The Ship Inn was once a ‘home brew’ pub. An advertisement appeared in the Dean Forest Mercury when Robert George Taylor was proprietor, ‘Ship Inn, Newnham. The above inn now having been thoroughly renovated, will be re-opened on Wednesday 14th January 1885 for the sale of wines, spirits, home-brewed beer, bitter ales, Burton ale, etc. Commercials will find a good accommodation at moderate prices.’
The brewing of beer on the premises seems to have ceased just six years later when Stroud Brewery acquired the Ship Inn. In late Victorian and Edwardian times Stroud Beers were probably carried by train across the Severn Railway Bridge to the Forest of Dean and then by horse and dray to the Ship Inn. The annual rateable value of the Ship Inn was £27.0s.0d. It was licensed as an ale house and closed at 11 pm.
Hannah Purnell was the licensee of the Ship in 1891. There was an old wooden pub sign preserved in the pub giving details that, ‘Hannah Purnell, Licensed Retailer of Ale, Porter & Cider. British and Foreign Wines and Spirits, etc. Dealer in Tobacco.’
The pub briefly closed down in 1998.
The Citizen: Monday, October 19th, 1998 – Reopening ahoy for popular ship: A 400-year old pub is to reopen – to the delight of villagers who launched a campaign to prevent its last owner converting it into housing. Tom Howard, the new owner of The Ship Inn, at Newnham on Severn, is pledging to ‘put the heart back into the village’. “I’m looking for the support of the people of Newnham now that I’ve got their pub back for them,” he said.
Earlier this year more than 300 people signed a petition protesting against a planning application by previous owner John Gardiner. Mr Gardiner, from Ledbury, had wanted to turn the grade II listed pub into four mews-style houses, because he felt it was no longer a viable concern. But councillors on the district planning committee turned down Mr Gardiner’s scheme, and said the pub should be retained for the village. Now the villagers will get what they campaigned for when the doors re-open on October 30th.
The pub’s new owner used to live in Newnham and is relishing moving back there with his family. “I approached the pub’s previous owner as I wanted to buy The Shop and keep it as an inn,” said Mr Howard. He has given The Ship a complete overhaul and intends to make it the centre of the village community. “I’ve completely redecorated,” he said. And it now looks more homely, more comfortable, tidier and smarter. I’m going to be holding various events and have various teams, as there isn’t a great deal in the village to get people together. I’d like to welcome everyone in Newnham to come back to The Ship,” said Mr Howard.
In December 2006 an ‘Eating Out’ review was very complementary about the Ship Inn and how it was ‘making waves on the gastronomic front’. The transformation of one of the bars at the pub into a classy restaurant was described as trendy and comfortable. Landlord Adrian Eyles said, “Basically I’m just being very selfish. I serve the food I like and the décor is what I’d choose myself.” The decoration with colours of creams, blues and greens, with wooden floors and bar ‘give the feeling of being on a Cornish coast rather than a short walk from the banks of the Severn.’ As for the cuisine, a reviewer in 2013 commented about the steak, “It was the best rump steak that I have ever eaten. It was sealed on the outside, and a consistent pink from the edge to the middle. This had been cooked perfectly and the quality of the steak was beautiful. The meat was tender and packed full of flavour.”
On the menu in 2012 was a Titanic burger, consisting of a quarter pound gourmet steak burger, quarter pound pork sage and onion burger and quarter pound minted lamb burger with two Americano buns, two potato rosti and sliced gherkin accompanied by apple sauce, tomato chilli salsa and minted jelly. Anyone completing the mammoth challenge of eating the beast was applauded by a ring on the Ship’s bell.
Officers from the Forest of Dean District Council took legal action against landlord Adrian Eyles in September 2007 after the exterior of the Ship Inn was painted bright blue. It had previously been painted pink. The Council objected because it was thought the bright blue colour was inappropriate for a listed building in such a prominent position in a conservation area in Newnham High Street. After the expense of refurbishing the pub Adrian was fined £650 (including costs and surcharge fee) for failing to complete and return a Planning Contravention Notice (PCN) in time. Newnham Councillor, Diana Edwards, said, “I’m horrified by this, it’s completely unfair. The District Council are asking Mr Eyles to go to much expense in repainting the pub in the first place. What is more important to them, the form or the colour? People in Newnham are used to that colour now. What is more important than the colour is that it is a superb pub that provides superb meals. I think what goes on inside is more important than what goes on the outside.” But a District Councillor spokesman said, “We will now issue an enforcement notice which will require him to repaint the building.” Adrian Eyles submitted another application to the Forest of Dean District Council in July 2008 for ‘heritage teal blue with white ivory windows.’
In November 2008 Adrian Eyles expressed concern that the pub trade was in decline. He told the ‘Forester’ newspaper. “Figures for October are up 10% on this time last year although overheads have also gone up. The rises in the price of fuel, labour and food prices mean the profit margin is dramatically reduced. The pub trade is not the business it once was. There has been a complete cultural shift away from people coming in for a drink after work or meeting at the pub. You now have to look for other forms of income.”
A Little Ship Takeaway was launched in December 2008 at the Ship Inn advertising, ‘for quick suppers (Tues-Sat evenings) try our authentic home-made Italian Pizzas cooked to order.’ In January 2015 a retrospective application was submitted to Forest of Dean District Council to allow a take-away service at the Ship Inn.
A planning application was submitted to Forest of Dean District Council in March 2010 for listed building consent for internal and external alterations with refurbishment of bar in existing outbuilding to the rear of the Ship Inn. This was later opened as the Black Pig Ale House, located in the Ship Inn courtyard.
Forest of Dean District Council gave their approval to an application to convert the 17th century coaching inn to three private apartments in February 2017. A statement from the Council concluded “Whilst it is considered that the applicant has not demonstrated that the business is no longer viable it is clear that there are alternative facilities available to the residents of the village and therefore the removal of this facility can be justified.” Owner Adrian Eyles responded, “I am heartbroken and absolutely gutted. I have invested half a million pounds and 12 years of blood sweat and tears and I just can’t make it work. I have a phenomenal record of turning pubs around but I can’t do it with the Ship. I think it is a sign of the times. People are just not coming out like they used to. If you just look at all the other pubs that have closed recently they tell me the same story. It’s hard to believe now but there used to be 27 pubs in Newnham. I shall run the pub as my baby until the very last possible moment.”
A 230-strong e-mail petition, signed by concerned locals (and fictional characters including Star Wars drone R2-D2) was handed in protesting about the pubs closure. One opponent said, “There has been a Ship in the village since 1637, for most of the time it has thrived. I blame it on the decisions of the landlord. With the right strategy and customer-friendly approach, the Ship could once again become a thriving business.” A Newnham councillor said that whilst he had been approached by many people concerned about losing the Ship they all admitted that they hardly ever used the pub because it was cheaper to stay in and buy drink and food from supermarkets. Landlord Adrian Eyles argued that if all the people who signed the petition drank or ate at the Ship on a regular basis he would not have to close its doors.
When put on the market in March 2017 the sale particulars gave details that ‘the development is divided to either side of the carriage entrance. The left-hand side was the original Ship Inn. The new development of this side consists of; a four-bedroomed (two en-suite), two-storey house: an attached one-bedroomed apartment with separate entrance. There is a garden together with two parking spaces. The right-hand side consists of a five-bedroomed, two-bathroom, mainly ground floor house with a separate entrance, garden and two parking spaces.’
The property was still on the market in June 2019 with an asking price of £575,000. It was described as a commercial opportunity for a former public house with permission to convert into a café, retail shop unit and takeaway. The sale also included the ‘operational real ale / gin bar’ (the Black Pig).
Landlords at the Ship Inn include:
1829 Henry Weight
1830 James Wallis
1856 F. Bayling
1863 John Mailes
1885 Robert George Taylor
1891 Hannah Purnell
1902, 1939 Frederick Baghurst
1970-1991 Graham and Mary Hyett (Graham’s father Herbert was landlord at the Upper George)
2000 Thomas Howard
2001 John Varnom
2007 Adrian Eyles