Leintwardine is a quiet, rural village in Herefordshire, close to the border with Shropshire. The unusual name simply means ‘enclosure on the River Lent’. The village sits on a Roman road about quarter of a mile from the little fort of Branogenium. It is believed that a mansio was built at Leintwardine, a mansio being a sort of inn for travellers along Roman roads.
This is quite appropriate, for a very fine inn stands there today. The Sun Inn is one of the country’s very few remaining parlour pubs. Listed as a beerhouse rather than as a pub in the 19th century, the Sun Inn is a surprising relic of times gone by.
The Inn hit the headlines in 2009, when the owner, Flossie Lane, died. Flossie had been born in the Sun Inn in 1914, and had run the little pub for seventy years and with her death, the future looked bleak as there was no one to take up the reins. Fortunately, with the support of CAMRA and a local ‘Save the Sun Inn’ campaign, two men stepped up to save the pub – Gary Seymour and Nick Davies.
When I visited the Sun in October 2011, I found that the building had recently been considerably extended to the rear. A very pleasant drinking space has been built, with a proper bar and comfortable seating. Behind the bar that night was John Ball, who kindly showed me around the place. We walked into the original parlour, on your left as you enter the building.
‘Flossie would sit there,’ he said, pointing at an armchair in the corner of the room. The woman occupying it that night looked a little nervous. ‘Not that chair, obviously,’ said John, ‘The one that used to be there.’
Through the next door was the cellar. Not a true underground cellar, a ground floor room, originally the kitchen, with barrels stacked on a new rack, and with new cooling plant installed.
‘People would just walk in,’ continued John, ‘Say hello to Flossie and come in here. They’d tap themselves a pint from the barrel and leave their money in these tins. That one’s for tenners, that one’s for fivers.’ The tins are still there, in a cupboard on the wall opposite the beer barrels.
We then walked through into the public bar, empty of customers tonight, who all seemed to be in the new extension. A long table dominates the room – I’ve been told it’s an old coffin table. I’m not sure how to react to that because I don’t know what a coffin table is. Was it designed specifically to put coffins on? Would anyone buy such an item? How many deaths were they expecting? Just let me suggest that if your spouse buys a coffin table, run away. Terribly fast.
‘Here,’ said John, ‘You can be mayor for the night,’ and to my great delight, he placed the strange Sun Inn mayoral hat on my head. The Sun Inn is one of those peculiar places where pub ‘mayors’ are elected. This is not an ancient tradition, however, and only dates back to 1994.
Having satisfied my historical curiosity, I wandered back into the new extension, marvelling at how sympathetically the addition had been made. I think (don’t quote me on this), that you walk through the original building’s back door to get into the new build. The new bar stands against the back wall of the old house, in what would have been the open air a year or so ago.
On the bar that evening were Hobson’s Bitter, Hobson’s Mild and Hobson’s Twisted Spire. I opted for the Mild, a 2011 CAMRA Beer of the Year. The tap spat and bubbled as John cursed. ‘Only had these pumps fitted today,’ he muttered as he went back to check the barrels. He came out again with a sheepish grin on his face. ‘Turned the wrong tap off,’ he said. This time the mild flowed freely. Smooth and malty with a definite coffee flavour. Plenty flavour here.
There may be some purists out there who may moan about what has happened to the Sun Inn. It’s now got a real bar, with real pumps, and when you’re in the new bar, there is no sense of the history of the place.
I disagree. I think the current owners have done a superb job, balancing the need to retain the historic pub (which internally is totally unchanged) and the need to make the Sun Inn into a realistic commercial proposition. There is a real contrast between the old Sun and the new Sun, but they do not clash, and whilst you can no longer pour your own beer and leave the money in an honesty tin (come on!), you can still sup your pint sitting at the coffin table in the public bar.
The Sun Inn, whether you’re in the old part or the new, is simply a really nice place to be.
Well done, Gary and Nick, you have succeeded superbly!
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