This week, we take a look at two pubs, just under eight miles apart and located on opposite sides of the same road.

The A556 is on the site of a Roman road called Watling Street and was also, in the past, a turnpike road from Chester to Manchester, with many coaching inns along the route serving the mail coaches going from city to city.

The Smoker is situated in Plumley, whilst the Blue Cap is in Sandiway. Both pubs were important to the Cheshire Hunt many years ago.

The Smoker is thought to be the only pub of that name in the country. It is some four hundred years old and is a grade II thatched coaching inn.

It was first opened in 1597 as a beer house and was also a blacksmith and a farm.

Warrington Guardian:

In a newspaper report of 1909, it was described as the house itself having been built in 1607, and at that time, was more than 300 years old and had been under the license of the same family called the Newtons.

The article also states that 200 years ago (early 1800s), it was known as the White House.

The current name has no links with smoking; it originates from a racehorse owned by the then squire of the village, Sir George Leicester, who was the father of the first Baron de Tabley.

The racehorse was reputed to have been raised by the Prince Regent and brought the owner, Sir George and his son fame and fortune.

Warrington Guardian: The Smoker pub now on the A556The Smoker pub now on the A556 (Image: Rose Hurley)

Over recent years, the Smoker has been modernised and refurbished whilst retaining both character and tradition, the last upgrade being in 2018 when £750,000 was invested in it.

It is renowned as a welcoming hostelry with an excellent range of drinks and food.

Next, we travel along the A556 to Sandiway, where we find on the opposite side of the road, the Blue Cap.

This coaching inn was formally called the Sandiway Head Hotel. The present building dates from 1716, according to the plaque above the door; however, it is thought that there was an inn on the site much earlier.

Warrington Guardian: The Blue Cap pub and turnpikeThe Blue Cap pub and turnpike (Image: Rose Hurley)

In the early 1800s, two of the coaches stopping at the Sandiway Head were "The Pilot" travelling from Altrincham to Chester and "The Shrewsbury Rapid" going from Wrexham to Liverpool.

Quite often on this turnpike, the inns were named after racehorses; however, the Sandiway Head proved the exception, eventually being named after a famous hound called Blue Cap.

The dog was owned by John Smith-Barry, the son of Lord Barrymore, who was the First Master of the Cheshire Foxhounds.

Legend has it that in 1763, when the hound was four years old, the owner laid down a challenge to Hugo Meynell, the Master of the Quorn Hunt, that he had no dog that could beat either Blue Cap or Blue Cap’s daughter, Wanton over three miles.

Hugo accepted the challenge, and in the next race at Newmarket with a purse of 500 guineas, Blue Cap won (400 guineas), and Wanton came second (100 guineas). The dog became very famous, and the victory was celebrated.

Warrington Guardian: Inside the Blue Cap pubInside the Blue Cap pub (Image: Rose Hurley)

In the same article from 1909 mentioned above, it was also recorded that when out with the foxhounds from the Cheshire Hunt, Blue Cap had to wear a weight around his neck to slow him down so he did not outrun the rest of the pack.

Blue Cap died at the age of 13 in 1772, and a memorial stands in the Cheshire Hunt Kennels yard in Kennel Lane, Sandiway, designated as grade II listed.

In 1822, when Elizabeth Bull became licensee the pub was renamed The Blue Cap in honour of the famous hound.

In the past, this traditional inn offered a comfortable respite to travellers on the turnpike from the jolting coaches along what was at the time a rough and winding road.

The Blue Cap pub remains a popular inn with a cosy interior and old-world charm.