MARION SAUVEBOIS visits Old Town’s newest bar, where things are a cut above the norm

“YOU’LL want to have a look at the urinals,” The Tuppenny landlord, Linda Gulliford, grins knowingly. The words barely spoken, she marches towards the gents, past the smattering of vintage chairs upholstered with hand-me-down Tweed and the brass-sheathed drums moonlighting as coffee tables, before planting herself outside the door. She calls out to patrons inside, announcing the impending intrusion to give them a fighting chance to hide their modesty. No reply, hurried shuffling or tell-tale swoosh of zips. She waltzes in, proud as a peacock, motioning to the pair of sawn off beer kegs hooked to an old school toilet flush.

“We nearly gave up on this hare-brained idea,” confides co-owner Jamie Stapleton, the mastermind behind The Tuppenny’s wacky commodes. “It said online it would be easy. But it turns out the kegs were not aluminium but seriously tough stainless steel. If you don’t keep everything smooth you can give someone a nasty gash in a delicate area.”

“That’s a lawsuit you just don’t need,” chuckles Linda.

Off-the-wall privy aside, the pair’s meticulous attention to detail and quest to push the envelope permeates every inch of The Tuppenny, from the treasure trove of craft beers and one-of-a-kind spirits, down to the reclaimed furniture. The word “tuppenny” itself, after all, came to mean ‘a cut above the rest’ in Victorian times – and they did not choose their moniker lightly.

“In Victorian England, there were essentially two types of gin to choose from, penny gin, and tuppenny gin. Penny gin was cheap, in plentiful supply, and pretty awful. This was the rough old bathtub concoctions that became nicknamed ‘mother’s ruin’,” explains Jamie. “Tuppenny gin was a much more refined, premium product. The tuppenny prefix consequently found itself attached to many products that had a two or more tiered pricing structure to reflect the quality of the product. The tuppenny stuff was always top drawer, the good stuff. Everything The Tuppenny sells would be considered the tuppenny stuff.”

The concept for the pub was born four years ago, in a bar in Lisbon. Sipping a drink, it dawned on Jamie that a quirky haunt like the one he found himself in would be just the thing for Swindon. Meanwhile a friend gifted him a Tuppenny Blue stamp – introduced way back when to one-up the Penny Black and allow Royal Mail customers to post hefty parcels. It took pride of place in his home.

“It sat on my wall as a motivator for two years,'' he recalls.

The sound engineer took a leap of faith and hatched plans to launch The Tuppeny; but his initial choice of venue fell through. Undeterred, he bided his time until another opportunity came along. Finally last year, he broached the idea to Linda, then the landlord of the Vic in Old Town. A few glasses of wine later they had sealed their partnership. They set their sights on the defunct Talk of the Town on Devizes Road and within two months had moved in. Then came the mammoth task of transforming the empty shell into “Swindon’s first and only specialist purveyor of craft drinks.”

The colour scheme was obvious: tuppenny blue. As for the rest: they borrowed and begged, collecting friends’ unwanted blazers and Tweed waistcoats, trawling Gumtree for chairs, recycling old orchestra drums (now on “permanent donation”) as tables, and diving behind their sofas for two pence coins to blanket the hardwood bar.

“It’s had its moments,” admits Linda. “We did everything, laying the floors, painting. Jamie’s uncle built the bar.”

Jamie nods: “We thought having 2p coins on the bar would be great. Well, you think you’ll find a lot of coins at home but actually it doesn’t make that much when you come to put them on a bar.”

“But it’s cheaper than marble,” chimes Linda.

The DIY headache of the loos behind them, coming up with a distinctive wine, beer and spirits offering to suit their “independent craft emporium” ticket and rival watering holes around the region – while not competing directly with their Old Town neighbours - was no mean feat.

“We wanted to complement not compete,” insists Linda, 40, who has worked at and run various pubs across Swindon over the past 20 years.

“We didn’t want to run a real ale pub,” adds Jamie. “What The Hop do for real ale, we wanted to do for the new wave of craft brewing in kegs. Everything we have is made by small, fiercely independent brewers or people at the top of their game; whether it’s with beers, wine or spirits.”

Eventually they came up with a shortlist and invited friends along to sample their finds and help to whittle down the selection.

While they were confident they had uncovered a gap in the market, nothing could have quite prepared the pair for the patrons’ enthusiasm, when they opened their doors at the end of November.

Within four days punters had siphoned off every last barrel.

“We had enough to see us through ten days and we ran out in four,” says 35-year-old Jamie, disbelieving. “It’s a nice little problem to have! The response was phenomenal. We didn’t think it would be as easy to convert people to the idea, that your average punter would want a product they can recognise.”

Now stocked for winter, the bar boasts “the largest and best range of craft beer on tap and in the fridges that you will find in Old Town, alongside the best quality spirits available as they come or crafted into stone-cold classic cocktails,” according to Jamie. The beer selection changes regularly but features the likes of West Berkshire Brewers. As for wine, French vintages prevail. Spirits include lesser known brands of Icelandic vodka and American gin.

And there is more in store for customers in the coming weeks. The pair are preparing to launch a finger food, sandwiches and appetizer menu, including cheese and charcuterie boards.

Top of the agenda for now though, is finding the time to squeeze in a well-deserved day off to recharge after three months on the frontlines.

“It’s been the single hardest, most stressful thing I have ever done and I’m a dad,” quips Jamie.

“You get so much adrenaline, you forget to sleep and rest,” Linda laughs heartily. “You lose yourself in the business and it’s exhilarating.”

The Tuppenny is based at 58-59 Devizes Road, Old Town. For more information go to