Previously untold stories from six hundred years of history in a Worcestershire village have been revealed in a new book about a unique local pub which has remained in the ownership of the same family throughout most of that period.
‘A Workingman’s Castle,’ which unveils for the first time the full story of The Fleece Inn in the village of Bretforton, near Evesham, tells how a humble dwelling built as a temporary peasant farmhouse around 1425, eventually became a national treasure attracting visitors from all over the world.
Written and researched by journalist, author and Birmingham Press Club member, Chris Mowbray, with the help and guidance of The Fleece’s landlord, Nigel Smith, the book also outlines how the building and its contents represent a unique time capsule which mirrors centuries of rural working class life.
The Fleece, which was the home of succeeding generations of the Byrd family for more than 500 years, did not become a pub until 1848 when, after more than four centuries of working the land, the Byrds were forced to diversify because they could no longer compete with modern farming methods.
It became the first pub to be owned by the National Trust after Lola Taplin, the elderly unmarried licensee and the last member of the Byrd family, left it to the charity in her will when she died in 1977.The book reveals tales about Lola and her family which are lovingly told alongside historic and local photos.
“Lola was a real character still fondly remembered by many people even though she refused to serve customers whenever ‘Coronation Street’ was on her television in one of the bars,” said Nigel who is featured in the book and is now the longest serving licensee since Lola.
“Chris has painstakingly researched minutiae of detail on The Fleece. His book is accessible and will be un-putdown-able for anyone with an interest in this famous historic inn or in local history in general.”
Chris and Nigel first discussed the possibility of writing the book after the rebuilding of The Fleece following a devastating fire which nearly destroyed it in 2004. Nigel is now the longest serving licensee of The Fleece since Lola Taplin.
Says Chris: “Anyone who has been to The Fleece knows that it is a very special place and spending time there is a delight. It feels so much like home that I once even went to sleep there in front of the fire and other customers have done so as well.
“The Fleece is something far greater than an interesting old building. By pure chance, it is an historical treasure trove of a kind rarely found in recorded history and the thrill of researching its story transformed what was already a fascinating writing project.”
‘A Workingman’s Castle’ is available to buy for £6.00 per copy, from The Fleece Inn or online at www.thefleeceinn.co.uk