LOVE pubs. And as it’s my job to try to make them thrive – even in a difficult climate – it’s always exciting to get my hands on a new one. Or in this case, a very old one.

I look after the renovation, design and décor of all the pubs in the Peach group (as well as being our wine buyer and working with the chef team on each pub’s seasonal menus).

Peach is an Oxfordshire business, born and bred, and I’ve known of The Bear & Ragged Staff in Cumnor ever since we took over The Fishes in North Hinksey in 2004.

When we got word that the previous tenant in Cumnor was moving on, I hadn’t been inside for a few years.

I had a vague memory of carved beams and an open fire, but when I pushed open the door to the bar on a cold December day I realised I was somewhere special.

Even with the lights off and the open fires unlit it was clear this fine old Tudor room had the potential to be one of the cosiest, most atmospheric pub bars for miles around.

The Portland stone floors would come up a treat, and look lovely strewn with old Afghan rugs. All it needed was to clear away some of the modern fittings that were obscuring its handsome old features and to make the bar the beating heart of the pub again.

But first we were intrigued about why an Oxfordshire village pub bore the family crest of the Earls of Warwick. Possibly the connection is a literary one?

Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Kenilworth, a bestseller in 1821 opens at an inn in Cumnor where one of the characters lived.

The story goes that one local entrepreneur decided to open a pub in an old Tudor house in the village to capitalise on the possible tourist trade – an early book tie-in.

History does not relate whether the trippers made his fortune, but The Bear & Ragged Staff was born.

Good food and decent beer and wine were a given, but I was also mindful of keeping the pub as a proper place for the village, somewhere anyone can turn up on a rainy Monday night for a pint and a natter with familiar faces in the bar.

Leafing through my little black book of contacts, it wasn’t hard to put together a new scheme for the pub.

I like to use antiques that suit the age of a building wherever possible.

Not only is it a good way to evoke the historic and timeless character of a pub, it’s extremely sustainable and supports local businesses.

We haunt several local antiques centres and auctioneers and The Bear was a wonderful opportunity to buy lots of sturdy and decorative pieces.

We couple these with fabrics and wallpapers, again from smaller English businesses where possible.

Printmaker St Jude’s made the woodcut wallpaper, Squirrel & Sunflower in the eatery and Evenlode designer Rapture & Wright supplied hand-printed wallpaper and fabrics.

Antique mirrors and chairs upholstered in soft green and russet velvets and Harris tweeds sit around Arts and Crafts tables that can be mixed and matched to make space for families and parties large and small.

Touches of nature appear with whimsical Victorian cabbageware lining the window sills and copper jugs brimming with spring flowers.

The bar is the star with its old, oak topped bar and half-timbered walls, and all we did here was to make it really comfortable again, adding antique coffers, side tables, big armchairs, settles piled with cushions, collections of books on Oxford and old prints from Dickens’ Pickwick Papers.

There’s also gleaming copper – lots of it, from the set of beautiful jelly moulds above the fireplace to kettles, jugs, even a Samovar – and a fabulous old dough bin behind the bar to hold some of the good reds I picked out for the pub’s list.

I can’t think of a better place to hole up with a big glass of red and a 14-hour braised beef and ale pie with buttery mash and spring greens.

There are lots of classic pub dishes to satisfy.

My favourites are the roast chicken ravioli with rich chicken juices, crispy skin and Parmesan and a delightful banoffee Eton Mess with banana, fresh lime and caramelised pecans from head chef James Durrant’s new menu, who forged his career with us at The Fishes, North Hinksey and The Thatch, Thame.

I also love the winding staircases that lead up to the bedrooms, where anyone over 5ft 5in has to stoop to pass under the Tudor arched doorways.