In 1891 the Rising Sun was tied to Daniel Sykes & Co. of the Redcliffe Brewery in Bristol, although just six years later the brewery had merged with the Bristol United Brewery. The Redcliffe Brewery at 107 Redcliffe Street closed altogether in 1898. The Rising Sun at Woodcroft was only one of two Forest of Dean pubs tied to Bristol United Breweries at that time – the other was the nearby Live and Let Live in Tutshill. Presumably the Bristol brewed beers were transported by railway to the Chepstow area through the Severn Tunnel, which opened in 1886. The annual rateable value of the Rising Sun was £18.0s.0d. in 1891 and 1903. It closed at 10 pm.
Bristol United Breweries were acquired by George’s Bristol Brewery in 1956, and the Rising Sun became part of the Courage Brewery estate when the Bristol Brewery was taken over by Courage, Barclay & Co. just five years later in 1961.
Forest of Dean & Ross-on-Wye Pubs. A critical guide by Jon Hurley (booklet, 1991): A pleasant little long barred local selling Courage’s with, with china and brass bits and bobs, boxed in beams, and a live fire. Snacks are available and do look out for the handsome wooden ex-naval rum barrel suitably inscribed in brass.
In 2001 the Rising Sun was owned by Inspired Inns based in Trowbridge, Wiltshire.
In October 2006 a review in the ‘Forester’ newspaper was quite positive about the Rising Sun giving it top marks for service and 9 out of 10 for atmosphere and food. It noted that ‘the Rising Sun prides itself on first-rate fresh products and a real passion for food. The restaurant is particularly renowned for its seafood dishes.’ The fresh fish was sourced daily from the fish markets in Brixham and Bristol. The reviewer commented, “The opportunity to eat good fresh fish does not come often, so as a fish fan, I wasn’t going to waste this opportunity. For the main course I had a swordfish steak on a bed of rice served in a smoked salmon sauce and a Thai seafood stir-fry. The succulent swordfish was delicious, the highlight of the meal, while the stir-fry was also a winner.”
Yet just two years later a follow up review in the ‘Forester’ seemed to contradict the praise given to it stating, ‘Having fallen on hard times the Rising Sun is rising again under its new owners. The restaurant has kept its tradition of excellent food but has lost the pretentious air it had under its previous owners’. The reviewer summarised, ‘The pub has ditched the fussy service and pretension of grandeur of old and replaced it with a relaxed, friendly atmosphere that immediately puts you at ease. It now feels like a place where you would be welcome. By taking this approach the future seems bright for the Rising Sun.’
But the Rising Sun had closed by 2011. Worthy Developments, who had acquired the pub, submitted plans to convert the premises into housing. The plans were vehemently opposed by the residents of Woodcroft, fearing that they would permanently lose the only pub in the village. Forest of Dean District Council received a petition of over 1,000 people objecting to the development supported by 135 letters in favour of keeping the pub open. There was only one letter expressing support for the proposed development. The ‘Save Our Sun’ Action Group was set up and campaigners successfully secured an Asset of Community Value protection for the Rising Sun in December 2013. The ACV afforded the opportunity for the Woodcroft Community to raise necessary funds for the purchase of the Rising Sun on the provision that they could prove its viability as a going concern.
Chepstow based Worthy Developments were approached with view for a sale. Two successive offers were firmly rejected by the development company. Forest of Dean District Council dismissed the application for conversion in September 2014 concluding that it would be an unacceptable loss of a community facility stating that ‘the developers have not demonstrated that every reasonable attempt has been made to find an alternative use that could maintain it as a public facility or re-open it as a public house as it is the last one in the village.’ Dr Michelle Hayes, chairman of the Save Our Sun committee said, “Lack of need has not been proven by the applicant. Quite the opposite, given the amount of community support, with a petition of more than 1,000 signatures.” In response a spokesman for Worthy Developments claimed that the Rising Sun had “been operating unsuccessfully by numerous tenants. This property has been vacant since 2012 and for the last five years the pub has only been open for 11 months. The last occupants went into administration with a public auction being held after a one-year period of marketing. It is not a complete shock or surprise that the village has struggled to sustain a pub, given its history. We [Worthy Developments] consider that the applicant has sufficiently demonstrated that the Rising Sun is no longer viable and cannot be made so.”
A campaign to buy and re-open the Rising Sun had raised £216,000 in pledges by July 2018. The intention was to raise £350,000 towards a possible compulsory purchase. A crowd-funding campaign was set up as support.
On 3rd March 2022 the Rising Sun Woodcroft Community Pub Limited (RSWCPL) became proud owners of the Rising Sun. An impressive £345,600 was raised.
After months of hard, diligent, work by volunteers the Rising Sun opened again to the public in October 2022. The achievement cannot be under-estimated, the protracted battle to save the Rising Sun from permanent closure has been a shining example on how a community can get together and save their own local that, only a few years ago, seemed to have no future in the hands of a property developer.
Landlords at the Rising Sun include:
1858-1867 James Reece
1871 Albert Allwood
1875-1877 Thomas Clutterbuck
1881-1888 William Rowlands
1890 John Davies
1890 -1892 Francis Tyler
1894-1922 Philip Saunders
1922-1940 Harry Saunders
1940-1965 Harry Saunders, Jnr.
1965 – Charles Mansell
1968-1988 Olwyn and Les Astbury
1999 Brian and Diane Webber
1999,2000 Nick and Bev Roach
2006 Paul and Alne Davies
2007, 2008 Bill Morgan, Krysti Driver, Sue and Emily Bryant
As Pubs Officer for Gloucestershire CAMRA I took an interest in the campaign to save the Rising Sun at Woodcroft. I composed this article for ‘the tippler’ which was due to be published in the Summer edition of 2020. Because of the restrictions imposed by Covid-19 and the associated lock-down it was never printed.
The Wye Valley is a well-known beauty spot. In fact, it is thought that tourism actually began here in the 1750’s, and it became common with the opening of the railway in 1876. The viewpoint from Yat Rock is one of the most iconic views in England, if not the entire British Isles. From Monmouth to the north to Chepstow in the south the River Wye meanders through stunning landscapes of its own making. Tintern Abbey is a veritable gem and the Wye Valley, forming the boundaries of Wales (Monmouthshire) and England (Gloucestershire), attracts thousands of visitors every year. One of the most scenic walks is on the Gloucestershire side starting at Woodcroft taking in the Lancaut peninsular with its ancient chapel and stunning views over Wintours Leap. What better way to spend a leisurely day rambling on the Offas Dyke Path and enjoying a well-earnt pint or two in a delightful village pub afterwards. Sounds ideal? Sorry though, it can’t be done as the Rising Sun has firmly set.
The Rising Sun at Woodcroft was once a vibrant local community inn, well known in the early ‘noughties’ as an excellent dining venue and was renowned for its sea-food cuisine. Although never really an inspiring real ale pub – probably a legacy from its previous owners, Courage Brewery – it served the locals well and welcomed visitors from far and wide. At the time it was in competition with two other pubs in nearby Tutshill – the Cross Keys and Live & Let Live. Those closed for good in August 2008 and January 2013 respectively. Somehow the fortunes of the Rising Sun also languished, and it also closed leaving the entire communities of Woodcroft and Tutshill without a pub. Their nearest public houses being across the Welsh border in Chepstow, necessitating a car journey or a very long walk.
Chepstow based Worthy Developments bought the closed Rising Sun in 2011 and, arguing that the business was no longer viable, submitted plans to Forest of Dean District Council for conversion into residential use. The plans were vehemently opposed by the residents of Woodcroft, fearing that they would permanently lose the only pub in the village. Forest of Dean District Council received a petition of over 1,000 people objecting to the development. The ‘Save Our Sun’ Action Group was set up and campaigners successfully secured an Asset of Community Value protection for the Rising Sun in December 2013. The ACV afforded the opportunity for the Woodcroft Community to raise necessary funds for the purchase of the Rising Sun on the provision that they could prove its viability as a going concern.
Worthy Developments were approached with view for a sale. Two successive offers were firmly rejected by the development company. Forest of Dean District Council dismissed the application for conversion in September 2014 concluding that it would be an unacceptable loss of a community facility stating that ‘the developers have not demonstrated that every reasonable attempt has been made to find an alternative use that could maintain it as a public facility or re-open it as a public house as it is the last one in the village.’ Dr Michelle Hayes, chairman of the Save Our Sun committee said, “Lack of need has not been proven by the applicant. Quite the opposite, given the amount of community support, with a petition of more than 1,000 signatures.” Undeterred, however, the developers still insisted that they had proof of its non-viability.
The Rising Sun was put on the market with specialist estate agents Sidney Phillips at the end of 2017 with a price tag of £325,000, arguably well over the actual market value. There followed a focused campaign to buy and re-open the Rising Sun and had raised £230,000 in pledges by July 2018. The intention was to raise £350,000 towards a possible compulsory purchase.
Meanwhile in the intervening years since closure the fabric and structure of the building has been allowed to deteriorate. It could be argued that this is an entirely deliberate decision by the developers to run the site down to create an eyesore and blight on the landscape in order to facilitate reconstruction on the site with little opposition by the local community. It is a devious ploy that has been conveniently utilised by many other developers throughout the country, and consequently many hundreds of possibly viable pubs have been permanently closed as a result.
In November 2019 Forest of Dean District Council served notice to Worthy Developments that it was their intention to proceed towards a Compulsory Purchase order, a positive move no doubt instigated by years of uncertainly and stagnation. Since then Worthy Developments have submitted a fresh planning application which was recently refused to the delight of the Save Our Sun Group. Fundraising for legal costs is underway for the battle ahead. The Rising Sun just might be starting to rise over the Wye Valley horizon again.