IT HAS been a very difficult couple of years for the pub trade across Herefordshire and beyond.
But celebration was in the air at one very special county pub on Friday night, as landlord and landlady Chris and Sandra Corbin celebrated 50 years behind the bar after months of uncertainty for the industry, making them the longest serving tie-free landlords in the county.
Dozens of locals dressed as their favourite Disney characters descended on the pub on August 13 to mark the anniversary with the couple, who themselves attended in Pirates of the Caribbean dress.
Chris Corbin was one of the youngest licensees in the county when he took over the Cross Keys Inn at Withington from his wife Sandra’s parents at the age of 24, but five decades on the couple – and the pub – are still going strong.
One of Herefordshire’s hidden gems, the characterful and warm pub features a long room with bench seating, bare stone walls and panelling, and a wood fire at each end, while the bar serves up a selection of local ales and ciders, with a special 50th anniversary brew on tap to mark the occasion.
There is no food served at the Keys, with the occasional weekend exception of filled rolls, but despite that, it remains a firm favourite among locals, with an ever-busy bar on both weekend and weekday evenings.
Games nights also remain a popular attraction in more normal times, with darts and cribbage drawing a regular crowd of locals.
Martin Prior and his family have lived just a short walk from the Cross Keys since 1987 and are among the pub’s many loyal customers.
Martin said: “The Cross Keys is an astonishing survival. It must be 45 years since I first crept in there for my first barely-legal pint.
“Rural pubs like this were starting to close at an alarming rate even then, but it’s still here, doing exactly what it’s always done as the heart of the local community. The pub is warm and welcoming, while Chris and Sandra are the perfect hosts.
“The great thing is that no-one has ever made a misguided attempt to “improve” or gentrify the Keys. This isn’t a pastiche of an old English pub; this is the real thing. Long may it continue!”
As part of the celebrations, local Campaign For Real Ale supporters also held a social gathering at the stone-built roadside pub on Saturday, August 14.
Mark Haslam from Herefordshire CAMRA said: “It was wonderful to be able to celebrate 50 continuous years (the longest tenure in the county) with Chris and Sandra, especially when one considers it follows the dreadful uncertainty that came with the various lockdowns. The Cross Keys is a remarkable survivor – it’s how so many Herefordshire village pubs used to be.
“It’s a testament to Chris and Sandra that the place has thrived without the need for major changes, and a vote of confidence for the future comes from the fact that it still benefits from a strong and loyal band of locals.
“Congratulations from CAMRA, and long may they continue serving the local community so well.”