Love Your Local: The Bridge Tavern, Old Portsmouth

The Bridge Tavern
The Bridge Tavern
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Few pubs have such an illustrious history as The Bridge Tavern in Old Portsmouth.

The landmark local at the Camber dock was first mentioned in 1656 in a 1,000-year lease from the Corporation of Portsmouth.

The lease asks the local to pay an annual rent of 12 pence and two fat capons.

Rates have no doubt gone up over the years, but some things stay the same, according to landlord Simon Shearn (pictured), 37.

Simon said there used to be 14 pubs in that street, but the Bridge was the only one left.

Simon said it was the traditional atmosphere of the pub and the people it attracted that he enjoyed so much.

He said: ‘I like the history. I like the fact it’s still a pub as well, because the way the industry is going it’s getting turned more and more towards restaurants and food.

‘We still have locals in here and we still have a quiz night.

‘Being on the Camber there’s a lot of characters around, and it makes for a good atmosphere when they all get together.’

The pub has room for about 50 people in the downstairs bar and another 50 upstairs in the function room.

The Bridge also has outdoor seating for about another 80 people.

The upstairs room is regularly used for private functions and wedding receptions, and Simon said he is in the midst of repainting and redecorating to give it a fresh new look.

He said: ‘We’re actually going to open a craft beer bar upstairs.’

Simon said the upstairs room was popular for different kinds of events.

He said: ‘People always say about the character of it. It looks old and we have a lot of old maps and photos of the Solent.

‘Even if there’s no-one up there you quite often have people wandering around upstairs to look at the photos.

Another standout feature of the pub is the large mural painted on one side showing Old Portsmouth in days gone by.

Simon said the mural, originally by Thomas Rowlands, had been repainted several times over the years and had lost some of its detail, but still attracted plenty of interest.

Simon said he was unsure how things would go in the future with the development of Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup training base right next door.

He said: ‘Hopefully come May, when it’s all done and dusted and there’s a visitors’ centre there it will pay off.’

The pub has recently started serving breakfast seven days a week with classic pub choices including smoked salmon and eggs on toast.

Quiz night is Tuesday night.

Meet the landlord

The landlord of the Bridge Tavern came to work in pubs after starting out in a related field of hospitality.

Simon Shearn said: ‘I got into this originally through hotels.’

Originally from Dartford in Kent, Simon, 37, said he started working in hospitality when he finished school and never looked back. Simon said he had worked in hotels in the UK and also enjoyed a stint working in the USA.

The landscape he called home then was the rocky region of Colorado, which was about as far from the dockside setting at Old Portsmouth as you can get.

Simon said: ‘I worked for Marriott in America for a little while and a group called the Kempton group.

‘Working in Colorado was very nice, and I spent a lot of time in hotels in London as well.’

Simon became the landlord at the landmark pub eight years ago.

Before that he was partner the Watermark pub at Port Solent, which was owned by Horndean-based George Gale & Co, which also owned the Bridge.

Gales was bought out by Fuller’s in 2005, and the opportunity came up for Simon to take over the helm at the old-fashioned pub on the Camber.

The pub’s name

The Bridge Tavern

It’s not difficult to guess how The Bridge got its name.

The Old Portsmouth pub’s moniker comes from a bridge which used to span the Camber dock.

The first Camber bridge, a swing bridge, was built in 1842. It was replaced by a larger cantilever bridge in 1906, which was itself removed after being declared an obstruction in 1924.