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Pub Visit - England

Oxford (Headington Quarry), Oxfordshire:
Masons Arms

Saturday 21st November 2015

Bob Thompson

Masons Arms1I must admit that as I approached the Masons Arms I could not help but admire this handsome pub. I thought the cream fascia with the pub name and the front door painted in post office red was particularly impressive. It is symmetrical with a common door at the centre of the building.

From the porch inside one can go left or right to what was once the Saloon and Public Bars. Inside the two have now been connected at the rear of the pub, providing us with a central bar.

Masons Arms2There has been a pub on the site since around 1760. It was wood-framed and had a thatched roof. It served the labourers and artisans of the many quarries in this area, hence its name. From these the stone was excavated and used to build the imposing buildings of Oxford’s universities. The present building was constructed sometime between 1902 and 1907.

I have researched its history a little and have found it recorded to have been built by Samuel Allsopp’s brewery of Burton-on-Trent.

In 1926 they took over Hall’s Oxford & West Brewery and their 300 pubs. The Masons Arms was then transferred to their estate. Allsopp’s merged with Ind Coope of Burton-on-Trent and Romford in 1934.

In 1961 Ind Coope & Allsopp’s became even larger as it merged with Ansell’s of Aston, Birmingham and Tetley-Walker of Leeds and Warrington. This megalith was known as Allied Breweries.

Masons Arms3In 1978 it merged with the food company J Lyons & Co to become Allied Lyons. The final merger was with Carlsberg to form a brewing company known as Carlsberg-Tetley, now Carlsberg UK.

With the coming of the Beer Orders in the early 1990s many pubs were sold to newly-created pub-owning companies. This set off a spate of pub sales, a number of them becoming free houses. When these companies found later that their estates were over-valued, more sales ensued. I believe it was around this time that the Mason’s Arms became a privately owned free house.

Masons Arms5It was purchased by the Meeson brothers (Matthew, Chris and Andrew) in 1997 and it is still in their hands. Considerable refurbishment has been made and we now have a comfortable, well decorated pub.

For the beer drinker probably the most important development was the creation of the Old Bog Brewery in January 2005. This is located in the former gent’s outside toilet, made redundant by a new one inside.

So, we now know how the rather unusual name came about. It is a one barrel (bbl) plant that was purchased from the Bitter End Brewery of Cockermouth, Cumbria. There is normally one example of house-brewed beer on the bar.

Masons Arms4The pub was very busy on the day I visited but I found a seat at a table underneath a nice wall painting of a horse-drawn dray of Old Bog beer outside the pub. There was another painting of the pub in a vernacular style. On the other side of the bar counter there was a dart board and I understand that many other games are played here, including the traditional Oxfordshire Aunt Sally There’s a decking platform at the rear of the building from where you can see the brewery.

There were five cask beers available when I called in: Grafton Brewery (Worksop, Nottinghamshire) Hales & Grafton 1861 (4.2%); Rebellion (Marlow, Buckinghamshire) Mutiny (4.5%); Timothy Taylor (Keighley, West Yorkshire) Boltmaker (4.0%); Dark Star (Partridge Green, West Sussex) Hophead (3.8%) and finally one from the in-house brewery: Old Bog Blonde n Bitter (4.2%).

There are many good reasons to visit this pub. Not least the fact that it has been Oxford CAMRA’s City Pub of the Year in 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2014. It hosts the Headington Beer Festival every year in early September.

Important Information:

Masons Arms, 2 Quarry School Place, Headington Quarry, Oxford OX3 8LH. Tel: 01865 764579

Hours: Monday: 19.00-23.00; Tuesday-Friday: 17.00-23.00; Saturday: 12.00-23.00; Sunday: 19.00-22.30.

This pub is about three miles from the city centre. Although it is in a built-up area it not easily accessible by public transport. Probably the best way to get there is go via city bus to Headington and walk.
The bus stop to use is Headington Gladstone Road. It is served by city buses 8, 9, 400 (P&R), U1 and U5X.
The pub is around fifteen minutes walk south of the stop and there are many different ways.
So it is important to have a map with you.

Oxford railway station is served by Great Western Railway from London Paddington and on to Worcester.
It is also on two routes of Cross Country Railways. One is from Bournemouth via Southampton and Reading. This then continues from Oxford to Birmingham and Manchester.
The other starts in Reading and after Oxford goes on to Birmingham, Derby, Sheffield, and Leeds.
It continues beyond to the North East of England and the East coast of Scotland to Aberdeen.
There is a Chiltern Railways service to and from London Marylebone via Bicester.