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A Pub In a Churchyard

The Mug House is a pub that serves the village of Claines just outside the city of Worcester. It is one of just two pubs in all of Britain that genuinely stand on consecrated ground – the pub was built at one end of the churchyard. Today a low wrought-iron fence separates drinkers from the resting places of the past congregation of the Church of St John the Baptist.

It was common for village churches to brew “an ale” once or twice a year to boost their funds as many of these settlements were very poor and the tithe the church took from their parishioners just wasn't enough. The term “ale” was in fact used as the name of the occasion, such as “Whitsun-ale”, but the “church-ale” was commonly held every sunday until the beer ran out. This had gone on since the Middle Ages but was banned in most dioceses after the Civil War, however it continued in places such as Claines with the “dronken roystering” at some ales often wilder than a modern festival. The Mug House was no exception here, with outraged residents writing to the Bishop about the “demoralising debauch” that played out during the summer ales.

During the 1700s the big occasions such as the Wakes, Whitsun etc actually saw the entire churchyard crowded with ale drinkers taking part in bare-knuckle boxing, cock fights and all manner of subsequently banned activities. These very rowdy events were stamped out by the end of the century with a set of punishment stocks being installed between the church and the ale house. The last incumbent of this device sat his time out in 1853, a “cow man” sentenced to the stocks for “being paralytic drunk”.

The Mug House is reputed to be the most haunted pub in the county, hardly surprising with its unusual neighbours, with everything from flying tankards to rolling barrels being witnessed at times. It has been estimated that up to 20,000 corpses have been laid to rest in the graveyard during the church's thousand year history so nobody would be shocked if some kind of phenomena showed itself. Clinking glasses, rocking stools, slamming doors, the list of spooky goings-on is a long one. In 1947 a Bishop's crozier was found hidden inside a wall, it was Medieval and made from silver, possibly hidden away in the ale-house for safe-keeping during the Reformation and then forgotten.

“A horse walks into a bar and the barman asks why the long face?” may be one of the oldest jokes in the book but in 2014 this is exactly what happened at The Mug House! Grand National winner Pineau De Re was stabled and trained nearby and so on his return home the gelding and his trainer Dr Richard Newland were invited to the pub – when Pineau was actually led through the front door and into the bar for a drink!

Today both the Mug House and the Church of St John the Baptist are wonderfully peaceful places to saunter through and then relax with a pint. The summer months see the yard and beer garden pretty busy but thankfully none of the “sports” of yesteryear, so do try and call in at “God's pub”!

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