Pubs, Clubs and Missionaries

Wye-side pubs have always been an attraction, both from the riverside and roadside. Today, many of them have gone. Here are some we remember.

‘Many of course were decent family men, intent only on making a living, but there was a leavening of vagabonds, who were willing to work hard, but were determined to play hard in their own time.’ H.L.F. Fletcher in his Portrait of the Wye Valley, (1968) describing the hardworking, hard-drinking, Irish navvies who helped build the dams upstream of the Wye.

In Goodrich and Welsh Bicknor in 1851 there were 496 people. Of these, 150 

were married adults and 113 unmarried adults, and 29 widows or widowers.

It supported a number of occupations including agricultural labourers, a ship’s carpenter, fishermen, a miller, cordwinder, coachman, housemaid, wagoners. They must have been thirsty after a day’s work, for there were also two innkeepers. There are not many villages that can boast two pubs in the modern era and many riverside inns have called last orders for the final time, some we are glad to see the back of, others we wish would open their doors one more time.

The Camp Inn, Eaton Bishop ‘As nice as the seaside’, Ivy Doody.

Now closed, the Camp Inn, perched high above the Wye, had the most enviable of positions. It’s no wonder it was a draw. The pub dated back to the 1830s, when it was a cider house before becoming a pub in the late 19th Century. Thirsty customers would arrive by car, foot, bike and, often, by water. In the 1950s, Hereford Rowing Club’s John Slatford, remembers lazy days, picnics, games, and floating up in time for opening hours:

‘As I remember, there were at least four pleasure boats that the Club owned, and they were probably already 50 years old. We got some from Jordan’s when they closed down. The largest of these boats, with four pairs of oars, was affectionately known at the Comet and another with three pairs was called the Randan. We would set off on a Sunday morning with food ready for a river bank fry up, arrive at the Vee stream, disembark and climb up to The Camp in time for mid-day opening. There we would stay until closing time at two o’clock.’

Ivy Doody spent her childhood, carefree, summer days in Eaton Bishop: ‘In the 1930s folks used to come up from Hereford in their boats and picnic on the river bank. It was a nice as the seaside. We used to paddle in the river and climb the 38 steps to the Camp Inn, which was run by Anne and Tom Flecknor. We would sometimes walk up to the Laurels nearby, which was owned by Mr and Mrs Cook, and enjoy their tea, homemade cake, sandwiches and marrow jam.’

The Vaga Tavern

The Vaga, a dying breed of a pub. Proper backstreet boozer, it was and is the centre of community. Gordon McLeod was landlord in the 1960s and son Gary used to help out:

‘There was always someone bringing things into the pub to sell, all sorts of seasonal foods. If you knew someone killing pheasants then they would bring pheasants in and then you would get fed up of pheasants, or you’d get fed up of eels and then people would catch rabbits. Everything in Hunderton revolved around the pub, because it was, well it was the Vaga. If you were a total stranger and you walked in years ago everyone would just stop and look and think, “Is that a copper?” Then someone would go and find out, “What do you want pal?” At Christmas and New Year, no one locked their doors. Nothing ever got stolen.

‘You had two men’s quoits teams, you had two lady’s quoits teams. Then you had the lady’s darts, that used to be on a Wednesday. Then you had the men’s Fat, that was cards, on the Tuesday, then you had the crib on the Tuesday, and the men’s darts would be on the Monday. We had two teams, two at home and two away. When they were playing away my old man always used to give the captain beer money for eight pints, that’s for the eight in a team, when they were home naturally they didn’t have it, but when they went to play away he made sure they had a pint to go with. Because he used to maintain that probably on a Monday night the lads had spent out, they were skint, they wouldn’t go out for pint, but they would go out for two pints. So, if they’ve got enough for two then they would have three.’

Saracens’s Head, ‘Sags’

This is a riverside public house, which has good views over the River Wye and has been a well-used hostelry for over 200 years. During the 1800s, almost all business would have been generated from the local river trade and the ancillary occupations nearby. Long after the loss of the river trade, it continued to prosper from not only normal pub activities, but also football and cricket teams, who used the Sags as their headquarters. It is also the Registered Office of a (dormant) Company named Ross Docks Limited, whose business is described as "Inland Passenger Water Transport" and "Inland Freight Water Transport" and The Rivers Wye and Lugg Navigation and Horse Towing-path Company Limited.

PIC 171 THE BUFFS Caption: Wesley Mason’s grandfather, Thomas Thomas moved to Herefordshire in 1932. He was the Manager of the Hampton Park Brickworks and continued to live at Brickworks House until about 1956. He became heavily involved with the Buffs. His grandson, living in Hereford, still has Wesley’s Buffs regalia, belts, sashes, buttons, medals.

Its other association for many years was with the ‘poor man’s Freemasons’. Between the 1940s and 1960s, the Saracen's Head was the local lodge of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes (RAOB) or Buffs to most local people. It was a fraternal organisation with origins dating back to 1822 in London. However, their headquarters is the Grand Lodge of England and is based in Harrogate, Yorkshire. It is still an active organisation and footage shot at the 1948 Remembrance Parade in Hereford shows how popular an organisation it was, with a stream of Buffs members marching down Broad Street, many of them in their later years, with medals jostling for space on their chests.

Gary McLeod: ‘The Buffs was always called the poor man’s Freemasons. Members would pay a pittance to be part of it, but if you were off work or had hard times, you could go to the local officer and say you’ve got no work or the kids are ill, and they would give you money. It originally came from all those mining towns up north. It was on par with a trade union, like a private union. You would pay a subscription and you would meet at these public houses, like the Sags, because it was somewhere they could all meet and have a drink. But they had this charitable pot because the things the Buffs did to help people was unbelievable.’

The Yew Tree

The Yew Tree, also known as the Wood Inn, occupied an idyllic, if remote position near to Brockhampton. There was a winning darts team there in the 1960s. Mains electricity was yet to arrive so matches were lit by Tilley lamps and ‘facilities’ were ‘anywhere outside’.

Kerne Bridge Inn

As the rail tracks emerge from the tunnel under Coppett Hill, they cross the river on the viaduct, before coming to rest at Kerne Bridge Station. Situated almost opposite the station was the popular Kerne Bridge Inn. It would have welcomed many a thirsty traveller in its time. Margaret Morgan’s family ran the Inn from 1890 right up to the 1970s. She was born there as was her mother before her. Today, Margaret lives near Cirencester, her home furnished with some of the items that once graced the Kerne Bridge Inn.

‘My family first arrived at the Kerne Bridge Inn in 1890, when it was a hotel. By the time I arrived in 1944, it was a very rural place then and we had a well in our house and most of the little houses around would go there to get their fresh drinking water. I can see them now coming down with their metal pails. They also collected their paraffin as well, which we sold at the Inn and newspapers too. We had our petrol pumps outside too. You’d have people from all walks of life dropping in. They would come in at lunchtime and there would be this open forum about politics. It was a mixed clientele.’

The pub was the centre of the community: ‘My parents set up a tennis club, a cricket club and a football club. I remember mummy preparing oranges for half time. She held the Women’s Institute in what was also called the club room, which was also my wonderful play room and the police parties were held there too. They knew they could come and it was a safe place to let their hair down.’

Albion Inn

Long after it closed, this former pub in Bishopswood still has “Albion” painted on the outside. Emmanuel Husbands, originally from Presteign and a pit sawyer, took over as publican in 1892, and ran the pub for decades, a tenant of Alton Court Breweries. His daughters, Jane and Sarah Ann, served as barmaids. He is buried in Walford churchyard.

Like its neighbour, the Kerne Bridge Inn, the Albion supported the local football team. Margaret Wilce, now living in Walford, was born Bishopswood, and remembers her boyfriend, now husband Dennis, playing football: ‘He had to go to the Albion on a Monday night to help pick the football team for the following Saturday’s match, this would be from 1952/53. The Albion was the football headquarters for Bishopswood Football Club in those days and the changing rooms were in the old village hall, which was directly below. The football pitch was on the river bank in front of where the new village hall is now, and the ball often went into the river, so more than one was always available.’

The Sugwas Boat

Another pub placed strategically on the river, ideal for passing river trade and traffic, was the Sugwas Boat. Like the Albion, white lettering on the red brick wall still announces the building as a former pub. It’s the site of a former ferry crossing too. Ninety-six-year-old Joan Lloyd was one of its former customers and describes a landlord rather lacking in customer care: ‘The landlord used to be a bit crabby. The pub got to be so packed that we used to sit on the tables. “Get off the table,” he said, “they were made for glasses not asses!” So we would move.’

In September 2015, Hereford Baptist Church’s Senior Minister Antony Wareham and Youth Pastor Jason Borlase conducted the church’s first baptism in the river near the Victoria Bridge on the special request of Ben Menzies and Joseph Meiklejohn. A large group from the church lined the bridge to witness this unique event. We don’t know if there have been more river baptisms. Downstream at the Courtfield Estate, the Millhill Fathers were conducting their own baptism ceremonies.

Mill Hill Missionary Order

While not overtly customers of local hostelries, there are tales of lore about the parties at Mill Hill, a former missionary training school and, later on, a retreat centre, with sweeping views of the river from the Courtfield Estate, the ancestral home of the Vaughan family. The Mill Hill Missionaries were originally founded by Cardinal Herbert Vaughan in the mid 19th century, and in the early 1960s Courtfield became the training centre for Brother candidates, preparing them for missionary work in the developing world.

When the Mill Hill Fathers arrived, workshops were constructed and machinery was installed all with the aim of training these young Brothers in practical skills for mission work in remote outposts around the world. At one time, there were 30 Brothers training there. In 1976, local papers announced the opening of their newly-completed residential block, built completely by the Brothers. Juxtaposed against the grand Courtfield house, their construction was rather ugly, but functional. Nonetheless, the Auxiliary Bishop of Cardiff opened the new building with a celebratory mass and a promise that the buildings would, ‘provide the brothers with practical experience in crafts they will teach in the mission fields’.

Father Christopher Fox worked for over 20 years in Uganda, where he represented the Mill Hill Missionaries. He was administrator at Courtfield from 1996 until its closure in 2003 and was often asked to talk at John Kyrle High School assemblies. He is retired now and living back in his native Dublin, but has fond memories of his Herefordshire home.

‘Well I used to like a run alongside the river up towards Symonds Yat, that was one of my favourite pastimes. And of course, the students and staff alike used to take on other local teams in a game of football on the sloping field near the river. They were not ideal conditions of course. We used to have teams come up here from different places, Haigh Engineering from Ross was one and there was another from Glewstone.’ It’s been suggested, but not confirmed, that one of the young missionaries was in fact an ex- Chelsea player, so they were clearly no push over when it came to soccer. ‘Groups of many faiths used to come and stay, including Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches, Anglican and Methodist, MPs and the Archbishop of Canterbury.’

Father Fox was sad to leave his riverside home. ‘I spent seven happy years there and made innumerable friends. When I left there was just Father Louis Purcell and Father Denny O’Connor. I valued their presence and friendship very much indeed. We always tried to make visitors feel welcome and at home. I do hope that memories live on and that Courtfield and its history will continue to inspire.’

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