White House in Bladon aiming high

Community-owned pub sets its sights on Good Beer Guide

A pub which re-opened in October 2020 is going from strength to strength, despite the lockdown-enforced closures that were soon to come and the restricted trading conditions that all pubs faced until July of this year.

As the only pub in the affluent village of Bladon, near Woodstock, it always seemed odd that previous owner Greene King seemed lacking in the nous to make the White House successful. There was a real danger that the pub would be lost and the site converted into housing, but the local community rallied around and acquired it as the 10th community-owned pub in Oxfordshire. Situated on the main A4095 road through the village, it is making the most of its Sir Winston Churchill connections, as the wartime leader is buried in the churchyard across the road and apparently “learned to drink” in this very pub. A local historian relates how, in his latter years, Churchill was once seen sitting in his car outside the pub, gazing across at the church knowing it would be his final resting place.

Renowned though it might now be for its food, the White House has also built up a growing reputation among ale drinkers. It takes expertise to achieve that, but landlord Johnny Roberts is a CAMRA member and real ale enthusiast who developed the real ale scene at Wetherspoon’s Four Candles in Oxford before being recruited by the community group to run the Bladon pub. Three hand pumps were in operation during a recent visit, the choice being Finest Hour, its own-branded IPA from nearby Chadlington Brewery; 42 Pounder, by Loose Cannon; and a very tasty Adam Henson’s Rare Breed by Butcombe, a 3.8% Pale Ale named after the TV presenter and Gloucestershire farmer.

Johnny Roberts with a recent selection of quality real ales

Johnny expressed disappointment that he had not been considered for the 2022 Good Beer Guide, especially as – he added – some local pubs that are listed have cut back on what they offer. The White House, which is in North Oxfordshire CAMRA’s area, now offers three real ales and 16 keg lines including four local kegs and a strong presence by Camden Town brewery. Being a destination pub attracting people from afar, it also offers a 0.5% unfiltered lager called Lucky Saint.

“Real ale sales have been phenomenal, even in the hotter weather last summer,” said Johnny. “We are getting through five or six casks a week, and people are always looking for changing beers. People now realise that independent pubs are important, and are more conscious of where they drink and eat and where their produce comes from. The drop in real ale availability in Woodstock has worked to our advantage, as we are now number one in the area for real ale. We are drawing in many people from the Oxford area.”

At a time when many pubs are struggling to attract staff – especially qualified chefs, with some forced to close their kitchens at least temporarily – the White House appears to have struck gold. This year it appointed as head chef Bladon resident and MasterChef quarter finalist from 2017, Ben Bullen, who brings his own interpretation of quality pub food. Investment in the pub has already been substantial, including new garden and brand new and very bright toilets.

All looks set fair for the White House, and inclusion in a future edition of the Good Beer Guide would be just reward for Johnny’s hard work. We await developments with interest.