The 18th Century Boat Inn, on the west bank of the River Severn. It is currently closed, a victim of repeated flooding of the River Severn with the last ingress of flood water following Storm Dennis in 2020 causing severe damage.

The Jelf family had a long association with the Boat Inn – running it for 350 years. It is known that a Mr Jelf was a boatman in charge of the ferry across the River Severn. It is said that he bravely ferried the fugitive Charles II to safety from the pursuing Roundheads during the Civil War. He probably lived in the building that was first recorded as the Boat Inn in 1730. David Jelf took over the licence of the Boat Inn on 23rd June 1888. There is an old wooden sign at the pub which reads: ‘The Boat. David Jelf.  Licensed to sell by retail, beer, cider & tobacco. Spirituous Liquors. Also licensed to brew.’ 

The last of the line was Irene Ellen Jelf who was born in the pub in 1916 and lived there until her death in October 2001.  During World War II Irene was the local post lady but she always kept up her involvement behind the bar. Never the licensee, ‘Auntie Rene’ ran the pub with her older sister Sybil when their father Edward Jelf died in 1967, aged 87. When Sybil died in 1991, Rene asked her niece Jacquie  to become landlady. They proved a winning partnership with the pub going from strength to strength. It was named CAMRA South West Region Pub of the Year in 1997 and 1999 and Gloucestershire CAMRA branch Pub of the Year in 1996,1999 and 2002.  Irene Jelf passed the business on to her niece, Jacquie Nicholls, who in turn died tragically young at 54 on 4th September 2003. Jacquie’s widower Ron Nicholls then took over as licensee.

Ian lock took over the tenancy of the pub, followed by Mark Fox. After severe flooding in February 2020 when water entered the pub causing significant damage Mark Fox said that, in the light of the possibility of flooding occurring again, he would not renew the lease of the Boat Inn when it came up for renewal in November 2020.

The Citizen. Article by Anne Cromwell, 1st February 1973

Courtesy Michael Wilkes
Courtesy Michael Wilkes
Edward Jelf. Image courtesy Gloucestershire Echo
Image: Gloucestershire Echo

The Citizen: Wednesday, 7th July 1986 – Family wins fight for pub landing stage: The Boat Inn at Ashleworth, a popular stopping-off place for boating parties on the River Severn, has been ‘out of bounds’ for some years after works were carried out on the riverbank. The works also meant centuries-old ferry rights, handed down through generations of the Jelf family, were affected. Now, following representation by the local family, who run the Boat Inn, to local MP., Mr Paul Marland, a landing stage and small slipway will be provided at Ashleworth Quay. Mr C. Davies, divisional manager of the Severn Trent Water Authority, said the slipway would be done jointly between British Waterways Board and the authority. “I have consulted all interested parties and agreement has been reached upon the type of structure required,” he said. “British Waterways will provide the landing stage next summer and it is anticipated that the water authority will provide the slipway during this financial year.”

Miss Sybil Jelf, who runs the public house with her sister Irene, said they were delighted that agreement had finally been reached on the long-running dispute. The Jelf Family have owned the pub and ferry rights for hundreds of years and said Miss Jelf, trade had been affected by river traffic being unable to stop off at the pub.

Mr Marland said he was pleased that the two authorities involved had reached agreement and were going to provide the slipway and landing stage. “It has been a long fight, but I am sure that Misses Jelf are delighted at the outcome,” he added.

The Tippler (Gloucestershire CAMRA), Gloucestershire Pub of the Year – 1996: The Boat at Ashleworth Quay north of Gloucester is unique. When you first find it you can catch your breath and wonder how such a place can survive in these days of designer pubs and Beefeater Steak Houses. The Boat is a small brick building at the terminus of an old ferry across the Severn. At first sight it looks like a private house – then you notice the pub sign on the wall over the porch and you realise you have walked into a piece of history.

The Jelf family have been associated with Ashleworth for centuries. It is said that the rights to operate the ferry were granted in perpetuity to the Jelfs by Charles II (or even King John in some versions!) The Boat has been run by the family for as long and until a few years ago by two sisters, Sybil and Irene. When Sybil died, her niece Jacquie joined Irene and between them they have kept the pub going.

Before the Great War there was a substantial carriage ferry and the barge horses crossed over here. In fact trade was brisk enough to support two pubs but the Wheatsheaf has long since disappeared. Later, after the old ferry was washed away in a big flood, a boat plied between the banks. Now the river is quiet, but the floods still strike occasionally despite the high embankment.!

Inside the pub is a warren of stone flagged rooms with a tiny bar at the back. The beer is still served under gravity and food is simple (lunchtimes only). On a warm summer evening sitting by the quietly flowing river, there are few more peaceful places in the county to enjoy a pint. with such a sense of history and permanence it seems almost impertinent to dub the Boat “Pub of the Year” – but some would say that such recognition has been too long in common and the Boat is indeed a worthy successor to the title.

Join us for the presentation at 3.00pm on 17th August 1996 and celebrate a great survivor.

Courtesy Michael Wilkes

Jacquie Nicholls and ‘Auntie Rene’

Jacquie holding the certificate of South West Regional Winner of the CAMRA National Pub of the Year Awards 1999 (Image The Citizen)

Gloucestershire Echo, Thursday 27th January 2000 – Customers pick pub for top title: Publicans at Ashleworth’s Boat Inn are over the moon that they have been voted the second best pub in the country. The pub, near Tewkesbury, has been ‘highly commended’ in the Campaign for Real Ale’s National Pub of the Year Competiton – the only national competition where costumers pick the winners. The inn, on the River Severn, won the South West Pub of the Year title in 1997 and 1999. It was one of just six to make it to the national final.

Licensee Jacquie Nicholls said: “This is fantastic news, I’m really proud to be named a CAMRA winner. Locals treat the Boat like their home. It puts people at ease and we’ve always prided ourselves on providing quality real ales from local breweries.”

Her family has owned the Boat Inn for 400 years, and it previously belonged to her aunt, Irene Jelf. CAMRA’s press manager, Ian Woolverton, said: “I am really pleased for Jacquie. Everyone associated with the pub really deserves this award.”

The Citizen, 4th November 2000: The 15th century Boat Inn at Ashleworth began to flood yesterday afternoon. Landlady Jacquie Nicholls said: “Water is pouring over the bank and has just started coming in at the back door. We have taken everything upstairs, and some of the beer and now I am going to retreat upstairs.”

Launch of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide 2001 at the Boat (Image: The Citizen)

Ashleworth & Hasfield Women’s Institute, January 2001 – Rene will be sadly missed: This month’s meeting opened on a note of sadness when president Alice Turner invited a moment’s silence in memory of Rene Jelf of the Boat Inn, a founder member of this institute who died on 5th October, aged 85 years. Anne recalled how for many years Rene, as postwoman, was a familiar figure around the village. She will be greatly missed from our meetings.

‘The Tippler’ (Gloucestershire CAMRA), Winter 2001

Ron & Jacquie with the CAMRA Gloucestershire Pub of the Year certificate 2002. CAMRA Gloucestershire Chairman Tony Aburrow on the right.

September 4th 2003

The Citizen, 17th August 2004 – Award’s in memory of Jacquie: Jacquie Nicholls, who ran the Boat at Ashleworth for 12 years, is to have an award named in her honour. Mrs Nicholls, who died last September, will be remembered at the village’s annual show. The Jacquie Nicholls Endeavour Trophy will be awarded to the exhibitor who enters the most different categories in the Ashleworth Show.

The Citizen, 4th October 2005 – Boat was one of the first to bring in a ban: The Boat Inn became one of the first pubs in Gloucestershire to ban smoking after landlady Jacquie Nicholls died of lung cancer. Jacquie never smoked a cigarette but died of the disease in 2003, three weeks after doctors diagnosed it. Her family were already considering a smoking ban but her death at 54 convinced them it was the right move.

Husband Ron and daughters Elisabeth and Louise still run the pub in Ashleworth. Elisabeth, 30, said: “Mum never smoked a cigarette in her life but had always worked in the pub. We could never say for definite that passive smoking was the cause of her cancer but all the smoke she inhales must have made an impact.

The family considered ways of reducing the amount of smoke, including air conditioning, but it was too expensive to convert the old pub. Elisabeth said: “We talked the smoking ban over with our customers. Most of them didn’t mind and agreed the pub was getting too smoky. There are lots of places for them to smoke outside and we’ve got a covered area. We haven’t had any complaints.”

June 2008

Image Courtesy Western Daily Press

The Citizen, 21st January 2013 – Keeping it real provided welcome lift for landlord: After a disastrous summer which saw it flooded twice in a month, finally something has gone right for The Boat Inn at Ashleworth. Landlord Ian Lock’s mood improved when the Tewkesbury branch of the Campaign for Real le handed him its annual Pub of the Year award this week. He managed to see off competition from more than 100 other pubs to win the prize. The award, which was assessed over the last 12 months, was based on factors such as its real ales, customer service, food, atmosphere and how the pub was kept.

Ian said the award had been a big lift for him after he had undergone a tough time, with first wet weather in the summer hitting trade and then the flooding having twice led to the pub temporarily closing.

The late Ian Lock. He sadly died in October 2022. (Image Robert Davis, The Citizen)

The Citizen: 27th June 2014 – Flooded pub reopens doors with rewards: (by Nick Webster) – Returning a flooded pub to its former glory is no easy task, but the doors of the Boat Inn at Ashleworth are set to reopen after a four-month closure. And to celebrate its return, the famous old pub “at the heart of the community” has been named Authentic Pub of the Year in a special guide for real ale lovers.

The Boat Inn has made it into the pages of Sawday’s guide, promoting the best spots in Gloucestershire to eat, drink and stay. Lis Anthony, who owns the pub her with sister Louise Beer, is now searching for a new landlord and said it is a special opportunity for someone. “We’ve been in the Sawday’s guide before but it is the first time we have won authentic pub of the year,” she said.

“It’s been shut for a few months after it flooded in January, so it was a real surprise when we had a visit from Sawday’s with the reward.

The Citizen, Thursday 20th February 2020 – Pub hit.. ‘We’re lucky it’s not more frequent’ (by Robin Jenkins) Considering Mark Fox’s home and business has just had about 2 feet of floodwater in it, he seems remarkably calm and collected. The landlord of The Boat Inn at Ashleworth, between Gloucester and Tewkesbury, is having a miserable time after the nearby River Severn burst its bank on Tuesday morning. That meant for the second time in four months, he had to close the historic pub and focus on pumping out water.

The huge amount of floodwater from the river has probably flooded eight to ten homes in Ashleworth, according to Mark – who is also a member of the Severn Area Rescue Association. He said on Tuesday: “Seeing the level of water that was on the way meant I started to get nervous. It started to top the riverbank at 3.30am today and by 7.30am it was nearly coming into the pub.” Despite flood defence barriers being put into place the water did enter the pub later on Tuesday morning. Furniture had been raised up to try to keep it dry but Mark said the pub would be shut for several days while the water was pumped out.

He said: “It does have a massive impact on trade. We’re obviously still got outgoings, bills to pay and the rent. And at this time of year we don’t have have a slush fund.”

The extent of the flooding in the pub’s car park was evident when Mark had to wade into waist-high water to fetch his boat to give the Citizen a tour of the site. Shivering in the cold water, the 36-year-old admitted that he did not plan to renew the lease at the pub when it expires in November. The flooding, he said, was a factor in his decision to leave the pub trade after twelve years.

Map Reference: SO 819251

Licensing Details:

Owner in 1891: David Jelf (free from brewery tie)

Type of licence in 1891: Alehouse

Owner in 1903: David Jelf (free from brewery tie)

Rateable value in 1903: £17.0s.0d.

Type of licence in 1903: Alehouse

Closing time in 1903: 10pm

Landlords at the Boat Inn include:

1856 T. Jelf

1885,1888 Mrs Sarah Jelf

1888 David Jelf

1891,1903 David Jelf

1906,1967 Edward Jelf

1967-1991 Sybil Jelf

1991-2001 Jacquie Nicholls and Irene Jelf

2001-2003 Jacquie Nicholls

2003-2009 Ron Nicholls

2013 Ian Lock

2016, 2020 Mark and Chelsea Fox

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