The Autumn 2011 Tippler, the Gloucestershire CAMRA newsletter, has just come out and it contains two articles written by yours truly. One is a slight re-wording of my blog on the Gloucester Rhythm & Blues Festival, accompanied by some pictures by Katie Thomas, the other is about the open day at the New Inn around the same time.
Unfortunately, the latter article obviously went on a bit too long and it had to be cut down in the Tippler, so although it is quite a while ago now I thought I would publish the whole thing here, along with a couple of pictures.
I had agreed to provide a supporting role to proceedings; giving a brief introduction to some of the pub’s fascinating history before passing them on to Mark, dressed in full period regalia, to show them around. To finish off the experience, the unwary visitors were led to ‘Lyn’s Lair’ to be frightened by Lyn Cinderey’s tales of ghostly goings on at the inn.
When I signed up for this I didn’t realise that the first tour was going to be at 10am – a bit early for me on a Saturday, especially after a night out drinking in Cheltenham the evening before, but I managed to arrive on time to find a few people already milling about.
The New Inn has been described as the finest example of a medieval galleried inn in Britain. This is how I started my talk, and standing in the New Inn’s magnificent courtyard no-one seemed inclined to disagree with this assessment. It was built by the Abbey of St Peter, now the Cathedral, and is known as one of the three ‘Great Inns of the Abbey’ (the others being the Ram, which stood on the corner of Northgate and St Aldate Street, and the Fleece in Westgate Street). It was built between 1430 and 1450 by the monk John Twinning.
Mark was able to show the signs that still exist of this religious heritage: there is an angel on the angle post on the corner of New Inn Lane which has sadly been decapitated, possibly at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. There is also an impressive spandrel on the archway into the inn which bears the sacred monogram IHC, which is the first 3 letters of the Greek name for Jesus. Until recently there was also a model of a lion and snake on top of the entrance to the Real Ale bar, representing the struggle of good and evil, but it is currently undergoing renovation.
The New Inn once provided accommodation for 200 people, mostly in dormitories’. In medieval times that meant also providing stabling for their horses. Later, as a coaching inn in the eighteenth century, it still had to provide stabling and Mark was able to show where this was: in what is now the restaurant! He then went on to do a tour of some of the bedrooms that weren’t occupied by guests. These days they are well appointed en-suite rooms rather than the dormitories of the past.
Unfortunately we couldn’t get to see in the Lady Jane Grey Suite, named after the ill-fated Queen whose coronation in 1553 was announced at the New Inn – only one of two places in the country to do so. We did however get to see the Oak Suite: the oldest bedroom, complete with four-poster bed and a secret panel in the wall.
The bedrooms are in two tiers of galleries, but there is in fact a third level. It is thought that these were servants’ quarters. Mark opened a small door in the corridor so that we could peer into the gloomy medieval interior. These rooms haven’t been used for over 150 years, but according to Lyn this doesn’t stop guests on the second level complaining about the noise from the rooms above: spooky!
Then we were back downstairs in the bars. In the past, after being taken over by Bernie Inns in 1954, the New Inn had 13 separate bars. It can’t quite match that today, but this weekend another opened for regular use: the wonderfully ornate Tree Tops Bar at the rear of the courtyard was being prepared to open as the Gloucester Blues Club. The first act, My Name is Earl, appeared on Sunday night and went down a storm.
The Tree Tops Bar is also home to ‘Lyn’s Lair’, the base of operations for Lyn Cinderey’s Ghost Walks. Dressed in her usual hat and cape she told tales of spooky goings-on in the attic rooms and of beer glasses moved by unseen hands. She also provided a tour of the cellars, the oldest and creepiest part of the inn. The cellars also show a bricked up entrance to what some believe is the tunnel rumoured to run from the New Inn to the Cathedral.
The punters, both local and visitors, went away very impressed, with much suggestion of what a great place the New Inn would be to stay. The whole process was repeated again at 1200, 1400 and after the carnival finished at 1700. All tours were very well attended, which just goes to show that there is an appetite out there both for history and for great pubs!