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Thornbury Pubs - Past and Present

Explore other pages in: Local history articles

March 2008

Members and guests of Thornbury Historical Society were cordially entertained and educated on 11th March by Mr. George Ford presenting a talk on 'Thornbury Pubs - Past and Present'. George was raised in one of our local hostelries and has done many years research on the subject (academically speaking of course).

A packed St. Mary's church hall was fascinated by the history associated with our pubs, going back even to medieval times. In those days it was the church that controlled just about everything, including the production and distribution of ale, and the alehouse was often next to the church, as is the case at Tytherington. The pub near the church in Thornbury (the Lamb) has long since gone, indeed most of our pubs are relatively recent, but the fact that there have been at least 34 outlets in Thornbury over the years, with a maximum of 14 at one time in the early 1800's, shows how much pub history we have.

In Tudor times, under the influence of the lord of the manor, three of the pubs had names associated with the Stafford shield; the Swan, the Antelope, and the Widows Mantle. The Swan still survives, although the building is later. It was important in Georgian times as a coaching inn on the Bristol to Birmingham passage, and still has a small window in the inner courtyard where a drink could be passed out to a thirsty coach driver. It was also used as a courthouse for sessions and coroner's courts, and election results were announced from the entrance portico. Another old survivor is the Anchor at Morton. Known as the Blue Anchor in 1696, it too was used as a coroner's court and as a mortuary for the body of a locally murdered woman.

Moving on to early Victorian times it was, strangely enough, a dangerous preference for gin that led to a boom in local ale houses. The government encouraged these in order to wean people off gin. Many of our current pubs date from around this time; the Barrel, the Black Horse, the Knot O'Rope (formerly the Exchange Hotel), the Wheatsheaf and the White Lion. Some have very complex histories where a licence has moved from place to place. The Plough took its name and licence from a pub called the Seven Stars, so it is astrological and is nothing to do with ploughing. The Royal George on the Plain, was formerly the Boar's Head, one of several pubs situated on the original town market place.

As the Temperance movement gathered strength in Victorian times, pub licences were restricted and coffee shops and non-alcoholic pubs became more popular. Many Thornbury pubs were converted to other uses such as estate agents, charity shops and, yes, even a kebab shop. Pub names such as; the Cock, New Inn, Beaufort, Queen's Head, Black Lion, Horseshoe and Star are now just dim and befuddled memories. A forgotten part of our local heritage but for enthusiasts like George.

The society is most grateful to George Ford for bringing our public house heritage to life. We look forward to our next meeting when Bob Griffin will give an insight into Concorde.


The Thornbury Local History and Archaeology Society always welcomes new and occasional members. Details of our programme can be found on this website, the library or the Town Hall. Our meetings are on the second Tuesday of the month, held at St Mary's Church Hall beginning at 7.30. Visitors are always welcome at the society for the small charge of £3.

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