After an extensive, six-year restoration project, The Black Bear in Tewkesbury is getting ready to welcome visitors back – and SoGlos was invited inside for a sneak peek at what punters can look forward to when the UK's oldest pub reopens its doors later this summer.
Owner Luke Haynes, who is a furniture maker by trade, had three years of working with historians and conservationist before he could even begin work restoring Tewkesbury's oldest and most iconic pub.
Many residents have been following the revival of the pub with great interest, watching as the garden bar has been brought to life and peeking through the windows to see a steady stream of local electricians, plumbers, landscapers, carpenters and painters file in and out over the last three years.
Giving SoGlos an exclusive first tour, Haynes' sister Evelyn explained its history.
'This pub was built in 1308,' she said. 'And it's been a pub ever since then. We've done our research and it is the oldest pub that has always been a pub in the UK. As we've been bringing it back to life, we've been bringing the old and quirky features back.
'We found a lot of wood rot which we replaced, restored and treated and the most exciting discovery was a secret passageway that monks used to get to Tewkesbury Abbey.
'There were also old burned beams from a fire in the 1930s which we decided to expose to build a story about the pub's past.
'So much has happened here, as drinkers walk around the pub they'll see lots of bits of history. In time, we'll put plaques up around the pub to explain all about the rich history.
'In places it feels quite poignant, particularly where we've exposed some of the original parts from when it was first built – you can see mud, straw, wood – all the original materials from the 1300s.
'With the painstaking work we've done over the last three years we're confident it's now in a state to be standing for another 700 years.'
Paying homage to the building's unique past, Haynes has created an alleyway feel in the middle of the pub to reflect the fact it used to be an alleyway many years before, with views all the way through the pub and out to the river.
There's also a cocktail room with stained glass windows that's believed to be home to lingering ghosts of the past. Spiritualists who've visited the site think there are at least 47 spirits in the building, with some even swearing they saw the former landlady, Louisa Bird, sitting by the fireplace in the cocktail room.
The pub is open plan, with nooks and snug rooms instead of doors. Each room is different and faithfully retains the building's traditional character – from the orange and blue rooms, to the games room and glass atrium, as well as the haunted cocktail bar.
The centrepiece is the middle of the bar for live music. Haynes is proud of the fact that you can stand anywhere in the pub, drink in hand, and still see the centrepiece.
Evelyn said: 'We've tried to keep it as open as possible, so that no matter where you are, you're not shut away. And we hope once we reopen that we give people from Tewkesbury as well as Cheltenham and Gloucester a reason to stay for a night out.
'Tewkesbury has grown so much as a town. Last year we were the second place outside of London to have the most new developments. We've got young people here and we need to cater for them as well as everyone else.
'It's been essential to have Tewkesbury behind us throughout the renovations – the support from locals is huge. They've seen the work and effort we've put in and it seems the town is as excited as we are to have it open.
'We look forward to reopening and having The Black Bear at the centre of the local community once again.'
While there’s still some time to wait before the doors open, The Black Bear is taking part in the annual Tewkesbury LIVE music festival, hosting 15 outdoor acts over three days from Friday 28 to Sunday 30 July 2023 – before announcing its reopening later in the year.
During Tewkesbury LIVE and when the pub first opens, the team will focus its attention on the main bar with different mobile catering companies supplying food.
Drinks will be served from the main bar and, on sunny weekends, from pop up bars in the garden; followed by the opening of the cocktail bar.
The Black Bear plans to champion independent drinks and serve novel brews that people might not have tried such as hard seltzers, unfiltered beers and unusual stouts, alongside familiar brands. Drinks will rotate every few weeks and customers will get a say on what is served.