Pub/Bar of the Month
The Chequers, Little Gransden, UK
There must be something about running a pub that’s been in the same family for more than 60 years that makes you happy.
That’s what strikes me when Bob Mitchell (pictured right) beams his way from the behind the bar to shake my hand.
The genial atmosphere is infectious. I’m standing in one of the great country village pubs of England and the longer I’m here the broader the smile on my face becomes, too.
The Chequers at Little Gransden, between Biggleswade and Cambridge, is an unassuming local.
The reconstruction also saw the addition of a new bar, the first that you encounter as you enter from the car park at the side.
Catching the eye is a print entitled A Chequered Past, which depicts the pub’s family tree, showing the various brewers that have owned the premises over the centuries.
Researched by Bob himself, it reaches back as far as 1764, when the ruling brewery was Priory of St Neots. The branches then extend up to the present day, highlighting periods of ownership by brewers such as Phillips, Green’s and Whitbread.
The Chequers came into the Mitchell family hands in 1951, when Bob’s father, a demobbed RAF electrician from the nearby airbase, took over the tenancy. (His first year accounts are another framed feature.) He eventually bought the pub from Whitbread in 1970.
A step down from the first bar brings to you an inner sanctum, a snug just wide enough to slot in one table and a bench. This is where the locals hang out, warming themselves by another little coal fire and discussing the hot issues of the day across the hop-strewn bar with Bob and Wendy.
This is clearly the hub of the pub but there’s another room, too. Beyond sits a lounge, boxy and functional yet comfortable, with a fish tank to divert the eye and an ancient cash register perched on the edge of the bar.
His Son of Sid brewery – underlining again the pub’s cherished family connections – has been established nearly five years now, to the point where almost all the beers sold at The Chequers are brewed here.
Among the favourites with regulars are Muckcart Mild (after the pig muck truck that rumbles past every day), Delia’s Delight (Bob’s self-confessed ‘fetish’ with Delia Smith taken to a new level), and Back to Black (an anti-golden ale with a disturbing pictorial tribute to the late Amy Winehouse on the pumpclip).
As seen in the beer names, there’s an engaging sense of fun about Bob’s brewing exploits, an echo of the enjoyment clearly to be had when you are your own boss and can welcome friends into your home every day.
That’s something that big city pubs seldom have and that pub companies can’t buy. It’s a sense of freedom, without the nagging demands of an area manager or pressure from above to increase turnover.
If ever there was an example of how important the cheerfulness of the licensee is to the success of a pub, it’s there to be witnessed at The Chequers – a pub that makes people happy.