One of Cambridge's most famous pubs - some would say the best known - is undoubtedly the Fort St George (in England, to give it its proper name) on Midsummer Common. It is also one of the oldest - parts date back to the reign of Henry VIII and over the years has been one of the staunchest supporters of real ale.
The present tenants, Alan and Helen Winfield-Chislett, took over the 'Fort' in November 1962. At that time, it was very dilapidated. The public bar had a regular trade of 3 or 4 customers, the snug about the same. So run down had it become that the only way the previous tenant could get a dray was to pay cash on delivery. This has all changed. It is now one of the Cambridge's busiest and most popular pubs.
The credit for this transformation rests firmly on the shoulders of the present tenant. By judicious use of publicity - at times one might say "bad" publicity - and providing what his customers want, Alan has built up this enormous trade. The large garden by the river is an ideal place for a summer lunchtime drink; the pub itself is steeped in history and the food represents very good value. And, last but not least, the pub has retained its handpumps. Alan Winfield-Chislett, indeed, is on record at Greene King saying that he would resist all attempts to convert his pub to top pressure. He guaranteed to the Brewery that he would keep the "Fort" full: this he has done.
The last few months have witnessed a further transformation. After many years campaigning, the landlord has at last managed to persuade Greene King to spend some money on improving the Fort's facilities. (This campaign included the distribution of a series of cartoons, drawn by the landlord, knocking the absence of certain facilities. One cartoon runs: Q. Is it true this pub is 450 years old? A. I don't know, but I think the toilets are.) These alterations are now complete. The kitchens have been completely renovated, enabling the pub to provide an increased range of food at all times; the toilets totally rebuilt and refitted, and the bottle store moved outside. This room has been converted to a small lounge bar, Cambridge's first non-smoking bar. Although this bar is primarily for food, non-smokers who are not eating are welcome to use it. While work on this bar was proceeding, some splendidly carved wood panels were exposed. The carvings themselves represent crossed oars, and this suggests to Alan Winfield-Chislett that it may, at one time, have been a private bar for a rowing club.
The whole pub, indeed, has very strong links with the river. The glasses behind the public bar hang from hooks in a series of oars suspended from the ceiling, and the walls are covered with photographs and pictures of the river. One photograph depicts the building of the adjacent footbridge, another the old ferry in operation, and yet another an old sailing boat that used to ply the river.
Don't be misled by what you have heard about the Fort St. George's prices. With Greene King IPA at 54 pence a pint, and Abbot at 60 pence, it is no more expensive than many other pubs. It is well worth a visit both for the good value food and, of course, the beer, which is always in excellent condition.