Perhaps Robin Hood had a local, and if he did I would suppose it looked just like The Fleece Inn. This isn’t a Disneyesque themed facsimile of an ancient public house. This is the real thing, and stunning it is.
The Fleece Inn has an idyllic rural location on a picture-perfect village square. Lots of honey-coloured stone cottages as it’s just a stone’s throw from the Cotswolds. It was originally built as a traditional longhouse in the time of Chaucer. It’s quite staggering to learn that The Fleece has been owned by that same family for virtually the whole time, with just a few alterations made to the building in Tudor and Elizabethan days.
A farmer called Henry Byrd Taplin thought that running a pub was better business than running a farm, and I am sure there are many farmers today who would agree with him. In 1848 the farmhouse became a licensed house. This was a regular home that had a licence to sell alcohol, and the Fleece Inn was just that; it still retains the air of a cottage. Henry sold beer and cider from his home, and beer was still being brewed in the back kitchen of the building well into the 20th century.
The last owner was a direct descendent of the man who first built the inn. Miss Lola Taplin lived in The Fleece until she died in 1977. She thoughtfully bequeathed the inn to The National Trust, making it the first pub in the country to be owned by the charity. It’s said that Miss Taplin still watches over the pub: there is an owl that perches on the barn roof and some say it’s she just keeping an eye on the old place.
The Fleece Inn is everything a good pub should be. It’s places like this that made English pubs so famous around the world. It’s steeped in convivial continuity and charming history. There is what is said to be the county’s second largest collection of pewter (the Queen having the first). It’s been on display here for around 300 years.
The original fireplaces offer welcome cosiness in cool weather and fill the pub with that almost forgotten aroma of burning logs. Those fires nearly heralded the end of the pub when in 2004 some sparks caused a fire that took part of the roof and upper floor. Everything has since been sympathetically restored. There are painted circles in front of the hearth and those are supposed to prevent witches from entering via the chimney. I guess Worcester witches can’t open doors.
If these walls could talk they would tell of hundreds of years of historic events: coronations, plague, civil war, electric light and inside plumbing – the latter two being thankfully taken advantage of at The Fleece. The dark wood tables and chairs are in keeping with the character of the pub, and the print of Shakespeare reminds us that the Bard himself might have passed by this very building.
Real ales and ciders are celebrated at the Fleece but we were here for the food, and the menu reflected the best of pub grub. Nothing too cheffy but good solid fare with plenty of choice. It was early spring so still cold enough to justify some traditional and hearty dishes.
I was looking for lunches that I could talk about on Alan Coxon’s internet radio show. He is one of Britain’s most decorated, awarded and certified chefs and recognises a good hostelry when he sees one. Alan lives locally and this pub is a favourite. He has been known to settle himself on the settle, relax and toast his food-historian toes by the historic fire. We did the same and consulted the menu. I was tempted by the Traditional Local Faggots but it’s an international radio show and a so-named dish could have caused misunderstanding…nay, offence!
I ordered Local Sausages served with Chive Mash, Buttered Garden Peas and Red Wine Gravy. This was a substantial plateful that would have set up a peckish farm worker for an afternoon in the fields. The sausages were mildly seasoned, the gravy was rich and the mash didn’t come from a packet. I found but one small lump to verify to its gastronomic credentials.
My guest decided on the Steak and Mushroom Pie, served with Braised Red Cabbage, Curly Kale, New Potatoes and Gravy. This is a classic pie and I think we British do savoury pies better than most. The pastry has to be good and the filling must be flavourful and made with the best-quality ingredients. This one evidently was. I could tell by the reluctance with which my companion offered me a taste.
Worcestershire seems to have lots of high-quality meat products as well as abundant fresh produce. It’s not surprising that the county is something of a Mecca for food lovers. It’s places like The Fleece Inn which remind us that good traditional food in Britain is not dead, it’s just in hiding. It’s been a pleasure to seek it out in this lovely county. I am planning a return visit.
The Fleece Inn
The Cross, Bretforton, Nr Evesham, Worcester WR11 7JE
Tel: 01386 831173
Visit The Fleece here
Monday and Tuesday: 11am – 3pm, 6pm – 11pm
Wednesday to Sunday: 11am – 11pm
Food Service Hours
Monday to Saturday: 12pm – 2.30pm, 6.30pm – 9pm
Sunday: 12pm – 4pm, 6.30pm – 8.30pm
Restaurant and Pub review by Chrissie Walker © 2018