The Sun Inn, simply put, is one of the best places I have had the joy of visiting in my 3 years here in the UK. It is here that you can sit and converse, catch up on local gossip, or placidly sip a pint and pet the pub dog. Sounds fairly standard doesn’t it? Well sadly, this is becoming far more the exception than the rule. The lost art conversation, the friendly smile and warming welcome of a village friend or visiting stranger, that was the role of a village pub or your neighbourhood local. These are institutions and vestiges of the past which were around before the distractions of pop music, fizzy lager, and fruit machines were installed and began to deteriorate at the fabric of pub culture.
A very short History of what ‘Pub’ means
Do you know what the word pub actually means? To be honest it was not something I knew when I first moved to London. The term pub is short for public house, and historically that is exactly what they were: a home open to the public where you could enter and sit for a cup of ale. Beyond just a place to enjoy an ale, the pub has held many roles throughout the years in British society, not least of all that of the beating heart of the community. Your local landlord acted the part of friend, employer, vicar and host while wearing the well-balanced crown of both sinner and saint dispersing suds and advice.
Many factors over the years have led to the erosion of this role: recent examples could be the smoking ban or the economic downturn which drove people to sip in front of a telly alone instead of with mates at the local. Many pubs also face closure due to increased competition as they fall victims to economies of scale by the Goliath’s pubcos (larger chain pub companies like Punch for example). Or others languish under the prices forced upon them through being tied to one of the larger breweries. Many of the pubs I have reviewed here are such examples: places tied to Nicolson’s Co. or Fuller’s Brewery. While I frequent and enjoy many of these pubs and their unique and beautiful architectural significance and at times fine ales, they are missing something familiar, some legitimating factor that takes the new coat pf paint right off the wall.
This is however, not a story of woe, but one of continued hope and determination. The Sun Inn stands as a victor, our David, where today you can still sit amongst others both known and yet introduced, and enjoy the sense of community which develops through a conversation over an old coffin table, some unmatching chairs, and the dizzying wall paper of this, my favourite pub.
History of the Sun Inn of Leintwardine
The Sun Inn resides in an unassuming stone cottage built sometime around or before 1846. It was assembled against the backdrop of the gently rolling hills of Shropshire in Hereforshire in the small rural village of Leintwardine. The 1830 Beerhouse Act opened up the opportunity for any person to brew and sell ale and cider provided they purchased the right license. Previously, the licenses had been held as lucrative monopolies by the local justices. It is under this law that the license for the Sun Inn was procured somewhere between 1861 and 1871. The exact date is not known but it was during that time the original proprietor, William Jones, changed his occupation when in 1861 he was a tailor to that and Beerhouse keeper in 1871.
Fast forward to just before the onset of WWI when in 1913 Charles Lane takes over ownership of the pub. His daughter, Miss Flossie Lane (1914 – 2009), and her brother would take over in the 1930s. The pair managed the pub until 1985 when her brother passed away, and Miss Flossie Lane managed it herself. She was able to undertake this single-handed until 2006, when in failing health the locals rallied to each rotate turns operating the pub while Miss Lane sat in her customary red arm-chair.
This community of volunteers worked together until 2009 when she passed away at the age of 94 after having managed the premises for 74 years. Remarkably she passed away as the longest-serving British landlady, and also as a teetotaler for all her life. The community spirit and willingness to lend a hand to Flossie in her later years is the same spirit which still inhabits the pub.
Gary Seymour and Nick Davis took over the ownership of the pub after a spirited campaign by Mark Haslam and the Herefordhsire CAMRA branch which brought both local and national attention to the uncertainty of the pub’s future after Flossie’s death. Gary and Nick were adamant about preserving the pub for future generations, as well as expanding the premises while fully maintaining the interior of the pub. Their vision for the future of the pub is being to put action with construction underway.
Through both environmentally and locally sustainable means (such as solar paneling, rain water harvesting and a heat recovery system), the pub will live on for what I can only hope will be years to come. I had the good fortune of visiting while the premises were under construction, and so I look forward to another visit soon to see how the works panned out.
No bar, no cellar, no till, & no excuse not to talk.
The Sun Inn is the finest remaining example of a Parlour Pub in England, and quite possibly the last of its kind. Its importance to British culture was recently certified by CAMRA as it was awarded the best interior of any pub in the UK. A step into the pub is a step into the time where the beer was served not from behind a bar or counter, but directly from the cask. You enter the foyer where the owner Gary greets you, and shows you through to the ales.
And remember to be kind to the pub dog Kato while he graces you with an inquisitive smell and gaze.
You turn left, and walk through the first parlour room: it’s a living room with several well-worn and comfortable chairs and a fire blazing.
If you continue through here into the kitchen, you will find it lined with several kegs of ales awaiting your sip. Do mind the dog here, and make sure he keeps his head out of the bucket under the kegs, but you can’t really blame him though…
A twist of the tap and your real ale comes flowing out, while you deposit £2.20 in the honesty jar in the cabinet.
Take your ale and newly found sense of place, and find a seat in either the first living room or across the foyer into the larger living room (The Red Brick Bar), again accompanied by a fire place. You will notice that the seating is inward facing awaiting you to fill the space with conversation.
Along the wall there are photos of times past and on-going traditions like the annual anointing of the Sun Inn Mayor. There have been 18 mayors to date including Gary’s late dog, Hobson. The mayor is appointed by the outgoing mayor, and has certain rights to the role such as wearing the ceremonial squirrel pelt cape, crown and septre. Along the left wall is an old coffin table where the dead would have been laid out for the mourners to pay respects. The red tiled floor and dizzying wall paper create a sense of a place frozen in time.
The interior of the pub is one of the best examples of a parlour pub unspoiled by ‘progress’ and modern fixtures. The room in its modesty and country style is not necessarily its most impressive feature, though it is successful in creating a sense of belonging and comfort. It is that which fills the space in this modest unchanged setting which leaves this pub a national treasure. Preserved within the walls of this room is the nearly lost art of human interaction: a place where you can sit and not only talk, but equally important, listen to others. A place where there is still a genuine level of interest in the affairs of those other than yourself. This space is sacred not for its architectural significance, nor the history of its prior occupants; it is not aesthetically beautiful like some of the others pubs on CAMRA Top Ten Interiors list like The Black Friars in London. The beauty of this place you cannot run your hands along like a pewter top bar, nor snatch through a well placed photograph. Here lives the art of human interaction which has seen our greatest stories passed down through generations, fermented social movements, delivered local gossip, and taught us the importance of the person sitting across from you.
A worthwhile visit
In my weekend in town, I had the good fortune of spending Friday night with co-owner Gary, while Saturday was spent musing with Dominic, an attentive and courteous employee. The first night was spent in the living room with the local butcher, a teacher (and current mayor) and one gentleman who was ready for a debate on current affairs while Gary reviewed the pub’s history with us. On the second night, we were seated in the Red Brick Bar with at times a dozen people, all connecting and conversing while sipping Hobson ale or cider produced in nearby Ludlow.
The topics covered everything from the local village gossip all the way up to the state of the UK economy and international affairs. Regardless of the content, it was the presence of dialogue and the simple act of conversing which made it so enjoyable. Walk into a pub here in London, and undoubtedly many other places, and look at the person across from you, and say ‘Ta mate, how was your day?’. Why for many this may still be a common interaction, but it is unfortunately a dying form of tradition. Replaced by incessant noise, impersonal customers and landlords, and a bad excuse for good pour of ale, many existing pubs and bars lacks the humanity that the Sun Inn preserves.
Life is most well lived in the company of others, and conversation opens us up to the joy and suffering of those around us. This pub is one place where thankfully interaction like these still exist. As long as the Sun Inn can stay open and maintain this intangible sense of community, there is still hope that this idea permeates those who are lucky enough to visit and participate.
To find this gem on the map, you can find it along with the other reviewed pubs on my map below
Update: The Sun Inn has been named Herefordshire’s pub of the year for 2011 beating out 280 other pubs in the county!