Welcome to South Oxfordshire CAMRA
The winner of South Oxfordshire CAMRA's Pub of the Year 2016 is announced
Each year, every CAMRA branch selects its Pub of the Year (POTY). This is the first stage in a lengthy competition where the winners progress through county and regional stages, with the select few going on to a final shoot-out at national level. It is left up to the individual branch how it selects its POTY. In the SOX Branch, discussion and agreement at a series of Branch meetings generates a short-list of five. The winner is decided by secret ballot open to all the Branch members. Like a number of other CAMRA branches, to keep things interesting SOX excludes the previous year’s winner from taking part. So the 2015 champ, the Plum Pudding in Milton, wasn’t included in this year.
South Oxfordshire’s 2016 POTY is the
Bird in Hand, Henley. This is a real testament to licensees Graham and Celia Steward who have now won the Branch
title for the fifth time and have been in the Good Beer Guide every year since 1996. In an era where running a pub seems to get ever tougher Graham and Celia have been in post for over 20 years and the SOX Branch has recognised this by presenting them with a long-service award in 2014.
It’s not always easy to say exactly why a pub seems so good, but somehow it all comes together and the whole thing works. The main points that branches should look out for are:
Quality of the beer. This is the most important single factor in judging a pub for a CAMRA award. The pub doesn’t need to sell a wide range of beers to score highly: a pub selling a couple of ales in tip-top condition is better than one selling seven or eight of variable quality.
Atmosphere/style/décor. This is partly about the “feel” of the interior – is it a nice place to be? Pubs certainly don’t have to be picture-postcard, unspoilt rural gems to score highly here. Estate pubs, modern city centre bars, back street boozers – all can be excellent in their own terms.
Service and welcome. Is the service prompt, efficient and friendly? Do you get full measure or a top up, without having to ask?
Clientele Mix. A good pub is one where anyone can go in and feel comfortable, whoever they are. If a pub, intentionally or unintentionally, operates in such a way as to exclude some sectors of the community then that counts against it for this competition.
Sympathy with CAMRA aims. Does the pub promote CAMRA’s values? Is cask beer given a positive push here? Is information offered about the ales sold?
Good value. This is about value for money but in the widest sense of the term; i.e. not just how cheap the ale is. So having made the effort to come here, having devoted some of your valuable time to the journey and spent hard-earned cash, how good a pub experience have you had?
Branch presents another award this month
On the subject of awards, four times a year the SOX Branch makes a Pub of the Season award. This often (though by no means always) recognises licensees who have been making an effort to improve pubs that previously may have been under-performing a bit. This certainly doesn’t apply to the Winter Pub of the Season: the
Dolphin, Wallingford, which already features in the Good Beer Guide. The Dolphin has been run by Brian Howard for 16 years now. For the first six years he ran it on behalf of someone else, then took sole command ten years ago. The Dolphin is a Greene King pub but has a generous guest beer policy. It also has its own brand ale, The Dolly. The photo shows Brian (left) receiving the award from SOX chairman David Cooper.
In the previous edition of SoxonAle we commented on the increasingly dire situation for pubs in Didcot. Didcot, let us not forget, is a prosperous rapidly-growing town with a population about to top 30,000. Two pubs were demolished last year to be replaced by housing, leaving only six still open. Now demolition of the very popular
Prince of Wales is a step closer.
In mid-February South Oxfordshire District Council's Planning Committee voted unanimously to approve outline planning permission for the proposed Didcot Gateway scheme. This will redevelop the area of land opposite Didcot Station as far as the old Labour Club, and including what used to be Julians Garage and car park. The area needs rejuvenation, but this proposal includes demolishing the Prince of Wales and replacing it with an eight-storey hotel. Campaigners, including the Save the Prince of Wales Group and SOX members, opposed the proposal. The Prince is popular with passengers and locals alike. It is also the last publicly-accessible piece of heritage connected with the railway, which led to Didcot's establishment as a town in the mid-nineteenth century. SOX Chairman David Cooper commented:
"It is very disappointing that despite many objections to demolishing the pub during the consultation on this scheme, not one committee member defended retention of the Prince of Wales, nor would they include a condition that a replacement pub be constructed as part of the development. The Prince of Wales could have been a distinctive centrepiece of the regeneration scheme, but instead it looks as though Didcot's Gateway will end up looking just like any other modern town. Didcot has only one pub per 5,000 residents, compared with a national average of one per 1,250. Two pubs in the town have been demolished in the past few months, so Didcot can ill-afford to lose any more and actually needs more to be built. Pubs are proven to be important for promoting community cohesion and vitality, but it appears that SODC is not concerned with such minor considerations."
Plough, Clifton Hamden, has a very long history as an inn, stretching back over 600 years. The current owner gradually stopped operating it as a pub so it now runs just as a small B&B. Then in early December he submitted an application to delicense it completely, i.e. it would no longer be a pub at all. The locals immediately organised to fight this and the planning application attracted a large number of comments opposing it. SODC’s decision is to be made at the end of March.
Queen’s Arms, Goring, is on the edge of town, near to the train station. It closed in 2013 after Tesco bought it from Greene King with the aim of turning it into an Express convenience store and has stood empty since then. Planning permission is not required for this conversion since pubs and shops are both classed as commercial use. However, Tesco does need planning permission for some of the building works it feels it needs. Recently Tesco applied to extend the building in order to create a 260m2 shop floor. Many Goring people have objected all along to Tesco’s plans: partly because of the loss of a pub, but there is also concern over the effect on existing businesses and the possibility that the town centre will be affected. A survey by Goring Gap Business Network showed local opinion was 40% for and 57% against.
Regular readers of SoxonAle will recall the long-running dispute over the
White Lion, Cray’s Pond. Briefly, Greene King sold the pub in 2013 to a businessman from Huddersfield who decided to turn it into a family home and set about ripping out the kitchen, two bars and ladies’ toilets. However, in his haste he neglected to obtain planning permission. A long and resolute campaign of opposition by the local people resulted in SODC turning down the planning application and giving the owner one year to stop using it as a house. The latest development is that, at the time of writing, the pub lease is being advertised for £35k per annum for a term of 15-20 years. Early days – but if it all works out well the village could soon get its pub back.
Brakspear is one of three shortlisted for the title of Best Brewing Pub Company of the Year. The award is open to pub operators across the UK and is run by leading industry magazine The Publican's Morning Advertiser. This is due to the success of Brakspear’s Bell Street Brewery which opened in 2013. The micro now produces Brakspear Special (4.3% ABV) throughout the year. Brakspear Old
(4.3% ABV) was brewed again during January after selling out last year. The winner will be announced in March.
Finally, three pubs in South Oxfordshire have been nominated as best places to eat along the River Thames.
Catherine Wheel, Goring, won the restaurant category of the 2015 Best Thames Local Awards.
- In third place for the second year running was the
Miller of Mansfield, Goring, which was also highly commended in the pub category.
The pubs were shortlisted after being nominated by customers and then winning a public vote. As an indication of how much of an achievement this is, the river between Oxford and London stretches for 200 miles and there are more than 1,800 pubs along it.