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The Empress of Blandings: Worth a Visit!

(And it has a special deal for Society members)

Sharp-eyed readers of Wooster Sauce will have spotted an article in last September’s issue on the Empress of Blandings, a special, quite jolly pub in Copythorne, Hampshire. With Jean Tillson, I had first visited the Empress in 2008, some three years after the Dorset brewery Hall & Woodhouse had taken it over. Jean and I greatly enjoyed our visit, although at the time we had a few small nits to pick – for instance, the absence of Wodehouse’s name anywhere, inside or outside the pub.

So I was curious to see it again when Norman and I accepted an invitation to visit the newly refurbished Empress of Blandings in the spring last year. Our hosts were David Hoare and Anthony Woodhouse, Hall & Woodhouse’s Retail Director and Managing Director, respectively, and they took us around the place with quite a lot of well-placed pride before treating us to an excellent lunch.

Hall & Woodhouse bought the onetime restaurant in 2005, and in making it over into a pub, David, a lifelong Wodehouse fan (and now a Society member), came up with the idea of naming it after our favourite porcine heroine. The pub’s sign by the road features a picture of the Empress based on one in The Pig by Sanders Spencer. During their refurbishment, Hall & Woodhouse inserted a cheeky joke into it (look closely at the photo). David also saw to it that not only was PGW’s name added to the quote that adorns the building’s outside wall, but dedicated the decor of the interior to Wodehouse and to pigs – all sorts of pigs, but especially Berkshires. As a result, the pub is now even more of a delight to visit.

For starters, the PGW quote on the outside is now accompanied by a drawing of a pig. Another pig greets you on a wall at the entrance, and underneath it is information about PGW’s Empress, “owned by the doting Lord Emsworth”. Inside, many of the walls are covered with photographs, including quite a few of Wodehouse and pigs of all descriptions. In one section, there are two walls devoted to the delightful Everyman edition book covers, with a clever joke inserted among them (I won’t say what it is – you will have to find it for yourself). Those walls that don’t have photos are often lined with bookcases, filled to the brim with books for patrons to read. And, of course, there are plenty of Wodehouse tomes, including a complete collection of Everyman books and several first editions – although those are out of reach.

Everywhere about the pub, inscribed into the beams or painted on walls, are quotes of a porcine or pub-centred nature. They include some quotes from Wodehouse – naturally! – but one of my favourites is the W C Fields observation: “If I had my life to live over again, I’d live over a pub.” Me, too, especially if it were this pub!

There is more I could say about the wonderful decor – including a delightful collection of pigs, painstakingly amassed by Claire and Rod Darrell-Brough – as well as the pub’s warm and welcoming atmosphere and excellent food, but I’d rather let the pictures here speak for me. Better yet, go and see it for yourself! More photos, directions, a menu, and other information can be found on the Empress of Blandings’s website (click here).

And if you do go, bring along a copy (any copy) of Wooster Sauce with you. Presenting it will entitle you to 20% off your meal – a special offer from Hall & Woodhouse, just for Society members!

– Elin Murphy