Arkell’s and Wychwood’s Oxford pubs

Tony Goulding continues his story of breweries that have arrived in Oxford since about 1980

Until about 40 years ago the city was dominated by Morrells and Ind Coope with a small offering from Morland, Courage, Ushers etc. Arkell’s was founded in the 1840s in Kingsdown, near Swindon, and is still a small family-run business with at one time only 50 pubs. But in later years it has invested in pubs a little further afield with three in Oxford plus the Talbot, just down the road from Eynsham’s Toll Bridge.

In Jericho you will find the Rickety Press, formerly the Radcliffe Arms, acquired in 2000. At one time it was a Northampton Brewery house and is today run by the Dodo group while till owned by the brewery. Pizzas are a Dodo speciality and this pub can be very busy with good food in now trendy Jericho. Two cask ales are served alongside some Arkell’s craft keg and a couple of interesting bottles, the regular cask ales being Wiltshire Gold (3.7%) and the copper coloured 3B (4%).

Arkell’s Rickety Press in Jericho, one of three Oxford pubs run by Dodo

Crossing the city to Magdalen Road in East Oxford you will find sister pub the Rusty Bicycle, acquired by Arkell’s in 1995 and also run by Dodo. It was formerly the Eagle Tavern, a popular back street boozer in need of some care. The pub is, like the Rickety, very popular with good food in a quirky ambiance. On the bar can be up to four beers with some Craft Keg.

Up the Cowley Road at the junction with Between Towns Road you will find the Original Swan, which used to be very busy when run by Ind Coope with the car factory close by and with postal workers from the adjacent sorting office, now closed. Having sampled the delights of the two previous pubs, you may find the Original Swan is a big disappointment as it has offered no cask ale for years. Entrance is not through the front door but through the rear car park entrance, with a sports and heavy lager drinking scene.

I can remember serving Arkell’s beers one year at Great British Beer Festival, including a very lively Kingsdown Ale which was stronger than today’s drink. It also has pubs in nearby places including Chipping Norton, Woodstock and Wantage.

The name Hobgoblin is very well known especially for its advertising slogan, “What’s the matter, lager boy, afraid you might taste something?” The artwork on the road tankers taking the beer from Wychwood brewery in Witney to Burton-on-Trent for putting in barrels is superb, and I doubt any marketing will ever be better. Wychwood brews numerous beers in Witney, where in 1983 Paddy Glenny and another legend, Chris Moss, opened the Glenny Brewery. The brewery later moved to its present site and in 1992 started the Hobgoblin Inns chain.

On the Cowley Road the Ampney Cottage was renamed and revamped as the Hobgoblin, still trading today as the Cowley Retreat. The present day St Aldates Tavern was also given Hobgoblin branding, becoming the local CAMRA branch’s top watering hole run by the firmest landlady in town, Pam, assisted by the biggest barman, Andy, who kept a good pub with the cleanest toilets for miles.

St Aldates Tavern — a real ale favourite then as now

Only the oldest of us remember the Fair Rosamunde up on Elms Rise estate in Botley, which in 1993 was leased by Wychwood from Ind Coope for six months, until being purchased by Marston’s which closed it seven years later. The Cape of Good Hope was also for a short while a Wychwood house. On the opening night I was served by Chris Moss, who knew I would like a very nice pint of Black Witch stout. In the 1990s the Welsh Pony, later Euro Bar and now OXO bar, at the bottom of George Street, served Glenny or Witney bitter. A rather puzzling scene to me which I only really confirmed recently was the sale of Witney Bitter in about half a dozen Halls pubs, including the Eagle and Child.

A surprise to many will be where the Friar stood at the city end of Marston Road, the site being now a block of flats. This pub was leased by Wychwood for a couple of years in 1995, being run by the legendary Joe Ryan who is still about, cycling everywhere.

In 2006 the whole Wychwood company was acquired by Refresh which had risen from the ashes of Ushers. It disposed of the pubs to concentrate on brewing with, to its credit, the surprise purchase of the then closed Brakspear name and brewing vessels. Production continues to this day of Brakspear beers, alongside Hobgoblin and other Wychwood beers. By 2009 Marston’s was in supreme control of Wychwood, and Hobgoblin has lasted very well and will continue to do so.