Chris Berry pays a visit to one of the region’s most beloved pubs, deep in East Yorkshire, where it has become a hub of village life.
Lost villages and lost railway lines are some of the claims to fame of Holderness.
Over 20 villages have been lost to the North Sea over the centuries and both railway lines disappeared nearly half a century ago. There is little here but land and more land, apart from the bits that farmer/poet Andrew Wells of Kilnsea wrote about when he penned Half My Farm’s in Holland Now.
Whilst the tiny rural village of Great Hatfield, three miles from Hornsea, is in no danger of being lost to the ravages of Europe’s fastest receding coastline it looked as though, like many other communities in this corner of Yorkshire, it was more likely to be a forgotten village when its pub closed.
Farming has always been the mainstay of Holderness and although it still is the predominant industry, where the land is fertile, there are now far fewer employed on farms due to mechanisation than in the bygone days of the 1950s and 1960s. Back then farming communities were made up of hundreds of farm workers eager for a pint at the end of a long day. The shift has seen many village pubs close and the trend is perhaps more prevalent here than most.
Without what is known as critical mass any pub will struggle to survive and it is difficult to imagine that today’s residents of Great Hatfield could ever have realistically considered clubbing together, as other North and West Yorkshire communities have, to run their own village pub.
Fortunately, husband and wife team Ray and Sandra Thompson were on the lookout for something different. They had been employed as steward and caterer at Silkstone Golf Club, near Barnsley for six years and were looking for a change. They, like many before them, fell in love with the village and surrounding villages of New and Old Ellerby and Sigglesthorne.
They saw the potential of The Wrygarth Inn immediately and since purchasing the pub and property in 2008 the couple have transformed it into a popular eating establishment, a function venue, a local pub and a village shop. Great Hatfield had none of these.
“We looked at around 40 pubs but this is the one that really caught our imagination. It was in a dreadful state but it had something about it that we felt we could work with and grow into the business it has become today.”
Despite its initial appearance Ray was struck by one of the features in the pub that he feels marks it out as highly original.
“Whilst the restaurant area was being built in the 1980s the builders employed a night watchman to keep an eye on their tools during a bank holiday weekend. The story goes that the night watchman became bored and started his own plasterwork etchings on the interior pub walls. He crafted what I feel are fantastic plasterwork scenes of Holderness farming life. When the foreman returned after the bank holiday he asked where the man had got his plaster from and when he told him he was sacked on the spot. That’s why some of them are not quite finished. There are no reins on one of the horses he was working on and only three wheels on a cart. But to me the plasterwork is phenomenal. It’s something highly unique to our pub and it proves fascinating to everyone who comes in.”
Getting the pub back up to scratch and fit for customers again was not just a challenge, it also provided Ray with another idea that would bring a steady income whilst also providing an important community service.
“When we first came here it was an empty shell. It had been closed for at least a year and everything needed sorting out and renewing. I lived in a caravan for the first three months until we sorted the living accommodation. I would wake up in the morning and have no milk. That meant a six-mile round trip and that’s when it dawned on me that we should try to sell things that everyone uses on a regular basis.”
Ray and Sandra started out by listing 20 items on the back of their restaurant menu, including milk, flour, butter, eggs and beans. Today their shop is still not large by any means and is situated between the restaurant and the bar, but it does stock many more items including breakfast cereals, wines and dog food.
“It’s proved really successful and the villagers appreciate it. You know what happens. It gets to 9 o’clock at night and you realise you’re out of tea bags or milk for your cuppa the next morning. You don’t want to run in to Hornsea at that time of night so you come here, have a pint or two, and then sometimes forget about taking your milk!
“We have caravaners who come here for meals in the summer and they will often stock up on supplies whilst they’re here. The shop would never survive on its own, just as the pub as a drinking establishment wouldn’t either, but the combination of food, drinking and the shop means that each contributes to our overall turnover.”
There’s still no way that Great Hatfield would warrant its own pub in the manner that Ray and Sandra are running The Wrygarth Inn, but by attracting diners from Hull, Beverley and Hornsea they have given the village back some of its identity.
Speaking out for community hubs
Recently Ray spoke at the East Yorkshire launch of the Pub is the Hub operation at Driffield Showground. The organisation, the brainchild of Yorkshireman John Longden and now based at the Great Yorkshire Showground celebrates 10 years this week.
It is supported by HRH The Prince of Wales and helps communities to reopen or keep a viable village pub.
“We hadn’t heard of the Pub is the Hub until last year when we had a visit from someone connected with it.
“The lady was impressed with what we had achieved and asked whether we would share our experiences at the launch,” he says.