The Yew Tree Inn is located just to the north of May Hill, a well-known Gloucestershire topological landmark. The county boundary with Herefordshire almost intercepts the pub. Today the Yew Tree has a Gloucestershire address but when the 1891 and 1903 licensing books were being compiled Cliffords Mesne was in Herefordshire – the boundaries have since changed. Consequently, there are no historical records detailing brewery ownership, etc. It is known, however, that the Yew Tree has 16th century origins and was once a ‘cider house’.
Paul Hackett was a Michel Roux trained chef and in 1999 he and his wife Anna decided to leave the high life in London to open their own restaurant in the heart of the countryside. They bought the Yew Tree at Cliffords Mesne. Paul and Anna’s dream was to serve people with ‘wonderful, high-class restaurant food and wines at reasonable prices”. Paul once told the press: “We decided we wanted to change our lifestyle and we came across the Yew Tree. It was a bit run down but we’ve completely refurbished it. Now we’re an eating pub rather than a drinking pub.” The gastro pub gained an entry in the Good Food Guide 2004.
The transition from a ‘run down’ local pub to a high class and successful restaurant may have been commendable from a business perspective but the average beer drinker felt alienated and had no village pub to go to.
When Phillip and Cass Todd bought the Yew Tree in 2005 they immediately set about turning it back to a traditional country pub, serving not only good food but good beers as well. The Yew Tree Inn at that time was described by CAMRA as having ‘traditional bars with quarry tiled floors, pleasant furnishings and cosy log fires during the winter months. There are 21 local ciders to choose from and the Yew Tree has a Beer Festival in April.’ But an application to extend the trading hours so it could serve alcohol until midnight from Monday to Thursday, and 1 am on Friday and Saturdays was not well received by everyone. The council received 12 objections from nearby residents who expressed concern about longer hours, music and dancing which they said might be a noise nuisance. Caroline Todd of the Yew Tree said, ‘The Yew Tree is a village pub in a rural community which was previously run as a restaurant and mainly food led. We now wish to integrate more with the local community by providing suitable entertainment, charity and theme nights, musical evenings, jazz dinners etc.’
The Yew Tree was named ‘Good Pub Guide’ Wine Pub of the Year 2009. The judges said: ‘A back room is charmingly laid out as an informal wine shop, with a good range that is fairly priced. It has an excellent scheme where you can have a bottle with your meal for just its shop price plus £3, which is much lower than the usual mark-up and the better the wine, the bigger the bargain. We wish more pubs used this customer-friendly pricing system.’
Following a change of ownership the fortunes of the Yew Tree appeared to take a downward turn. An on-line review from a Hereford visitor lamented, “I went to The Yew Tree with friends on Friday night. It used to be a regular haunt of mine when my grandparents lived in the village and I have many, wonderful memories of great times spent there and the good food they used to serve. What a disappointment it is now. It was peak time on a Friday night and it was virtually empty – not a good sign. The landlord was friendly enough, but the place looks just like any number of country pubs that have been updated – so many of the lovely, unique features I remembered had been stripped away, leaving a, almost sterile feeling to the place. We ordered food – the menu wasn’t very inspiring so I went for chicken. I really wish I’d taken a photo of it because it was indescribably bad. How can anyone go so wrong with chicken, chips and coleslaw? The chicken had been overcooked and then clearly kept hot – I couldn’t get my knife into it, let alone chew it. The stringy fries seemed to have been pre-salted somehow and were most unappetising. The meal came with a small pot of sad-looking coleslaw that, although pretty grim, was the most edible thing on the plate. The most unbelievable part of the whole thing was the price – at £11.00, I think the customer should expect food that is tasty and well-cooked. It made me sad to think that this once-great venue has become so mediocre. I won’t be hurrying back there.”
The Yew Tree Inn was listed as an asset of community value (ACV) in June 2017, giving it additional protection from development under the Localism Act of 2011. This came after more than 50 residents had petitioned the District Council to save their pub. A councillor said, ‘The owners are relocating to a different part of the country and have put the Yew Tree up for sale. They are hoping to put arrangements in place which will see the pub remain open after the move, until the sale is concluded. Therefore there is a real possibility at a later date it would be a change of use.’
In August 2018 it was announced that the Yew Tree Inn was set to re-open as a restaurant pub with built in holiday accommodation. Development company Meadow Leisure Ltd applied to Forest of Dean District Council for the construction of new kitchen and toilets, enlarged restaurant area and two holiday lets. The developers stated at the time that they intend the new-look pub to be open in time for the Cheltenham Gold Cup week in March 2019. They hoped that the reopened Yew Tree would be a boost for the local economy and ‘provide up to 12 full and part time jobs, including a gardener who will provide fresh vegetables for the restaurant.’ It was envisaged that opening hours would be from 8 am till midnight seven days a week, offering breakfast, tea, snacks and evening meals. The company added ‘It will also host business conferences, business meetings, weddings, wakes and family parties.’
In April 2022 the Yew Tree remains closed. A Support Our Yew Tree (SOYT) group was instrumental in re-listing the Yew Tree as an Asset of Community Value, of which the owners informed the Forest of Dean District Council of their intention to dispose of. It is not known if the owners have a potential purchaser with the aspirations to re-open the pub. The existing planning permission for the Yew Tree covers the bar area, cellar, restaurant, commercial kitchen and toilets. Support Our Yew Tree Campaign will ensure that any prospective purchaser makes clear whether they intend sticking with the existing planning permissions.