The Fox and Goose wasn’t the first community owned pub in the UK, that’s The Old Crown at Hesket Newmarket in Cumbria. It was however, the first one in West Yorkshire when 262 community shareholders came together and secured ownership of the pub in 2014, after the existing tenant suffered difficulties.
Those who are familiar with Hebden Bridge will understand exactly how the community ethos fits with the town and why the pub is thriving. If you don’t know, then you really need to go and explore deepest Calderdale to find out what this charming little mill town is all about.
If you’re going for a drink or two the best way to visit Happy Valley is via train with it’s excellent service from Leeds to Manchester, and vice versa. The USP being the walk from station to the Fox and Goose is the longest you’ll do all day and everywhere else is on the way back, unless you visit the Stubbing Wharf, and that’s not much further.
The only caveat is the busy ‘slant gate’ style junction outside the pub where you need to exercise a little care. Once you’re safely across it’s worth walking back away from the pub to view the logo on the gable end, proclaiming to those approaching from the west that the Fox and Goose is a Co-operative Pub. Personally, I prefer Community owned pub, the word Co-operative suggesting I should be going in and asking for two slices of boiled ham and a quarter of tea.
As you enter you notice the flagged floors, open hearth to the right and the small bar in front of you. There’s another room to the left of the bar and a smaller one to the right. If the weather’s fine there’s a lovely little garden upstairs which overlooks the valley. The photos have come from two separate visits so I can vouch for both the comfort of the fire and the sunny outlook of the garden.
I’ve heard, and read, that many perceive a certain perfume when visiting the pub? Take no heed, it’s an old building with it’s back rooted into the valley side and that faint whiff of damp and real fire is entirely natural for this type of place. I find it quite comforting and reminiscent of my grandparents house. In fact I find the entire place quite homely, clean and well fitted out, yet possessing something the interior decorator could never recreate.
The little touches, like fresh flowers on every table are nice, and the original art work (for sale) on the walls. If you wander down the corridor to the right you can read the shareholders notice board and discover a bit more about how the, one person one vote no matter how many shares, co-operative works. I don’t think I’ve been in a boozer before where people are ordering Battenberg cake at £1.50 a slice neither. The ‘World’s Best’ Pork Pies at £2 a throw are more suited to my taste.
To be fair, I’ve only ever visited at the weekend when it’s been nicely, but not too busy. There have always been groups of beer tourists and locals in, and on the latest occasion, a joint Leeds and Halifax & Calderdale CAMRA branches social event, the pub was quite full.
One factor setting it apart from some of the more livelier pubs in Hebden is the absence of any draught lager, that and the short walk out of the centre. I was pleasantly surprised to see one of my ‘none of that real ale shite’ mates drinking Pictish Brewers Gold when we visited at Christmas. And he thought it was excellent, which it was. It seems their de facto house beer is always on top form, hovering around and above NBSS 4, and at £3 a pint excellent value. You do get a full pint as well, all the pubs glasses are oversized*, lined at half and one pint measures.
Apart from the Pictish, they ring the changes with the other five beers with some progressive and locale brewers. A quick selection from two visits when I photographed the board included; Wilde Child, Eyes and Tickety Brew, Eagle Crag, Abbeydale, Torrside. On my recent visit I drank the Brewer’s Gold, Wilde Child Opaque Reality and Any Porter in a Storm by Thirst Class.
Ironically, we weren’t going to have a second drink, but the sunny skies clouded over and the wind started to whip round the valley. Within minutes there was an apocalyptical hail storm beating those from the beer garden back down into the pub. The cellar man had just put the appropriately named dark beer on, and it was ready to go. I might have enjoyed it more if it wasn’t for the whining yapping Spaniel letting down the assorted basket ball team of pooches; there’s always someone that spoils it. Hail storm or not love, you should have taken that dog outside and … tied it up. You really would have made a lot of people much happier.
For all the positive reasons above the Fox and Goose easily gets into my current favourite pubs list. I always reckon you shouldn’t rely on a single opinion though, so I asked Paul ‘furthest travelled (Stafford) CAMRA member on the day’ Mudge what he thought? He’s been in more pubs than I ever have, and probably ever will. It got the nod, and a, ‘Its very good’, and that folks will do for me.
* I put ‘oversized’ and actually that’s incorrect. The glass is the correct size to accommodate a full pint of beer, plus a head. It’s commendable, and although I’ve been in other pubs that have them, they are few and far between. I can remember when all pubs had lined and officially stamped pint glasses. Weights and Measures officials regularly visited and checked for short measures. Someone should start a campaign for all pubs to revert to this type of glass.