My pub: the Oxford Arms, Camden Town, north London

By Claire Churchard

- Last updated on GMT

Three generations have run the Oxford Arms in north London
Three generations have run the Oxford Arms in north London
Licensee Tom Maloney and his daughter and general manager Caroline Maloney explain how things have changed in the 50 years that three generations of their family have run the Oxford Arms in the heart of Camden Town

Facts 'n' stats

Name:​ The Oxford Arms

Address:​ 265 Camden High Street, NW1 7BU, London

Tenure:​ Ei leasehold pub

Licensees: ​Tom Maloney is licensee and leaseholder, and daughters Caroline and Ashley and son Thomas have personal licences. 

Wet:dry split:​ 90:10

The pub

The Oxford Arms is situated in a grand early Victorian building on the corner of Camden High Street and Jamestown Road in the heart of Camden. The
outside features haven’t changed much since it was built, although the inside has.

Tom Maloney:​ My parents took the pub over in February 1968, 50 years ago. Before that they had a pub in the East End, which was demolished when they built the Bow flyover in Bromley-by-Bow. When they moved to Camden Town, the area had a very big Irish community so a lot of the pubs were run and owned by Irish people. 

I took over from my father in 1976 when my parents relocated to Ireland.

The inside of the pub has changed. It used to be two bars, which changed to one in a major refurbishment in the late ’80s. Now it’s one open-plan bar.  

We have a paved beer garden with planting and flowers. It’s an unusually large space to have in Camden because space is at a premium in
central London. It has a sheltered area for smokers.

There is a small theatre upstairs, called the Etcetera theatre, which is run separately. It shows plays six nights a week and has been going for 30 years. It’s quite unique for Camden Town and has contributed to our business.

If my parents saw the pub today, they’d still recognise it but they’d also be aware that you have to make changes. They were always pretty progressive themselves and moved with the times. 

Caroline Maloney: ​This year we’re celebrating 50 years and three generations of our family running the pub. We’ve had special celebratory signs printed on the window, saying ‘celebrating 50 years here at the Oxford Arms’, which we did as a surprise for my dad.

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The publicans

TM:​ I was 18 years old when I took over from my dad. I’d gone to school in Ireland. I met my future wife, Anne, there. We both came over in ’76 and got married in 1981.

Before I ran the pub I had I worked there in school holidays for my dad. When I took over I was general manager, cleaner, dogsbody, a bit of everything. It was different then.

Now my daughter, Caroline, runs the pub as general manager and two more of my four children, Ashley and Thomas, help run it. My oldest, Amanda, helps out when she is needed.

If my dad knew his grandchildren were running the pub he’d be delighted. He enjoyed being a publican, and that was back in the day when it was perhaps more highly valued in the community than it is now. Both my parents would be delighted.

CM: ​I grew up in the pub. Even from a young age I’d be glass collecting. Then I went away and did a bit of training with Davy’s Wine Bar for a few months, then a position came up in our pub because another manager was leaving, so dad asked if I would like to train as a manager. And that is how I became the manager of the bar. 

Before I worked in the pub, I did a hospitality management qualification at Westminster. I always knew I was going to do something in this line of work. It just all seemed to fit together. When the job came up at the pub, it didn’t make any sense to work for someone else when you could work for your family. 

TM:​ We also own the Devonshire Arms, which is about 100 yards down the road. We bought it about six years ago. It was an Ei pub but we bought the freehold.  It’s an alternative rock music venue.

The trade

TM:​ The whole area changed when Camden market took off and became more and more popular. It did make it a bit more touristy and there’s nothing wrong with that. 

There is a complete mix of customers, there are a lot of tourists from all around Europe and the UK. They come to Camden and Camden Lock – it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in London. There are a lot of office workers as well and residents from the area. Some of them are people who have been coming in since I was first here, and now their children come in. We also have a lot of second and third generation Irish customers. Their grandparents and parents used to use the pub and now they do.

We were the first pub in Camden to have all-day opening on a Sunday in 1994. We’d applied a couple of times before we got it and then six or seven pubs in Camden got it before the rest of the country did. It didn’t make any sense not to have it. We were the busiest area in London at the time and we couldn’t even serve a drink between 2pm and 7pm. That all changed in 1995, but we had all-day opening in 1994 and we had a late licence in ’94 as well. Again we were one of the first pubs in Camden to have that.

The marketing 

CM: ​Facebook and word of mouth are our biggest marketing tools. Facebook is the main one, we update our page regularly and are good at responding within a few minutes. We do bookings that way as well.

We do a lot of nice A-boards. My sister Ashley is very artistic, so each week she’ll take the board and she’ll paint it and use her magic to make it look nice again. It’s important for where we are in the high street.

We show a lot of Gaelic football, which is popular and we have a massive Mayo following. About three years ago, we had a mural of the crest of Mayo painted on the side of our wall. It’s a massive talking point. Lots of people see it and come into the pub.

The team

TM: ​Three of my children work full-time here, Caroline, Thomas and Ashley. 

We have a chef, Tosh, and we’ve got another five full-time staff. We also have some part-time employees who are students with the Open University. 

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The food

TM: ​It’s traditional pub food and Tosh does some nice Caribbean dishes. Our biggest seller is fish and chips, then our home-made pies. We’re not a gastropub, we haven’t got the room for fine dining or a dedicated area for that, so we have good pub food for people who might be watching a football match or people who come in for Sunday lunch. We also open for breakfast.

CM: ​When my parents came to the UK, mum was training as a nurse. Then the business got busy for dad so she came and helped. 

In the years before there was a chef, she would do the cooking. It was very much home cooking, so pies, quiches, lasagne. The bar was a bit different when we were younger, there was a hot counter, which was a feature of the era. Nowadays that would probably be back in fashion. When we got a new chef, she took a step back, but mum is a driving force behind the whole pub and helped dad make the business what it is today.

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The drink

TM:​ Between food and drink we sell more beer. We have Doom Bar, Fury, London Pride, Coast to Coast and craft ale. For lager we sell Heineken, Foster’s, Stella, Kronenbourg, Carling, Cobra and Camden Hells, which is very popular as well. We have two ciders on draught and Guinness is a very big seller, it was very busy during the Six Nations.

The events

TM:​ We have lots of sports on, which brings in the customers. Camden is also a great area for music with venues like Dingwalls and Koko, which was the Camden Palace, the Electric Ballroom, which used to be called the Buffalo Club, the Round House and the Dublin Castle. It’s a vibrant place, you won’t get bored.

The theatre is separately run, but people come in for a drink or a meal before a performance. We used to have a comedy club upstairs and people such as Ruby Wax and Julian Clary performed there. We had several big stars. Then the theatre approached us about putting on performances six or seven nights a week, and they moved in.

Some of the shows are busier than others, but it feeds into the pub and is helpful. When we have a quiet night in January or February and you’ve got 30 or 40 people going to the theatre, they all come in, sit down and have a drink.

CM: ​In more recent times, famous people to have come out of the theatre are Russell Brand and Simon Amstell. They did their first shows at the theatre.

To celebrate 50 years of running the pub, we are planning a big event in spring but we haven’t fixed a date yet.

The future

CM:​ Because we’re into sports, we need to be on top of our game and know what’s coming up. We look six months ahead, so there are no surprises. For example, the World Cup is coming up now. It’s important people know what’s happening and what we’ll be showing. It’s important for us to advertise these things properly and with enough time. So we won’t be booking any big holidays around the World Cup, no one is allowed to go anywhere! 

Another big thing is the Camden Fringe, which originated upstairs in the theatre and happens every August. It’s a pre-Edinburgh Fringe Festival, it runs for the month of August, with seven shows a day. August is a busy month anyway, on top of the Fringe, so we’ll be extremely busy then.    

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