Good Beer Guide Histories No 1: Bedfordshire

Let’s start at the alphabetical beginning of the Good Beer Guide with Bedfordshire. It may not have a coastline, towering peaks or dreamy lakes, and the tourist board may have a job selling its understated charms, but there’s enough for Tabitha Mary to create an appealing title picture.

With a population of 669,338 what is Bedfordshire best known for? This word cloud manages to fit in Chocolate Toothpaste and Ronnie Barker. No bricks though.

ABCprints.co.uk

314 different pubs in the county have featured in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide since 1974 of which 117 are now permanently closed, a disproportionately high (Guide) loss rate. The county town of Bedford provides 28 with Luton next highest on 26 followed by Leighton Buzzard on 20.

The Queen’s Head at Tebworth is the most capped with 40 appearances, listed from 1975-2014 but not since then. It was an 18th Century thatched pub that was demolished and rebuilt in 1926.

Whatpub.com

Toddington has lost 5 of its 8 entries including the marvellous Sow and Pigs, which featured in every Guide between 1974 and 2009, then twice more, 38 in total.

Bedsarchives

It had some eccentric landlords, one of whom refused to sell Abbot in thundery weather and another who doled out arbitrary bans that were forgotten the following day. Some of the customers were considered equally eccentric, including one observed wearing a brown paper bag with eyeholes over his head. The pub was bought, closed and sold by Greene King then converted to a dental practice.

The Nag’s Head in Station Road was a particularly prominent Wells house in the town.

Closedpubs.co.uk

The charming Cock at Broom was one of only three in the 1972 prototype then an ever-present from 1974-2005. Beer is served on gravity and it has a Northamptonshire skittles table. Perhaps the most characterful pub in the county.

Wikiwand.com

It would be remiss not to make reference to the Engineers Arms at Henlow, in my opinion the county’s pre-eminent beer pub, where everyday is a mini-beer festival. It has celebrated 25 years in the Good Beer Guide under the same landlord.

The fate of lost pubs is varied. The Anchor at Tempsford is now a swingers club called the Vanilla Alternative, perhaps not what the Stuart family had in mind when they built it in 1831.

Trust inns.co.uk

Beer in Bedfordshire has long been dominated by Charles Wells and Greene King but at least the latter was brewed in the county, at Biggleswade, until it was closed in 1997 and subsequently demolished. Unlike many, the area hasn’t seen a major microbrewery boom. The 2021 Guide lists only six in total: Wells, Banks and Taylor, Kelchner, Leighton Buzzard and two brewpubs.

But what it lacks in breweries it makes up for in unusual pastimes, as the 1981 Guide illustrated.

And darts, but not as we know it.

Dwyle-flonking, hole-in-the-ground darts and chocolate toothpaste. What more do you need?

14 thoughts on “Good Beer Guide Histories No 1: Bedfordshire

      1. I knew it was in that Toddington/Houghton Regis corridor but the Plough fooled me by being closed. I think the Plough (Fullers ?) was quite smart while the Queen’s Head was more rural in feel.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Great write up. If these are fun to write, I hope you keep doing them. Really interesting stuff. Funny that micros have not been opened in this area.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Guess the lack of micros in the area is associated with market access. Thanks Dave. The write ups are taking me longer as so many pubs have been listed in different places and counties, and I want it to be accurate. A few people are working on this! Lack of precise info in early guides a challenge and name changes are a nightmare in that context. Haven’t decided where next (any requests?) but don’t think I will be a slave to the alphabet.

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  2. I’m quite curious on greater Manchester, but would assume that is a massive undertaking. NorthYorkshire also of interest to me. I am curious what has changed more: country or urban.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The larger conurbations tend to need more cross-checking. Some of the post-industrial areas have suffered pub losses on a huge scale (50-60%) as work shifted away from manufacturing. Will find one I hope to be of interest.

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  3. “This word cloud manages to fit in Chocolate Toothpaste and Ronnie Barker. ”

    Two things that normally wouldn’t have any connection. 😉

    “a disproportionately high (Guide) loss rate. ”

    Indeed! 😦

    “which featured in every Guide between 1974 and 2009, then twice more, 38 in total.”

    I’m sensing a theme.

    “Some of the customers were considered equally eccentric, including one observed wearing a brown paper bag with eyeholes over his head.”

    That was probably so he couldn’t be banned on sight! 🙂

    “Perhaps the most characterful pub in the county.”

    Almost iconic.

    “It has celebrated 25 years in the Good Beer Guide under the same landlord.”

    Blimey, well done him. Would that be partly due to the local RAF site?

    “but at least the latter was brewed in the county, at Biggleswade, ”

    Sorry, have to giggle a bit at Biggleswade. All I can think of is Monty Python’s The Piranha Brothers. 🙂

    “But what it lacks in breweries it makes up for in unusual pastimes, as the 1981 Guide illustrated.”

    Crickey! And it’s Googleable!

    “hole-in-the-ground darts”

    I think that might be lawn darts?

    “and chocolate toothpaste.”

    Surely invented by a dentist. 😉

    “What more do you need?”

    Let me get back to you on that. 😉

    Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

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