This passage forms part of historian Fred Hando’s journey through the Gwent

RECORDS (which I have not yet examined) survive which tell of two brothers, John and James Crowther, tried at the court house, John for stealing sheep, for which he was hanged, and James, who was gaoled for nine months for robbery with violence on the Grosmont road.

That trial is reputed to have taken place in 1110.

Somewhere in the inn, covered by plaster, is an inscription, ‘J. H. T. 1306’ - so I was told - but whether the date is in Roman or Arabic is not remembered.

The date on the board outside the inn - 1100 AD - is conjectural, and probably suggested by the date of the Crowther trial, although I note that the ‘Skirrid Mountain’ inn is named in a recent publication as the second oldest inn in the British Isles.

It would be pleasant, after careful examination of the structure, to be able to confirm its great age.

Strict veracity compels me to record that, though a more ancient house may have stood on the site, no relic survives which would date the present building before late Elizabethan days - c.1600.

Standing on the cobbled ‘pull-in’, I could imagine with ease what this - the rear - facade looked like before its reconstruction.

Six relieving arches, three on each side of the oaken doorway, show where the original windows appeared.

These lighted one big room, running the length of the house, and warmed by a splendid fireplace.

Alongside this fireplace, to the right, hidden now behind the bar, is the tiny ‘grog-gate’, where the poker was heated for mulling the ale.

Above the fireplace is the little shelf where the ‘devil’s brew’ - a pot of ale for his satanic majesty - was reserved.

Now this ‘devil’s brew’ has always seemed to me to be a variant of the practice, common in many of the old houses of Gwent, of leaving a jug of milk for ‘Pwcca’ on the doorstep at night, thus appeasing the mischievous sprite who might otherwise indulge in many a nocturnal prank.

And not far away of course is Allt-yr-Ynys, one of the places where Shakespeare was told of Y Pwcca who became the ‘Puck’ of his ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’!

My old friends Mr and Mrs Barbour showed me, not for the first time, around their fascinating house.

We examined the ceiling beams with their concave ‘stops’, the panelling in the dining room, ‘originally in a ship,’ my host assured me; we admired the stout masonry in the cellar, where a curved stone structure supported the great fireplace above; and I listened once again to the story of the shaft which ran from the cellar underneath the road.

We stood at the foot of the fine oak staircase where delicacy and refinement are wedded to strength and dignity.

It was no mean craftsman who could contrast the bulk of the posts and pendants with the grace of the intermediate members.

Climbing the oak treads, we arrived first at the ‘mesne’ floor where Mr Barbour showed me into the ‘cell’ where the prisoners were incarcerated. Holes pierced into the door frame enabled the jailer to keep his wards under surveillance.

On the first floor we entered the courtroom - now the sitting room - and the adjoining Judge’s bedroom.

The banqueting hall is now a lounge and bedroom, and here the weight of the oak baulks above the windows is taken by posts.

‘Between the ceiling and the floor,’ said Mr Barbour, ‘we found the space filled with barley husks.’

My readers may remember that a similar space in Trellech Grange was filled with hazelnuts.

In all the timber of the inn the only trace of decay is in the uppermost flight of stairs.

The repair is in the hands of a craftsman who, like his predecessors, guarantees his work to last, not for years, but for centuries, and as if to inspire him, an original window with oak mullions, high in the gable, looks down as he works.

It is as sound as when it was installed.

From the west windows the views over the Honddu are of mountains and valley clefts, with white homesteads warm and cosy down below, and others clinging to the upland slopes, amidst the green goodness which is Gwent.

This is an extract from Hando’s Gwent, Volume One, edited by Chris Barber.