How Young’s and Wadworth came to Oxford

Tony Goulding looks at how Young’s and Wadworth expanded outside their home areas

This is the second article informing you of those breweries that were newcomers to the city from about 1970 onwards, and I wonder what the scene will look like this time next year in 2022. Young’s, the superb family brewery from Wandsworth in London commanded by the legendary John Young, was firmly established in the capital having been founded in 1831. It was famous for the horse-drawn delivery of beer, with 20 Shire horses involved, around the many pubs within three to four miles of the brewery. It also delivered to the odd free house just outside what we know now as the M25, with the King’s Arms in Holywell Street serving Young’s Bitter in the mid-1980s, prior to becoming the first Young’s house in the area in 1991.

The King’s Arms, or KA, became a Young’s pub in 1991

The King’s Arms had the best selection of beers in the city, normally 10, when I came to live here in 1977, and it was a regular haunt of mine sometimes two nights a week. Once Young’s had acquired the lease from the Kyffin family the beers settled down to a choice of two Young’s beers, plus Young’s seasonals and a couple of guests, which continues to this day. In this pub a novel situation in the back bar, known as Don’s, was that it remained exclusive to men until ladies first arrived in 1974. The smaller bar off the Don’s bar was used as an office until 1995.

Next door was Blackwells Music Shop which became a Young’s house of that name in 2002. More of a smart Cafe Bar than a pub, this spacious house had a basement bar and only lasted till 2008. Another unusual venture was a former pound shop in George Street, to be opened in 2004 and named the Cock and Camel, again more of a trendy two-level eatery than a basic Young’s pub. This venture lasted only four years and closed in 2008 to become a Jamie Oliver Italian restaurant, which also closed three years ago.

My favourite Young’s pub started life for me as the Oranges and Lemons in St Clement’s Street, which had a legendary music scene from 1970. This Ind Coope house became Parker’s Wine Bar in 1984 until it was acquired by Young’s in 1994 and renamed the Angel and Greyhound, the name coming from the local water meadows which are themselves named after two ancient coaching inns that used to stable their horses there. Again Young’s made a very inviting refurbishment of the building, and as with the KA, the basic Young’s beer range was assisted by a simple increase in guests. At the turn of the century bottled beer bargains were four for £5, not bad for a pub!

The Angel & Greyhound name recalls two ancient coaching inns on High Street

In the years since, Young’s closed its brewery, in 2006, and in a joint venture with Charles Wells the Young’s beers have since been brewed in Bedford. In the last few years the 200-strong Young’s pub chain has slowly closed its back street boozers and moved into hotels and food. A scoop for Young’s will be its latest acquisition, the Eagle and Child in St Giles, formerly managed by M&B under the Nicholson’s brand. But you will not be sampling Young’s beers there for at least two years, the time it will take to refurbish and convert the pub to a hotel and bar.

Turning now to Wadworth, an old family brewery from Devizes in Wiltshire, this first arrived in the area when it acquired the Temple Bar in Temple Street as early as 1979, then its only pub in Oxford, which closed in 2010. But regular outlets for its beers included the King’s Arms, Corn Dolly off Cornmarket and St Michael’s Tavern (now the Three Goats Heads), the Golden Cross and old Schooner Inn off Cornmarket (now shops), the Royal Oak and the Prince of Wales in Iffley. Wadworth’s most popular beer, 6X, was also being served in most free houses, along with Marston’s Pedigree.

In the 1980s Wadworth embarked on an expansion plan, acquiring pubs much further out from its traditional heartland of Wiltshire. In 1984 it renovated the Victoria Arms in Old Marston and leased it from the Oxford Preservation Trust, serving the first pints in early 1986. A big surprise at the end of last year was the lease change to Butcombe Brewery from Somerset, another new name for the city. I first drank its bitter at the Great Western beer festival in Bristol, in 1980.

The riverside Victoria Arms in Old Marston, soon to be a Butcombe house

The Prince of Wales in Iffley followed into Wadworth ownership in 1989, and this used to be my regular watering hole on Thursday evenings – as a free house, it used to serve the first pints of Archer’s Village in the city. The White House, just over Folly Bridge on the Abingdon Road, was a Morrells house till 1990 when acquired by Wadworth. It had been renamed the Folly Bridge Inn, then the Folly from 1980 until 2017 when it reverted to the White House. The first pints of 6X were served in 1990, and the early years were a great success. But in the last few years the pub seemed to lose its way until closure in 2019, then good news saw Tap Social of Botley take on the challenge of revival, I can’t wait to visit hopefully in the spring.

The Anchor in North Oxford was acquired from Halls in 1991 and – a credit to Wadworth – it superbly refurbished the pub back to being a comfortable back street boozer, awarded top position by CAMRA as a reward. After a further pleasant refurbishment some five years ago the pub’s main bar has more of a plush cafe feel about it, whereas the small public bar still retains its original fittings from 1937. Wadworth has now announced a bit of a retrenchment back to its roots, reducing its pub estate by about 30 in the last 12 months, but the White Hart at Wytham is another local pub still in Wadworth ownership.

I have tried to be as accurate as I can, but if anybody has some updates for these articles please contact the editor. Next time, I will look at Arkells and Wychwood.