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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?