Back in 1962, David's late father had retired from the Civil Service and had decided, despite no background at all in the trade, to run a pub. At this time David was working in accountancy in London. The family had looked at several places before being pointed in the direction of a very run down country pub south of Cambridge in a small village called Newton. Despite the condition of the place, they immediately fell in love with it. Popping into the Parish Church, David's mother noticed stained glass windows commemorating someone called Hurrell, her maiden name, and this was taken as a good omen. David discovered that the Hurrell family still lived in Newton Manor so he paid them a visit to announce the family's intention to buy the pub. This was much welcomed but Mr Hurrell was aware that the Council also had plans to buy the building, with the intention of demolishing it to improve sight lines at the road intersection. The sale was therefore rushed through in record time so as to forestall such municipal architectural vandalism (this was the 1960s after all)
At this time, the pub had been owned by Flowers of Cheltenham who obtained it when taking over Greens of Luton, who in turn had bought it off the original owners, Phillips of Royston. The building itself dates back mostly to the 18th century and, back in the old days, the pub had been an example of a once common way to combine livelihoods by being part of a working farm. When the Shorts moved in (on 8 October 1962) the facilities were basic to say the least – a total, for instance, of one hot and two cold taps and two power points. The full value of the stock was £36! The plan-form was different in that there was a tiny snug to the left of the entrance and the rest of what is now the saloon was a beer store. The public on the right hasn't changed much, except that a proper bar counter has replaced a small hatch and the games room has been built beyond the fireplace. The loos, needless to say, were outside and utterly primitive.
The village had been well aware of the pub's precarious survival prospects so the Shorts arrived on a tidal wave of goodwill which has never abated – the Queen's Head remains an absolutely integral part of this small community. On the real ale front, Flowers Original Bitter was the inherited beer and David recalls it being an excellent pint. Then Flowers were bought up by Whitbread and, peeved by the presumptions of the Whitbread rep, David's father switched to Truman's Burton Bitter, another delicious beer. When Trumans fell to Ind Coope and the Burton brewery closed, an alternative had to be found and a customer recommended Adnams. David's father wrote to them, they sent him a free firkin and everyone loved the beer. However, getting it from Southwold in those days was quite a challenge. The Adnams dray went as far as Stowmarket where a wine merchant who the Shorts used took the beer to Newmarket. David collected it from there once a week. In due course, the Scotgrange agency was able to supply the ale and nowadays Adnams deliver direct. Despite being totally free of tie, David and Robert have no intention of selling anything other than Adnams. They have a great relationship with the brewery who, they say, provide wonderful service, and, most importantly, the regulars love the beers. We'll come back to this in the “pub today” article next time.
David reckons that the Queen's Head was one of the first pubs (as against inns) in the area to offer food, back in 1967 – when a bag of crisps was the most you could usually expect. This started by accident when David was in a hurry to go out and his mother brought him a bowl of soup to consume at the bar. A customer remarked that he'd love to be able to buy soup like that so his wish was granted. The soup gained a following as did the sandwiches which followed, and the simple menu has hardly changed since.
Something which has changed greatly since the 1960s is the presence of women in pubs. Back then they visited only on high days and holy days, always with their husbands and always dressed up to the nines. A woman in the public bar was virtually unheard of. Nowadays, the gender mix is nearer 50/50 and lots of women visit in groups or on their own.
However, a pub like the Queen's Head is more about all the things which haven't changed and hopefully never will. In our second article we'll turn to looking at the pub as it is today.