Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Bears Head Brereton Part I

Wednesday 26th September

Hi Everyone, Steve here…

Well, we’ve started. After all the expectation we finally made our first visit to one of the pubs on our list. It turned out to be a strange day really.

We arrived at the pub in Brereton (apparently it’s pronounced Bree-aton) around 3.30 and went straight into the bar and ordered a pint, Clint had spoken to the “assistant manager” about our visit a couple of weeks before, and asked if she could speak to some locals, gather a bit of interest, ready for our arrival. Turns out, the “assistant manager” hadn’t said a word, to the locals, or the bar manager. No one knew we were coming…

This was a bit of a disappointment to say the least. The “Bar Manager” was obviously very busy but we did our best to extract any info out of him, with little success. He’d only been there for about a year and came from Stockport so wasn’t local and couldn’t really tell us much. He was polite and pleasant but not too interested.

The pub itself is a very picturesque Olde Worlde building, set in beautiful country surroundings. It is part of a chain of pubs called Vintage Inns, which run some 200 old pubs around the country. Vintage inns must have picked this place because of its excellent character and beautiful Tudor exterior, which then begs the question why some bright spark has added a barracks, sorry, hotel, on the side of it. Personally, I think the hotel plugged on looks shocking, ruining a brilliant old building. The pub has a build date and lords initials over the door; 1615, WMB for William Brereton. So seeing the extension does take the shine away. Inside, it’s a lovely, comfortable eatery; plenty of tables, all expertly laid out so one table doesn’t interfere with another. Very little bar space due to mock (?) timbers separating bar from seating, just enough room to order your food, then bugger off back to your seat. All things considered, it’s a nice place to be.

Yeah, it’s a nice place, The only problem is, apart from buggering off back to your seat, I got the impression that, once you’d finished your meal (which was quite good),  the staff weren’t bothered if you buggered off altogether!!!!

So, there are a couple of things I want to mention before we go on, I’ve just read this back, and it does seem pretty negative. Thing is, I enjoyed starting our adventure, and overall, had a good night, it’s just me personally. I wanted to see a line of old boys, lined up at the bar, each with a tale to tell, and then listen to his mates call him a bare faced liar, watch the beer flow, tell my own tales, make new friends, and toasts to good health. The issue I have with our first visit, while enjoyable, was that it was all very clinical, very professional, no warmth, no soul… maybe a by-product of big business moving in, removing the bar stools, and drafting in a hotel manager to run a pub. Either way, this “Olde Inn” could’ve been a new city centre pub anywhere in the country, faceless, cold… But I enjoyed it!

Yet, we understand why it has to be like that. Brereton village consists of a couple of streets and a few rural houses. If the pub had to depend on the locals to keep the place open as a proper drinking den, it would have closed years ago. There are just not enough people in the area. Shame…

Anyway, after a less than encouraging start we remained positive as we were due to meet Alistair, a member of the Parish Council, at the pub between 6 and 7pm. So we ate around 5 on our isolated table, were finished for 6 and sat waiting full of expectation!!

Then another disappointment. At around 7.30 we had a mail from him explaining that he wouldn’t be able to join us as his daughter had given birth that afternoon and he was at the hospital. (Our congratulations and best wishes to him, his daughter and new grandchild)

So there we sat. Nobody drinking at the bar. No interest from the manager. Now no local historian (although he did have a good excuse). We sort of resigned ourselves to just drinking ourselves into a stupor.

I had my laptop with me, so we proceeded to map out the rest of our adventure, writing off the evening as a bit of an anti-climax. During the evening I had had a couple of polite interactions with the people on the adjacent table, So, feeling brave, I just stood up, grabbed my dad’s collection of cards, walked over to their table, and introduced myself. Turns out, this was the best move of the night, as one of the couples had lived in Brereton for 60 years, and have been regulars to the Bears Head in the past.

 More on that in the next blog…

Sunday, 16 September 2012


Sunday 16th September.

I thought I'd let you all know a bit more about me and why we're doing this.

Firstly I should tell you that the photo fronting the blog was taken at least 10 years ago (I'm even better looking now). I'm 57, short, fat, four-eyed and bald with my own dentures (what a catch, eh, girls?). I've been married for 39 years and surprised my better half while on holiday in Cornwall this year by arranging for us to renew our wedding vows without her finding out until the vicar asked us to step forward (you wouldn't believe how many brownie points that earned me).

I work at a concrete products factory at a quarry driving a glorified fork truck (with a clamp but no forks). I've got two sons and a daughter and four grandchildren which I adore.

Anyway, about 30 years ago I had to wait almost an hour for a bus and it was persistently raining, so I took shelter in the library as it was next to the bus station. I was browsing the restricted section (this means the books are rare or valuable or both and you can't take them out, not full of porn) and I came across an old book entitled A History of Ashby de la Zouch (the town where I was born) by Sir Walter Scott (this fits in as Sir Walter Scott wrote Ivanhoe which was set in and around Ashby). 

One of the chapters was The Pubs and Inns of the Town and there was loads of interesting stuff in it like Dick Turpin using the pubs (although, it would seem, nearly every town claims this), the landlord who kept a bear in a pit in his bar and another who bought a lion from a travelling circus and kept it in his cellar, then let it out at closing time to get rid of the hangers-on.  But the most interesting one was about Timothy Dunn.

As I've said, this was about 30 years ago so I'm unclear on the dates but I remember the details of the tale very well.

I think it was about the mid 1800s or maybe a little earlier, but it was before there was a proper police force. To keep the peace there were about half a dozen members of the Inniskillen Fusiliers based in the town, one of which was Timothy Dunn. One night he had an "assignation with a lady of the town" behind The White Horse (a pub long since gone) where they had a disagreement and the soldier killed the woman in question. Unfortunately for Mr Dunn the crime was witnessed from an upstairs window at the back of the pub and he was duly arrested.

He was sent for trial at Leicester Assizes and in due course was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by hanging. At this time in history it was common practice for prisoners to be taken back to the scene of their crime after their execution and their bodies hung on a gibbet, for all to see, as a deterrent to future wrongdoers. But the authorities thought this a barbaric practice and were trying to stamp it out. So the magistrate at the trial decreed that the body may be taken back to Ashby and put on display but not hung on a gibbet!

So the poor man was hanged and then bought back to the scene of his crime, but then came a bizarre turn of events. 

As the corpse could not be hung up it was decided (by the local dignitaries I believe) to disembowel him and then wedge open his  torso with pieces of wood! He was then placed on the bar of The White Horse and left there for three days!!! This, of course, did not sit well with his fellow Fusiliers and they announced that, if he was not given a proper burial, they would burn the pub to the ground. And so, the local authorities agreed that they would dispose of the body properly.

But that's not the end of this sorry story.

Instead of burying the body, it was taken to a local tannery on Smisby Road, and boiled "until the flesh fell off the bones". The skeleton was then reassembled and taken to the local Cottage Hospital where it was used as a teaching aid for student nurses.

And so ends the sad tale of Timothy Dunn.

I once told this story to a friend of mine who had worked as a nurse at Ashby Hospital and she said that she had seen this skeleton and it had a nameplate on the base with just the name Timothy Dunn, but I haven't been able to confirm this.

So this is where I got my interest in the history behind pubs (I'd always been interested in their products, sometimes too interested) and I also started collecting  a few bits and pieces associated with the brewing industry, named glasses, bar towels, ashtrays, mirrors, etc., (by the way, I've never stolen a glass or anything else, I've always asked and only been refused once, for a San Miguel bar towel in Majorca. The bar owner said he had just enough to go round his bar and you couldn't get them any longer). I've also started collecting bottles of beer, mainly from micro breweries, but this can get expensive (The Driftwood Spars in St Agnes, Cornwall, has its own brewery and produces around 20 different bottled beers and at about £2.50 a bottle it gets dear if you buy them all at the same time).

Then. about 6 years ago my wife became ill and I stopped going to the pub, having been quite a regular beforehand. She's on the mend now but I never did get back into the habit of going for a pint. I much prefer sitting in my garden with a few friends and family (or even on my own occasionally) and sinking a few cold ones (not having to worry about closing time and the smoking ban) which is fine during the summer but not so comfortable in November (or quite a few other months come to think of it) despite my fantastic chimenea!

So, one night, sitting looking around my garden my eyes settled on my old shed. It had seen better days and was full of junk but I suddenly had a brainwave!

I would turn my shed into a pub!!!!

It's a 10' by 8' shed with a pitched roof and with a little work its going to be a 12' by 10' pub with no last orders. This is an ongoing project and hopefully will be finished before the end of the pub crawl we're about to embark on (By the way, if anyone knows where I can get a bar top from, about 8 to 10 feet long, I'd be very grateful).

This is why my son suggested we could scrounge a memento from every pub we visit.

Well, I think that's enough from me for now. Unless my son posts anything, our next piece will be after our visit to The Bears Head next Saturday.


Saturday, 15 September 2012

Getting Ready

Saturday 15th September

Hi, Steve here... 

Well, we're sorted for the first visit at last. We selected the pub that we're going to (number 1, gotta start somewhere...) and I rang them, got an e-mail address and mailed them. Mail failed. Tried again. Failed again. 

In the end Clint rang them.

Didn't you Clint?

So I rang this pub and, would you credit it, the Manager is away on holiday until next Friday (21st Sept) but I spoke to the assistant manager and she was very helpful. I explained what we wanted to do (talk to regulars, take photos etc.) and she said there should be plenty of opportunity as she had a few regulars in mind and it shouldn't be a problem. I've contacted both the local papers letters page and a local history group so lots of people should know we're coming. As I'm typing this I've just received a mail from Alastair, the Chairman of the  local history group saying they are looking forward to meeting us and supplying us with some interesting stories. How spooky is that??? It's gotta be a sign that we're into something bigger than us!!!!

Once we decided on the pub I thought I'd do a bit of research on t'interweb and some of the tales make excellent reading and brilliant blog material. Can't wait to tell you about it.

Right! Time to reveal all....

On Saturday 22nd September we are going to visit The Bears Head at Brereton near Sandbach, Cheshire.

We are hoping to arrive in Brereton around 4.00pm to explore the village a bit and look forward to meeting lots of people at the pub later and having a chat (and a drink) (or two) (or whatever). 

By the sounds of it we will probably have too much information to put in one blog so bear with us and we will get stuff published as soon as poss.

So, see you there.....

P. S. How the bigger print peeps?

Monday, 3 September 2012


So I said to this bloke....

As in the great tradition of all jokes, one bloke said to another, and before you know it, a throwaway remark became an idea, an idea became a plan, and then we had another beer and forgot the plan........

As all great family traditions start, it was over a couple of cold beers (well, at least with our family, that's how traditions start) on a warm evening, and even more beer flowed, and the conversation was making less sense... I'm Clint, a married father of two, and I was spending the evening with my young wife and kids at my parents house, catching up after a hard week. As the night went on, my kids went to bed, and me and me old man were chillaxing by his epic chiminea, My dad told me of his latest acquisition to his new hobby.

My dad has a semi-keen interest in old cigarette cards and silks, not the embassy "collect 200 for a heated blanket" kind, but the pre-war panini sticker type collections, where one would collect a set of  butterflies! or cricketers, or battalion flags, or.... ye olde inns...

This latest collection was a set of W.D & H.O Wills 40 old inns, documenting some of the most historic, interesting and famous inns and public house of the time. The cards were issued in 1939, and he managed to pick them up from a generic online auction site for the princely sum of £13.49, (including UK postage!) and he was well chuffed with them... (especially since he saw the exact same set for sale for £55!) (PLUS POSTAGE!!!)

So, the daft sod made a remark that would change our weekend plans, and bank balances, for the foreseeable future...

take it away dad....

My names Steve and I'm Clint's Dad. I'm a married father of three and Grandad to four wonderful kids. Last Saturday night I let my son, Clint and his family come round mine to sponge off me (He bought ONE crate of beer, I got three). We had a beer and then another,and another ad infinitum, then had a Chinese delivered (meal, not person) then more beer. Eventually the Grandkids and ladies went to bed and left me and my drunken son chatting in front of my epic chimenea! Eventually we got around to talking about my new hobby (Which normally bores Clint to tears) and discussing my new purchase, the set of Old Inns. 

Surprisingly, Clint seemed genuinely interested in them and we had quite a long chat about them.

Then I said " You know what, wouldn't it be great to go and visit all these old pubs and have a pint in each one"

From little acorns.......

Over to you Clint....

Being quite rash, and foolhardy (A knob) (thanks dad) I immediately exclaimed "What a fantastic idea!" and we had a lengthy discussion about the adventure we might have...

Upon sobering up the next day, I thought, genuinely, this might be a good idea. I mean, why not? Me and dad are great drinking buddies, (I pay a lot), He likes old... things, I like drinking, so we had a sober chat, and we thought it would be a good thing to do.

But then that acorn was still growing....

I don't know why I thought of it, but for some reason, I logged onto Facebook, and posted a status asking whether blogging our adventure might interest folk, then I posted it on the CAMRA page (CAMpaign for Real Ale), which prompted an invite to a history page, and posted it again, and in less than 12 hours I had a brilliant response from complete strangers from around the world saying they would read our blog....

So I'd better start writing the bugger.... and here we are, sat in the same space we were 2 nights ago, wondering about, number 1, what have we got ourselves into, and number 2, what excuse can we use to get off work tomorrow...

Here are some more precise details, there are 40 pubs/inns in the card collection, located all over the UK, from the highlands of Scotland, to the centre of our capital, via Wales, Cornwall, Northern Ireland, Irish Republic, and there and back again. We plan to visit every pub in the collection, whether it's still a pub or not. If not, we'll visit the local offy, grab a can of Tennants Extra and squat outside where it used to be. We plan on contacting each establishment prior to our visit, where we would hope to talk to the landlord and locals, grab a photo, and possibly obtain a souvenir and some local folklore, all of which we wish to share with you via this blog. We originally discussed visiting each inn as they are numbered in the collection, but the cost of logistics is currently out of our price range, so we will start with number 1, then visit some popular areas where several pubs are located. then we will plan on ending our trip at number 40. 

So, we have yet to contact the first establishment, but as soon as we have, we'll post details on this blog, share on facebook, and set the ball rolling...

Any other thoughts or feedback is gonna help, so please, please let us know what you think, and share with your friends.

Enough from me, you got owt to add Dad?

Not much, but there is one thing. A few people have asked for the list of pubs we are going to visit. I don't really wanna reveal it all to add a bit of mystery..... (plus I'd feel like Scott of the Antarctic to go round and find someone was beating us to it). However, when we post details of when and where we're going, all and sundry are welcome to meet us there.

Anyway, you'll have to excuse us now. our beer is feeling neglected...