Monday, 20 September 2021

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Rural pubs can thrive

Rural pubs can thrive

Sir, — In response to Brakspear chief executive Tom Davies’s reply to Nina W Evans’s letter (Standard, September 16) concerning The Crown at Nuffield and other Brakspear pubs left to become derelict, I thought it might interest him to know that I recently visited The Crown.

I was accompanied on the viewing by the estate agent appointed by Brakspear. What I saw was a damning example of a beautiful listed country house/pub that has been left to the inevitable wrecking ball with no doubt the expectation that the property will be levelled and an expensive house built in its place with the coffers filling Brakspear’s pockets.

At The Crown, there was no electricity, the kitchen was collapsing and the ceiling falling in. There were pigeons in the fireplace, broken windows — a total disaster. Uninhabitable in my opinion.

What would be the attraction for any potential landlord? Why has Brakspear not taken the appropriate steps to ensure that the building remains structurally sound and attractive to would-be tenants?

Mr Davies describes pubs such as The Crown, The Dog and Duck at Highmoor and The Four Horseshoes at Checkendon, which are all closed and falling into disrepair, as “yesteryear” pubs.

That description more than sounds like a convenient cop-out for him and Brakspear. They probably use that term when approaching South Oxfordshire District Council for the potential change of use from a pub to lucrative housing.

Country pubs do work. The Horns in Crazies Hill was closed for nearly a year but has bounced back and does a good trade. The Dew Drop at Hurley has just had an extensive refit. [They are both Brakspear pubs].

The Bottle and Glass in Binfield Heath (another failed Brakspear country pub) has been bought by the Phillimore Estate and is due to re-open.

Finally, how does Mr Davies describe the fiasco that is The Station House in Henley? Is that “yesteryear” too?

Before Brakspear got their hands on it, the Brewhouse (as it was previously called) was a vibrant pub selling great beers from local breweries. Now it is closed. So is the Rose and Crown on New Street with no sign of re-opening anytime soon.

All in all, a total shambles from a business that is steeped in the history of Henley. Can we have a response please, Mr Davies? — Yours faithfully,

James Lambert

Mill End

Rising to the pub challenge

Sir, — I write with reference to the comments by Nina W Evans and the response by Tom Davies, Brakspear’s chief executive.

I am a Checkendon resident and a supporter of local pubs and am very aware of their social importance to communities. I also worked in the brewing and drinks sector for much of my life.

Checkendon is admirably served by the Black Horse for beer drinkers but the Four Horseshoes is missed for other services, especially meals. It is quite understandable that Nina feels these sites are untidy and that Brakspear has a duty to maintain them.

Sadly, though, it may not be in Brakspear’s interests to do so. It is seeking planning permission for housing, which increases the sites’ value significantly, and allowing them to become unsightly can only help the company’s cause.

These days Brakspear is a property company which happens to sell beer, so its position is understandable to some extent.

In all probability, if planning permission does eventually materialise it will not be for the affordable housing the village needs but the more lucrative executive homes.That does nothing for the housing need — if you can afford a large house in Checkendon you can practically afford one anywhere in the UK.

Mr Davies says that these are pubs of yesteryear but why is that?

In my view it is because there has been no significant investment in the property to allow it to attract all discerning modern pub users.

We are in challenging times for pubs and suitable tenants are an issue and not easy to find but you have to give them the right property to work with.

Ironically, this has been achieved by Brakspear in Nina’s village of Stoke Row with the redevelopment of the Cherry Tree.

The independently owned Highwayman in Exlade Street is a huge success so it can be done in the area.

I, like others in Checkendon, applaud the planners’ stance on this.

If Brakspear is unwilling to invest, then the property should be offered to the market as a freehold pub before any further attempt to change the use is considered.

It has planning permission to be a café, shop and post office so it could, with suitable investment and vision, provide the village with facilities for all that the village has recently lost — a pub and a post office/shop. — Yours faithfully,

Richard Crane


Tom Davies, chief executive of Brakspear, responds: “Richard, thank you for the points you raise.“I do understand your frustrations but, as you say, Checkendon, a village with a population of only 500, has a great pub in the Black Horse while the Highwayman at Exlade Street is less than a mile away and, of course, the Cherry Tree and Crooked Billet at Stoke Row are a little over a mile away.

“If you extend this radius to two miles it brings in other excellent pubs such as the Rising Sun at Witheridge Hill, the Unicorn at Kingwood, the Reformation at Gallowstree Common and the King William at Hailey, to name only a few. Not bad for a rural village.

“Having consulted the village, we changed the use of the Four Horseshoes to a shop/post office to try to provide another service but unfortunately there has been little appetite from villagers or anybody else to run it.

“Given that the well-run post office and shop in the village only closed last year due to a lack of business this is hardly surprising.

“We are about to redouble our efforts to try to find an operator willing to take this venture on.

“Rural pubs are an emotive subject, which I understand, and it is difficult to keep everyone happy. “Please bear in mind we are a fifth generation family business and we want to remain a family business for many more generations to come.

“We’re in it for the long term but pub closures are a national issue, with 1,100 occuring from 2014 to 2015. The good news is this should make those able to stay open more viable. “It’s a tough industry and any decision to close a pub is never taken lightly, I assure you.

“Although we may disagree on the Four Horseshoes, I hope you can at least appreciate some of the many wonderful thriving and well-invested Brakspear pubs we all enjoy close to Checkendon.”

Enforcing Syrian peace

Sir, — The horrible mess in Syria and the resultant flight of refugees from the war zone indicates that in future a different approach will need to be taken that might actually work.

The Americans and their Allies, which include Britain of course, should identify a “safe zone” that they will occupy and protect against all external incursions and will establish peace under their direct control. Instance the so-called “rebel-held” area of Aleppo currently.The Russians and their Allies should do precisely the same, instance the so-called “Government-held” area of Aleppo.

These two steps, which could be implemented quite rapidly, would almost at a stroke establish a kind of peace and obviate the need for any further refugees to make desperate escapes from these two “safe zones” at least in the near to medium term.

The thorny matter of “where to from here” then becomes a UN responsibility to work at resolving but at least those discussions could take place without the grisly background that is so evident at the moment.

By the way, it’s in this kind of situation that offshore aircraft carriers could play a very meaningful role — where Britain is currently on its way to having two in service once again. Not a panacea, but perhaps a peace-enforcement strategy worth working up? — Yours faithfully,

Jim Munro

Blandy Road,


Losers should just shut up

Sir, — I note that the boy rulers, and would be rulers of the Conservative Party, backing up the equal losers of Labour and world politics, are wrong in their abuse of our splendid new Prime Minister Theresa May for having completely outswerved them and achieved the exalted and deserved role of premier.

In comparison, what a bunch of pathetic and wet losers they all are! Loads of boy rulers like Major, Kinnock and Clegg, even Hestletine, Blair, Cameron, Johnson and Osborne, with whom we are quite familiar, either through crass ignorance or sheer laziness have shown a “follow the sheep” mentality.

Fortunately, our new Prime Minister, is no “Bullingdon Wonder” and is an educated, wise, informed, cautious but optimistic leader along the lines of the Queen, for whom she once expressed admiration. Theresa has had the balls to keep her head and achieve victory in all that she has done.

So, you losers, and not one of you ever expected to lose to Brexit, why don’t you shut up and let our Prime Minister get on with her job, which you would love her to fail at but God will see her succeed.

I don’t expect gentlemanly behaviour from any of you but at least you might expect that the electorate will. If you’re such bad losers, as you clearly are, at least have the grace to concede the fact. — Yours faithfully,

David Silvester

Leader, Oxfordshire Independent Party,

Luker Avenue,


More advice, governor?

Sir, — Now that the Labour Party has set out its economic policies, I am wondering whether the governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney will consider it his duty to advise the British people of the economic consequences of voting Labour at the next general election? — Yours faithfully,

Tim Beechey-Newman

Gravel Hill,


Squirrel stole garden string

Sir, — Can anyone tell me what a squirrel would want to do with a piece of string?

After waking up on Saturday morning and coming down stairs to put the kettle on for my usual cup of coffee, I noticed a squirrel on the low wall outside our kitchen window.

I knew what he would be after and watched him carefully as he sniffed the box of apples which I had left out. Oh no, I was completely wrong. Earlier in the year I had tied up some very tall hollyhocks with some strong garden twine, the sort that is waxed so it will last longer.

I noticed the string was broken, maybe worn away, and was lying across the top of the wall. To my surprise, the squirrel gathered up the string, starting from one end, and with a zig-zag motion, gathered it carefully into a neat bunch into its mouth.

I watched while it made its way down from the wall and disappeared out of sight. I wanted to follow it and I did for a while along the driveway to the gates at the end of our drive.

I watched for another few moments while it made its way down our unmade road and disappeared into the next field (I was still in my dressing gown, so wanted to get back into the house for fear the neighbours would see me!).

A few months ago I watched another squirrel gathering leaves and, with a very full mouth, making its way to the very top of one of our conifers.

After a few moments, the process was repeated. Again and again and again, not pausing until the nest was completed. But please can someone tell me have you seen a squirrel using string when making a nest? This is surely strange behaviour. — Yours faithfully,

Sheila Ferris


Your reward is deserved

Sir, — Thank you very much to Philip (unknown surname) for contacting my grandparents and letting them know you found my grandfather’s bank card, which he left in the HSBC cash machine in Henley on Friday evening.

Sadly, he has Alzheimer’s disease and he was in such a muddle over losing his card the entire evening, he was truly delighted to have it back. I hope you enjoyed the box of biscuits that my granny thought you would enjoy as a token of our gratitude.

Thank you once again from the Villets and their granddaughter. — Yours faithfully,

Jennifer Reid

Ancastle Green,


Wrong kind of metre

Sir, — In last week’s edition of the Henley Standard you carried an advertisement from an estate agent in which a property in Hart Street was described with the phrase: “Meters from St Mary’s Church.”

Would that be gas, electricity or parking? And if the meters did come from the church, were they freely donated or purloined? I think we should be told. — Yours faithfully,

Martyn Read

Mount View Court,


P.S I won’t name the estate agent to spare their blushes. If it wasn’t their mistake, then perhaps a word with the advertising department?

Wife relaxing with her favourite read

Sir, — My wife loves the Henley Standard, so I thought you might be interested in this photograph, which was taken without her knowledge while she was engrossed in the paper.

My suggested caption is: “A warm September morning, a shady seat beside a favourite flower, a pot of coffee and, best of all, the Henley Standard!” Perhaps you could add: “Buy one every week, enjoy and be informed.”

My wife will have a surprise when she sees this. — Yours faithfully,



P.S. Re-examining at the picture, Aphrodite looks as though she is reading the paper too!

Thank you, my heroes, for saving Pluto from my locked car

Sir, — On the morning of September 14, before I was due to set up my show at the Old Fire Station Gallery in Henley, I nearly had a disaster with my dog Pluto.

After a walk by the river at Mill Lane, I put my handbag, car keys and Pluto in my car and shut the doors as usual. For some reason, all the doors locked!

I was parked in the Mill Lane car park. Various kind people tried to help. A young couple with a baby and two dogs were most supportive.

It was a very hot day and I knew I had to get the car open for the sake of my dog. Fortunately, I’d left the back window open about an inch.

Taking the advice of another woman who let me use her phone, I walked over to the Hofmann’s Aston Martin showroom in Newtown Road to ask if anyone there could help me.

Immediately, the man in charge at Hofmann’s recruited a young mechanic named Mitchell and the two of us drove to my locked car.

Mitchell tried using long pliers, wire, everything he could without resorting to using the hammer he’d brought.

He did his best but he was unable to reach the door handle. His arm was too big.

He then removed the rubber seal at the edge of the window opening to allow a bigger gap but still couldn’t reach the handle.

However, with the help of another man who held the window glass back a tiny bit, I could reach my arm inside to the handle.

It took the three of us working together. My dog was saved without breaking a window! Mitchell and the other stranger were my heroes!

What impressed me so much too was that the young couple with the baby and dogs stayed by the car, not wanting to leave my dog alone. They were so caring. I am always grateful for the kindness of strangers and more so now, especially in Henley.

Thanks to Mitchell, the young couple with the baby and the woman who loaned me her phone and advised that I go to get help, Pluto is well.

I didn’t even have to break a window and just sustained bruising on my arm.

I am so grateful and wanted to let all of Henley know, especially the strangers who helped, how much I appreciated their assistance in a difficult situation. — Yours faithfully,

Sharon Yamamoto

Lambridge Lane, Henley

P.S. I managed to calmly set up my show after this incident and it was very successful.

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