The Travellers Rest, in a quiet location by the Ferneyley brook at Lower Common to the north of Aylburton, might be familiar to some as the Besom Inn, the name it carried in the last few years of trading before it closed in 1989. A besom is a broom made from a bunch of sticks – the classic ‘witches broomstick’, but why the Travellers Rest changed identity isn’t known.
In 1891 and 1903 the Travellers Rest had a beer house status with an annual rateable value of £13.15s.0d. Closing time was at 10 pm.
The succession of breweries supplying beer to the Travellers Rest is interesting. In 1891 the pub was owned by Charles Garton & Co. of Easton Road, Lawrence Hill, Bristol. In turn they were acquired in 1898 by the Anglo-Bavarian Brewery of Shepton Mallet, Somerset. Anglo-Bavarian brewed lager style beers, probably similar in style to the ‘golden ales’ of today. (Incidentally the word ‘Bavarian’ was dropped from the title during the First World War.) Trading ceased in 1921 and the Anglo Brewery pub estate (including the Travellers Rest) was sold to the Cheltenham Original Brewery and Arnold Perrett of Wickwar. The pub was later part of the West Country Brewery estate – a ceramic ‘Best in the West’ plaque is still in situ, and then Whitbread before becoming a free house.
Anthony and Mary Reiss took over the Besom Inn in December 1983 and gave the pub a substantial facelift. Tony told the Forest & Wye Review in March 1984 that that the locals “had given us tremendous support and they have been very understanding over the changes taking place and any inconvenience caused.” The Besom was their first experience in the pub trade, Tony was previously employed as an agricultural contractor in Suffolk. Their vision was to create a flourishing, typical village pub with good beer, grandmother’s style cooking and a friendly atmosphere. The cuisine would consist of basic home-made food – simple but good and ‘chips will be out and, in their place, baked potatoes.’
Danny and Lynn Price bought the Besom in December 1988. They financed the purchase by borrowing and selling their ‘lovely cottage’ about a mile away. Their dream, however, soon turned into a nightmare when just six months later they realised that the Besom was not a viable proposition. Danny told the ‘Forest & Wye Review’: “This pub is off the track, there are not many residents on the Common and people are increasingly wary of driving to a pub for a drink. There simply isn’t the business available.” When rumours spread about possible closure a petition was organised and at the end of June 1989 some 100 people had signed. Danny responded by telling the Review: “I have to ask how many have ever used the pub? If they did a couple of times a week it would survive but the fact is that we have spent thousands of pounds of our capital and we are losing money. If we are not careful, all the capital which we have worked so hard to build up will be gone.” He added, “We have learned a hard lesson and obviously we have to look after our own interests. We do not believe there is any alternative and it is my view than many other rural pubs will go the same way.” Lynne Price commented: “It is being suggested that we have done this deliberately but it is not true – we gave up a smashing home and my husband a good job to take this pub but, sadly, it hasn’t worked out.”
The president of the National Licensed Victuallers Association, Mr Ron Jones, told the Review: “We know that many licensees – particularly in rural areas – are having a struggle to survive and that some will be forced to get out. The truth of the matter is that many rural pubs are no longer viable – tenants cannot afford to pay the massive rents now being demanded by the brewers, faced with the doubling of bricks-and-mortar values in 18 months, are borrowing more than they can afford to repay. We are faced with an exodus and it is inevitable that some pubs will become residential homes, much as we regret it.”
However, the chairman of the Save the Besom committee responded with the argument that the sale of the property was not even being advertised as an inn. By the end of July1989 the petition against closure had reached in excess of 200 signatures. Chairman Richard Field said: “At our meeting it was suggested that plans for converting it to residential use were in existence shortly after the owners moved in. We know a survey was drawn up in January. This gives rise to the suspicion that the owners had decided very early on that they would close the pub and develop the site with homes.”
An angry correspondent wrote in the letters section of the Forest & Wye Review (7th July 1989): “What right has Mr Price got to close it? He is not a local man. He was not born and bred here so how can he have the affection for the old Besom Inn? What right has he to destroy the village local – after all it was a different manner six months ago when he dreamt of being the landlord. The local pub is not a job, or a private home. It belongs to the village and it is a dedication of life for its customers.”
The Citizen: Thursday, January 18th – 1990: Locals toast pub fight triumph Villagers fighting to save their Forest of Dean local are celebrating after councillors blocked an application to remove its drinks license – by raising their glasses at another pub down the road! The Besom Inn at Lower Common has been shut for six months, and former regulars opposing plans by the pub landlord and his wife to convert the building into two homes have to trek into nearby Aylburton for a drink. “The pubs there are nice, but it is not the same as our Besom,” said campaign secretary Julie James. Twenty-nine villagers objected to the proposal to strip the 134-year-old pub of its licence and that the application was turned down, Julie said. Pub owners Lyn and Danny Price say the pub is economically unviable – something locals refute.
The eventual closure of Besom Inn was pre-emptied by the decision not to order any further supplies of beer. Last orders were served for the final time late in July 1989. A planning application was submitted to Forest of Dean District Council for change of use from public house to residential which was initially refused, prompting hopes that the pub might reopen. However, the bar fittings had already been taken out. A revised application for change of use was eventually granted.
The pub is now a private residence and a hedge has grown around the property since its days as a licensed house.
Landlords of the Travellers Rest / Besom Inn include:
1885 Thomas James
1891 William Jones
1902,1906 William Morse
1939 Charles Davies
1984 Anthony & Mary Reiss
1988 Danny & Lynn Price