Pubs Officer Tony Goulding describes pubs past and present in two parts of Oxford
With Oxford Drinker editor Dave Richardson, I will be out and about to update via Tony’s Travels the pub scene in our branch area, and we will also update the scene in some of the local towns and villages outside our branch. Today we start with two areas on the main bus routes out of the city.
A short walk towards the city brings you to another former Morrells house, the Berkshire, which has had many incarnations since its original name Berkshire House, including, more recently, the Crooked Pot, Home, and Hubble and Home. Until the local government reorganisation of 1974 this part of the city was in Berkshire, strange when you consider that the County Town of Oxfordshire is just across the Thames over Folly Bridge. The pub re-opened in December after several months of closure and is now run by the same people who run the AKI Port convenience store and adjacent café next door. Portuguese-born Aldonio Gois and his wife have been around for 25 years and have already revived the pub. No real ale will be served for the immediate future, with keg products including Sagres from Portugal and a new menu starting in January including Portuguese dishes. It’s good to see the pub open and thriving.
The Abingdon Road area of South Oxford has seen many changes over the years. Starting at the bottom of the road you can’t miss a Tesco convenience store on the site of former Morrells pub the Fox and Hounds, a large corner roadhouse. This was one of the first food pubs in the city and was also unusual, for a Morrells pub, in dispensing Draught Bass. Over a ten-year period up till about 2010 the Fox and Hounds became less popular, and in its dying days was not a nice place to visit. A fire finally put the pub out of its misery. Further towards the city centre on the opposite side is a popular local, the Duke of Monmouth, a splendid name which is much more interesting than, say, Scamps. This former Halls house was run for a short time run by Marston’s and is now well run by Greene King. The Duke was serving house beers IPA, Abbot, London Glory and Rocking Rudolf plus a guest, Wadworth’s 6X. The pub was serving good simple food – lots of it at weekends – and can be very busy with big screen sports, our editor watching Liverpool FC here.
The side streets off Abingdon Road, often called Grandpont or simply South Oxford, were once awash with back street locals. Down Vicarage Road alongside the Berkshire was the Edward VII, a former Halls house which can still be identified by the Halls Hare sign although it closed in 1991 to become a private house. Lake Street had two pubs including the very popular Seven Stars and the Crown, both now also private houses. The Grandpont Arms on Edith Street is another long gone back street pub.
We continue walking up Abingdon Road to arrive at the White House, a former Morrells and Wadworth house and also formerly the Folly Bridge Inn and the Folly. What a success, as Tap Social now runs the pub with two cask and 10 keg beers and ciders offered in a very comfortable sprawling bar and patio, popular with younger clientele. Quirky food is served, and on the night a tasty Quantock Brewery Wills Neck beer was on hand pump. An interesting selection of artwork on the walls is painted by serving prisoners, Tap having super principles of training persons released from prison to help them return to the workplace. As we cross Folly Bridge towards the city centre I recall another former back street community local, the Marlborough House in Western Road. This former 100-year-old Halls pub used to serve a very tasty pint of Ind Coope Burton Ale while you listened to one of the best jukeboxes in the city. It still looks very much like a pub, operating as a café/restaurant for the Ethos hotel across the road.
Moving on now to St Clement’s, as you wander over Magdalen Bridge you will notice at least two pubs fronting the roundabout, including the impressive looking Cape of Good Hope, or Cape as it is known to the predominantly student clientele. This former Morrells house has had several name changes in the recent past including It’s a Scream and, even more bizarrely, The Pub Oxford, both short-lived failures. Now well run by M&B, the Cape had four cask beers and some interesting kegs and bottles. Timothy Taylor Landlord and Sharp’s Doom Bar, the regular beers, were eclipsed by a Northern Monk beer, Eternal, along with Brew York’s X-Panda, a seasonal IPA. Music, I have no doubt, will soon be taking place in the upstairs function room.
Also on the roundabout is a night club with no cask beer that has been there for many years, latterly branded Be At One cocktail bar but closed since Covid hit. Almost next door is something far more interesting, the Half Moon, a former Halls and now Greene King house which was once one of the smallest pubs in the city, until extended in the 1990s into the former union office next door. On the bar the present cask beers are IPA and Timothy Taylor Landlord. The pub is recovering from Covid and the late tea time opening and early morning closing is slowly returning, with live music also returning in this predominantly late night venue. The legendary Joe Ryan ran this place at the turn of the century, and bouncers and a police presence were never necessary in Joe’s pubs.
A little further along St Clement’s is the Angel and Greyhound, a former Halls house which has been a Young’s pub for 30 years. Nicely refurbished in recent years with patios front and rear, this pub can be very busy. Named after the nearby water meadows, previous identities have been the Oranges and Lemons (after the nursery rhyme) and before that the Burton Ale Stores. A bit of a surprise was the complete lack of Young’s beers, as apparently Young’s had reduced brewing production in anticipation of another lockdown and then ran out of beer which was then sourced from wherever. Young’s loss was Loose Cannon’s gain with Abingdon Bridge, Gunners Gold and Detonator being served alongside St Austell’s Proper Job. Good food is always served here in very comfortable surroundings.
Opposite is the very old Black Horse, where no cask beer has been served for many years. Along St Clement’s is a former “real” Irish Bar from the 1960s till closure in the late 1990s, the Coach and Horses. It was closed and derelict for 10 years but is now a bed and breakfast – another lost Morrells house. Opposite is another lively pub, yes another former Morrells and now Greene King establishment, the Port Mahon. Unfortunately it has been closed for a short period of time due to trading conditions, but we do know it serves three real ales including IPA, Old Speckled Hen and Landlord. Across the road is the former Halls-owned Duke of Edinburgh, always known as the Duke, now Sri Lankan street food restaurant the Coconut Tree.
The last port of call around St Clement’s is always worth a visit, the Star in Rectory Road being a real student back street local. This free house can be very busy and noisy but l have always found good behaviour here. This former Ushers pub does not offer food but serves two good beers which on the night were Rebellion IPA and Titanic Plum Porter, along with a tasty Oxford Farmhouse cider. During lockdown and the days of outside drinking the huge rear garden was rediscovered, but the pub has been the subject of most unfair complaints from inconsiderate new neighbours. Yes, you have guessed it, the noise level has not changed in years. These people are not welcome in the vicinity and it should be legally binding to remember that the pub was there before them. Enjoy your wandering and drink cautiously!