Rarely can the much used term ‘timeless classic’ be more appropriate than when describing the Harrow at Steep, Hampshire.
Beside a country lane, long since by-passed by the busy A3, it is the epitome of an English country pub that has stayed in the same family since 1929. There are two rooms. The public bar is part of the original building, over 600 years old and found to have been built using wattle and daub. Adjoining it is a Victorian ‘smoking room’ (below) with an external porch. In both rooms beer is served from a hatch.
After Whitbread acquired the pub from Strong’s of Romney they sought to knock the rooms through to incorporate indoor toilets. Ellen McCutcheon, the redoubtable landlady and mother of Claire and Nisa, the current owners, resisted. With the help of a petition from locals they won the day. Whitbread decided it wasn’t viable as it was so the family bought them out in 1991 and “have been left in peace ever since” as Claire put it. The outdoor toilets remain across a minor road.
Ellen took over from her father, Arthur. Her customers included Flossie, a pipe-smoking dog, and Bobby Birch, who wrote a column for the Daily Telegraph under the byline Mandrake. He lodged there and his usual mode of entry was apparently to climb through the windows. Claire described him as “England’s most married man”. Ellen served her mother’s recipes including a mighty pea and ham soup, that is still made by Nisa today.
Lonely Planet put the Harrow at Number 324 in their Top 500 ‘Ultimate Eatlist’ – not bad for an unchanging menu that is basically soup, sandwiches, mountainous ploughmen’s and a delicious treacle tart.
Ellen earned a substantial obituary in the Telegraph, a copy of which was given to me by Claire, along with other cuttings of historic interest. On our visit the Harrow had two local cask beers – on gravity of course – and a Meon cider. My Bowman Swift One was perfect.
The pub has a beautiful garden and the family sell flowers for a local palliative care charity. It is a special place, evidently cherished by locals, some of whom used to bring marrows and other vegetables to exchange for beer. And some of whom are no longer with us.
The Harrow ranks as a must visit pub. You won’t regret it.