The Pub's History
Adrian & June Potts.
The Barge lies at the epicentre of a plethora of ancient sites and tracks. To the north lies the the Ridgeway, Britain’s oldest road. Close by is Avebury Stone Circle, a Neolithic henge and the largest stone circle in Europe, which together with Silbury Hill, West Kennet Long Barrow and Stonehenge is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The pub is positioned on the Dukes Ley Line, a spiritual and mystical alignment of ancient land forms.
Honeystreet is a small hamlet of barely twenty five houses straddling the Kennet and Avon canal. It is part of Alton Parish consisting of the neighbouring villages of Alton Barnes and Alton Priors with a population of less than two hundred and fifty, so everyone knows everyone! There are two churches, St Mary the Virgin, of Saxon origin, and the Norman All Saints. The village is overlook by a White Horse, one of Wiltshire’s famous chalk hill figures carved into the landscape.
The Barge Inn itself has a long and colourful history. It was built in 1810 and situated just inside the neighbouring parish of Stanton St Bernard, as Alton Parish was ‘dry’. Its construction coincided with the opening of the Kennet and Avon Canal which stretched from Bristol to its junction with the Thames at Reading, a distance of 87 miles with 105 locks. In its early years the canal prospered, with the Barge Inn (or the George as it was originally named) operating as the ‘motorway services’ of its day. The building and its barn housed not just a drinking establishment but also a slaughter house, coach house, stables, brewery and hop store, bakery, smoke house and cart shed. Business boomed but unfortunately this was relatively short lived, with the opening of the Great Western Railway in 1841 signalling the start of a gradual decline.
The Barge Inn Community Group.
On 14th December 1858 fire broke out at the pub, largely destroying the original building. However the cellars survived the blaze and the Devizes & Wiltshire Gazette reported the “disgraceful scene” that followed the fire being extinguished -“the cellars were entered … there was nothing but drunkenness and confusion”. Fortunately, due to its local importance, the pub was rebuilt in just six months, an event commemorated by a plaque at the north gable end.
The rebuilt Inn, which now contained no fewer than 24 rooms and 15 fireplaces, including those in the bake house and barn, initially flourished, along with other businesses in Honeystreet such as the sawmills, boat building wharf and coal stores. But with the development of the railway the end was inevitable and the canal became more neglected.
Courage bought the pub in 1962.
Although the canal side of business went into decline, pubs were still an essential meeting place for working folk and the hub of the local community, so the pub continued in business. It was sold at auction on Wednesday April 7th, 1897 (“at three o’clock punctually”), to brewers Ushers of Bristol, for £2,100, considerably less than the figure of £2960 it fetched in 1844. In 1936 W J Rogers, another Bristol brewer took charge and following them Reading brewer H&G Simonds, who subsequently sold to Courage in 1962 for £4800. Courage went through several mergers and takeovers with their pubs eventually ending up as part of Inntrepreneur Plc. In 1973 the Barge was acquired by Ushers of Trowbridge. Ushers later became the pub group InnSpired Inns, who in turn were taken over by the national 'Pubco' - Punch Taverns. In March 2010, the pub was purchased by Honeystreet Ales, a boutique pubco owned by Portella Estates.
The Barge Inn c.1900
The Barge has always had a very traditional ownership structure and is operated as a tied house. This means that a brewer or pubco owns the property and supplies the beer and a tenant lives on site and runs the business. Over its two hundred years the Barge has had many tenants, no doubt some excellent ones along with a few rogues. Unfortunately there are just a few records available and some pictures hanging in bar.
Ushers acquired the Barge in 1973.
However the Barge being the Barge nothing is ever ‘ordinary’ and two of the memorable tenants have run the pub in recent years. In August 2010 the pub was taken on by a group of Big Lottery funded 'locals' known as The Barge Inn Community Project. A TV documentary presented by Sarah Beeny, followed their exploits during their first year of trading and it was aired on BBC1 in August 2011. As part of the ‘script’ and as a fund raiser a music festival called Honeyfest was arranged, taking place on the campsite in April 2011. Top name folk acts Laura Marling and Damien Rice played to a crowd of 1500. Sadly in October 2012 BICP’s volunteer directors ran out of steam and they brought their tenancy to an end following financial difficulties.
Without doubt the pubs bohemian spirit and soul, as it is today, owes much to long term tenants Adrian and June Potts who called time in August 2011 following seventeen wonderful years behind the bar. During this time crop circles started to appear in the surrounding fields changing the pub from a sleepy backwater establishment to an internationally known meeting place for researchers and followers of this fascinating phenomenon. Artist Vince Palmer painted the ceiling mural in the pubs canal side room depicting all the areas ancient sights along with a few other details for the sharp sighted.
In June 2011 the pub celebrated its bi-centennial and to mark the occasion Honeystreet Ales began the re-building of the pubs old derelict barn. The beautiful new oak structure will be completed in 2014 and used as an art gallery. No doubt this will cause many new visitors to fall under the spell of the Barge Inn.
We told you the beer was good!Barge Inn wins local CAMRA ‘Pub of the Year’ award 2012
Local CAMRA branch chairman Hans Hoffbauer said “each year a single pub is chosen for the consistent excellence of its ales, the presentation and quality of its food, and the high standard of its customer service. We visit many pubs in our area several times each – and quite anonymously. We then sit down together and choose the one pub with the highest scores – and that is our pub of the year”. And amazingly the Barge still won!!!
Hans presented the award to John Brewin, chairman of the Barge Inn Community Project, during a visit by local CAMRA branch members. John said “any pub is only as good as its staff” and paid special tribute to manager Alan Bowery and chef Carl Games.
Dress code for the award presentation was ‘Barge Inn’ smart casual, so John dusted off his favourite 'Summer of Love' jacket for the occasion.
The Bicentennial Celebration PartyJune 26th, 2010 – A day to remember
Adrian and June cut the cake.
A beautiful celebration cake courtesy of Honeystreet Ales.
two hundred years of The Barge Inn - probably the most famous pub in the Universe!
Whats a fabulous day – but not all the pub's chums could make it.
The refined ones wrote:
“I hope that you will all have a very happy day on the 26th June” - HM The Queen, Buckingham Palace.
“Very sadly, other long-standing commitments that day mean he is unable to join you. He is so sorry.” - HRH, The Prince of Wales.
“The Princes send you their best wishes” - Prince William & Prince Harry.
“The Prime Minister really appreciated this invitation” - 10, Downing Street.
“Best wishes for the Barge Inn” - Ambassador Liu Xiaoming, Embassy of The People's Republic of China.
The US Ambassador, Louis B Susman also phoned to wish The Barge well, but was unable to attend – perhaps to show solidarity and avoid a diplomatic incident with the Chinese! Or perhaps not...
“We do hope you have a wonderful time” - Sir Terry Leahy, Chief executive Tesco Plc ( A shame he couldn't come – Adrian had to get the sausages from Lidl).
“Best wishes for a successful celebration” - Lady Douro, The Royal Ballet School.
"I hope you have a fun bicentennial celebration" - Sir Cliff Richard.
“On behalf of everyone at Arsenal football club I send you best wishes, sorry I can't make it, I'm either at the World Cup Finals or away on Summer break” - Theo Walcott
(Sorry Theo, it turned out to be your Summer break; we missed you at the World Cup!)
Our theatrical friends also telephoned:
Louis 'It would have been a weird weekend' Theroux
Esther 'Thats life' Rantzen
John 'Twinkle Toes' Sergeant
The Barge's military friends sent top secret communications that they would have to make a tactical withdrawl:
Admiral Of The Fleet - Sir Mark Stanhope
Air Chief Marshall - Sir Jock Stirrup
Air Chief Marshall - Sir Stephen Dalton
Sadly that meant we had to take care of our own security!
This episode is based on Colin Dexter's novel "The Wench is Dead".
In June 1998 the Barge was host to Carlton Television's production of Colin Dexter's "The Wench is Dead", an Inspector Morse whodunnit. The Barge was selected as the perfect location for flashback scenes to the year 1853 which required a building which hadn't been altered since its erection in 1810. Initially they dressed the pub, covered the tarmac, overhead cables and ariels along with props including carts, a flock of chickens, cart horses, rabbits and other props of the period. Click here for pictures taken during filming (opens in new window) As a postscript, in September 2003, we were delighted to host a luncheon for "The Morse Appreciation Society" headed by Colin Dexter himself, along with his charming wife.
In this episode, Morse is taken seriously ill at a museum reception and is hospitalized. While there, he takes an interest in a 140 year-old case known as the Oxford Canal Murders. The case involved the murder and rape of young woman traveling by canal boat from Coventry to London. The case resulted in two men being hanged and Morse believes there was a miscarriage of justice. With Lewis away at the Inspectors course Supt. Strange, who has counseled Morse to take early retirement, assigns fast-track university graduate PC Adrian Kershaw to do some leg work for him. Morse determines that a fraud took place and that the victim may have been someone else altogether.
You can see some of the photos taken whilst filming the episode below.