New sparkle for Shropshire's Seven Stars
In contrast to the shadow which has fallen over the future of some traditional Shropshire country pubs in recent years, the Seven Stars in the beautiful Corvedale is looking to sparkle anew.
And for licensee Colin Lewis the pub at Shipton has been a lifelong family affair, as the 17th century building has been in the family for three generations.
Although it has never closed, opening hours under his late mum Audrey became confined to weekends, and now Colin and his partner Maria Taylor have expanded opening times while also giving the place some TLC.
"Things are much better. Trade is picking up and people can see what we're doing, trying to make a go of it. We have a good mix of people. You would think they would all be farmers, but it's a good mix of walks of life and ages," said 55-year-old Colin.
He and joint licensee Maria, who have been together for 10 years, are working towards full opening hours for the pub.
Dudley born-and-bred Maria, who used to work in private health care sales, came over from Lanesfield, Wolverhampton, 18 months ago.
"It's been a nice transition. It's quite exciting. We had lots of ideas of what we wanted to do. Out of respect for Audrey, nothing happened until she passed away. It's a traditional pub with a friendly atmosphere – and people rave about my cheese and onion cobs," she said.
Colin says the building, with spectacular views of the Clee Hills, dates from 1683, although he does not know when it became a pub.
"It's been in the family for three generations. My mum and dad were John and Audrey Lewis, and before then it was on my mother's side, the Browne family.
"My granddad was Tom Browne and he and my nan ran it as tenants for Trouncer's Ales. It was my dad who bought the pub from the brewery – it could have been Trouncer's, or Wrekin Ales – and it became a Free House. That would be before my time, in the early 1960s.
"I've been here all my life, always involved, bottling up, taking the bottles out, cleaning the floor, and polishing the tables. My dad dropped dead behind the bar in 1990 and mum then took the licence on."
Audrey died last year aged 85.
Although Colin is still in full employment with a carpets and removals firm in Ludlow, he and Maria are busy on a sympathetic revamp of the Seven Stars.
"We've never been shut, although when my mum was alive she only opened when she wanted, which was Friday night, Sunday dinner time and Sunday night. "
Maria said: "At the moment we are open Monday nights for dominoes, as we have two dominoes teams, Wednesday evenings because we have just had a new darts team join us, Friday nights we have always been open, and Sunday lunchtimes and evenings, although generally if we're here and somebody comes, we will open up."
The gentle sprinkling of stardust at the Seven Stars is coming with a programme of decoration and refurbishment, while retaining original features like oak beams, while the beer garden has been revamped as well.
"A lot of new customers, people just starting to come in, are asking about real ales. We're trying some bottled real ale, which is going down really well, and we're thinking of having one on tap," said Colin.
One traditional feature of old country pubs the Seven Stars does appear to be lacking is a resident ghost.
"I double checked with Colin before moving in, and he said he had lived here all his life and had never seen anything," said Maria.