. If so, this will be a shame. Built in the latter part of the 19th century and originally the Railway Inn, the Sprat used to be a nice little pub. But years of neglect have left it in a sorry state and it would require a large investment to get it back into shape. |
|Another threatened pub that has featured in recent SoxonAles is the White Lion, in Crays Pond near Woodcote. The story so far is that brewers Greene King sold the White Lion last year. The new owner immediately started to convert it into a house, ripping out the bar and the kitchen. He also removed the window shutters and the climbing plant that decorated the building, leaving the pub looking very run-down. SODC was informed of the situation and he was told to stop the modifications and submit a planning application for permission to change the use of the building. This was done, and Crays Pond residents held a public meeting to decide what to do. Over 70 people attended the meeting and this resulted in a petition of more than 400 signatures being sent to SODC as well as over 60 formal objections. The result was that the owner failed to provide convincing evidence that the pub is unviable and in April the application was turned down. The refusal was followed by an enforcement notice issued in July, which gives the owner 12 months to cease living in the pub. He can, of course, re-open the pub or conduct a similar type of business from the site. He can also appeal or make another change of use application but any new evidence presented would need to be pretty convincing. The White Lion is also now a registered ACV so that should the current owner decide to sell up, the community will have the opportunity to buy it before it goes on general sale. |
|The Four Horseshoes, Checkendon, has been closed for some months. Recently the owner, Brakspear, submitted a planning application for change of use to partly convert the Grade II listed building to a post office, shop and cafe, with the remainder residential. The decision is expected sometime in October. |
Moving away from pub news - in July the SOX Branch fulfilled its traditional role at the Woodcote Rally by running the beer festival. This was the 51st Rally and CAMRA has supplied the beer since the late 70s. 2014 was another successful year: we sold around 7000 pints of ale, 900 pints of lager and over 1000 pints of cider. The proceeds are divided between the Woodcote charities and CAMRA's campaigning fund. So, a note for next year's diary: the 52nd Woodcote Rally will be held over the weekend 11th and 12th July 2015.
Each year CAMRA runs a nation-wide competition to find the UK's Pub of the Year, as voted for by CAMRA members. This starts off at branch level, and in the last SoxonAle we reported that the Bird in Hand, Henley, was the SOX Pub of the Year. The finalists in the Central Southern Region competition were:
- The Shoulder of Mutton, Wantage
- The Rising Sun, Berkhamsted
- The Five Bells, Wickham
The Five Bells came out on top and goes forward to the next stage of the competition.
|Finally, if you fancy an early-autumn beer festival then drop by the Plum Pudding, Milton, on 3rd and 4th October. There's live music too – see http://theplumpuddingmilton.co.uk for details. |
News Archive - Summer 2014:
Woodcote Beer Festival
The 'Festival of Ale' is held annually during the Woodcote Rally and is run and managed by South Oxfordshire CAMRA in conjunction with the Rally Organisers.
This year the event takes place on the 12th and 13th of July in the village of Woodcote about 8 miles north-west of Reading on the A4074 Reading to Oxford road.
Full details of the Rally can be found at www.woodcoterally.org.uk - Beer list and Tasting Notes.
South Oxfordshire CAMRA (SOX) presents five awards each year to pubs in our area. One is the Pub of the Year, which is the first stage of a selection process that culminates with the national award. This year we are pleased to announce the Bird in Hand Henley is Pub of the Year 2014 - congratulations again to Graham and Celia for attaining award.
(Incidentally, this year's top UK pub is the Swan with Two Necks in Pendleton, Lancashire.) The other four are seasonal awards that we present to recognise pubs that are making a real effort to provide the people of South Oxfordshire with great places to drink.
Pub of the Season
So last autumn we were pleased to make the Plough, Long Wittenham, Autumn Pub of the Season. The Plough is a lovely village pub with a spectacular long garden that backs onto with the Thames. Liam Carberry and his partner Kim took over the Plough last year and are really putting their personal stamp on it. Butcombe Bitter is the regular beer, plus two guest ales. And there's good eating to be had in the restaurant too.
Then we made the Town Arms, Wallingford, the Winter Pub of the Season. The Town Arms had fallen on hard times and was a possible candidate for closure. Luckily however, Paul Davies took it on and has turned it into a real success story. It's now a great town pub with two regular ales (West Berks Good Old Boy, and Loose Cannon Abingdon Bridge) plus three guests. The picture shows Paul with then SOX Branch Chairman Richard Starkey.
We recently made the Plum Pudding, Milton, the 2014 Spring Pub of the Season. Jez and Mandy Hill bought this pub from Greene King last year (it was previously the Admiral Benbow) and have already placed their stamp on it by serving four quality ales supported by a selection of good pub food. Some readers may remember Jez and Mandy from the days when they ran the Cherry Tree in Steventon. They went on to run another Good Beer Guide pub: the Blue Boar in Aldbourn, Wiltshire. Their successful model is now being applied to the Plum Pudding: they have already held their beer festival of the year, which is where the award was made.
Regional Club of the Year
SOX is one of the branches that form the Central Southern region of CAMRA. The regional organisation makes an annual Club of the Year award. This is open to members' clubs that allow entry on production of a CAMRA membership card or to anyone carrying a copy of the Good Beer Guide. We are pleased and proud to be able to say that Goring Social Club won this in 2013, having previously won it in 2011. It's a great achievement to be able to maintain such a high standard over a number of years. The picture shows Club steward David Dean receiving the award from CAMRA Regional Director Sandie Gill.
Rose and Crown, Henley. Brakspear closed this pub last August and sought planning permission from South Oxfordshire District Council to turn it into a six-bedroom house. To its credit, SODC voted unanimously to turn the application down. Brakspear has said it will appeal against the decision.
White Lion, Crays Pond. Well done, again, to SODC – the planning application to convert the White Lion to a house has also been turned down. The local residents have been fighting this very hard and have had their efforts rewarded. The fight isn't over yet – an appeal remains very much on the cards.
Queens Arms, Goring. Tesco intends to covert this pub into a convenience store, and it remains closed. Planning permission is not necessary for this, but is required for alterations to the frontage and signage. An application is currently being assessed.
Bottle and Glass, Binfield Heath. This closed in July 2013. Campaigners registered the Grade II-listed pub as an Asset of Community Value with SODC at the end of last year. Campaigner Max Tilney is running a community group which hopes to bid for the freehold. If successful, the most likely approach will be to incorporate the group as an industrial provident society for community benefit and acquire the freehold through share sales, donations, grants and loans.
Greyhound, Whitchurch. Punch Taverns has closed this pub and put it on the market at £475k.
Update 6/7/2014 - Good news! Now re-opened by an experienced publican under a long lease. Please visit and send us a report.
Four Horseshoes, Checkendon. This closed in October 2013 after going through a number of tenants in recent years. The owner, Brakspear, says it is looking at a number of options including a shop/post office and inevitably, homes.
News Archive - Spring 2014:
Publicans seem to move on more frequently than they used to, so it's a great pleasure to be able to report that Graham and Celia have notched up an impressive 20 years at the Bird in Hand, Henley. The Bird, of course, is a Good Beer Guide regular and a previous Branch Pub of the Year. To mark this milestone the SOX Branch presented Graham and Celia with a special achievement certificate.
Having spent the last few months under water, it's not easy to look back to last summer and remember that was actually a pretty good one. The Woodcote Rally had been rained-off in 2012. But in 2013 the weather gods compensated by giving us fantastic week-end and the SOX beer tent was a particularly popular place to be – note the clear blue sky and scorched grass in the picture! We almost ran out of beer by Saturday evening and our friends at West Berkshire Brewery had to deliver some emergency supplies on Sunday morning. Later in the year we presented the Woodcote Committee with a large cheque as our contribution towards their charity donations.
The Pack Saddle, Mapledurham, re-opened in December 2013 following a long closure for repair and refurbishment after the serious fire the previous February. Wadworth Brewery has relinquished the tenancy on this Mapledurham Estate-owned pub and it is now being run by local businessman Sean Valentine as a freehouse. There has also been a slight change to the name – it's now the Pack Saddle at Mapledurham. The pub retains its inviting and welcoming environment and the layout is essentially the same as previously, with the upper bar area serving four real ales including two locally-brewed Loddon ales; Sharps Doombar and Fullers London Pride are the other current offerings. A range of events are planned throughout the year for the large outdoor paddock area, including a beer and food festival.
The Admiral Benbow in Milton has been sold by Greene King. Happily, instead of immediately trying to turn it into a house or a mini-supermarket, the new owners have renamed it the Plum Pudding and are running it as a free-house. Even more happily the owners, Jez and Mandy, have a first-class track record in running Good Beer Guide pubs having previously had the Cherry Tree in Steventon and the Blue Boar in Aldbourne Wiltshire. The Plum Pudding's first beer festival will be on 4th and 5th April: at least 16 ales plus a range of ciders.
Good news too at the Sun, Hill Bottom near Whitchurch. The pub has been bought by local builder Richard Hazell who is running it as a free-house.
On the down-side, along with many other parts of the country we continue to experience pub closures. In our area these tend to be in villages – town pubs (mostly) seem to be able to keep going. In the last six months:
- The White Lion, Crays Pond, was closed by Greene King in August and sold. The new owner has submitted a planning application to turn it into a house and has already removed the kitchen and other interior fittings. The residents are fighting this vigorously, and at the time of writing are awaiting a decision from SODC.
- The Bottle and Glass, Binfield Heath, closed in July and has been put on the market by Brakspear for £475k. Max Tilney, who used to drink there, is trying to get enough financial backing from villagers to buy it for the community and manage it himself. The pub has been registered as an Asset of Community Value, and the villagers have until June to raise the cash.
- It could be the end of the line for the Sprat, Didcot. At the time of writing it's still open, but planning permission is being sought to demolish it and build seven houses.
- Pubs that are closed at present and being advertised for sale include: the Barley Mow, Blewbury, and the Crown, Nuffield. Hopefully we'll be able to report their reopening at some point. The Dog and Duck, Highmoor, has been closed and for sale for well over a year now and looks like a lost cause.
- The Queens Arms, Goring, is closed and Greene King has sold it. Tesco has been given an option to lease it and plans to convert it to a convenience store. This has attracted plenty of opposition in the town. A lot of pubs have been lost by this route because it doesn't require planning permission for change of use.