Issue 45 — December 1999
on in our pubs?
Morrells have closed the Carpenters, revived the Bookbinders, and are now focusing on the Globe.
Sunday lunchtime on November 23 was a sad occasion for many Jericho residents as they said farewell to Mick and Sue Simmonds, the landlords at the Globe. In September the 'brewery' gave them notice that they would have to quit within weeks. The Simmonds were shocked by this - as were regulars at the pub who had known them not just as landlords but as friends who provided valuable community services, particularly through the weekly lunches Sue prepared for older people. Customers organized a petition but there was no response from the brewery.
The Simmonds initially refused to leave and when the Morrells beer ran out started to get their supplies from another brewery. But eventually, they came to an agreement and finally left Jericho for a flat at Donnington Bridge.
The problems at the Globe are another symptom of the £48-million takeover in 1998 of Morrells Brewery and its 132 pubs by a newly-created company - 'Morrells of Oxford'. Its main shareholder is multimillionaire Michael Cannon who made his fortune developing two other pub chains and now lives in the US where he also owns a hamburger chain called Fuddruckers.
The new Morrells promptly shut the loss-making brewery and started buying its beer from Greene King. But it claims that most of the pubs are 'in line for big investment'. The company made a bad start in Jericho last year, closing the cosy old Carpenters Arms which had operated in Nelson Street since 1870. The pub was considered 'unviable' and the building has now become two houses. On the other hand they did put a lot of money into the Bookbinders in Canal Street, whose formerly dull interior has been converted into an entertaining, if bizarre, theme pub - a cross between an 'Olde Englishe Inne' and a chaotic antique shop. Don't bother trying to liberate the casually-placed bric-a-brac - it's stuck down. Perhaps to create the illusion that this is a free house the pub seems to have no Morrells sign and offers a great selection of guest beers.
Morrells' new policy now seems to be to replace tenant landlords with managers. That way they keep more of the profits. But even the best manager finds it hard to create the same kind of atmosphere as a landlord.
The only remaining Morrells landlord in Jericho is now Noel O'Reilly who transformed the Prince of Wales into the highly successful Jude the Obscure which has also become a leading arts venue. This month Noel sponsored a striking exhibition of paintings of Oxford. Of Jericho's other pubs, the Harcourt Arms, maintains its pleasant, comfortable atmosphere. The Radcliffe Arms was up for sale earlier this year, but did not change hands. It continues to attract customers for its good, inexpensive food. The Philanderer and Firkin does have a new owner since Bass bought the Firkin chain. Maybe they could restore the historic name of the 'Jericho Tavern'. This and the other Walton Street pubs are less rowdy now that George Street offers alternatives for a lager-fuelled Saturday night.
After the Simmonds left the Globe, some regulars started to boycott it but they now seem to be drifting back. Thankfully it now seems that the pub is not to be closed, nor will it be a 'theme pub'. Instead it is to get a more modest refurbishment, with work due to start in the new year. Just as well. From 24 licensed premises at one point we are now down to six. We can't afford to lose any more.