When reading George Orwell’s portrayal of his idyllic public house ‘The Moon Under Water’, I wondered had he visited the Fleece Inn, would his words no longer be a work of fiction, more a retelling of a visit to this very special pub. Like stepping into a time-warp, The Fleece Inn sits pretty within the beautiful Worcestershire village of Bretforton. From the original Victorian furniture and trinkets, to the low wooden beams, as you weave through the various rooms you instantly sense the wonderful atmosphere and history of the building. Paintings and photographs hang upon the walls, depicting moments that are gone but not forgotten. It’s said that this very pub was the inspiration for the Prancing Pony Inn, in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. A member of the ‘CAMRA Good Food Guide’, excellent traditional food, service that focuses on friendliness, involvement and giving people a sense of belonging, The Fleece Inn truly is a special place.
Nigel Smith, landlord of the Fleece Inn, humbly describes himself as the ‘current gatekeeper’ of the 600 year old national treasure. The oldest part of the inn was built in 1400 as a traditional peasant longhouse (The preferred form of cheap rural housing during the medieval period). More impressively it remained within the same family until 1977, when the last in line Lola Taplin passed away at the age of 83. The entire village turned out for her funeral, to pay homage to Lola and the long standing family connection to the Inn. Lola ensured that the Inn was left to the National Trust, which has allowed the Inn to continue to thrive years after her passing and many believe her presence can still be felt around the place. A particular incident involving flying tea cups is cited as a reminder from Lola that certain items (such as her shoes), are to remain untouched. A straw owl can be seen perched upon the thatched barn roof as a tribute to Lola, after she told those close to her that she intended to return as an owl one day to keep a watchful eye.
In 1848, Henry Bird turned the house into a pub/brewhouse. In a time where almost anyone could turn their front rooms into a public house, Henry saw an opportunity to bring the village together in the best way he knew how…beer. The original brewing equipment remains today and sits pride of place above the fire place in the old brewhouse. It’s this very same spot that plays home to a series of witches circles, painted at the foot of the fire place to mesmerise any evil spirits attempting to enter through the chimney. Nigel assures me, he’s yet to encounter any unwelcome customers during his tenure.
Nigel took over The Fleece Inn in 2002 and was the first pub to take Pure UBU in 2005 when Paul & Jim first founded Purity. Since that day, the relationship between The Fleece and Purity has gone from strength to strength, seeing a number of our cask and keg beers regularly available on the bar. The relationship went one further in June 2018, when Nigel’s son, Elliot joined the brewery as a barrel washer. Elliot has fast become a very popular part of the Racking team, with his infectious enthusiasm and humour! Since then we’ve been able to welcome Nigel’s daughter Maddy to the Purity family too, joining our Sales Support team earlier this month.
There are many more tales to tell about this wonderful pub than I could possibly share in this short blog post, so I can only urge you all to visit The Fleece Inn and discover them for yourselves. There is also a book available called ‘A Workingman’s Castle’, written by Christopher Mowbray, that guides you through the rich history of the building and the wonderful characters that have once called The Fleece their home. But for now, mine’s a pint of Mad Goose, poured by the brilliant ‘current gatekeeper’ Nigel Smith, as I once more soak up this fascinating pub!