The New Inn (now the Hearts of Oak) is set back from the road at the centre of the village. It was established in 1838. It is a nicely proportioned rendered building with a central door flanked by two bay windows.

Francis Wintle’s Forest Brewery in Mitcheldean owned the New Inn. It was designated as an alehouse with an annual rateable value of £24.0s.0d. in 1891 and 1903. Closing time was at 10 pm.

When the Forest Brewery in Mitcheldean put their tied estate on the market in 1923 the New Inn was described as ‘freehold and fully licensed, situate about two miles from the brewery and built of stone with rough cast and slate roof.’ On the ground floor there was a serving bar, tap room, sitting room, beer store, kitchen and pot house. The first floor comprised of a club room and five other rooms. To the rear and at the side there was a ‘stone erection of coach-house with tile roof, stabling for three, loft-over, closet, public urinal, stone erection of stabling, and brick pig cots situate at other side of the house is a small meadow and garden.’


Cheltenham brewed beers were supplied to the New Inn for many generations, through Cheltenham Original Brewery, then Cheltenham & Hereford, West Country Breweries and finally Whitbread / Flowers.  A legacy of its past is a ‘Best in the West 1760 West Country Ales’ ceramic plaque.  

Dean Forest Mercury. Friday 15th January 1971 – Mrs Virgo leaves the New Inn where history has been made: When Mr and Mrs Walter Virgo came to the New Inn at Drybrook one of the locals commented to Mrs Virgo: “I can see by your eyes. Missis, that you have come to stay.” And she did – because now, 36 years later, Mrs Virgo is going to retire from the New Inn.

Mrs Virgo herself held the licence of the New Inn since the death of her husband in 1968 and she has carried on the business with the help of her only daughter, and her husband, Mr and Mrs Den Negrin. Mr and Mrs Virgo came to Drybrook from Pillowell; Mr Virgo was working at Princess Royal Colliery and keeping a large number of sheep and pigs as well. After a pit accident Mr Virgo decided to take the licence of the New Inn at Drybrook.

Mrs Virgo said her first memory of Drybrook was looking through the window of her new home and seeing the local coal haulier – a woman from Wigpool – riding by in her cart drawn by a pie bald pony in her way to the Northern United colliery for a load of coal. Mrs Virgo soon settled into her new home and new way of life – she took to the locals and they took to her.

During the war the New Inn was the centre of great activity. It was used as billets by Army and Navy personnel and was also the headquarters for the A.R.P. wardens. Mr and Mrs Virgo have always taken a great interest in the life and activities of the village. Mrs Virgo served on the committee of the Welcome Home fund and was chairman of this organisation for a time. She also served on the playing field committee. Mr Virgo was an active supporter and member of the local football and rugby teams – in fact, their interests were many and varied.

The clubroom at the New Inn has been the centre of many village social activities. For many years the Pigeon Club, which at the time was the largest in the West of England, have held their meetings at the New Inn. The British Legion have always met there. At one time Drybrook Band held their meetings and practices in the clubroom. Much of the history of Drybrook village has been made at the New Inn.

The only other pub in Drybrook, The True Heart, will be closing on 4th February, and the landlord and his wife, Mr and Mrs Sam Hadley, will be taking over the New Inn.

Mrs Virgo – or Aunty May as she is affectionally known to the customers – will soon be drawing her last pint before retiring, with Greta and Den, to Aston Ingham. Mrs Virgo felt a certain sadness about leaving the New Inn becase, she said, “I have enjoyed every minute of my life at the New Inn.


Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Review, March 1985 (adfeature): When Bill and Ann Harding decided to return to the licensed trade they looked at nearly 40 pubs all over the country – and then found the right one on their doorstep. After reading mountains of literature and travelling thousands of miles, they ended up at the Hearts of Oak in Drybrook – just a stone’s throw from their old pub, the Nelson’s Arms. Mr and Mrs Harding spent nine years at the Nelson’s Arms before taking a short break – they had, during that time, carried on a family tradition. Mr Harding’s parents had run it in the 1930’s. They moved to the Barley Mow in Monmouth where Mr Harding was born, and that was to be the beginning of a life-long interest in the licensed trade.

The couple began by taking the Railway Club in Hereford before moving to the Richmond Place Club – one of the biggest in Herefordshire – and then it was on to the Nelson’s Arms. Mr Harding explained: “We travelled all over the country looking at pubs and then the Hearts of Oak became available. It was really home from home.” Whilst Mrs Harding wasn’t from the pub trade she had the advantage of being born next door to Bulmer’s Cider factory in Hereford – “I got the smell of alcohol being brewed from the day I was born,” she says.

The couple moved into the Hearts of Oak last September, completely refurbished the pub and have already got a number of darts sides going, including one of the most successful in the Forest. The pub has a good “mix” of customers and now offers a level of comfort comparable with any – plus a decent range of beers and a ready welcome. The next move is the development of food with the emphasis on the home-made varities. It is planning to offer everything from a sandwich to a full plateful for around £2. One thing is for sure – the Hardings are back… and in Drybrook at that.

The Citizen, Friday 13th November 1987 – Cursing Cash: Bad language has been rife in the Hearts of Oak pub, at Drybrook in the Forest of Dean – but it was all in a good cause. As part of the pub’s fundraising frive in aid of the Whitbread Flowers campaign to bring in £100,000 for the Stroud-based Meningitis Trust, customers at the pub were “fined” every time they swore. A staggering £500-plus worth of fines were collected from th cussing customers in two months. In addition to the ‘swear jar’, licensees Ann and Bill Harding and the pub’s charity committee organised a sponsored bike ride and a pool competiton.

The New Inn was renamed the Hearts of Oak in the 1970’s. The name was chosen to incorporate the names of the two public houses – the True Heart and Royal Oak – that once served the village.

In May 2007 landlady Lorraine Crowden told the Forester newspaper “almost all our trade is from the village, and we have darts, crib and skittles teams, plus a popular quiz.”

The Forester, 16th July 2014 – Pub can now stay open until 1am on Saturdays: The Hearts of Oak pub in Drybrook can extend its opening hours following a recent licensing hearing. Members of the Forest of Dean licensing committee visited the traditional village pub before making their decision.

A petition opposed to the changes was presented to the committee, but it was noted by the officer that many signatories were residents in the village. The hearing agreed to the proposed changes but imposed ten conditions, enabling the Hearts of Oak to serve alcohol Monday to Wednesday from 10am to midnight, Thursday to Saturday, 10am to 1am and Sunday betwen 11am and midnight.

The Forester, 3rd September 2014 – Looking for a landlord: Admiral Taverns is looking for someone to take over the Hearts of Oak in Drybrook. Last week, Guy Powell handed the keys of the pub back to the brewery after running the hostelry for the past 10 months. Currently, the pub, the only one in the village, is closed – with caretaker staying in the pub to safeguard the building.

A spokeswoman for Admiral Taverns, which has been advertising for a new publican to run the pub for some time, said: ‘We are in the middle of the recruitment process and are looking for someone, or a couple, to run the pub and do the best for the community that it serves. We need the right type of person to enter into a business arrangement of this nature. To ensure that we get it right, it might take a little longer to fill the vacancy.’ She added, ‘Our vision is to get it opened up as soon as possible and bring it back to life. What we and the Drybrook community don’t want is a tenant who only stays for a month or two and goes again. We are looking for someone who wants to be at the heart of the community at the Hearts of Oak.’

The Citizen, 15th August 2015 – New landlords put the heart back into pub: New landlords have given a Forest of Dean village its beloved pub back after it had been closed for 10 months. Partners John Zarins and Jacquie Fieldhouse have given the Hearts of Oak a much-needed spruce up before reopening its doors to customers. They hope to welcome a new crop of regulars and people who have not visited the pub for years in an effort to place the pub back in the heart of the community.

Visitors will see subtle changes. The pub’s front garden has been tidied up and inside there are new carpets and wall decorations. Now the couple want to revamp the interior of the Hearts of Oak and restart the pub’s weekly calendar of events. They will also hold fundraising events and are also interested in hosting classic car and motorcycle meets. John said: “We’re listening to what the locals want and we will try and please them. They want their pub back because it was empty for so long.” Jacquie said: “This is going to be a pub for everyone – we will make everyone welcome. Before we opened, we had people coming up to see us asking when the pub will be back open. We have the rugby club in Drybrook, but now people have somewhere else to go.

The couple say the Hearts of Oak has been popular since it reopened, but the re-launch has not taken place without a hitch. A distgruntled neigbour compained to the Citizen last week about what he believed was excess noise coming from the pub. But council officers say they have received only one complaint since the new landlords took over in July.

John and Jacquie are no strangers to the trails and tribulations of the rural pub trade. They arrived in the Forest of Dean village after spending years running a pub in the hills outside Granada in southern Spain. The couple have even brought back their mascot, Oscar the gorilla which is also proving a hit with locals.

Jacquie was diagnosed with cancer 18 months ago, which brought her eight-year adventure in Spain to an end. Her cancer has now cleared. But now they’ve arrived in Drybrook, they are learning the true importance of the village pub. Jacquie said: “We’re slowly beginning to understand the Foresters. We’re going to keep this pub going and keep it ‘Forest'”

Unfortunately, the optimistic vision of Admiral Taverns failed to materialize, and the reputation of the Hearts of Oak continued to spiral downhill. The Hearts of Oak re-opened with new tenants on July 10th 2015 but within weeks of their arrival a few neighbours complained about noise issues and other licensing conditions that they felt were not being adhered to. The complaint was investigated by the environmental protection and licensing team. The chairman of Forest of Dean District Council licensing committee, Councillor Richard Lepington, said, ‘This is the only pub in Drybrook and they are trying to make a go of it and make the pub the heartbeat of the village and want to do it properly and fair.’

Admiral Taverns eventually closed the pub and metal shutters were fastened onto the windows and doors. The Hearts of Oak languished, slowly deteriorating for over three years. It seemed that the heart of the village of Drybrook had gone forever. In 2020 the pub, now free from brewery and Pubco ownership, was taken on by Steve and Sarah Gibson and their son Tom. The challenge to restore the Hearts of Oak back to community use was daunting, the interior was discovered to be in a terrible state and required major refurbishment and cleaning. The Gibson family had previously been tenants at the Mill Inn in the Cotswold village of Withington so had plenty of experience in the licensing trade. It is thanks to their determination and vision that, against all odds, the Hearts of Oak finally reopened in January 2022 and is now once again the beating heart of Drybrook.

The following article was submitted to ‘the tippler’ magazine for inclusion in the Spring 2022 edition.

Sarah and Steve Gibson and son Tom are the new landlords of the Hearts of Oak pub in Drybrook in the Forest of Dean. There was great celebration in the village when the Hearts of Oak re-opened back in January as it was feared by many locals that Drybrook’s last remaining pub had closed for good. The previous owners Admiral Taverns had tried to find someone to take over the running of the pub but the tenant installed failed to turn the fortunes of the Hearts of Oak around. Sadly the run-down and underused pub closed, metal shutters were installed, and it seemed that the Heart had been ripped out of the community forever. For over three years the Hearts of Oak languished, slowly deteriorating, empty, dirty and unloved.

Tom and Sarah behind the bar at the Hearts of Oak

Yet, seemingly against all odds, the Hearts of Oak is now a vibrant and valued community asset, a free house with real ales supplied by Wye Valley Brewery, and an expanding food menu tempting customers, both local and far away, to return to the Hearts of Oak. It is dog friendly, and the recently refurbished bright and cheerful interior makes for a welcoming ambience. A charity quiz night is held on Thursdays, live music features on some weekends and you can still have a game of darts – sadly missing in many pubs these days. The Heart’s pulse is firmly back in Drybrook.

Sarah and Steve had previously been tenants at the Mill Inn at Withington and was instrumental in persuading Samuel Smiths to deliver cask Old Brewery Bitter – no mean feat if you are au fait with the foibles and oddities of that Tadcaster Brewery! When they left the Mill to take on a hotel in St Davids, Pembrokeshire, the reputation of the Mill fell from grace and the Gibson family were persuaded by their loyal customers to return for a second tenancy. Back in the Cotswolds, frustration with Samuel Smiths was then focused on the inflexible statutory menu that prevented Steve and Sarah from serving the Mill Inn’s signature dish of chicken-in-the-basket and bizarrely having to turn disappointed customers away. It was a relief to take on the challenge of bringing the Hearts of Oak back to life.

Preparing and serving food in Drybrook is far less stressful than it was in Withington. It is early days at the Hearts of Oak but already Sarah was made great impressions with her delicious homemade stretched pizzas. Sunday roast dinners are planned, and there is nothing stopping chicken-in-the-basket meals appearing in the Forest of Dean. The previous owners had left the kitchen and food preparation areas in such a disgusting state, investment in a fully functional and hygienic kitchen was required before any meals could be served. During the day Sarah prepares homely, filled bread rolls – an ideal snack to accompany a pint or two of well-kept Wye Valley Brewery ales. The disused and overgrown gardens have had attention, and the children’s play area is once again fit for purpose.

The earliest known reference to the Hearts of Oak is 1838. It was then called the New Inn and was in competition with the Royal Oak and True Hart Inn, a few yards away at the Cross. The New Inn was owned by Francis Wintles Forest Brewery based in Mitcheldean and in 1923 the ground floor layout consisted of a ‘serving bar, tap room, beer store, kitchen and pot house’. The Cheltenham Original Brewery – which much later morphed into Whitbread Flowers – took over the Wintle’s Brewery and their many Forest of Dean pubs, including the New Inn at Drybrook.

Whitbread had a policy of re-naming their portfolio of pubs with the name the New Inn, and in the 1970’s their pub in the Drybrook took the name of the Hearts of Oak, the name chosen to incorporate the names of the two closed pubs that had once served the village. After three decades or so in the hands of Pubco’s the Hearts of Oak is now free from tie. The selection of beers from the Wye Valley Brewery have delighted regular customers and will remain their core range. On my visit Butty Bach and the seasonal Blinder were on tap and both well kept. Guest beers from small independent breweries may be added later, according to demand. 

Landlords at the Heart of Oak / New Inn include:

1876 Joseph Meek

1885,1902, George Moore

1903,1906 John Moore

1919 Mrs Jane Brain

1927 Arthur S. Elsmore

1935-1971 Walter & May Virgo

1987 Bill and Ann Harding

2000 Chris, Pippa, Mel, Jane and Butch ?

2003 Robert Crowden

2005, 2007 Lorraine Crowden

2014 Guy Powell

2015 Jacquie Fieldhouse and John Zarins

2022 Steve, Sarah and Tom Gibson

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