Outcry as Ben Jonson pub becomes the Black Sheep

From left, George Lamb, Georgina Lamb, Graham Barnett, Paula Hessian, Susan Daenke, Bob Hessian and Ann Holt at the pub.

The pub’s previous sign

First published in News by

VILLAGERS say the new landlords of a pub have wiped out a piece of literary history dating back hundreds of years.

The former Ben Jonson pub in Weston-on-the-Green, near Bicester, is said to have taken the name after the famous poet and playwright stayed there on his way to visit William Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Now locals are fuming after the new tenants – Mark Godfrey and chef Martin Underwood – changed the historic name to The Black Sheep to fit in with branding at nearby Weston Manor – which they also run.

One resident, Dr Susan Daenke, said villagers were not consulted over the change and the situation felt like a “feudal manorial relationship”.

Parish clerk Bob Hessian, who is also chairman of Bicester Local History Society, said the pub had been called the Ben Jonson since the 1700s after the playwright and poet reputedly stayed there on his way to Stratford to see Shakespeare.

New signs went up last week and the refurbished pub is due to reopen on Monday.

Mr Hessian said: “It’s the history. It’s been called the Ben Jonson since the early 1700s at least.

“We have lost that to my mind. It’s just disappointing.

“We have no power to stop him.

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“I just think they have changed the name more for a branding point of view.

“The theme at Weston Manor is sheep and they have got a couple of sculptures of sheep in the front of the hotel.

“There’s a sheep association with Weston Manor but it’s not as if Weston has got a sheep farming community.”

Dr Daenke, who has lived in the village for 20 years, wants the owners to reconsider and warned people would “vote with their feet” and go to another pub.

She said: “We were a bit dismayed to find the new owner of the manor had decided to change the name without any consultation.

“There is very strong feeling in the village against the change. He risks alienating village customers to the pub at his peril.

“The pub is the central part of the village and part of history.

“I feel as if we are moving back into feudal manorial relationship again and that’s not how it should be in this day and age.”

A spokesman for the pub said: “While we understand that some local residents were attached to property’s former name, it’s quite normal practice to change a business name on new ownership.”

Punch Taverns, which owns the pub, said its tenant made the name change decision to link the pub with “branding of the operator’s sister restaurant, Weston Manor Hotel”.

Comments (4)

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5:43am Tue 11 Feb 14

Muckaway says...

Vote with your feet and don't go there then (there is another pub that'd be glad of the patronage).
Weston Old Gits always have a bee in their bonnet over something. They didn't want eco houses ("oh no, poor people might come"), they didn't want lorries so they weight-limited the bridge (and then weren't satisfied because you can use it coming the other way), and probably choked on their Werthers' Originals when the Ardley incinerator got passed.
Look at the flooding reports on here, there are more important issues than moaning about a pub named after a man most people know nothing about, who might've stayed there en-route to visiting the man who's bored millions of people over the last 400 years.
Vote with your feet and don't go there then (there is another pub that'd be glad of the patronage). Weston Old Gits always have a bee in their bonnet over something. They didn't want eco houses ("oh no, poor people might come"), they didn't want lorries so they weight-limited the bridge (and then weren't satisfied because you can use it coming the other way), and probably choked on their Werthers' Originals when the Ardley incinerator got passed. Look at the flooding reports on here, there are more important issues than moaning about a pub named after a man most people know nothing about, who might've stayed there en-route to visiting the man who's bored millions of people over the last 400 years. Muckaway
  • Score: 20

7:15am Tue 11 Feb 14

Andrew:Oxford says...

"Feudal manorial relationship" - It does rather sound like that with the villagers threatening economic consequences of not meeting their demands.

Still, we all know what happens when a community abandons a pub...

1 It closes and the locals turn to Camra for a quote
2 It goes on the market and the locals turn to the localism act
3 Locals fail to raise money and it sells to highest bidder
4 Property developer submits plans for residential development
5 Locals vexate via planning process
6 Developer evidences audited financials
7 London buyer purchases weekend place near new railway station
"Feudal manorial relationship" - It does rather sound like that with the villagers threatening economic consequences of not meeting their demands. Still, we all know what happens when a community abandons a pub... 1 It closes and the locals turn to Camra for a quote 2 It goes on the market and the locals turn to the localism act 3 Locals fail to raise money and it sells to highest bidder 4 Property developer submits plans for residential development 5 Locals vexate via planning process 6 Developer evidences audited financials 7 London buyer purchases weekend place near new railway station Andrew:Oxford
  • Score: 10

9:26am Tue 11 Feb 14

snert says...

In my experience, village pubs suffer because the locals don't use them enough. Many people in villages cry when the local closes but many of those that cite the pub as "the heart of the community" rarely ever go there.

They're precisely the people that go in there on Christmas day for their free pint off the landlord where they shake his hand as if they were an old friend when in reality they probably hadn't been in the pub since last Christmas when they did exactly the same thing.
In my experience, village pubs suffer because the locals don't use them enough. Many people in villages cry when the local closes but many of those that cite the pub as "the heart of the community" rarely ever go there. They're precisely the people that go in there on Christmas day for their free pint off the landlord where they shake his hand as if they were an old friend when in reality they probably hadn't been in the pub since last Christmas when they did exactly the same thing. snert
  • Score: 22

1:40pm Tue 11 Feb 14

Severian says...

If the Bicester Local History Society understand history then they will realise that time marches on and the world changes. If we insisted on keeping everything the same we'd be riding around on horseback (if we were wealthy) or walking everywhere if we weren't.

Presumably the Weston OGs only buy British clothes made in factories in Lancashire, so that none of our textile industry closes down and moves abroad? And they only buy British made cars so that our motor industry will carry on as it always has? I'm pretty sure that neither of these two are true - because we all recognise that the world today is different than it used to be.

Village pubs are dying at an increasing pace because too few people are frequenting them. Perhaps if they'd allowed the Eco-town to be built near them the Ben Jonson would have had enough customers to not feel the need to be refurbished and modernised?
If the Bicester Local History Society understand history then they will realise that time marches on and the world changes. If we insisted on keeping everything the same we'd be riding around on horseback (if we were wealthy) or walking everywhere if we weren't. Presumably the Weston OGs only buy British clothes made in factories in Lancashire, so that none of our textile industry closes down and moves abroad? And they only buy British made cars so that our motor industry will carry on as it always has? I'm pretty sure that neither of these two are true - because we all recognise that the world today is different than it used to be. Village pubs are dying at an increasing pace because too few people are frequenting them. Perhaps if they'd allowed the Eco-town to be built near them the Ben Jonson would have had enough customers to not feel the need to be refurbished and modernised? Severian
  • Score: 10

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