Wrote a story about the residents in South Stoke helping restore the beloved Packhorse Inn that was closed by corporate interests. Read it on DailyMail.com here.
For centuries, the Packhorse Inn was the quintessential village pub.
Drinks were served in the 15th century stone building in South Stoke, near Bath, for generations.
Customers would swig pints of cider and snack on crisps in the beer garden during summer, or gather around the blazing fire in winter.
The Grade II-listed tavern, surrounded by a mix of stunning Georgian homes and thatched cottages, would attract walkers rambling in the surrounding valleys.
Many overseas tourists who visited said it encompassed true British heritage.
But five years ago the historic venue poured its last drink, because their corporate owners were lured by profit – and gave in to an offer by property developers.
In response, many regulars, including Andy Patrick, were furious. ‘Hearing the Packhorse had closed was like being told a dear friend had died,’ he said.
A pair of businessmen who wanted to take the pub away from the locals and make it their own home signed its death sentence – a familiar fate for pubs closing in Britain on a daily basis.
As many as 25 are said to be shutting down every week – and the trend doesn’t look like it will be reversing any time soon.
But residents in South Stoke chose to fight the trend, and decided not to let their beloved pub go.
They blocked the sale, and refused to let the building fall into an outsider’s hands.
Everyone in the countryside community, just a stone’s throw from the Roman city, chipped in.
Now they have built up a group of local shareholders, who each bought their stake at £50 a piece.
After a well-fought campaign against, the Packhorse is now just months away from reopening.
The fireplace has been restored to its former glory, while the worn out interior has been strengthened.
It means the village might have its pub back again.
But they are still just shy of their target. So they have set up a crowdfunding page to reach their final mark.
Pesvner Architectural Guides describes South Stoke as a rare example of a real village that is within walking distance of a mainline station.
Barristers, accountants and even celebrities – who keep a low profile – have called the community their home and have fought to keep the pub which is steeped in history.
According to the carved stone above the door, the building was erected in 1674 – but historians say the pub dates back to 1498.
It was rebuilt on the site of a guesthouse used by monks to provide shelter, food and drink to travelers and pilgrims.
During renovation work on the Packhorse, builders found a priest hole inside the home facade and under the criss-crossing timber beams.
The holes were used to hide Catholic priests in the 16th century while they were being persecuted.
Catholic clergyman were targeted because of several assassination plots on Queen Elizabeth I.
They aimed at getting her off the throne so her Roman Catholic cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, would take over the crown.
Early records from South Stoke’s Hearth Tax returns (1664-1665) show the building was once owned by The Charmbury Family, who were knowing for managing inns in the area.
Then, an entry in the 1841 census shows it was taken over by notorious ‘maltsters’.
They likely led to the building of basement, that was once a brewery.
For 150 years the ownership was passed between families and businessmen who kept the Packhorse operating as a true village pub.
According to local historian Bob Parfitt, it started to decline when it was left in corporate owners’ hands.
The path back to its former glory has been aided by the locals who frequented the pub before it shut its doors.
But the project has also been helped, in part, by politics.
The pub’s rescue has been partly down to the Conservative’s 2011 Localism Act, which declared the pub a local community asset.
Eric Pickles, the Torie’s then-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, introduced the bill in a bid to help devolve powers from the government to individuals and communities like the village of South Stoke.
It started with introducing more elected mayors and referendums, but is now a way for villages to take control.
Bath and North East Somerset Council, also known as BANES, had not used the law until the Packhorse committee applied.
The move helped the locals buy back the pub, even before it had raised the funds to do so.
Now more pubs can apply – and many more communities around the country can save themselves.
In March 2012, the Packhorse was put up for sale by then-owners Punch Taverns – way under the building’s value.
Just two months later, it was sold to the highest bidder.
They quickly revealed plans to turn it into a residential property.
In response, the village formed a committee with the aim of buying the pub back.
Save the Packhorse signs began appearing outside houses and on the roads nearby.
Less than a year later, in February 2013, The Packhorse was entered into B&NES’ Assets of Community Value list under the Localism Act.
In June of the same year, Punch Taverns tried to sell off another Bath pub, the Richmond Arms.
But the council denied the sale – giving hope to the Packhorse committee.
In October, the new owner of the Packhorse announced their intention to sell. The village got together to discuss the next step.
They placed a bid for the building, but the offer was turned down.
However, under the Localism Act, the owner has to sell the property within a year, no matter who comes forward first.
In September 2015, the owner tried to file with the council to change the use of the basement and ground floor.
It was one step towards trying to turn the pub to a private house.
But their bid was turned down again, likely due to the many rejections that were filed with the council.
The Pack Horse South Stoke Ltd was registered as a society under the 2014 Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act, selling £500 shares.
Now they have raised more than £700,000, and are closing in on the target to officially open up.
More than 1,600 pubs are now protected under the 2011 Localism Act, according to the Campaign for Real Ale, and several dozen are being kept open by local cooperatives.
Earlier this month, the George & Dragon in the small Yorkshire village of Hudswell was named the best pub in the UK, by The Campaign for Real Ale.
The pub closed in 2008 at the height of the recession, but a group of regular customers got together and bought the property. It reopened in 2010.
The Packhorse still has a long way to go before it serves the first pint, but it has momentum.
Punch Taverns, who owned the pub before it closed, chose not to comment on this story.
The property developers who tried to purchase the Packhorse have not been identified.
A spokesman for the committee behind the reopening told Mail Online: ‘Now that planning permission and listed building consent have been granted, we can formally move onto the second stage of the project, which is the refurbishment of the pub.
‘Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we’re serving great food, great beer, and last but not least, great British cider.’
They also thanked the committee for the work they have put into the project.
Dom Moorhouse, the managing director of Packhorse Community Pub Ltd, added: ‘To get to this stage represents a massive milestone moment for the “Save the Packhorse” team and all our shareholders and supporters.
‘Through the generosity of all our backers, we have brought this treasured building back into community hands and, through the hard work of many skilled volunteers, secured planning permission, and listed building consent, for the ambitious refurbishment works to come.
‘As society trends towards atomisation and online-lifestyles, this initiative has always been about re-establishing a place of real community value: a project and place that brings people together … where social connections, across all generations, were made for over 150 years and, hopefully, can now be made for another 150 years to come.
‘There is a huge amount still to do but with one final push, especially on the fund-raising side, we will get this magical place open.
‘That will be some celebratory party for us all here but, also, a real moment for the cause of community-backed ventures: perhaps the only tenable model left for a number of similar village pubs.’
For many loyal customers, it will be a chance to recreate their fond memories.
Mick Ringham said: ‘My wife and I started visiting the Packhorse in the late 60s, in fact we did our courting there.
‘In the summer, sat in a sun drenched garden, overgrown with roses and a few weeds for good measure.
‘Bob Rose was the landlord at that time and what a character he was, yet he managed to keep the pub open with just sales of cider, crisps, pickled eggs and bread and cheese.
‘In the winter we would sit by a blazing log fire, surrounded by shove ha’penny teams and cheerful customers.
‘We have continued to use the Packhorse up until its closure and take all our friends there when possible. I think its closure and the action taken over its disposal is appalling.
‘We must all fight to get this wonderful and historic Inn open again. It was the heart-beat of the village.’
John Allen added: ‘One of the finest inns in England that should be preserved as an asset for the whole local community and visitors alike.’
Holland native Servaas Van Asseldonk said the pub encompassed true British heritage.
‘This pub represents British heritage on a monumental, cultural and social level. We have so many fond memories of being there with friends. Truly it’s a shame this unique venue closed.’
John Allen also wrote: ‘One of the finest inns in England that should be preserved as an asset for the whole local community and visitors alike. ‘