Gloucester Journal, Saturday, August 25th, 1979: They called it rocket fuel! By George Webb
Mention cider to any native Gloucesterian and the odds are you will be directed to the County Arms in Millbrook Street. The County Arms, where cider sales top beer by more than three to one. And where one lady, Mrs Florence Jones, has been landlady for well over a century. It was December 1926, when Mrs Jones first moved in, together with her husband, Mr Victor Roland Jones, and their three children Betty, their youngest, was just six months old then but in the years that followed 10 more brothers and sisters were born in the ancient inn. Now aged 78, Mrs Jones has 31 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
“I’m never short of helpers.” She smiles, watching her son Kenneth (Cocker) Jones pulling a pint in the crowded bar. With him when I called was his sister, Mrs Hilda Jones – she married another Jones. Grandson Alan was busy cutting sandwiches in the back room. “This is a real family concern,” added Hilda. Mrs Jones, senior, has been licensee of the County Arms since her husband died in March 1964, and has seen it develop into one of the most popular pubs in the city. The atmosphere is cheerfully informal – “The brewery wanted me to have fitted carpets in the bar, but I told them straight, we don’t need things like that here.” But the Jones family make it clear that rules are rules, the bar closes promptly on time and there is seldom any difficulty with unruly customers. “Of course, there have been times in the past when we could easily have got a bad reputation,” said Mrs Jones. “People still talk of the ‘stun‘em’ cider we sold for a while – we had fun with that. It was really strong and the men were reeling all over the place when they left. You could hear them singing all the way down Millbrook Street”. “The railway men used to call it rocket fuel – it was that potent,” added Alan.
During her 53 years behind the bar Mrs Jones has seen many varieties of cider come and go, but she still talks nostalgically of the Knights of Huntley brew her husband introduced soon after he took over. In those days the County Arms, now owned by Courages, was an Ashton Gate Brewery house and sold mainly beer. Today 14 different ciders are on sale, ranging from sweet to ‘scrumpy’, and hundreds of gallons disappear down the throats of appreciative customers each week.
Mrs Jones had never served behind a bar when she first came to the County Arms, although she well remembers how, as a girl, she would sit in the Golden Heart or the Victory inns, looking at the uniforms of the soldiers home on leave from the First World War. In 1926 the building was still lit only by gas and at the front, where the old Goose Lane once ran, stood a large pear tree and extensive rose gardens. In those days beer and cider cost fourpence (less than 2p) a pint and Woodbines were twopence or threepence for five. Four horses were kept in the inn stables and Mrs Jones recalls that an ice-cream seller named Palmer also used the stables to break in horses. “Times were certainly hard when we first moved in,” she said. “For a time during the depression my husband went out doing decorating jobs around the city just in order to make ends meet, and I was left to run the bar. But we were always happy and there was always something going on… very often there would be 20 of us sitting round the dinner table.”
During the Second World War, Millbrook Street was one of the few places in Gloucester to get bombed. Mrs Jones was in bed on the night a bomb intended for the nearby railway exploded in the street and blew the roof off the County Arms,
“Things have certainly changed over the years – you would never see women drinking in the bar when we first came here”, she said. But Mrs Jones has taken everything in her stride. Today she is firmly in control and looks good for many years to come, helped by her family and the friendly customers who would never allow her to roll a barrel or lift a heavy crate. In recent years she has spent three holidays in Australia, visiting her son and two daughters who emigrated to New South Wales, and the growing number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren who live ‘down under’. But for the most part of her life revolves around the County Arms and the customers who come from all over the country to sample the ciders.
For many years the pub was also renowned for its outings – at least one a month on average – and Mrs Jones always made a point of going to the races at Newbury each year. But those trips, like the bingo sessions once held in the club room, are in the past. Instead she now keeps a matriarchal eye on the skittles and shove halfpenny, the darts and the pigeons of the Alington Flying Club which are raced from the County Arms.
She has no pretentions about her bar and has strenuously resisted all attempts by the brewery to modernise the building. “I have seen too many other pubs come unstuck”, she told me. “Modernise the bar and you will lose your customers. Everyone likes this place as it is and this is the way I want it to remain.” Looking at the bustling activity in the old-fashioned room and the cash flowing as sweetly as scrumpy over the well-used bar, I could clearly see her point. And with those 53 years of mild and bitter experience behind her, who could possibly argue with Mrs Florence Jones of the County Arms?
From the ’Citizen’ Tuesday 24th June 1980
‘Shrine to the art of drinking’ – a Pub Profile Report by Tony Marcoveechio.
A thumbnail description of The County Arms in Gloucester’s Millbrook Street would be ‘spit & sawdust’ – and that, proudly, from the lips of a loyal and regular customer. And that is just the way the many hundreds of loyal and regular customers would like it to stay.
Buried among the back waters of the Barton Street area of the City the place is a shrine to the noble art of drinking – with no pretensions to soft lights, wine by the glass or scampi in a basket. No dart boards or pool tables to distract the clientele from what they see as the true purpose of a pub; a place in which to drink and chat, joke and laugh, pull the leg of the landlord – but above all, a place in which to drink.
The drink that draws customers to the County Arms from all over the area is cider. More than 20 brands of the stuff – ranging from “Girls’ Giggler” to “Green Lightning” – pour over a special section of the bar to the extent of several hundred gallons a week. The pint of keg bitter I ordered on entry soon drew disdainful looks from the regulars. “That stuff is no good, it doesn’t send messages to the brain,” said one, clutching a glass of liquid that looked as if it would fuel a Sherman tank. A discussion on cider followed, one thing led to another and within a few minutes I was being shown operation scars. Remarkable stuff this for oiling the conversation!
The County Arms licence has been held by the Jones family for more than 50 years; first by the late Victor Jones, then by his wife Florence who still, at the age of over 80, dispenses pints and chat to the regulars, some of whom have been there as long as she has. The main work of running the pub is done by her son, Ken ‘Cocker’ Jones and her daughter, Hilda. “We are fairly quiet just now,” said Mr. Jones over seven-deep heads of customers at the bar waiting to be served. “You ought to see it when we are busy.”
Just what is the attraction apart from the cider, to a pub that even its best friends would admit is not the plushest in town? Michael and Hillary Sprague, who have a business in Barton Street, and visit the County Arms every day, tried to explain. “It is unique. It is a real pub with no pretensions. Everybody here is treated as an equal; there is only one bar and we all mix together in a great atmosphere.
It sounded like an entry in the Good Pub Guide, but a quick round-up of the drinkers in one corner alone – all regulars and pilgrims from all parts of the City – realised the same sort of comment. Chris Flinter, who came to Gloucester 34 years ago from Dublin but sounds as if he arrived only last week, was holding court with his pals in the opposite corner. The talk came back to their favourite pub and the compliments flew thick and fast, each one ending with the injunction “You ask Old Tom in the corner, he has been coming here for years.”
A rumpus at the other end of the room was investigated and drew the explanation that everybody was queueing for a pinch of snuff out of Eric’s snuffbox, the first time he had opened it for years – “You ask Old Tom in the corner.”
On the way out, a little more unsteady than when I went in, “Old Tom” stopped me and spoke for the first time. “May I have the last word”, he said, removing the pipe from his lips and taking a sip at his cider. “I have got a headline for you – The Greatest Pub in England.” – who am I to disagree?
The Citizen. Martin Kirby’s Column. Monday, December 15th, 1997 – Reopen the cider drinkers’ haven – I must thank the County Arms Luncheon Club for inviting me to its recent annual Christmas dinner. What on earth is the County Arms Luncheon Club? I hear you ask. It goes back to those glorious days when the County Arms pub in Millbrook Street was a legend among cider drinkers, and even the even more legendary landlord, ‘Cocker’ Jones was in command. Some thirsty RAF personnel wandered into the ‘County’ one December lunchtime, liked what they saw, and 26 years on, they still meet at the Blenheim Inn in Barton Street, run by Cocker’s son Peter. The club’s president, Alan Stevens, is campaigning to have the County Arms reopened. I can’t think of a better idea.
Alan Stephens, chairman of CAMRA in Gloucester wrote in March 1997: “Can Gloucester really let the County Arms die?’ – ‘It’s a great pity that the local media didn’t shout about the closure of the County Arms. Not a real ale pub, maybe, but very much a real cider establishment, that in some eyes will always be part of the social history and folklore of the City. Indeed, some regular visitors to Gloucester regard it as more significant than the Cathedral. When ‘mother’ Flo died and her son Cocker Jones handed the licence to his brother Peter and his wife Marion they made a good stab at continuing the tradition. After they pulled out Intrepeneur leased the County Arms to Phoenix Inns, who initially installed some poor managers. However, prior to the sudden closure Richard and Teresa had built up a steady trade and deserved encouragement rather than the sack. Much of the building had been sadly neglected for over 20 years, and now it has been sold to a speculator who can have but one intention – demoltion and replacement with houses. Having been an occasional visitor for 21 years I can honestly say that there wasn’t a friendlier pub in Britain – and that applied whether you were a prince or a pauper.” Martin Kirby wrote in the ‘Citizen’ on 15th March 1999: “Every time Comic Relief does the rounds, I always think it’s a pity that Gloucester’s most famous cider house – The County Arms – is no longer with us. At the County, every day was red nose day!”
The County Arms was bought by developer Dermody Leisure and was demolished in March 1998. Flats have since been built on the site.
Landlords at the County Arms include:
1879 J. Goatman
1893, 1906 W.T.J. Browning
1936,1957 Victor R. Jones (Victor died in 1963)
1957,1988 Flo ‘Mother’ Jones and son Ken ‘Cocker Jones’ (‘Cocker’ died in 1994)
1988 –1992 Peter and Marion Jones
1996 Richard and Teresa ?