Looking back – Hook Norton pub snippets – The Great Western Arms, Aynho

We are blessed with having many historic Hooky pubs so we set our resident historian and tour guide James Tobin the task of unearthing some of the more interesting stories that lie behind them. Here are his musings on the Great Western Arms, Aynho.

As its name suggests the Great Western Arms has a connection with the famous old Railway Company of the same name, but its history starts much earlier.


In 1790 the Oxford Canal opened linking Oxford with the South Midlands. Along its route Wharfs were built at key locations for the loading and unloading of cargoes. One such Wharf was built 1 mile west of Aynho village. The principle cargo carried was coal from the Warwickshire pits and Wharfs such as Aynho were the unloading point and store for distribution to the surrounding area. In 1793 some 4,100 tons of coal were handled at Aynho wharf.

Given the level of activity on the canal, it is perhaps no surprise that the canal company also built a public house on the site. The pub was named King Alfred’s Head.

In the 1850′s, competition to the Oxford Canal arrived with the coming of the Great Western Railway (GWR) line linking Rugby and Oxford. The GWR needed land for a Station and Goods yard and a deal was done with the canal company for a portion of their land which included the existing Pub. The King Alfred’s Head was eventually remodelled and renamed The Great Western Arms. The rail station opened in September 1850. The station master Thomas Gurney boarded at the pub until a stationmasters house was built.

With the Canal wharf and Railway stations established a small industrial centre came into being with coal merchants, a brickworks and cattle market by this time all thriving at the site.

According to the Kelly’s Directory of 1895, Richard Howe kept the Great Western and in addition to keeping the ‘Great Western Arms Hotel’, he was also a ‘goods agent for the GWR company, a coal, hay and straw merchant, and also provided conveyances meet all trains at Aynho station’.

The conveyances referred to was apparently a pony and trap, providing a ‘taxi’ service typically to and from the station typically to Aynho and Deddington.

By the late 1930′s Mrs Mildred Howe was the Landlady of the Great Western, with daughter Mary as barmaid. Mrs Howe also owned a cow, which she kept in a field nearby.

With the outbreak of WW2, evacuees were housed in rooms at the Hotel.

Up in the village, in Aynho House Park, a major War Department petrol storage base was established. Petrol in 4 gallon disposable cans was brought to the Aynho rail sidings, then unloaded onto lorries to be stored in huge ‘haystacks’ among the trees.

The Royal Army Service Corp provided the transport and the Pioneer Corp provided the Labour. All this activity was overseen by the traffic officers whose office was in the Pub. The soldiers working in the sidings were apparently not allowed in the pub but on hot days some would come round the back and drink water from the pump in the yard.

After the war, traffic on the Oxford Canal declined as motor and rail transport took over, then the Rail station closed in 1964. By the 1960′s a pleasure craft hire firm was established at the old coal wharf, this would signal a resurgence in the use of the canal for leisure purposes. In July 1970, the nearby lock at Nell Bridge had been used 519 times, giving an idea as to the popularity of this particular waterway.

A new age had begun from where it all started 170 years earlier, and still there to welcome all, was the Great Western Arms!

James Tobin.


Aynho – A Northamptonshire village – Nicholas Cooper.
Aynhoe Village Life – Dawn Griffis.
The Oxford Canal – Hugh J Compton.
www.aynho.org – Aynho village website.

Looking back – Hook Norton pub snippets. The Castle – Edgehill.


During the English Civil War, much of the activity took place in and around Oxfordshire due to the fact that the city of Oxford was the home base for King Charles. As it was common practice to temporarily billet soldiers in alehouses, pubs and inns, two of the pubs now owned by Hook Norton Brewery featured prominently in these events; The Reindeer in Banbury and The Castle Inn at Edgehill.

Also known as The Round Tower, or Radway Tower, the Castle Inn at Edgehill lies on the summit of Edgehill, some 700ft above sea level, overlooking the plain below which served as the backdrop for the first major battle of The English Civil War. The conflict occurred on Sunday the 23rd of October 1642 between Oliver Cromwell’s parliamentary troops led by the Earl of Essex and King Charles Royalists, led by Prince Rupert and Lord Wilmot. The two armies of approximately equal size; about 12,000 men, fought from early afternoon until nightfall, with neither side gaining a decisive victory.

The tower was built in 1742 by Sanderson Miller on the centenary of the battle and is said to mark the spot where King Charles raised the standard before the two sides clashed. The Tower; also known as the Radway or Round Tower was intended to replicate Guy’s Tower at nearby Warwick Castle.

In the bars of The Castle Inn, reminders of the Civil War years are plentiful – muskets, halberds, breastplates, maps and paintings adorn the walls.

Sitting in the garden with a pint of Hooky on a warm summer’s day, one would be hard pressed to find a better view than that presented over the plain below. The vista before us of course, takes in the site of the Battle of Edgehill as detailed above, but other things went on down there in later years.

Firstly, near the village of Radway there was an RAF Bombing range during World War Two. Trainee bomber crews from nearby airfields would carry out practice bombing on ground targets. Smoke bombs were used by day and flash bombs for night exercises. Results were plotted by ground personnel and details phoned back to the relevant RAF Station for analysis.

Then there is the vast Central Ammunition Depot, Kineton visible in the distance. Building commenced in 1941 and it became, and still is, the major MOD storage base for ammunition.

If we’d have been sitting there in 1943, we may well have witnessed the dawn of the Jet age for at nearby RAF Edgehill, the Gloster E28/39 ‘Whittle Jet’ was undergoing test flights.

What an interesting area!

Looking back – Hook Norton pub snippets – The Railway Hotel.

We are blessed with having many historic Hooky pubs so we set our resident historian and tour guide James Tobin the task of unearthing some of the more interesting stories that lie behind them. Here are his musings on the sadly now closed Railway Hotel.

The Banbury to Cheltenham Railway opened in 1887 and soon after the Railway Hotel was finished to provide accommodation, and of course refreshments, for rail travelers.


The business case for a hotel here was presumably based on likely requirements of those wishing to stay in the village in connection with the Brewery, and also the Ironstone quarries which by this time were beginning operations. It is thought that the Hotel offered accommodation in four guest rooms. The first host is listed as Thomas Prichard. By 1902 the Railway ran four passenger trains to Chipping Norton and four to Banbury.


Direct competition to the Railway arrived in 1919 in the form of the Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus company (Midland Red), albeit initially with just two buses per week.

By 1932 the Railway service had reduced to three trains each way per day, meanwhile the Midland Bus service gradually expanded their service and this was supplemented by a bus put on the same route by Harry Turnock a local operator. In a show of defeat perhaps the Great Western Railway began its own bus service from Hook Norton to Chipping Norton and Banbury!

The Second World War was to give the Railway, and the Hotel a boost with the increase in Rail traffic as well as Soldiers based in the village. With Rail passenger services being withdrawn in 1951, the Hotel was to then rely more on village custom.

The Hotel was a popular destination for a pleasurable summer Sunday evening stroll for the family. At one time a Bagatelle Room was one of the attractions provided, but for the family the draw was the Beer garden. How well I remember consuming bottles of Vimto to wash down the Smiths crisps complete with little blue bag of salt included!

By the early 1960′s the railway had closed completely and closure of the Railway Hotel followed in the 1970′s.    

Looking back – Hook Norton pub snippets – The Sun.

The Sun pub is located opposite St Peter’s church, Hook Norton in what used to be called Market Square. the_sun_inn_2014

According to local historian Margaret Dickins; “In the 16th century, Fairs and Markets were held here with stalls being built against the churchyard wall.

The Stocks and the Dungeon were close by for the control of the crowd, and the Fire Engine was conveniently near in the church tower” (1).   These sound like some pretty rowdy events!
With all this going on it would seem to be a good location for a pub, in fact there were to be 2 pubs in the square as we shall see.

The earliest Landlord of the Sun, according to the Brewery History Society, was Ann Bignell in 1778. Later, in 1885, Austin Hall became landlord. His Granddaughter Mrs Francis Smith recalled that as well as running the Pub he continued his coffin making business there. Apparently an adult coffin cost 16/- and child’s 8/-!

Fairs, markets and gatherings continue to this day of course, in what is now known as ‘The Sun Square’. The earliest photograph we have is shown below;


Next door to the Sun was apparently another pub called the Poleaxe, this burned down and was rebuilt as the Lion in 1830(?).

The Sun became part of the John Harris & Co tied Pub estate in 1891.

In the First World War there was listed a Prisoner of War camp housing around 40 men in Hook Norton. It appears this was located in a club room between the rear of the Lion and the Sun. This club room burned down in the 1940′s.

In the Second World War, due to the influx of Evacuees, additional accommodation was needed and the Sun club room was brought into use as a School classroom.

The Lion would eventually close and became incorporated in the Sun.

(1) History of Hook Norton 912-1928 – Margaret Dickins.

William Bradford – Father of the Ornamental Brewery

William Bradford – Father of the Ornamental Brewery  (1)

Driving up the narrow Brewery Lane in Hook Norton, we eventually get our first glimpse of the Brewery in all its splendour standing there bathed in the morning sunshine. Why does it look so attractive?

Brewery  Main

Well, it’s all down to the position, design and choice of materials and we’ve one person to thank for their application. That person was William Bradford – Architect (1845 to 1919).

In the 1890′s when it came to expanding the earlier Brewery (1872) Alban Clarke chose Bradford to enlarge the Hook Norton building. So really we should say that our wonderful Brewery we have today is all down to Alban Clarke!

William Bradford believed that 1) In terms of attractive Architecture, Breweries should rank alongside such structures as Churches and Public Buildings, and 2) He wished more licence was given to the architect to secure a building worthy in appearance of the important work to be carried on in it. (2).

With our Brewery I think he certainly achieved ’1′, and was allowed a considerable freedom over ’2′.

Its position is very pleasing; our eye is drawn into the structure from left to right. As we look more closely we see that the corner of the copper house is rounded off. Did Bradford want to avoid drays and carts banging the corner of his building perhaps? To set this off he included a carved stone feature at the top. Moving along we find a scroll over the Brewery entry door,


this would appear to be demonstrating his point about showing the importance of the building. Looking up from here we see two curved stone half circles, these seemingly take the plainness off this front facing wall. These are just some observations, the building is Grade II listed, and further details can be found on the Historic England site.

It is perhaps not surprising that the talented William Bradford was involved in some 70 brewery projects ranging from alterations to complete rebuilds.


(1)  British Breweries – an architectural history – Lynn Pearson.

(2)  Notes on Maltings and Breweries – William Bradford.

Looking back – Hook Norton pub snippets – The Gate Hangs High.

We are blessed with having many historic Hooky pubs so we set our resident historian and tour guide James Tobin the task of unearthing some of the more interesting stories that lie behind them.

His second visit was just up the road from Hook Norton Brewery, The Gate Hangs High.

The Gate Hangs High

The Pub as we now know it, was originally built for William Luckett as a Beerhouse and Farm in the 1830′s. The Beerhouse was in a prime position on the old West to East drover’s road, sometimes known as ‘The Welsh Road’ or ‘Banbury Way’. It became part of the John Harris & Co tied Pub estate in 1888 becoming known as The Gate Hangs High.

Why ‘The Gate Hangs High’?
Well, the pub sits at a crossroads. To the north is Sibford Ferris, South to Hook Norton, West to Whichford and East to Banbury. When the Beerhouse was built the Sibford road was gated and it is suggested that ‘The Gate’ part of the name comes from this. ‘Banbury Way’ was never Turnpiked so we can discount a Tollgate explanation. The ‘Hangs High’ part is thought to have been the way the gate was hung. As is known by walkers, a wide gate often sags making it scrape the ground and so hard to open and close. Apparently, the Sibford gate was mounted high enough up the gatepost to allow it to easily swing.

So, that’s ‘The Gate Hangs High’, what about ‘…and hinders none, refresh and pay and travel on’?
It is suggested that ‘Hinders none’ refers to the ease by which the gate opened and closed due to its mounting, and ‘Refresh and Pay’ can be simply explained as the farmer or traveler stopping and paying for refreshments. Located at the farm on site was a plunge sheep dip used by local farmers so this also would have provided a regular flow of customers.

In later years ‘The Gate’ would provide the ideal destination for a pleasant Sunday evening stroll from the village.

There was a reference to Highwayman activity along this ancient road but none associated with The Gate, unless one counts the case in April 1944 when P.C. Wright was asked to investigate the alleged theft of the pub till by locally based American soldiers!
Isn’t local history great?

Looking back – Hook Norton pub snippets.

We are blessed with having many historic Hooky pubs so we set our resident historian and tour guide James Tobin the task of unearthing some of the more interesting stories that lie behind them.

His first visit was to The Reindeer, Parsons Street, Banbury.

new reinedeer

Here’s what he discovered….

Dick Turpin

The Reindeer, Banbury is of course our oldest building dating from 1570 and although much is written of its history, there is little mention of the Dick Turpin connection. Owned by Hook Norton Brewery from 1904, it was during alterations to some paneling in 1912 that a double flintlock horse pistol was found. It was inlaid with gold and inscribed; ‘Presented to Dick Turpin at the White Bear Inn, Drury February 7, 1735′.

Did Dick Turpin hide it here?

This is not the only reference to Turpin possibly being in the area, for the respected historian Margaret Dickins in her ‘History of Hook Norton 1912-1928′ links the highwayman with the Fox and Hounds pub located where Turpin’s Lodge is today. The Fox and Hounds, like the Gate Hangs High, was located on the old drover’s road known as Banbury Way. It is suggested that there would have been rich pickings for a highwayman on this lonely road as farmers and drovers moved their animals along to and from Banbury market.

Interesting thoughts?

It’s been a long road, some twists and turns, but fun nearly all of the way

April 1st saw my completion of 25 years service at the Brewery, not including of course the holidays worked as a teenager, learning some of the ropes.  After just over a year spent on a pupillage at Randall’s Brewery in St Helier, Jersey, working under the legendary Paul Clubb, I started here with the remit of establishing in-house laboratory facilities; up til then we were outsourcing twice yearly micro audits.  Clearly room to invest in this core requirement of the business.  A small lab was established in the Brewers’ Office, which we soon out grew, and built a purpose designed facility in a redundant room in the old Brewery.  At the time our cold liquor storage tanks were open topped, we were still using open wort coolers, and CIP was an acronym we didn’t really use.  So a lot to get stuck into!

But of course the market was so different then, with a large amount of the cask beer offer, of just three beers, going into the tied estate, and pub going still very much the most important part of many people’s leisure time.  My how things have changed.  The creep of Sunday opening hours from noon til 2pm moving to 3pm, then all day opening.  It is hard to remember the days when the pub shut at 2pm, and didn’t open again until 6pm, or 7pm on a Sunday.  And smoking; it seems unbelievable to think smoking was so prevalent in pubs, and now you even feel a bit of a pariah when smoking outside a pub.  Sundays were Church, pub and lunch; simple days, but happy days, and generally much more family centric. But times change, and we need to change with them.

Similarly our beer range.  Mild, Best Bitter and Old Hooky, with the latter only featuring from HM The Queens’ Silver Jubilee. I can still remember when Mild was our biggest volume beer, most of it going to clubs in Coventry where grandfather had established supply arrangements in the 1930s.  1991 saw us add the first of the seasonal beers, a 5.5% Christmas Beer, using some chocolate malt.  We didn’t even have a name when we racked it, with the casks being simply labelled Christmas Beer, handwritten onto address labels and stuck onto the casks; Twelve Days was born.  The following year we brewed Haymaker, based on an original recipe, a Pale Ale, at the time relatively heavily hopped with English Goldings. 1996 saw us brew Double Stout, which had ceased brewing in 1917, when we exhausted our supplies of dark malts, due to energy restrictions of the First World War, having stopped malting here in 1915.  There followed a plethora of new beers as the consumer interest in beer grew, and in 2006 we even brewed with some US hops; we proudly proclaimed this was a first, until reviewing some of the old brewing ledgers one day, we discovered that in 1909 we were using hops from both Germany and the US, as there was a domestic shortage.  Interestingly, where English hops are used, the grower and year are proudly proclaimed; but for the overseas hops, it is merely an acknowledgement to the region where the hops were grown.  How this has changed too! The pilot plant we installed a couple of years ago brewed over 40 different beers last year, one of which has gone to full production.  And having avoided keg like the plague in the 1970s, we are currently investing in a new packaging facility……….

Distribution has always fascinated me, and another benefit of undertaking a pupillage in the Channel Islands was that the age for an HGV licence was 18, and the trucks were limited to 7 feet wide and 20 feet long, with an island speed limit of 30mph, so I returned to the mainland with an articulated lorry driving licence.  We were running a fleet of the ubiquitous Bedford TKs when I started here, these reliable trucks served our industry well for 30 years; but with the demise of Bedford, we moved to Volvos.  What a luxury, and something we possibly never thought would happen. Now we have a fleet of Scanias, but are looking at a fleet of smaller, more nimble trucks.  No longer are we delivering case upon case of returnable minerals, and the average drop size per pub has significantly fallen.  Back then, Firkins made up about 20% of our draught business, the balance being Kilderkins and Barrels; now 90% is firkins.

We have been able to invest in equipment to replace aging items, the wort mains were still copper and brass, the wort pumps were driven by the steam engine, with leather seals which had to be specially manufactured.  New coppers, mash tun, paraflow, racking line, FVs and racking tanks are in place, many pieces of kit as a fall out from brewery closures.

There has been an undying and very important consistency though, and that is people.  I have been fortunate to work with some great people, had knowledge passed down from Grandfather and father, and many members of staff over a long time.  And there can be no better experience than enjoying a pint, in a pub, and seeing other people enjoy a beer that you have played a part in brewing.  The future is exciting, there are many challenges, and the drinker is ever more discerning and demanding.  I look forward to the next 25? years, enjoying the positive health benefits of moderate beer consumption, though we did recently reminisce how the 14 units per week current recommendation used to be a decent lunchtime.  And with the pressure on hop supply, I am confident of a new beer style emerging, which could well be called something like best bitter.

And finally, just the one picture; who can guess what this is? Tweet to @hookybrewery, first correct answer gets a case of beer.

Blog Picture 4th May


The Joc is Back with a Bang

Bloxham School in the Barm Cellar bar. 

Last night, Hook Norton Brewery opened its doors to OBs and members of staff in homage to the Joc.

The Joc – or JCR – was a sixth form bar that overlooked the cricket field and later moved to the basement of the main school building, but closed around the turn of the century. It has since stayed just a memory often shared between OBs and long standing members of staff, until we decided to bring it back with the help of Hook Norton Brewery.

Simon Batten kick-started the proceedings by welcoming everyone to the venue, and alongside Col Stewart – former Joc Chairman and Housemaster for Crake and Raymond – read anecdotes from various OBs and a few words from Richard “Jock” Stuart. Thank you to everyone that came along, it was great to see so many familiar faces; here’s to the next one!

Batten Speech 2


The Barm Cellar bar is available to hire. For further information please call 01608 730384 or email brewery@hooky.co.uk

Refurbishment ups and downs

We’re really proud of all that Terence, Gemma and the team have done down at The Angel. Here are Gemma’s thoughts on going through the refurbishment process.

Front room

Refurbishment ups and downs

 The plan for this blog entry was to write it as soon as the dust had quite literally settled after our refurbishment at the beginning of November…..as you can see, the best laid deadlines very often go awry!

Ever since we have taken over at The Angel, we have had an idea in our minds of what needed to be done…it is a beautiful historic building, but refurb wise had not really been touched in at least 15 years, maybe 20, and when Hook Norton bought the building nearly 10 years ago, modern health and safety laws had seemingly passed it by!  Talking to people at Hooky one of the first tasks was to install emergency lighting and fire alarms just to make the building compliant.  And that really was the start of the ‘modern’ Angel’s journey.

We first went to The Angel as customers, before we even contacted Hooky, and we were full of ideas of what we could do to improve it.  These plans were quickly shelved once we realised the kitchen was just not capable of producing the quantity and type of food we wanted to.  Hooky put in a brand new extraction unit, and we bought new equipment, and just like that….our initial refurb budget disappeared!!  Developing our dream pub was not going to be a quick job!

The B&B rooms for guests were always a development area for us, but with no bookings in the diary when we took over it was not really an immediate priority, given the amount of work we had to develop the wet and food sales.  It is such a valuable additional revenue stream for pubs nowadays, but my goodness, customer expectations have risen!  With the rise of Travel Lodges and Premier Inns to name just two, that provide really good quality accommodation at rock bottom prices, the pressure is on to provide guests with something that really stands out.

So – rooms came next after the kitchen.  Our first work to do was to put new carpets throughout, and redecorate, and in 2014, Hooky installed brand new bathrooms and a new hot water system for us.  This really was getting to be essential work, as the antiquated plumbing system was not designed to service a whole pub, three letting rooms and a staff flat, let alone provide the high pressure, piping hot water that is expected as standard from guests nowadays.  The results were stunning, and made a real improvement.  The developments are still ongoing though – improvements to technology in the pipeline (TV/DVD, ipod docks, Nespresso machines…….), and the inevitable upgrades to beds/mattresses/linen as expectations soar ever higher.

In tandem with this, Hooky also gave the whole exterior of the pub a fresh look – with new signage, painting and general maintenance – luckily we are involved with a brewery who value their buildings and tenants and try and help you develop over the years.

So you can see, by the first week of November, just shy of our fourth anniversary…it had taken some while to get to the point of being able to turn the pub interior into what we had always envisaged!  The day to day running of a busy pub, plus the fact I had had a baby in the time elapsed since we took over (which depletes the brain cells at the best of times!), meant that what little creativity I ever possessed had all but disappeared.  So, we engaged the lovely Helen and Jane from JH Designs www.j-hdesigns.com who unlike many designers (who come in and charge an exorbitant fee just for the privilege of a glimpse into their ‘vision’, before taking off on their merry way), they worked with us, sourcing furniture, working with our selected tradesmen and listening to what we wanted.  Our brief was quite simple – we wanted to make more use of the small space we have (we are always turning people away because we can’t fit them in and as a business owner, that is heartbreaking!), we wanted our customers to be more comfortable, and we had an idea in our mind of what we wanted it to look like which somehow Helen and Jane managed to translate into what we would have done if either of us were creatively minded!

The 'before' image

The ‘before’ image

We gave ourselves a mere four days to complete this work (and some boring but necessary electrical work…..it always thrills tradesmen to suddenly have their power cut off!), as we didn’t want to miss the weekend trade.  We commissioned some new bench seating, made by the very talented Tom Buckingham Tom Buckingham Twitter and then it was all hands on deck.  On Friday morning, as our deliveries all started coming in, the look of amusement on the driver’s faces as we explained we would be open by 6pm was vaguely worrying…..as we and three waitresses spent about four hours on our hands and knees scrubbing the floors!  Anyway, we managed it…..we opened by 6pm!  Only the toilets weren’t completely decorated, but I could live with that, and we’ve been finishing the little bits since then, but overall we are just chuffed to bits.

New restaurant with the stairs opened up

New restaurant with the stairs opened up

New bench seating and lighting in the restaurant

New bench seating and lighting in the restaurant

We hope we have made The Angel a nicer place to be, which is what we are constantly trying to do.  Whether it is about extra cushions to make someone more comfortable or making sure the fire is always lit so it is nice and cosy.  Living in the area we do, there is a LOT of money floating around and many people can just close a pub and spend a million on it before reopening in a fanfare of congratulations…..which I won’t deny, sounds like a lot of fun.  The reality for most smaller businesses is that you have to fit in around your day to day business, so you can continue to grow.

A Brewer’s Musings