Monday, 26 February 2018

The Blue Anchor

Hidden away along the old Glamorgan coastal road from Rhoose Village to the hamlet of East Aberthaw is the picturesque Blue Anchor pub. The Blue Anchor, reputedly named from the blue hued mud present in the locality which would cling to the anchors of moored vessels, personifies the popular imagination of a rural British pub with its quaint thatched roof, small windows, crooked interior, open fires and real ale; indeed, the Blue Anchor is well renowned for its good selection of ales winning awards such as the Daily Telegraph Cask Ale Pub of the Year 2008, the CAMRA Good Beer Guide 2018, the Which Good Pub Guide 2017, as well as numerous years of winning the South Wales Food Pub of the Year accolade.

Despite claims that the Blue Anchor has been established as a hostelry since 1380, there is no sound historical basis for this assertion (much like The Skirrid Mountain Inn which is a seventeenth century building ascribed a rather spurious eleventh century date), although the building that is now the Blue Anchor was indeed constructed sometime during the fourteenth century: its two centered arched doorways are an indication of this. The building was in fact built as a copyhold farmhouse associated with a form of late medieval manorial land tenure: connected with this farm building was a substantial sixty two acres of farmland. This building continued to be used as a functioning farmhouse into the seventeenth century where a yeoman farmer named Jenkin Spencer occupied the house, eventually dying there in 1647 leaving a considerable estate.

                    (Photo of the Blue Anchor taken in the early 1960's)

The farmhouse was enlarged during the eighteenth century and it is most likely around this point it became the Blue Anchor pub, no doubt becoming a popular 'stop off' point for the sailors and merchants who would have frequented the area during this period. The Blue Anchor would also have been a popular place for members of the rural working community with many men frequenting the Blue Anchor after a hard day's work in the fields.

There has for a long time been a port at Aberthaw. It is likely the Romans once used this area as a point of crossing from the West Country to facilitate their commerce. During the medieval period the small port of Aberthaw was a part of the Lord of Glamorgan's demesne manor of Llantwit major and is mentioned in a medieval Ministers Account for the year 1316 where the income from its tolls were rather modest; during the Tudor period the port of Aberthaw was controlled by Sir Edward Stradling of St Donats.

Throughout the eighteenth century Aberthaw was a smuggling hot spot and it is almost certain that the Blue Anchor would have been mute witness to many acts of smuggling which was endemic along the Glamorgan coast during this time.  It's likely that the smugglers' themselves frequented the Blue Anchor, perhaps even working in cahoots with the publican and using the pub to conceal contraband from the authorities.

In 1732, Cardiff Customs Officials wrote to London to advise that smuggling activity has increased along the Glamorgan coast, particularly at Barry and Aberthaw. In 1735 there is an account of a large seizure of rum at Aberthaw. The accounts describe two men observed returning suspiciously from a ship anchored here; the men were quite drunk.  When confronted the drunken men, Thomas Sweet and Richard Forest, proceeded to taunt the customs official saying that, 'they had a mind to have a little fun with them,' intimating that they had hidden smuggled brandy on board their vessel. The men were caught red handed that very night unloading barrels of brandy under the moonlight: the smugglers attempted to escape on horseback across open countryside but were quickly apprehended.

                                       (A dramatic depiction of smugglers in action)

The Blue Anchor caught fire in 2004 which destroyed its ancient roof beams and thatched roof but was thankfully put out before it could engulf the rest of the building.  The roof was shortly after restored and the Blue Anchor remains the perfect retreat from busy modern life.

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