Leonard Clark, the renowned poet, recalled a journey from his home in the Forest to Gloucester in the early years of the 20th century when he travelled with his mother to the city. He wrote in an 1951 edition of the ‘Dean Forest Mercury’, “The journey from Belle Vue Road, Cinderford to Gloucester took three hours and was made by a horse and brake driven by Tim Monkley. Halfway to Gloucester we stopped at the Bird in Hand so the horses could be fed and watered. Tim would disappear into the pub for half an hour. Later there would be the magical journey back home in the dark to the Forest.”
The Bird in Hand was owned and occupied by Elizabeth Vaile in 1891 and was trading free of brewery tie. Arnold, Perrett & Co., Ltd. of Wickwar had acquired the pub in 1903, part of their rapidly expanding pub estate. By the beginning of the Edwardian period the Wickwar Brewery owned more pubs in the Forest of Dean than any other brewery – including the Forest Steam Brewery in Mitcheldean. The annual rateable value of the Bird in Hand was £22.10s.0d. Perhaps surprisingly, considering its rural location, the licensing hours extended until 11 pm.
With the succession of brewery ownership from the Wickwar Brewery, to Cheltenham Original Brewery, Cheltenham & Hereford, West Country Breweries and Whitbread the pub continued to cater for travellers passing by on the A48 Gloucester to Chepstow Road.
Article. The Citizen, Friday April 1st 1983: Sign of Severn Bore: People in Minsterworth raised their glasses to the Severn Bore, which has found a permanent home in the riverside village. Moments after the famous bore had rushed by – splashing the bank of the river, where crowds of people watched the spectacle – a new inn sign was unveiled and the Bird in Hand flew off to be replaced by the Severn Bore.
Performing the ceremony was bore authority, Frederick Rowbotham, of High Street, Stonehouse. “This is one of the best places to see the bore and so it seems a good idea to name the pub after it,” said Mr. Rowbotham. But he was rather disappointed with yesterday’s tidal waves.
The formalities out of the way, licensee Mr. Terry Newton relaxed behind the bar of the 1788 building, which was converted into a pub in 1834. He admitted he had become rather blasé about the bores after eight years there and was often too busy to watch them pass. “When people know there’s going to be a large bore there can quite easily be 200-300 of them on the bank of the river outside the pub,” he said.
The new pub sign shows two men in a rowing boat riding the bore, watched by the fishermen on the bank and Mr. Newton now plans to decorate the inside of the building with pictures and facts of one of nature’s most unusual tourist attractions.
Forest of Dean and Ross on Wye Pubs – A critical guide by Jon Hurley (booklet, 1991): Close to the village where the poet F.W. Harvey spent his boyhood and early manhood this pub is big and unatmospheric. A variety of punters from labourers to lay preachers tucked into such cleverly titled titbits as Special Severn Bore Soup, Fresh Severn Salmon (when in season), as well as a variety of non themed delicacies like our old friends Lasagne and Chilli. There is also a choice of other fishy things, Scampi, Smoked Mackerel plus Sausages and Chipsteak (whatever that is). There are a few old Severn Boring photos. The river on the sign chugs green and turgid by the back door.
In the 1990’s Enterprise Inns became the owners. A food review in the ‘Gloucester Citizen’ in October 2001 was scathing about the cuisine – ‘The food is not good and not cheap either. The chicken was off we discovered when we tried to order half a roast chicken, which probably explains why the chicken curry that my daughter chose at £6.25 didn’t appear to contain any chicken. The sauce was watery and bland and the whole dish was so bad we actually took it back. Far from the crusty top and delicious warming stew inside that we expected with a steak and kidney pie, we instead received what looked like a warmed up supermarket steak and kidney pie, which at £6.95 was a joke.’
Enterprise Inns decided to put the Severn Bore up for sale in February 2009 for £350,000 after announcing ‘after much consideration we do not believe that this site meets our long-term requirements and have therefore decided to dispose of our free-hold interest in the property.” This was despite that the tenants had spent thousands of pounds of their own finance investing into the business. Tenant Derek Smallman said, “We took the Severn Bore on eighteen months ago and we were promised [by Enterprise Inns] that the pub would be refurbished and that we’d be able to sign the lease. None of this materialised and despite the fact we’ve put our own money into it they’ve decided to sell the pub. We have spent thousands on it and we’re still paying the rent so we’re not allowing anyone to view it.” A local resident said, “Derek and Gill have put in a lot of hard work to get it going well and they don’t deserve this.”
By July 2009 the Severn Bore had become a true free house. Free from the restriction of being part of the Enterprise estate it was taken on by Mark Green who also ran the White Hart in nearby Broadoak. Despite the White Hart just being minutes away on the A48 Mark did not consider that the two pubs would be in competition. He said, “The Severn Bore has a good following of drinkers and enjoys a lot of passing trade – I see the pubs complimenting each other”. Mark was a former manager and brewer of pub operator and Suffolk brewer Greene King. He added, “I’ve learnt a lot about the managerial side of things at Greene King and my mother-in-law is an old school landlady, so I’ve learned about the hands-on side of running pubs. It’s sink or swim out thee for pubs at the moment but I think we’re going to swim’.
When Mark Fox took over as landlord of the Severn Bore in 2012 he decided to revitalise its fortunes by staging ‘BoreFest’, a September festival with guest beers, cider, music, children’s activities. An unusual attraction was a life-saving demonstration by Mercia Inshore Search and Rescue on the River Severn next to the pub. It was a great success but a year later the event was spoilt when thieves broke into the pub and stole the £700 beer festival float from the till and made off with the pub’s laptop. The profits from the beer festival were due to be donated to local charities making the theft particularly irksome.
An ’Eating Out’ review in the ‘Forester’ newspaper in September 2013 noted that although landlord Mark Fox had only been at the Severn Bore for just over a year, he was already one of its longest serving landlords in recent history. ‘The Severn Bore is definitely a pub. I loved the open-sided long burner smouldering away, and the candles on all the wooden tables around the restaurant area. It has vibrant red flowery wallpaper and bright lights. Mark, the face of the pub, is passionate about his ales, the skittles teams that they support and every dish on the menu. His determination to succeed is there for all to see.” Adding, “The Severn Bore is certainly not a restaurant, with lively music and a flash of a games machine in the background. However, it is a proper traditional pub, doing god pub grub at very reasonable prices.”
The River Severn was at its highest level for a century in 2014 and floodwater breached the bank. When the pub was flooded Mark Fox was resilient in the face of adversity and refused to close. Floodwater surged into the garden and affected the sewage system. Mark commented, “When we were flooded everyone was willing to help.” The natural spectacle of the Severn Bore brings many visitors to the pub which Mark capitalises on, organising special events to coincide. “Five-star bores can attract 1,000 people and we had 700 people here each day [of the large bores] last year. It’s a big event of our calendar.”
Landlords at the Bird in Hand / Severn Bore Inn include:
1856 W. Ludwell
1885 Cornelius Vaile
1891 Elizabeth Vaile
1902 Mrs Dinah Gardner (1903 – Diane Gardner)
1906 William James Tingle
1965 Mr A. Kinnear
1919,1927 Alfred William Griffiths
1988 John & Ruth Case (from Royal Forest Inn at Mile End. Previously ran the Dog Inn at Over for 12 years.
2006 Chris Huxstep
2009 Derek Smallman and Gill Dennis
2009 Mark Green
2012 Mike Fox