The Victoria Hotel is an imposing stone-built building at the ‘top end’ of Newnham, opposite St Peters Church. The building dates back to 1622, and was once the private residence of Thomas Crump. The wide portico with paired columns was probably added when the building became an inn and posting house between 1836 and 1840.
In 1891 and 1903 the Victoria Hotel had a substantial annual rateable value of £90.0s.0d., and the establishment was a fully licensed alehouse. William Henry King was both the owner and proprietor and there was no brewery tie. Closing time was at 11 pm.
When the proprietor of the Victoria Hotel, William King, died in 1913 the ‘important freehold property’ was put up for auction on Wednesday 22nd October. The sale particulars described an ‘old established, first class, fully licensed hotel and posting house with extensive stabling and garage – the whole being about 4,300 square yards in extent.’
The booklet ‘Gloucestershire Inns’, published in 1924, gives a description of the Victoria: ‘Although this house is by no means one of the oldest in the county, yet it embodies many delightful architectural features dating from the early 17th century, and including several Adams fire-places, Dutch tiling, a magnificent carved oak staircase, black with age, and a spacious gallery. Possibly the most interesting feature of all is a painted glass panel, dated 1622, depicting the familiar fable of the Grasshopper and the Ant. The legend accompanying the quaint painting is written in the old style and may be rendered thus:
The Grasshopper came into the Aunts (sic) and demanded a part of theer corne, whereupon they did aske what hee had done in the sommer and he said he had song and they sayde if you song in the sommer then daunce in the winter.
The strong street frontage, painted white, has since 1948 lost several original features including a balustraded parapet and a central pediment.
The Victoria Inn was closed and empty in October 1985 when the unique ‘Grasshopper’ stained-glass window, priced at £10,000, was stolen. Considering its prominent position half-way up the carved oak staircase, it is incredulous that the then owners said they didn’t even know the window existed and were shocked when they found out the value.
Forest of Dean & Ross on Wye Pubs. A critical guide by Jon Hurley (booklet 1991): This is an olde worlde inn with traditional furniture as well as purpose made pub tables and chairs. A log fire, good taped music, exposed beams, white walls create a tranquil atmosphere. The Victoria specialises in food and there is a vast selection of goodies from which choose, including an array of meat and fish dishes. The wine list irritatingly lists no shippers names or vintages but there are a good few good bottles from which the bluffer can select a relatively inexpensive bottle. Again under new management, (hotels like pubs change hands too frequently) en-suite facilities will turn the hotel into a pleasant place very near a wide attractive sweep of the Severn. A useful Sunday lunch menu, as well as a comprehensive list of tasty looking bar snacks make the Victoria a useful place to drive to and sample an atmosphere which has all but disappeared these days. The beer side of things appears to lean towards the products of Messrs. Whitbreads.
In June 1986 John and Margaret Turner from Kidderminster bought the Victoria Hotel with a view to restoring the 300-year old building back to its former glory. It had been standing unloved and empty for a year. They said, “When we arrived there was very little here at all. We even had to put in new sinks.” One of the regulars had taken a photograph of the original ‘Grasshopper’ window and an attempt was made to reproduce the missing panel on a plastic transparency that was fitted into the replacement window. Unfortunately, the sun quickly bleached the reproduction and it faded quickly.
John and Lyn Andrews, who previously ran the Butchers Arms in Clearwell, moved into the Victoria Hotel in 2000. They were victims of two break-ins in which cigarettes and money were stolen and faced criticism for asking non-hotel users to stop parking their cars on their land in front of the hotel. Mrs Andrews said, “We want to turn the Victoria back into a successful hotel and we are doing it all off our own backs. Most people in the village have been really supportive of us but there are just a few small-minded people. But we certainly won’t let these problems stop us.”
The Victoria Hotel hosted Sunday Jazz evenings at the beginning of the new millennium. A ‘gig review’ reported that the reviewer had ‘listened to Danny Moss at the Victoria Hotel, one of the greatest – if not the greatest – British mainstream tenor saxes in the business, perform a concert which compared with the best one might hear anywhere in the country.’ had A ‘family meal’ review in the ‘Gloucester Citizen’ in March 2002 was complimentary about the food. ‘As for the restaurant, the roast beef was succulent and my daughter’s Chicken Kiev was very tasty and the vegetables were excellent.’
The neighbouring garage was set ablaze by an arson attack at 2.30 in the morning on Saturday 26th May 2001. Flames were spotted at the back of the garage and the alarm was raised. Guests and staff at the Victoria Hotel had to be evacuated. Although the hotel only sustained minor smoke damage, the fire completely destroyed the back of the two-storey Victoria Garage, several cars and a workshop. Lyn Andrews said, ‘The experience was very frightening, but we had neighbours rallying around and taking people in. The Post Office was very good as they took people in as well.’ There were twelve guests in the hotel at the time of the fire, plus six staff and family. It turned out that one of the staff, who was living and working at the Victoria Hotel as an odd-job man, started the fire in revenge for the ‘anti-gay hostility’ that he had experienced in Newnham and that he believed that the garage was the property of the landlord whom he had accused of homophobic behaviour. The court heard that firefighters had dragged away four liquid propane gas cylinders from the blaze which were in danger of exploding.
The Victoria Hotel closed on April 12th, 2007. The Victoria had been losing money for a considerable time and the decision was taken to close it down because the hotel was deemed to be longer viable. Twenty full and part time staff faced redundancy. The Commercial manager of the Victoria said: “There are no plans to sell the hotel at the present time and we’re reviewing our options. The loses relate to lack of use and the overall cost of maintaining the staff and the facilities”. The fixtures and fittings of the Victoria were removed.
The closure of the Victoria Hotel was vehemently opposed by some residents which culminated in a hate campaign targeted at owner and entrepreneur Brian Bennett. This followed speculation that the building might be demolished, and the lucrative site be redeveloped. A spokesman for Mr Bennett’s company, however, reassured protesters that there were no plans to flatten the Grade II listed building. “We’ve made a commitment to the Forest of Dean District Council to come up with a residential scheme of the adjoining garage site of a standard and architectural merit that will benefit and enhance the village. We appreciate the concerns about this hotel and would like to reassure residents we have the best interests of this important building at heart.”
The fabric of the Victoria Hotel was left to decay and slowly deteriorate to the dismay of Councillor Diana Edwards who commented in February 2008, “We are all concerned at the obvious deterioration of the building which people in the village view with great affection.” Over two years later some remedial work was done to the exterior of the old hotel including replacing some of the plasterwork and applying special breathable paint as a preservative. Brian Bennett said, “We are very pleased to at long last be able to carry out this improvement to a very important building in Newnham.”
Even after the building was given a makeover the Victoria Hotel was left untouched for another six years. Thieves stole copper piping and metal from the building in June 2012. In October 2016 builders moved in to remove its crumbling façade in preparation for a full-scale redecoration. A spokesman from Forest of Dean District Council confirmed that the owner wanted to turn the property into upmarket flats and negotiations were taking place with the owner to ensure the building was maintained to a certain standard including making it watertight.”
At the time of writing (in May 2019) the renovations to the old Victoria Hotel are still ongoing and the forecourt remains fenced off. However, the façade has now been restored and it no longer can be regarded as an eye sore.
Landlords of the Victoria Hotel include:
1856 G. Hawkins
1885,1906 William Henry King
1919,1927 Edward Master Evans
1986,1989 John and Margaret Turner (John Turner, proprietor in 1989)
2000 John and Lynne Andrews
2010 Brian Bennett (owner)