The Chequers, Goldhanger & the great English pub

I’ve eaten once at the Chequers in the lovely Essex village of Goldhanger. There is a wide-ranging menu, peppered with items made in their own kitchen alongside the usual pub fare, and its popularity is testament to the excellence of food and service there.  The offer my friend and I took advantage of on that occasion was as follows:

All the ‘2’s on Monday & Tuesday Evenings: 2 Meals & 2 Drinks for Only £22

Choose 2 meals from the following menu:-
Golden Whole Tail Scampi & Chips
The Chequers Famous Chilli
Wicks Manor Ham, Free Range Eggs & Chips
Our Steak & Stout Pie
Crispy Chicken Fillets with Lemon & Herb Butter
Somerset Brie & Beetroot Chutney Tart

AND

Choose 2 drinks from the following:-
Pint of Young’s Bitter
Pint of Carlsberg
175ml glass of Pinot Grigio
175ml glass of Tempranillo
Regular Draught Soft Drink

And I found their home-made steak pie to be excellent too.  However, the food is not why I’m writing on this occasion.  No, this is a blog about the glory of traditional British country pubs and why we should resist at all costs brewery makeovers that destroy such character.

The Chequers is a benchmark of all that is good in that respect. It is an authentic 14th century inn, situated near the Blackwater river and Heybridge basin, and next to the village church, not far from Maldon.  From the outside it looks delightful, covered in ivy (occasionally pruned back) and in summer festooned with hanging baskets.

Inside, the tiled floor, beamed walls and eccentric walls and doorways tell you in no uncertain terms this is a place with character, the sort money can’t buy.  You turn left from the hallway, up a step and out into a wide room used predominantly for dining, which is dominated by a picturesque bar in very ancient blackened wood.  The pub makes a point of serving an excellent variety of well-kept real ales from a number of small local artisan breweries, backed up by the fine Adnams beers from Southwold, very near my sister’s home in Wenhaston.

Various other rooms are tucked away, including a games room with traditional bar billiards, and a saloon with darts.  But my favourite is the cosy little lounge containing wooden pews and a couple of comfy chairs that have been around for no little while.  This room is equipped with many books, including quiz books my niece once used to host her version of Mastermind with the family.  The decor is astonishing, even if the ugly CRT TV and mini-hifi system could probably be retired, though I’d prefer them sitting there switched off than TV screens or piped music blaring from micro speakers on every wall.

But then the point about genuine pubs is that they evolve and acquire their character over a long period with odds and ends, not painted on by the yard according to what some interior design company or brewery exec believes to constitute the look of an old British pub.  This room contains a bizarre assortment, including weights and measures, antique primus ring burners, the rudder from an ancient fishing boat, a lobster pot and many other knick-knacks that you would not consciously gather together in a thousand years.

We should be celebrating the uniqueness of each of these pubs, the cultural heritage that brought them to where they are now, but this is something missed by big companies, the ones who feel such character can be mimicked.

Worse though – if a major brewery were to take over a pub like the Chequers, and it happens all the time, rather than preserving the place as is they would begin by stripping out the old rooms to open out the space as wide as possible.  Why?  Presumably to get as many tables in as possible and thereby maximise profits?  Take out the nooks and crannies and you lose the essential social ambience of the pub, that opportunity for people to talk in their own confined space, engage in pub activities or just drink by themselves or with friends.

Arguably the centrepiece of that room is a sign of the Friendly Brothers Benefit Society, denoting the service given by their senior committee members back to 6 June 1903.  The current secretary has apparently been in office since 1957!  In a world dominated by conglomerates and multi-national banking organisations, this might seem quaint and old-fashioned, but it illustrates the principle that pubs were in many case the village meeting-place, the place where local societies and traders and professionals went to join their colleagues and friends, to interact and share a drink or three.  If anything from pub culture needs to be preserved, it is this rather than the desire to squeeze every ounce of profit from such an establishment.

So I shall continue to frequent The Chequers, take friends and family for the occasional drink and meal, and to enjoy the atmosphere.  But more to the point, I shall take pleasure in helping to preserve the very best of English heritage, the country free house  Long may it last!

PS. See also this blog on the Great British Pub!

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