A rolling round-up of news from Oxford and surroundings
The only pub in this village near Abingdon, on the A415 road towards Witney, has been bought by Oak Taverns from Admiral. Closed last summer, the former Morland pub was the subject of a community buy-out bid, but villagers were knocked back when Vale of White Horse district council refused to grant an Asset of Community Value (ACV) order on the Crown, saying it needed evidence of community support for the pub in the years leading up to closure.
The Crown is now in good hands, however, and will hopefully re-open around the end of September. Oak Taverns has a track record of buying failing pubs and restoring them as traditional locals, while not serving food. Its most recent purchase before the Crown was the Sun Inn in Wheatley, now thriving again, and before that it acquired the Cross Keys in Wallingford from Brakspear. Some of its pubs welcome food vans at weekends – and there is room for them at the Crown – but the emphasis is on drinks and real ale has priority.
It operates the top real ale pub in various towns and villages around the county, including Thame (the Cross Keys), Bicester (the Angel), Faringdon (the Swan), Chinnor (the Red Lion) and Sutton Courtenay (the George). It also operates the Kings Arms in Wantage, voted Pub of the Year by CAMRA’s White Horse branch, and a few pubs in neighbouring counties.
Red Lion, Yarnton
Oak Taverns has also had a look at this long-closed pub, but it is currently the subject of an ACV giving villagers six months in which to put together a buy-out bid. An active campaign has been launched to save the pub, including a community fun day held recently, and the group has hired its own surveyor. Full details are on the Save the Red Lion Yarnton Facebook page organised by Leanne Charlett, whose parents ran the pub when she was a child. The Admiral Taverns-owned pub is the only one in the village centre, although the Turnpike pub is just outside on the A44 roundabout at the Cassington road junction.
The largest pub operator around Oxford has become the first major brewer to invest in the production of 4.5-gallon pins, which could mean a wider choice of real ales at its own pubs and tenanted houses. Half the size of the 9-gallon firkins used by most brewers, it will allow pubs to keep real ales on at times of lower demand, as they would need to serve only 12 pints a day, rather than 24, to keep the beer fresh.
Firkins still have a place in the cellar when operators have busier periods and are selling more cask beer, while pins can offer the option of a seasonal real ale and more variety without committing to double the volume. Greene King’s head of brewery engagement, John Malone, said: “We continue to invest and innovate within the cask beer sector and as such, are excited to launch pins. Pins will help us to address some of the key challenges that serving this unique product can bring and provide operators with support to serve our beers in perfect condition, while also maximising profits and minimising wastage.
“Simply, we believe that pins will provide three things: more choice, less waste and better quality, which is just what the category needs. Cask ale is part of our heritage and is the heart of any great pub, and we remain passionate in investing in the category for the future.”
The brewer will be rolling out cask pins to all managed, leased, tenanted and free trade customers this month with its seasonal Fresh Cask Releases. The first seasonal beers to be available in pins are Ale Fresco, a golden ale, and New Tricks, the latest collaboration with Nethergate brewery.
The Wolvercote, Wolvercote
This is the new name for the former Jacob’s Inn – and before that the Red Lion – in Wolvercote, on the northern edge of Oxford beside Port Meadow. The pub was closed for a few weeks as Marston’s looked for a new tenant, and needs some upgrade work to bring it up to scratch.
Jacob’s Inn was regarded as an up-market dining pub, but managers Johnny Pugsley and Damion Farah decided not to renew their agreement with Marston’s after 10 years as what it was offering was not viable. Jonathan Bailey and Lynn Norwood, who now run the pub, aim to create a more traditional atmosphere in the front bar with up to four real ales from the Marston’s range, the choice being Brakspear Oxford Gold and Ringwood Razorback on re-opening. The rear of the pub and extensive outside area are aimed at diners and open from breakfast onwards.
The couple, who ran a bar and restaurant in the Canary Islands for many years but returned after Covid, said a fresh start was needed after the Jacob’s era – hence the change of name. The Wolvercote is next to the Community-Owned and Good Beer Guide listed White Hart, while the Plough is in the other part of Wolvercote just off Woodstock Road in North Oxford.
Prince of Wales, Iffley
Closed for several months while owner Wadworth brewery sought new tenants, the pub re-opened in June and more recently has started offering meals again on certain days of the week. Landlords Mathew and Sage Dodds previously ran a restaurant in Faringdon, and expect renovation of the pub to start shortly. Other pubs in Iffley are the Tree Hotel and the Isis Farmhouse, the latter being situated beside the lock on the River Thames.
Ben Jonson, Weston on the Green
This thatched pub in a village near Bicester has been bought at auction having been closed for many months, and the sale price of £570,000 indicates that the Grade II listed building has been sold as a pub rather than as a private house, which would be much more valuable if allowed to be converted. Named after an English playwright and contemporary of Shakespeare, the pub caused controversy a few years ago when it was briefly renamed the Black Sheep.
Seven Stars, Marsh Baldon
This Community-Owned pub in a village south of Oxford has re-opened after a change of management. Freespirit, a small pub group which took over in 2021, has ended its time here and the management team of Namit Julka and Sunit Bansode, formerly at the Tree Hotel in Iffley, have taken over. Two real ales will normally be offered, Timothy Taylor Landlord plus a guest ale, recent choices having included XT-3 and Butcombe Original. The Seven Stars was unique in Oxfordshire being a Community-Owned pub operated by a small pub company rather than individual tenants, but Freespirit continues to run other pubs including the Castle at Edgehill and Sun Inn at Hook Norton, both near Banbury. There are no plans to introduce Indian meals, as at the Tree Hotel.
King’s Arms, Kidlington
This pub on The Moors has re-opened following the retirement of long serving couple Chris and Gerry McGrath. It is privately owned and rented as his own business to new landlord Adam Manning who started his licensed trade career at the Conway Inn in Aberdare, South Wales. Working in the Welsh Valleys, Soho in London and then two five-year forays at the Red Lion in Kidlington gave him the experience and confidence to take on the King’s Arms.
The two bars have been knocked into one brighter room, with a lick of cream paint and the rear function room being refurbished meaning a bit of a shock for regulars. Food and music will be offered in future. It is open from 12-11pm every day with Wainwright’s Gold as the regular beer, one national guest, one permanent Little Ox beer (recently Ox Blood) and a local guest such as a White Horse beer.
Royal Sun, Begbroke and Red Lion, Islip
Both these pubs are now run by Aziz, the well-known Indian restaurant formerly of Cowley Road, Oxford. A mixed menu of pub food and Asian specialities will be served, and they are open from 12-11pm every day. Timothy Taylor Landlord and St Austell Tribute are available at the Royal Sun and the same beers at the Red Lion, plus Sharp’s Doom Bar.