Tony Goulding looks at how Fuller’s came to Oxford
Fuller, Smith and Turner started brewing at a site in Chiswick, west London over 300 years ago. By the 1840s it became Fuller’s with almost all the pubs being within the Greater London area, but in the late 1980s it began to acquire pubs within a 100-mile radius including the small number featured in this article, at the same time disposing of small London back street houses.
A sad time came in 2005 with the acquisition of Gales near Portsmouth, mainly for its pub estate, with the brewery closing a year later. The wonderful tasting Gales HSB (Horndean Special Bitter) keeps the name alive and is available throughout the estate.
Dark Star, a smallish brewery which had been brewing in Sussex since 2010, was acquired in 2018, and its beers are now widely available in Fuller’s pubs. The greatest shock came last year with the Japanese giant Asahi acquiring Fuller’s brewery, leaving just the pub estate in Fuller’s ownership.
Fuller’s arrived in Oxford in 1990 by acquiring the following three pubs from Ind Coope:
The Marsh Harrier has the feel of a basic back street boozer, efficiently run by Jimmy Hoaha, a very friendly landlord, for three years. The pub is very much of the local community with a popular music quiz on the first Monday of each month and a quiz every Sunday. Food is served 12-3pm and 6-9pm with very popular roasts on Sundays. The pub serves manly business customers, locals and students who enjoy the sun trap garden in summer. It’s unusual to see the word lavatories used these days! Beers on the bar were London Pride, Seafarers and a weekly guest ale.
The Harcourt Arms is another superb back street boozer that has been professionally run by Ian Stuart for four years. I doubt that there is another Fuller’s pub that does not serve food, as this is a rarity these days. Well
known for its good quality beer, conversation and music, this is a not-to-miss venue. Beers available were London Pride, Seafarers, Dark Star’s Hophead and two guest ales, Park Brewery’s Isabella Pale and Flack Manor Brewery’s Black Jack Porter.
The Butchers Arms is a very popular back street local hidden in Wilberforce Street, Headington. It has been very well run by Paul and Pippa Hitchcock for seven years, and all manner of charity events are held throughout the year. The audience of locals, academics and students give this pub a happy ambience. Quirky food is served until 9pm and the all-year-round garden is a plus point for this great pub. Beers on the night were London Pride, ESB and three unusual guest beers – Ossett Silver King Pale Ale, Castle Rock Crafty Flanker from Nottingham, and Salem Brew Co’s Dark Fruits Porter, brewed by Bateman in Lincolnshire.
Fuller’s most iconic pub in the city is the Bear Inn, taken over from Ind Coope in 2002. One of the city’s oldest and smallest pubs, it now thankfully has an outside terrace. This two-bar pub is world famous for its tie collection and has been very well run by James Vermede for 15 years. Every Tuesday there is a jazz evening from 8-11pm, beers served being London Pride, ESB, Gales HSB and Oliver’s Island, plus regular guest ale Shotover Scholar. Cider drinkers are not forgotten with Old Rosie.
The Head of the River is a cavernous Thames-side warehouse conversion, opened in 1977 and acquired by Fuller’s in 1994. It’s not been one of my favourite pubs, being too large and impersonal, but on my last visit I found very friendly and knowledgeable staff. It has a very busy outside terrace, guest rooms and very popular food served all day. On the bar were London Pride, Gales HSB, Swing Low (a Rugby themed beer) and Grove Glider Pale Ale, a recent Fuller’s addition. Also there was a very impressive line-up of 13 keg fonts.
The Talkhouse, formerly the George, at Stanton St John to the east of Oxford, was built in the early 18th century, Fuller’s taking over in 2006. It is primarily a food establishment and beers on the day were London Pride and Dark Star Hophead, and although not being served a Fuller’s seasonal ale may be available. There is a small bar area for drinkers but overall it is set out as a restaurant, with an open fire in the winter and lovely seating outside in the summer. There is also accommodation in the old stables which have been converted into en suite rooms.
The King’s Arms is a historic pub set in the beautiful village of Woodstock, built in the 17th century, with Fuller’s acquiring the hotel in 2017. At one time from the early 1940s Phipps and later Watneys ran the place, which later became a free house. This delightful hostelry serves food from 7-10am and 12-5pm, and it has 15 bedrooms. A King’s Palace package includes admission to the renowned Blenheim Palace, which is a very short walk away. On the day it was serving three ales: London Pride, Dark Star Hophead and Fresh Tracks. Also being served were two keg ales.
Another famous name that has arrived in Oxford through acquisition is Yorkshire brewery Sam Smith, which took on the Three Goats Heads in St Michael’s Street in 1987. This rare split level building serves just the one cask ale, Old Brewery Bitter, and good value food in a very comfortable ambiance. Sam Smith has a large pub estate in London.
Tony Goulding is Oxford CAMRA’s pub campaigns co-ordinator
Editor’s note: Some of the events mentioned here might not currently be happening, and it’s worth checking opening hours in advance of a visit.