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.
During the Second World War the New Inn was the centre of great activity. It was used a billets by Army and Navy personnel and was also the headquarters for the A.R.P. wardens.
The club room at the New Inn was also the centre for many village social activities. For many years the Pigeon club, which at one time was the largest in the West of England, held their meetings at the New Inn. The British Legion also met there.
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.”
An application to extend the opening hours of the Hearts of Oak was submitted by owners Admiral Taverns in 2014. A petition was organised in protest of the extended trading hours, but it was noticed by an officer of the licensing committee that many signatories were not residents of Drybrook. Other concerns related to the additional noise generated when leaving late at night and the potential to increase crime and disorder in the area. But councillor Graham Morgan said that he had not heard about noise issues or disturbances relating to the Hearts of Oak. The changes were approved, subject to conditions, to enable the Hearts of Oak to serve alcohol on the premises on Monday to Wednesday from 10 am to midnight, Thursday to Saturday 10 am to 1 am and Sunday between 11 am and midnight.
Admiral Taverns were also looking for someone to take over the running of the Hearts of Oak in September 2014. The pub company had been handed the keys back by the previous tenant who had been resident for only 10 months. A spokeswoman for Admiral Taverns, who had 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.’
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.
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
2000 Chris, Pippa, Mel, Jane and Butch ?
2003 Robert Crowden
2005, 2007 Lorraine Crowden
2022 Steve, Sarah and Tom Gibson