With the Brewery’s history itself stretching back to 1849, we are never short of links to historical tales here at Hook Norton. Of course, many of the Brewery’s pubs have histories that go much further back than the Victorian era – some of them relating to the English Civil Wars (1641 – 52).
Hook Norton Pubs and the English Civil War
During the English Civil War, the city of Oxford was the home base for King Charles, so much of the Civil War activity took place in and around the county of Oxfordshire. 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.
Both sides - the Roundheads (the Parliamentarians) and the Cavaliers (the Royalists) – used to billet their troops in alehouses, taverns and inns. As the progress of the war swung in favour of one side and then the other, an alehouse would change its name from say, the King's Head to the Nag's Head and back again.
The Castle Inn
Also known as The Round Tower, or Radway Tower, the Castle Inn lies on the summit of Edgehill, some 700ft above sea level. Building work on the eight-sided tower started in 1742 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Edgehill, opening in September 1750 on the anniversary of Oliver Cromwell's death.
The tower marks the spot where, on the afternoon of Sunday 23 October 1642, King Charles I raised his standard and summoned his officers about him to prepare for the first major battle of the English Civil War. In the bars of The Castle Inn, reminders of the Civil War years are plentiful - muskets, halberds, breastplates, maps and paintings adorn the walls.
The Reindeer Inn
The Reindeer Inn has one of the most interesting and unique histories of all of the pubs in the Hook Norton Brewery tied estate.
It is thought that the Reindeer probably became an inn sometime between 1564 and 1570.
By 1637, (five years before the start of the English Civil War) The Reindeer Inn was perhaps Banbury’s most important pub. At this time more rooms were built at the back of the Inn, including a room which became known as The Globe Room (although it is not circular). For some reason, this room was built in accordance with the most advanced taste of the time and would not have been out of place in the home of a great nobleman. Why it came to be in the parlour of an inn in a remote country town we can only imagine.
The Globe Room had a high ceiling and richly carved panelled walls with pillars, shields, scrolls and cherubs. Above the panelling was an ornamented frieze covered in a mixture of angels and scrolls. To surmount the whole room was a magnificent honeycomb-patterned plaster ceiling rich with flowers, urns and scrolls with mermaid like figures appearing at intervals. On the East side is a great mullioned window of eight bays, with a carved oak ionic pillar on each side of it and at either end of this wall are carved oak doorways.
It is believed to be very likely that the Globe Room was used regularly by Oliver Cromwell as his headquarters and more interestingly, as a court room to sit in judgment in one of the several Royalist trials that took place during the Civil War. We know this because of an engraving showing him seated behind a desk in front of the great mullioned window with an unfortunate captive in front of him. A copy of this engraving can be seen in the Globe Room.
It is also thought that Cromwell may have used Globe Room to plan one or both of the sieges of Banbury Castle that stood on the north side of the Market Place.
Hooky Pubs in the 19th Century - the pub as a brewery
Up until the middle of the 1800’s, many pub landlords not only sold beer from their pub, they also brewed their own beer. As commercial brewing operations grew however, pub landlords found it difficult to compete with the quality of beer the commercial brewers could produce and by the middle of the century, pubs that brewed their own beer were in decline.
Two pubs that did continue to brew their own beer show up in Hook Norton’s records - The Railway Inn and The Crown Inn, both in Droitwich, continued brewing their own beer for a while. This is known because the records at Hook Norton show that each pub ordered 3 consignments of 14 sacks of malt in 1884.
Pub ownership, a tied estate
John Harris, founder of Hook Norton Brewery, continued to supply local pubs that did not brew their own beer. Then in 1859 he purchased his first pub, or ale house as it was known, in Down End, Hook Norton. Ten years later the second pub, The Pear Tree (also in Hook Norton just below the brewery), was acquired for £260. This pub along with the ale house would be the beginning of the brewery's tied estate.
The 1890s was a period when breweries all over the country were rushing to add pubs to their list of tied houses and Hook Norton was no different. Between 1890 and 1907 the brewery’s pub count increased by 14 with 4 beerhouses.
Hooky Pubs in the 20th Century – attracting a wider audience
When, in 1925, another local brewery, Blencowe’s, was selling up, Hook Norton brewery was able to add a further 5 pubs to its estate, at a total cost of £3,175. This was a good price at a time when you could expect to pay considerably more for a pub. The Three Conies in Thorpe Mandeville was acquired in 1920 for £2,000, and two years later, the brewery was prepared to pay £3,300 for the Tower Inn pub at Edge Hill (now the Castle Inn).
During the 1950s and 1960s, government legislation for British pubs put breweries under pressure to upgrade their facilities. This was not just a question of changing the decoration, but rather more costly improvements. Proper toilet facilities were introduced for the first time in many pubs and bars were made brighter and more attractive to new customers including women!
Although expensive at the time these improvements to pubs represented an investment and the tied estate remains an enormously valuable asset to Hook Norton Brewery.
Hook Norton pubs today
Today the Hook Norton Brewery Company Ltd has a tied estate consisting of 40 pubs in and around Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and Gloucestershire and also supplies a large number of free trade accounts and wholesalers in the Midlands and nationally.