Vention is a small hamlet to the north east of Lydbrook. The unclassified road from Vention runs down a wooded valley and joins the B4229 as it runs parallel to the River Wye. The Royal Spring is located at the top of this narrow valley in an attractive position.
Classified as a beer house in 1891 and 1903 the Royal Spring had an annual rateable value of £18.0s.0d. John S. Wheatstone was the owner and the Royal Spring was run free of brewery tie. Closing time was at 10 pm.
When I visited the Royal Spring in 2007 I was made extremely welcome by the landlady, May Crawley. She had researched into the history of the Royal Spring and had written this article which was on display in the pub.
Lydbrook is made up of a number of settlements of which the Vention area is but one. It is situated in the north east of the present parish. The lane leading down from the Morewood past the inn and down to the River Wye having also served as a tramway in the 1820’s. The area has two marketable assets, limestone and coal, A large quarry and some limekilns lie above the inn, and another limekiln was built about halfway down towards the river. The incline is very steep.
The building itself has very little straightforward vernacular traits. It is basically stone and timber, and a much later slate roof. The style lends itself to late 18th century, but the foundation was probably late Tudor, perhaps as early as 1575. The question then arises as to the purpose of the building originally. Two or three theories have been put forward. It has been said that it was a hunting lodge, built for the Duke of Monmouth. This is unlikely, as he would not have been permitted to hunt in the Forest of Dean, but he may have had hunting rights in Herefordshire, and the Vention is very close to the border with that county. A second idea is that it was built as a small holding, consisting of house and attached byre, with a small barn. The third theory is that it was built as part of the limekiln complex, and the families living there were operating the limekilns, and the quarry. Lime was an important product, and the burning of it produced fertilise to combat the acidity of the soil, and was also used for mortar in building.
Why Royal Spring Inn? There are a number of springs in the area, but none claiming a royal connection.
The licensing of premises for the consumption of alcohol was carried out by the local magistrates. The Vention Inn was licensed as a beerhouse initially. The owner probably brought in the malt and hops, but brewed his own beer. There were plenty of maltsters in the area, and the hops grown in Worcestershire would also be supplied by them. The inn has been a free house since the beginning and remains that way today.
The first licensee discovered in the records, so far, was John Harrison. He kept it from 1837-1840, and these are the years when it was worth £50 per annum in rent. Harrison was also the owner. Records are more accessible after 1869, when the law was changed in some respects. The Wheatstone family, in the person of Stephen Wheatstone. He was definitely the licensee in 1876. He was succeeded by John S. Wheatstone sometime between that date and 1891. The printed record for 1891 shows that it was a beerhouse, still, and a freehouse, and had a rateable value of £18. To prevent brewers and private owners from charging excessive rents to tenants, the rateable value was the yardstick by which rents were calculated. In this case the gross rental was stated to be £20 per annum.
Closing time was set at 10 pm, which was the same for all inns in the parish. Lydbrook did not qualify to be a populous area at that time. It is to be noted that closing time was the only restriction of hours. Licensing hours known until recently were not brought into force until the Defence of the Realm Act in 1914, and the government of the day promised to repeal them after the Great War. That promise was not carried out.
Sarah Wheatstone was the new licensee from the 20th August 1907, and retained it until her death in 1936, when Joseph Wheatstone took it over. He had an interest in local mines, and was part owner of the Reddings Level, Birchen Grove and Worrall Hill No.2 for about ten years.
It was recorded in 1931 that the rateable value of the premises was £23, and that a further £7 had been added for five and a half acres of land. Joseph Wheatstone relinquished the reigns in 1971, and that was the end of his family’s century long tenure. There is a ghost at the inn, and it is said that it is May Wheatstone, Joseph’s wife. Why she should haunt the inn is another question.
Kathleen Whitmore took over in 1971, followed by June Cooper in 1974, Kenneth Avis in 1981 and Bruce and Jennifer Pitchford in 1984. Timothy Pitchford and Julie Akeston kept it from 1986 until 1990, when our present host arrived.
The inn has a friendly atmosphere, a good reputation for its ales, and a fine reputation for its food, and a right royal time can be had!
Forest of Dean & Ross-on-Wye Pubs. A critical guide by Jon Hurley (booklet, 1991): The steep climb to this little pub is worth the effort just to sip a pint and admire the view of the Wye Valley below. The two bar Royal has an energetic couple turning it around and their recent activities include a beer garden (with stream) and two old lime kilns which they promise to restore. There is an ambitious menu which includes a number of “home mades”, Steak and Kidney Pie (“for those large appetites”) as well as Battered Haddock, Ploughmans, Curries, Kebabs, Chilli (“not for the timid”), Quiches, Stuffed Plaice, etc. etc. There is a fair range of beverages too and a piano in the corner where locals can imitate Garner, Peterson and Mrs Mills to while away the winter evenings which descend early in Lower Lydbrook. Folk music happens her too.
A fire broke out in the kitchen of the flat above the Royal Spring on Saturday 4th May 2019 and three fire crews were called to attend the blaze. It took two hours to extinguish the fire and the property suffered damage from fire and smoke to both ground and first floors. Fortunately no one was injured and the Royal Spring was able to open as usual.
Landlords at the Royal Spring include:
1837-1840 John Harrison
1876 Stephen Wheatstone (beer retailer)
? John S. Wheatstone
1891 J. Stephens
1903 John S. Wheatstone
1907 Sarah Wheatstone
1936-1971 Joseph Wheatstone
1971 Kathleen Whitmore
1974,1980 June Cooper
1981 Kenneth Avis
1984 Bruce and Jennifer Pitchford
1986-1990 Timothy Pitchford and Julie Akeston
1990 – 2007 May Crawley and her Son Peter Crawley