A rolling round-up of news from Oxford and surroundings
Crooked House, near Dudley
The fire that destroyed this “national treasure” of a pub in the West Midlands, swiftly followed by its demolition, has awakened memories of two Oxford pubs that burned down in what were then considered by some to be suspicious circumstances.
In July 2006 the King of Prussia, the only pub in Rose Hill, burned down in the early hours. The pub was closed and planning permission had already been obtained to build a store on the site, which is now a Co-op, and since then Rose Hill has no pub. In 2009 the derelict Fox and Hounds, on Abingdon Road, also burned down, with the Oxford Mail reporting at the time that a man was arrested on suspicion of arson but later released without charge. It was later demolished and a Tesco Express store now stands there.
The Crooked House was visited several times by Oxford CAMRA minibus trips to the Black Country, and featured on the cover of Issue 83 of the Oxford Drinker. What happened to it has caused a national outcry with petitions demanding that owners of the site should be made to rebuild it, after it emerged that firefighters had been blocked from attending by mounds of earth, and that demolition equipment had reportedly been seen nearby since before the fire. The former Banks’s pub, recently sold by Marston’s to a developer, was remarkable because of its crooked appearance, caused by subsidence.
CAMRA Chairman Nik Antona said: “The case of the Crooked House is a national tragedy, and we have now learnt that the full demolition of the building was not required following the safety inspection. The police and council must both act swiftly to investigate the fire and subsequent demolition of the building.
“Despite the Government granting full planning protection to pubs in 2017 – meaning that change of use or demolition requires planning permission – we continue to see developers flouting the rules with pubs routinely converted or demolished without that permission in place.”
Eagle and Child, Oxford
Closed since March 2020 when the first Covid lockdown took effect, this historic pub famous for its association with writers J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis is subject to a planning application to build a ground floor rear extension. This is seen as a positive step towards re-opening, after owner St John’s College gave up on plans to create a boutique hotel above it – a move which would have required massive investment by an incoming pub company.
Red Lion, Yarnton
This pub is currently the subject of an Asset of Community Value order giving villagers six months in which to put together a community buy-out bid, which comes to an end in October. An active campaign has been launched to save the pub, and 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. They hope to raise the asking price of over £500,000 plus a sum for renovations, with the help of a 50% government grant. In late August the campaign was the subject of news coverage by ITV Meridian’s Thames Valley edition, with the Plunkett Foundation (a charity that has so far supported 171 pubs in community ownership) also appearing.
Chequers, Headington Quarry
The private owner of this historic stone-built pub has applied to turn it into a residential building. In recent years the former public bar has been operating as a pub while the lounge bar has operated as an Indian restaurant, latterly as Monsoon and before that as Aziz.
The planning application form states: “Within the property the Chequers Inn as a business has been liquidated and the restaurant/takeaway is unable to generate enough profitable business to pay their rent.
“There have been a whole range of unprecedented social, political and economic factors that have impacted on pubs and put pressure on pubs including The Chequers Inn.
“The Chequers has struggled to keep up with changing demand and local competition due to its size and format. The business then came out of the pandemic with huge levels of debt, only to be faced with a further changed market in terms of attitudes and behaviours, including many people particularly the elderly still frightened to mix, and others simply establishing different patterns of leisure time use or less socialising outside the family unit.
“There is a huge staffing crisis across the country and locally as hospitality workers have chosen to move into roles less impacted by covid, including growing sectors like distribution/delivery, perhaps also offering more sociable hours.”
King’s Arms, Kidlington
Briefly closed for modernisation, this pub on The Moors is now under the management of Adam Manning, whose two five-year stints at the Red Lion in Kidlington gave him the experience and confidence to take it on. The two bars have been knocked into one brighter room, with Adam saying most locals now regard this as the right decision despite initial misgivings. A lounge bar with function space is being created in a historic stone building at the rear, which will open at weekends when food and live music are also planned.
The King’s Arms is a privately owned free house, but as Carlsberg Marston’s helped fit out the cellar, six of the eight keg lines sell their beers or partners. Four real ales are retained with Wainwright’s Gold and a Little Ox beer (such as Yabba Dabba Doo or Ox Blood) being regulars, plus local or national guest beers which were White Horse The Dons’ Dark Ale and Wriggly Monkey’s Charabanc ruby ale on a recent visit. It is open from 12-11pm every day.
Bull, Great Milton
One of the first Community-Owned pubs in Oxfordshire, situated off the A329 road near Thame, is now privately owned by a local resident and run by a landlady who previously worked at the Brewery Tap in Abingdon, Flora Noble. A refurbishment is planned and a return to offering more of a pub than a gastro-pub atmosphere.
Ben Jonson, Weston on the Green
This thatched pub in a village near Bicester re-opened in late July, having been bought at auction from Punch Taverns. 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.
Extraordinary Hare, West Hendred
This country pub on the A417 near Wantage closed in July at the end of a tenancy, leading to an outpouring of emotion from the people running the pub and their customers. Kate Hayden, who owns the business running the pub, took over in 2019 after the Hare, as it was then called, had been closed and derelict for four years. She blamed Covid, escalating energy costs and staff shortages for her decision to pull out. The pub is shown as to let on the Star Pubs and Bars website, with incoming costs of £16,300 and annual rent of £33,598.
Queen’s Head, Eynsham
This pub has re-opened after a brief closure, being a free house with no beer ties. Wye Valley’s Butty Bach, St Austell’s Tribute and Wadworth’s 6X were on offer during a recent visit.
Waggon and Horses, Culham
Closed since 2015, this old pub on the A415 road near Abingdon is subject to a planning application which would see it re-open with a small hotel built in the courtyard and establishment of an orchard.