The Malt Shovel is a 12th century inn, which is said to have been used as a meeting house as far back as 1110.
The Malt Shovel was effectively the ‘Tap House’ of the Ruardean Brewery, although the 1891 and 1903 licensing books record the pub as being free of brewery tie. Thomas Thompson is recorded as owner in 1891. Thomas was a local farmer. He was related to the Horlick family who had a malt house in the village. The Horlick family had experimented with their malted drink in Ruardean, before emigrating to America to make their fortune. It is likely that Thomas learnt how to be a maltster as a result of the Horlick’s family connection. When Thomas died in 1891 the ownership of the Malt Shovel and malthouse was bequeathed to Edward Thompson. The Ruardean Brewery was established in a building next to the Angel Inn. Facing intense competition with established local breweries like Wintle’s of Mitchldean, and the Alton Court Brewery in Ross on Wye, the Ruardean brewery was never going to be a successful commercial proposition. Edward had mortgaged heavily to fund the brewery and the projected sales never materialised as all his custom was from private house sales and a few free houses. Apart from the Malt Shovel there were no pubs regularly supplied with beer from the Ruardean Brewery. Edward Thompson had no choice but to put all his properties up for auction on May 19th 1910. The Ruardean Brewery does seem to have a stay of execution, however, as another auction of the estate of Edward Thompson took place on 19th May 1910.
The particulars of the ‘Old Malt Shovel Inn’, Ruardean described the premises as an ‘old established and well known free and fully-licensed public house containing bar, bar-parlour, commercial rooms, smoke-room, kitchens, larders, two large beer cellars, wine cellar, brewhouse, large Club-room, five bedrooms, store-room together with stabling for four horses, enclosed yard with barn, piggeries and other convenient outbuildings.’ It was stipulated that ‘the inn, which has a side entrance, is in the occupation of the owner, Mr Edward Thompson, and possession can be given on completion of the purchase.’
The Malt Shovel was licensed as an ale house and had an annual rateable value of £17.0d.0d. Closing time was at 10pm. Wintle’s Forest Brewery of Mitcheldean acquired the Malt Shovel and thence ownership was transferred via acquisitions and mergers through Cheltenham Original Brewery, Cheltenham & Hereford Breweries, West Country Breweries and Whitbread (Flowers). A reminder of its association with the Cheltenham Brewery is a ‘West Country Ales – 1760 – Best in the West’ ceramic plaque that remains in situ. The Malt Shovel was reopened by village mayor Jim Whittington in February 1988 after an extensive refurbishment. In the early 1990’s it was described as a ‘typical Forest local, friendly, basic with all the essentials, a good coal fire, a welcoming smile, a decent pint and digestible snacks.’
Mark Dew took over the Malt Shovel in 1995. He made a number of exciting discoveries whilst renovating the ancient inn. Two centuries old windows were uncovered, a baking oven, inglenook fireplace and an antiquated well in the bar, which had been filled in and covered over. The well, although only about 16 feet deep, is thought to date back hundreds of years and has winding timbers of ancient oak. Although Mark was sympathetic with the heritage of the building, he also added some quirky features including the installation of windows that he claimed were originally from 10 Downing Street and replaced when new bullet proof windows were installed at the home of the British Prime Minister. Another unique feature was a huge trunk of an oak tree forming the main beam of the dining room and spanning the whole width of the room.
Owner Mark Dew said in 1999: “I firmly believe the pub is older than the church. I always say that it is builders who build churches and they are always going to need somewhere to stay and drink.” The Malt Shovel is said to have a resident ghost. Mark said that he has never seen it and remained cynical. Several people, however, have been ‘spooked’ in a part of the pub and ‘two of them ran out and never came back!’ A past landlord of the Malt Shovel is rumoured to have died after falling from the roof.
A planning application was submitted to the Forest of Dean District Council in December 2000 by Cliveden Properties who wanted to build 25 houses and seven flats behind the Malt Shovel Inn. After receiving a complaint from a neighbour which led to the enforcement of a noise abatement notice two years earlier Mark Dew was clearly concerned about the impact on residential units in close proximity to the pub. 260 villagers signed a petition against the development. Mark said, “The people living there would be bound to complain about noise from the pub and its beer garden.”
An ’eating out’ pub review in the ‘Forester’ newspaper in October 2007 gave the Malt Shovel 10/10 for value for money and 9/10 for atmosphere. Under the headline ‘Traditional pub’s menu ticks all the boxes’, the reviewer noted that ‘the pub has kept all its traditional adornments, such as the oak-beamed dining room, flagstone floor and roaring fire, but has big screen TV for all those important matches and an eccentric array of signs from London Underground stations plus windows from 10 Downing Street. If you’re looking for quality pub food in a lovely traditional environment, then the Malt Shovel is it.’ A follow up review in December 2011 was also complimentary remarking, ‘the staff are friendly and the atmosphere is warm and relaxed. You will find more than just ‘pub grub’ as the menu has something for everyone and the food is mouth-wateringly good.’
A lifesize Kung Fu Panda was bought at the sale of memorabilia when the Royal Foresters in Littledean Hill, Cinderford closed down in 2013. Kung Fu Panda is now a prominent feature of the Malt Shovel.
Landlords at the Malt Shovel include:
1830’s Thomas Thompson
1856 T. Thompson
1881,1885 Mrs Hester A.Bennett (aged 43 in 1881, a widow)
1891,1903 Isaac Hale
1906 William Barber
1919 Charles Gilbert Drew
1927 William H. Jennings
1939 Harold Bowkett (Bessie Bowkett took over the licence for many years after her husband died)
1968 R.W. Phelps
1988 David Roberts
1995,1999 Mark Dew
2006-2011 Fred and Sue Ellis (from the Crown Inn. Lea. Nr Ross)
2011 Phil Gibbons and Karen Bent
2013 Dan Mustoe