Pub victory but with a bitter taste

JPCT 030512 Sara and Clive Blunden at the Royal Oak, Rusper, receive CAMRA Pub of the Year award. Photo by Derek Martin
JPCT 030512 Sara and Clive Blunden at the Royal Oak, Rusper, receive CAMRA Pub of the Year award. Photo by Derek Martin

A RURAL pub near Horsham is celebrating winning a countywide prize for the second year running, despite falling out with local real ale drinkers.

Glasses were raised at the Royal Oak, Friday Street, Rusper, last Thursday as members of the CAMRA Sussex Bus to the Pub group elected the village hostelry as their favourite destination.

“We love it for the rural oasis that it is,” said group organiser and member of the Campaign for Real Ale Stuart Elms.

“It is everything a rural pub should be,” he continued, enthusing about the beer that just ‘can’t be bettered in the area’.

Stewart Hughes, a fellow CAMRA member and one of the dozen or so that made the bus trip last week agreed, declaring the pub the ‘best for miles around’. “I love it,” he said.

However, relations between the Royal Oak’s landlady and landlord, Sara and Clive Blunden, and the North Sussex CAMRA branch, distinct from the southern Bus to the Pub group, have soured in recent times, resulting in a complete breakdown of communications.

A sign outside the pub has even barred North Sussex CAMRA members from entering the premises.

Sara, who at 53 admits to being an outspoken person who prefers people to say what they mean, believes public remarks she made about the North Sussex branch advertising cheap supermarket ale on its website started the sorry saga.

Since then the pub has had its LocALE status withdrawn - a CAMRA scheme designed to ensure local ale is easily identifiable at the bar - and the landlady fears her pub will not be featured in September’s Good Beer Guide. Both are moderated by her local CAMRA branch.

The former gardener, who has run the Royal Oak for nearly six years, told the County Times: “For the first two or three years we did very well with CAMRA Awards, but then I had the audacity to criticise them for advertising cheap beer at Tesco’s on their website and sadly one or two people took it personally and they don’t like me any more.”

Despite Sara’s assertions, the North Sussex CAMRA chairman denied the breakdown in communication was personal in any way, and said the pub had lost its LocALE status because it had not abided with the scheme’s regulations - pump clips and posters were not properly displayed.

“Accreditation will be re-instated if the licensee chooses to accept the accreditation conditions,” confirmed branch chairman Allen Bartram.

However, beyond this clarification the influential Horsham-based beer enthusiast preferred not to comment, except for making reference to ‘unreasonable comments’ made on the pub’s website which his branch had ‘deliberately chosen not to respond to’.

The Royal Oak’s website - www.theroyaloakrusper.co.uk - hosts a Soapbox facility which over time has not helped to dampen spirits.

The public spat is an unfortunate stain on a near perfect country pub which serves only real ale, as well as fine ciders, but certainly no lager and boasts a convivially cosy bar, snug and pool table.

On April 21 the Royal Oak raised £2,145 for St Catherine’s Hospice with its annual pantomime horse race, and Sara and Clive are looking forward to their first ever beer festival over the Jubilee weekend when Friday Street outside the pub will be closed for a street party.

In response to the above article published in last week’s County Times (WSCT 10/3/12), Rex Gibbons from the North Sussex CAMRA branch wrote the following letter for to the editor, to be published this Thursday:

The Royal Oak, Friday Street, Rusper

With reference to the article in last week’s paper CAMRA reluctantly now sees that a reply and clarification of the matter appertaining to the perceived disagreement with The Royal Oak is now needed.

This matter did indeed start with the mention of a cheap beer at Tesco’s. This one little item was published under our old website pages for ‘Market News’. This item was just one of some hundreds that were published under that title. There was also a page called ‘Pub News’ – solely for pubs. The sole reason for ’Market News’ was to appraise the public on happenings in the market place whether it be supermarkets, pub companies, government, or whatever! Shortly after, the item was deleted against the webmaster’s better judgement. There were other controversial items but this particular one was picked up by the landlady and has fed her antagonism against CAMRA since then! The item was published in January 2011 and we feel The Royal Oak’s landlady is a tad over the top to pursue this for eternity! I, myself do not believe supermarkets should retail alcohol at all – this was just market news.

Since then we have seen adverse comments about CAMRA appearing on the pubs ‘soapbox’ and some uninformed silly comments that those types of publications elicit. There are some that the landlady herself has deleted. We have never lowered ourselves to make comment.

It appears that all CAMRA initiatives are ripe for criticism and this from a pub that we promoted to Runner Up for the National Finals of the ‘Pub of the Year’ on two occasions.

Specifically, LocAle that promotes all things ‘green’, beer miles, local breweries etc., was withdrawn. We have also withdrawn this initiative for other pubs because the terms of the scheme were not adhered to and we could no longer promote the pub as LocAle on our website. Full details were provided with explanations at the time of election. Our landlady would not put the required pump clips on the handpumps showing which beers were local saying that she didn’t want that sort of thing on her pumps! How can a drinker from Scotland know which is a local ale if it is not indicated?

To show her continuing displeasure with CAMRA she set up her own organisation – CRAPO! This is ‘Campaign for Real Ale Pubs Only’ and charges £10 per year for joining. This is the only CRAPO pub that we have in our area!

Finally, in April out of the blue a notice was posted on the door of the pub banning all North Sussex members?

All of this because of a report about something in the market place seventeen months ago!

Rex Gibbons, CRawley Road, Horsham.

Webmaster & Press Officer

North Sussex Branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA)

Send your letters to ct.letters@sussexnewspapers.co.uk