A whistle-stop history of breweries in Bath & Borders
The two recent openings of Brotherhood brewery in Westbury and Ralph’s Ruin at the Royal Oak in Twerton bring the total number of breweries currently in full-time or part-time production within Bath & Borders branch area to seventeen. The explosion of microbreweries across the whole area (across the whole country) is something that we would never have envisioned even as recently as five or six years ago, so perhaps now would be a good opportunity to share a brief history of the breweries that have graced the Bath & Borders area over the last 20 years.
It seems odd to reflect that the oldest brewery still going in our branch area now is Abbey Ales in Bath, which opened in 1997. (All the older establishments, Usher’s, Oakhill and Ash Vine, have all since closed.) Abbey Ales was soon followed by Milk Street in 1999, Wessex in 2001 and Blindman’s in 2002. Then came Box Steam in 2004, which started out in the wilds of north Wiltshire, before relocating to its current premises in Holt, whereupon it became operationally (I would think) the largest of our breweries. In the same year Westbury Ales opened in a tiny out-building at the Horse & Groom in Westbury, but closed after two years. Matthew’s opened in 2005 on an industrial estate in Timsbury. This is the brewery that was taken over by Glen Dawkins in 2010 and has since relocated to the Bristol area.
Plain Ales followed 2008, starting out small-scale in the village of Chitterne in the middle of Salisbury Plain, before expanding and relocating to an industrial estate near Sutton Veny, just south of Warminster. Next came Willy Good Ales at Hartley Farm, Winsley, to the north of Bradford-on-Avon, one of the first micros on our area to concentrate on bottled beer production, and which opened in 2010. Devilfish, which opened in 2011 in a cowshed on a farm near Hemington (not far from Tucker’s Grave) may well have had the shortest existence of any of our breweries, closing the following year, but its flame burned brightly while it lasted.
Since then there’s been an almost exponential increase in the number of breweries across our area. In 2012 Bath Ales opened the Graze Bar & Chophouse in a smart new development by Bath Spa station with a gleaming in-house brewery. The same model was followed in the following year when the James Street Brewery opened its Brewhouse at the Bath Brew House, whilst also in 2013 the Three Daggers was established in its own purpose-built brew house at the pub of the same name in Edington, north of Westbury. In the same year K&A started operations at Wessex Brewery and later moved out of area to its own premises at Melksham. Then in the following year Twisted Brewing started up on Westbury Trading Estate and has been flourishing ever since.
In 2015 Electric Bear began operation in an industrial unit on the west side of Bath, whilst 2016 saw the opening of three new brewing operations, the small scale, and rather secretive Silent Brewing, at an unknown location in in the Peasedown St John area, the more ambitious Kettlesmith in Bradford-on-Avon and the small-scale bottled beer producer Albion in Bath. Brotherhood and Ralph’s Ruin are the latest to join an increasingly long list. (But a slightly scary thought is there may be other breweries out there that have yet to come to our attention.)
There’s one brewery that I’ve yet to mention. It was in operation for only a year or so and I wonder if in anyone else can remember it. It was tiny but beautifully appointed and opened in an out-building at the Dove at Corton, south of Warminster, in 1996. It was called Wylye Valley Brewery.
News from the Bath pub scene
A new craft ale bar offering over 70 different types of beers and ciders has opened on London Road at the north end of Walcot Street in a former wedding shop. The owner of the Brewed Boy already has an outlet in Frome, which opened in April 2017. His new bar is attracting a great deal of interest.
The Centurion in Twerton is one of five post-war pubs nationally to have recently been granted listed protection based on research by Historic England. Built into a hill and dating from 1965 the Centurion, with its distinctively jutting first floor bar overlooking the valley below, has a large bronze sculpture of a Roman centurion on its external wall and a statue of Julius Caesar in the lobby. Like the other four listed pubs, it retains many of its original fittings, including the patterned Formica covering on the counter of one of its bars.
It’s all change at the Royal Oak at Widcombe. We were sad to learn of the departure of multi-award-winning landlord Trevor Brown, who has returned to the Chichester area, but local (and former) landlord Simon Wynne took over the pub on 14 July. A new range of real ales and food are being introduced from August.
Meanwhile the Beer Craft of Bath shop on Argyle Street has put in a planning application of change of use to allow for the provision of a permanent café and bar with outside seating.
Electric Bear brewery will be celebrating its third birthday on 8 September. They will be launching four new beers and having street food provided by JC’s Kitchen.
Seend pub under threat of permanent closure
The Bell at Seend is under threat of permanent closure. This handsome old roadside pub, standing on a crossroads on the A361 around midway between Trowbridge and Devizes, has been closed for at least a year. Owners Wadworth registered an application with Wiltshire Council to convert the Grade II listed Bell into a private residence on 14 June. The deadline for comments was 26 July.
Strode Arms at Cranmore closed
This Wadworth-owned pub in the village of Cranmore, midway between Frome and Shepton Mallet, closed recently. The future of this pub, situated near the main station of the East Somerset heritage railway, is uncertain.
News from Bradford-on-Avon
We have learned that the licensees at the Bear on Silver Street are moving on and the pub is being taken on by the people who run the Cinnamon Lounge restaurant in Trowbridge. The idea is still to run it as a pub with Indian and English food (but no pies).
News from Trowbridge
The excellent landlord of the Wiltshire Yeoman, a former farmhouse nestled in the 1980s Broadmead housing estate on the northern edge of Trowbridge, has had to leave the pub for family reasons. Fortunately new landlords were on hand to take over the pub at the end of June without it needing to close. On the other side of town the long-closed Crown Hotel is to be converted into apartments and flats after an application by Ellardine Developments was approved. The derelict building will be turned into five one-bedroom apartments and three studio flats. The Albany Palace, the town’s Wetherspoon, has been hosting monthly meet-the-brewer events. The guest beer range regularly features local breweries and it was these, namely Twisted Brewing, Flying Monk / Castle Combe, Prescott and Box Steam, who have featured in the first four events.
Update on the Royal Oak in Frome
An application made by the Save the Royal Oak group to register this community-style pub on the western edge of Frome has been approved by Mendip District Council. The current owner, who bought the currently closed pub from Wadworth, has informed Mendip of his intention to sell. The Save the Royal Oak group is considering community ownership and at the end of June were ready to express an interest in bidding for the pub and thus begin the six-month moratorium on selling whilst also contacting the Plunkett Foundation for an initial consultation to set up a community benefit society and begin a share offer.
Warminster, Westbury and Frome
The Organ Inn in central Warminster, the Bath & Borders branch Rural Pub of the Year for 2018, will be hosting its 11th annual beer festival on Friday 7 and Saturday 8 September. There should be a range of at least 15 locally sourced real ales and a large selection of ciders. This small-scale event is a gem and well worth a visit.
We were concerned to learn that the Bath Arms at Crockerton, south of Warminster, closed towards the end of July. The pub had been an outlet for the nearby Wessex brewery and a great place to eat. A combination of high rent, expensive repairs and a family illness made it not worth the risk of renewing the lease. The long-term future of this beautifully situated pub, just off the A350 and at the corner of a village nestled within woodland, remains uncertain. We understand that a multiple operator will taking on the pub to see if it is viable but as of the time of writing there was no sign that the Bath Arms would be opening any time soon. We do understand, however, that they will be sourcing their beer from the local Plain Ales brewery.
Back in Warminster town centre the Bath Arms, a Wetherspoon hotel, has started to host meet-the-brewer sessions. The first of these, held on 9 August, featured Twisted Brewing. A second is being tentatively planned for 13 September and pub manager Jack Caldwell is hoping to get Blindman’s along for that one.
In Frome there should (by mid-August) have been a change of management at the Artisan at the top of Catherine Hill. The pub closed in early July. Former landlords Mat and Gem had been unable to agree the terms of a long-term lease with owners Star Pubs & Bars and left the pub in early July.
A notice, spotted in the window in early August, announced that Artisan would ‘re-open at 11pm (sic) on Thursday [9 August] by Dorothy and her team’. At the beginning of August the Griffin, home of Milk Street beers, closed for ten days for a refurbishment.
We understand that the Mason’s Arms on Marston Road, on the southern edge of Frome, is undergoing something of a major revamp. A three-generation family are transforming the Mason’s back to a more ‘traditional-style’ pub. The pub now has three TV screens (where previously there was only one). They intend to bring back the pool table, dart board and quiz nights, and will be hosting live music nights. A local member who visited the pub in early August reported that the beer range consisted of Butcombe Original, Wadworth 6X and Sharp’s Doom Bar.
Frome claims to be home to the oldest and youngest pub landladies with the 96-year-old Freda Searles at the Lamb & Fountain, Frome’s oldest pub, and the 22-year-old Lucy Cooper who has taken over at the Three Swans in the town centre. Out of town things seem to happening at the White Hart at Corsley. This pub, situated on the main road between Warminster and Frome, was closed for many years before being refurbished and reopening for a brief period around a year or so ago, only to close once again. A local member has noticed that some smart new pub signs had been erected, from which it is evident that the pub is to be renamed the Longleat Tavern. There was no information about when the pub would reopen, nor was there any sign of work going on within, but the furniture and beer taps from the pub’s previous life would appear to be in situ. The pub has a large car park and is on the turn-off for the Longleat Safari Park, so the pub would be suitable to be developed as a roadside eatery.
Brotherhood Brewery, who have been in operation for just over a year, held their annual open day on Saturday 28 July at their brewhouse on Westbury Trading Estate. Free beer, free food and live music.
Finally the Horse & Groom in Westbury hosted its first summer beer festival back in July. The pub has previously held two Oktoberfests, in 2016 and 2017. (I’m hoping that holding a summer event won’t preclude its hosting a third Oktoberfest this autumn!) The two Westbury brewers, Twisted and Brotherhood, had beers there as did the nearby Plain Ales from just south of Warminster. The event turned out to be an ideal opportunity for people to meet the brewers who make their local beer. There was great food and live music and the one-day festival went through to 10pm.
Twisted Brewing update
The most recent addition to the Twisted Brewing real ale range was a special to celebrate the World Cup. Made available throughout the tournament Three Lions Ale was a 4% refreshing pale ale featuring a biscuit malt base layered with Chinook and Willamette hops. Meanwhile Twisted have recently launched a range of three beers in keg. These are all keg-conditioned, naturally hazy and unfined, so are vegan friendly. These include a keg version of the 3.8% WTF (3.8%), which is dominated by New Zealand hops; LOL, a hybrid Helles and Pilsner lager at 4.8%; and OMG, a strong ‘oranges, mango and grapefruit’ IPA at 5.8%. These come in 30-litre slim-line eco-kegs with a Sankey fitting. The containers are said to be fully recyclable. The beers will have round and oval shaped badges to distinguish them from the cask range.
New lease of life for the Norton Palladium
This former cinema in Midsomer Norton has undergon conversion into a new branch of J D Wetherspoon. The opening of the Electric Palladium, as it is now named, was in early September.
Full Moon at Rudge up for sale
The freehold of this large country inn, nestled in a rural area between Frome and Trowbridge, has gone on the market with an asking price of £420,000. The current landlord, Mark Hey, who also owns the Sheppey Inn at Lower Godney, to the south west of Wells, had acquired the Full Moon in December of last year but has now decided to sell in order to concentrate on other projects. We understand that the pub has been registered as an Asset of Community Value with Mendip District Council.