Anybody remember pushing into a heaving Three Compasses in the 80s, 90s and noughties? Where the live music blared, beguiling, pulling us in, making us dance, making us happy, joyful and contented.
It was one of a handful of venues in this area which always delivered top nights – entertainment, a great atmosphere and more. Chicken in a basket. Sausages in a basket. I blooming love food in a basket.
I have long loved the red-brick pub in Charminster – the very epitome of a cosy, friendly local boozer.
I saw amazing local bands there as a teenager and young adult which formed thrilling and incomparable memories of all genres of music, delivered by a huge variety of local bands. I even sang there myself a few times in the early noughties, with a band called Speed Handbag.
Wall of shame: Numerous bands are featured in two large frames at the Compasses
The Three Compasses is a ‘proper’ pub. And it’s 275 years old this year. Guess what? You can still get fried food in a basket. The chicken is in goujon format these days, but the baskets are still Margaret’s originals – none of your namby pamby willow stuff. If you want to go retro, and good God we all do these days, head on over.
The man at the helm for 29 years, Terry Dixon, is now enjoying a purely advisory, beer-supping and fat-chewing role. I remember him in this role decades ago – such was his warm welcome you never felt he did anything else, though the success of the pub over that time shows you he had one or two other tasks.
These days his son Rob, 56, and Rob’s wife Tina, 59, are in the driving seat. They stepped in when Terry’s wife Margaret had dementia and needed looking after and then took over fully when Terry retired in 2017. “We don’t want to let the family down,” said Tina. “We’re lucky it’s a free house, because it’s harder if you’re tied. “But we will do anything to ensure the pub keeps going and it’s a great pub, a proper pub.”
That commitment has been sorely tested in recent times. Covid decimated their business, which had already been dealt a blow by the digital generation. Popping to the pub on a nightly basis had been replaced by people at home in their pyjamas, arguing about cat memes on Facebook while eating houmous. People didn’t pack the bar like they used to.
But Terry’s solid victualler’s pedigree (six generations of his family have been in the licensed trade) and his dedication to live music saw the Compasses through the worst of the downturn. Live music continued to draw people in, until lockdown forced everything to stop.
Even then the family adapted, running a takeaway service and accessing grants, but it was very, very tough. They started offering takeaways, with Rob swiftly learning to turn out a decent fish and chips. He even mastered a lasagne, though that dish is rubbish in a basket…
Lockdown eased and they staged live music in the garden – even in pouring rain. They also established a vintage tearoom, where you can drink gin cocktails poured from bone china teapots. “I hate those teapots,” says Rob, grinning.
It was lucky both of them are collectors. Rob started digging up old glass bottles in the mudflats of Essex as a child and the results – transported from home to home by his dad over the years – line the vintage tearoom, hundreds of them. Tina’s business selling vintage china came into its own when she didn’t have time for eBay selling any more, what with running a pub – her teapots line the room and her plates and knick-knacks help present the food. It’s a lovely setting.
The whole family is infected with Terry’s love for live music, though not one of them played a note till Rob, feeling he should rectify this, took up guitar lessons recently.
Over 34 years the family have welcomed musicians to the pub, pulling in all the names we remember from the 80s, 90s and noughties.
They have had to adapt to current trends and now, instead of late-night Sunday gigs they offer an afternoon gig. Saturdays are nearly always gig nights.
And last Sunday witnessed the triumphant return of pub favourites Freezer, who had the venue choc-a-bloc full and dancing.
There’s a monthly jazz jam too – with well known local musicians Julie Lewis and Rodney Teague welcoming the hoi polloi to accompany them on the last Wednesday of the month at 8pm. Look out for local youngster Amy Williams, 14, who plays sax – she’s something else.
The skittle alley has been given a revamp, as has the whole premises, and Rob and Tina, together with ace bar manager Sara Caton, are gearing themselves up for a great summer now we’re all fully unleashed.
They offer tasty pub grub buffet catering for functions, a monthly cribbage league, a successful skittles team (The Barmy Army) and of course, fantastic live music.
Go to thethree compassescharminster.co.uk for upcoming events, or to book at the vintage tearoom call 01305 263618.
Travel back in time gentlemen, please
Many of the Compasses’ landlords have been recorded, with the first, Mary Ebber, starting in 1747.
James Brookes was to be found behind the bar in 1818, with his son James Brookes Jr taking over in 1844.
George Newton, who ran the bar from 1852, was famed for his Georgie’s Stingo ale.
In 1869 Samuel Warren took over, but went into liquidation after nine years.In 1896 the Groves took over, and in 1900 the pub was rebuilt in a slightly different position before Thomas Neal took over in 1901.
Jimmy and Nell Traves took over in 1915 and Nell was left to run it as the country went to war.
John and Joan Rogers ran the pub from 1955 before Terry and Margaret took over in 1988.