CUSTOMERS are raising their glass to an award-winning Morpeth pub for the third time in five years.
The Tap and Spile in Manchester Street has been named Pub of the Year by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) for the quality of its beer, service and ambiance.
It is the third time the pub has won the branch award in the last five years and when the certificate was presented to landlady Margo Boyle there were so many customers there in support that two presentations had to be held, one in the bar and another in the lounge, to make sure everyone could see.
Mrs Boyle said: “I’m delighted to have won. We have won it quite a few times before so we must be doing something right.
“It’s probably because I sell good beer and my staff are excellent. They are very friendly and chat to people even if they are not regular customers. I think that’s why we do so well.”
Mrs Boyle took over the Morpeth pub 19 years ago when she moved to the town with her husband Allan.
Tragedy struck just seven months into their tenure when Allan died suddenly, leaving his grieving wife with a difficult decision about her future.
She opted to stay in Morpeth to run the pub herself and has never looked back.
“I came here with my husband in February 1992 and he died in September. We had only been here for seven months, but the church at his funeral was full. It was such a shock to me that so many people took the time to be there, it showed how kind everybody was,” she said.
“I was manager of the pub at the time and the people in charge asked me what I wanted to do. I’m an occupational therapist so I could have gone back to that, but I thought it would be best for me to be with people and keep busy.
“I decided to keep the pub and it was the best decision I ever made. It helped me to get on with my life.”
After being thrust to the forefront of the business, the landlady was determined to become an expert and began learning all about her beer.
She has retained her passion for ale ever since, despite admitting to preferring wine herself.
“I keep my beer well, that is the secret,” she said. “I haven’t got big facilities, it is a small pub and the real ale is the thing that is most important. Not all pubs look after their lines properly and they are not as clean as they should be, but that is all important to keeping the beer good.
“I can do eight beers, but I only have them all on at the weekend. At other times I have three or four on, which gives people enough for a choice and when one goes off, something else goes on. It means the beer is used well within the time it should be.
“I have a reputation for selling good beer. I don’t drink it, but I know about it.”
Mrs Boyle likes to support local breweries as much as possible.
“I like to try to support the smaller breweries because they give me a good price and are just covering their costs. I feel the bigger breweries are sometimes too big and are very much about ‘bottom line’, whereas the smaller ones are interested in the customers buying the beer,” she said.
However, her success is not all down to the beer as a good measure of community spirit is also in evidence.
Customers have taken part in several fund-raising activities, including an abseil from the Tyne Bridge that raised more than £3,000 for Marie Curie Cancer Care, and a two-month campaign to collect around £1,000 to send a 12-year-old boy suffering from cancer on a family holiday to Florida.
Funds have also been collected over the years for Cancer Research, the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and St Oswald’s Hospice, and when one of Mrs Boyle’s family members was undergoing treatment for cancer some of the pub regulars clubbed together to buy a giant Easter egg to raffle, raising around £1,000 for a cancer ward at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital.
“We do quite a lot for charity and people are very kind-hearted,” said Mrs Boyle.
A sense of community is at the heart of the pub and its reputation continues to pass through generations.
It offers a chance to socialise with friends and family, take part in events, or simply to enjoy your favourite tipple.
“We always have good fun and everybody takes part,” said Mrs Boyle.
“For example, I said that we were going to have a Royal Wedding party at the Tap and asked people to dress for a wedding. Everybody did and it was a really good day. It was really busy and everybody had a good time.
“I don’t think I made much money, but we all enjoyed it and that is what it’s all about. That is why people come to the pub, to enjoy themselves.
“The majority of people who come here come for social reasons, but it also a place where women can come on their own and not feel intimidated because we are all friendly.
“It’s that kind of place, where everybody is welcoming. It’s like a family.
“I see dads coming in with their sons, from being young men at school, going to university and getting jobs and then every time they come back to Morpeth they always come and see me.
“That is really nice. I’m introduced to their girlfriends, then there’s weddings, births and birthdays.”
She added: “People here would do anything to help me, it is a community and that is why I love it so much.”
The pub was nominated for the award by customers and then inspected in secret by CAMRA.