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Campaigners hope to save pub with BBC war story

PUBLISHED: 17:46 11 September 2017 | UPDATED: 17:46 11 September 2017

Plaques outside the Lord Nelson showing the stars who stayed in the village during World War Two. Picture; Ian Fergusson.

Plaques outside the Lord Nelson showing the stars who stayed in the village during World War Two. Picture; Ian Fergusson.

Ian Fergusson

A Cleeve pub should be spared demolition because it provided shelter to BBC stars during the war, according to campaigners.

Cyril Fletcher. Picture: BBC Archive. Cyril Fletcher. Picture: BBC Archive.

The Lord Nelson shut in 2016 and sold to Tout Ltd, which wants to build a petrol station, store, a small pub/café and offices.

The scheme has upset many villagers and a campaign to prove the historical value of the pub has uncovered an interesting tale.

At the start of World War Two, the BBC moved its variety department to Bristol, with the aim of providing welcome relief, so many stars of the time were sent to the West Country. But, when the Nazis began targeting Bristol, several were moved to Cleeve for their own safety.

Campaigners have unearthed evidence that the Lord Nelson provided accommodation and shelter to the likes of comedians Nan Kenway and Douglas Young, as well as actor Jack Warner (Dixon Of Dock Green), Cyril Fletcher and Eric Barker.

Leon Goossens. Picture: BBC Archive. Leon Goossens. Picture: BBC Archive.

Such was the plethora of talent staying in Cleeve, the Daily Mail in 1940 noted how ‘lucky’ the village was to have BBC stars stay.

When bombs were dropped on fields in Claverham, Cleeve and Yatton between 1940-42, the Lord Nelson’s cellar acted as an air raid shelter, and campaigners believe the BBC stars may have been among the people to use it.

They feel this shows the historical importance of the site and gives credence to the fight being put forward by Cleeve Parish Council to get the building listed as historically important. If that happens, it would restrict redevelopment of the pub.

Historic England has met with Tout ahead of giving advice to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The company is unhappy, saying it has already adapted its plans to include a pub to please villagers.

Sidonie Goossens. Picture: BBC Archive. Sidonie Goossens. Picture: BBC Archive.

Campaigner Ian Fergusson said: “This research has been an incredible journey of historic discovery, not only for me but for our entire village. We had rather vague anecdotal reports from older residents about this sort of connections with the stars, but we’d never imagined the scope or importance of it.

“The real facts were uncovered in just the past few days.

“Some of these wartime residents of the Lord Nelson became enduring major stars not only during World War Two but in through the decades that followed.

“Warner is inarguably one of the country’s best-loved actors of that era; while Leon and Sidonie Goossens were two of the most gifted musicians this country has ever produced.

Jack Warner. Picture: BBC Archive. Jack Warner. Picture: BBC Archive.

“Kenway and Young’s comedy characters – specifically Mrs Yatton from their wartime Very Tasty, Very Sweet sketches – were conceived at the Lord Nelson, based on their experiences there.

“Every time I now stand opposite the pub’s function room, I imagine Goossens’ inimitable oboe-playing filtering from there out across the village, or the laughter of locals watching the sketches of Kenway and Young.

“At a time when our nation was under siege and bombardment, these stars brought much-needed light into the wartime darkness of Cleeve and the entire nation.

“Our village is committed more than ever to preserving this historic pub, where these people lived, performed and sheltered from Nazi bombing.

Kenway and Young. Picture: BBC Archive. Kenway and Young. Picture: BBC Archive.

“Tout and Budgens pride themselves on being one of the oldest supermarket brands in the country, with origins back to 1872.

“Do they really want to associate themselves with the unwanted and unnecessary destruction of a historic site with such regional and national resonance? If the answer is yes, then it’s a shameful and unforgiveable corporate stance.”

The campaigners’ efforts are being supported by Hilary Young, the son of Kenway and Young.

He said: “It’s warm welcome brought my family to Cleeve and thence to Claverham which I counted as home for all the war years. It’s so important to keep the pub and its unique history.”

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