Oxford CAMRA recognises select band who have served at least 25 years
Andrew and Debbie Hall may hold the record as Oxford’s longest serving landlords having spent 40 years running the Rose & Crown, but several other landlords have notched up a quarter of a century including David and Jenny Rhymes at the Gardeners Arms, just across the street from the Rose & Crown, who retired in 2022 after just short of 30 years: see stories below.
Moving on to Witney there are two pubs to have benefited from such longevity, starting with the Angel Inn on Market Square. Steve and Diana Rose arrived at this pub in 1992 so have now done over 30 years, with their daughter Lynn now in day-to-day charge while another daughter, Dawn, runs the kitchen. The pub is a free house which sources its beers from the Marston’s stable, including regular ales Hobgoblin Gold and Brakspear’s Oxford Gold which are brewed just a couple of hundred yards away at Wychwood Brewery on Corn Street. Its house beer Angel Ale is in fact Banks’s Mild, and there is usually a guest ale too such as Chadlington’s Oxford Blue, or beers from Purity or Lister’s.
Steve and Diana met while he was working as a welder at RAF Brize Norton, and soon they were looking for a business to run together. The Angel was then a Courage house and it has changed hands several times since, the building now being owned by an independent property company.
“Under the terms of our lease we are responsible for everything and I could turn the pub into a butcher’s shop if I wanted,” joked Steve. “We have a good range of real ales, and although we used to have Hobgoblin Ruby, golden beers are now taking over. No-one really knows how old the pub is, but it certainly dates from the 1700s. We try to cater for everyone and have a tremendous range of customers.”
Major challenges faced in recent years have included the opening of a giant Wetherspoon pub just across the road – the Company of Weavers – and of course the Covid epidemic. But Wetherspoon did not have a major effect on other pubs in the town, and outside seating helped the Angel recover from Covid. It is one of three Good Beer Guide pubs in Witney, the others being the Eagle Tavern and Drummers Bar.
“The whole culture has changed recently, especially food, and we now sell lots of teas and coffees” added Lynn. “The biggest difference since Covid is that people go home earlier, but they come in earlier too. We have lost some customers but gained others, and have some great regulars who have been coming for years.”
The High Street in Witney is crowded with pubs, but at the Royal Oak the Semaine family – Dean, his mother Lesley, and daughter Sam – have been involved in Witney pubs since 1985 when the Butcher’s Arms in Corn Street – no longer a pub – was purchased. They ran it until 2004 but in 1999 bought the Royal Oak, a free house which sources its real ales from Greene King, which runs the Olde Cross Keys across the road. It clearly gets a good deal but as GK beers are so commonly available, CAMRA members might find this rather curious.
The Royal Oak’s forte is food with strong sales for breakfasts, lunches and teas, being open from 10am-7pm only from Tuesdays to Thursdays, with evening opening on Fridays and Saturdays only. The pub is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
Another pub little visited by CAMRA members is the Mason’s Arms in North Leigh, near Witney, but the one real ale it sells – Butcombe Original – was in excellent condition when we visited. Owner and landlord Martin Kearney – known as Matt – will mark 35 years at the pub in August this year, when Oxford CAMRA plans to call in with his Long Service Award. An Irishman who worked in the building trade in England and also ran a shop on Oxford’s Cowley Road, Matt is in fact a teetotaller! He bought the Mason’s as a free house, although it had been run previously by Bass Charrington and a long-gone Banbury brewery, Hunt Edmunds.
This is a very old pub, much extended to the rear, with some very loyal customers who, Matt admits, sometimes serve themselves. He reckons he has seen up to 20 tenants come and go at North Leigh’s other pub, the Woodman, during his time there.
“The Butcombe is very popular, but our biggest seller is Guinness which, I’m told, is the best this side of Dublin,” he adds. “The building dates back about 500 years and was originally a workhouse. Some say it still is!”
It also boasts a large garden with Aunt Sally, and in an outbuilding is a take-away food business open on Fridays and Saturdays trading as El Antojito, described as Mexican and Latin American fusion.
Moving on now to Kidlington, Gerry and Chris McGrath will be retiring from the King’s Arms later this year having run it for a total of 28 years. This free house and Good Beer Guide entry for 2023 serves an excellent and ever-changing range of real ales, good value food and a great choice of malt whiskies according to a regular, Oxford CAMRA chairman Tony Goulding.
The McGraths took over from another long-serving landlord, Dave Giles, as Tony explained: “They have been tenants at this former Halls pub since 1995 and have worked for Allied Breweries (Ind Coope), Punch Taverns and finally as a free house. The King’s Arms is owned by the Salter dynasty who purchased the business in 2012, to keep this great little locals’ asset out of the hands of greedy developers.
“Chris and Gerry met at the RAF base in Brize Norton, and he had joined up straight from school in his native Ireland. Gerry served in the RAF for 26 years reaching the rank of Flight Sergeant, and don’t us regulars know it! Chris was a local girl, and when Dave Giles moved on they decided they would like to run the pub. They will continue to live locally and we wish them well.”
Still to come are Long Service Awards for other landlords including Tim Bowring at the Plough in Wolvercote, so watch this space. And if you know of other landlords serving real ale in our branch area around Oxford, Witney and Abingdon, who have been there for at least 25 years, please let us know.