A Ghostly Welcome at the Fleece Inn
Updated: Jan 7, 2021
Thousands of pubs and inns are in business throughout the Mercia region, with the buildings and features of many of them being important historical sites in themselves. I've been doing my bit to help as many of them as I can during these difficult times – and enjoying myself in the process – so let's take a look at some of them over the next few posts.
Bretforton is a village near Evesham in Worcestershire. If the name sounds like a location in The Last Kingdom you'd be right, as the village name has remained the same since the Old English speaking Anglo Saxon era. As time went on it became a major location for farming, trading directly into the market town of Evesham, but owned by the abbey there. When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries something quite progressive for the time happened at Bretforton. The tenant farmers clubbed together and bought the manor from the Crown, becoming some of England's new landowning yeomen. They built some fine houses around the village, one of which stands today as The Fleece Inn.
First built in the early 1400s, before the tenant buyout, by a farmer called Byrd as a medieval longhouse, the building was lived in continuously by the Byrd family until 1977 when old Lola Taplin bequeathed ownership to the National Trust on her death. The formidable old school landlady passed away as she snoozed by the log fire in the snug, and some say today her presence can still be felt there, with one or two people even claiming to have seen her and smelt a curious perfume scent. An old rocking chair swings on it's own and objects have been pushed over – it was well known that Lola hated the idea of serving food in her pub so is this her anger at beer battered fish and chips now being served? On that spooky note we move to one of The Fleece's most well known features – the “Witch marks”. These were commonly inscribed in houses and inns in England, a tradition dating right back to the heathen Saxons but more common from the Tudor era onwards. The intention was to protect the building and it's occupants from witches and warlocks, and the hexes and curses they might send out. Usually based around circular patterns they also pop up in old tithe barns and even churches, although in the latter case they may have been inscribed while the church was under construction, rather than on the finished and consecrated building.
The Fleece has lots of them, originally inscribed in chalk and redrawn over and over with each successive generation, but after a fire in 2007 that damaged a lot of the building the old chalkings were drawn permanently in solid white paint, meticulously recreated from old photographs and sketches. Both fireplaces are protected, along with a curious sigil on the old stone floor and a carving on the inside of the main door. The bar and snug are furnished with a host of original old wooden benches and tables with a huge glass doored sideboard at one end of the snug. This contains another strange set of artefacts – the dinner service of Oliver Cromwell. As the main Parliamentarian army, led by Cromwell himself, made it's way towards Worcester for the final victorious battle of the Civil War, the generals stayed the night at The Fleece. As all the money and gold was kept locked and guarded to pay the troops afterwards, Cromwell's extensive pewter dinner service was left as payment for dinner and breakfast – or so the story goes.
The BBC used The Fleece to film scenes for their adaptation of Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit, renaming it The Green Dragon, as hardly any changes were needed to convert the inn to the aesthetic of their required era. The village of Bretforton itself has it's fair share of strangeness too, with a phantom carriage drawing up at the gate to the church, and a headless lady seen by many people wandering across the surrounding fields. There is a well in the grounds of one of the big farmhouses where a local cattle herder drowned, his name was Spot Loggins and it is said if one runs round the well three times blindfolded either he will appear when you uncover your syes or you will lose everything you have in your pockets. The legend of Spot Loggins is commemorated every November in The Fleece with a night of folk music and stories – I'm not sure what will happen this year though.
If you're in South Worcestershire or the north Cotswolds, please do try and swing by this beautiful village and stop at The Fleece for a drink. Customers are currently served in their extensive apple orchard which has an enchanting atmosphere of it's own, but as things relax I'm sure it won't be long until customers can take in the historic interior of the building. If you see me in there – mine's a pint of Pig's Ear!
The Fleece Inn
Witch marks by one of the fire places
Arms of the Byrd family hanging outside The Fleece
Witch mark sigil in the snug
The dinner service of Oliver Cromwell