A bit more background to the Druid Inn and Jerry Brunning


Let’s start with why I’m a publican, something I’ve often wondered myself. I think it’s all to do with a series of early life influences. I had an Auntie Elalline, my father’s sister, who ran a small hotel in Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog called the West Arms Hotel. It was old fashioned, it had a dining room, a public bar, a lounge bar and a resident’s lounge but it was run like a large private home. Auntie Elalline was always bustling about fussing over the customers and making them feel at home, the food was excellent and the whole place was eclectic and cosy. I loved it and loved going there. As I grew older I started going to pubs myself. It was by far and away my favourite way of socialising, a small crowd of people huddled into a bar drinking beer and putting the world to rights. I couldn’t help but notice that most pubs were not well thought out. Keg beer, fruit machines, bad furniture, poor food and horrible wine. They needed to be an updated version of The West Arms with the same bonhomie and good things to eat and drink. I clearly needed to run my own pub.

And so I founded Brunning and Price in 1981 and bought my first pub, the Bell Inn at Outwood. Outwood is in Surrey and you might think it strange that a boy from Wales, living in Chester should suddenly skit off to the other end of the country to open his first pub. The short explanation is that my brother Bruce was already down there. He had built a Squash Club in the grounds of The Copthorne Hotel near Gatwick and it was a roaring success. My wise Mum thought it would be sensible to buy my first pub near Bruce for moral and material support, the most attractive part being Bruce’s supportive bank manager. So there we have it – I ended up in the small village of Outwood in Surrey the proud owner of the Bell Inn.

At first I thought I’d only ever have one pub. I remember someone asking me “what’s the plan, Jerry?” Plan, plan – I’ve bought a pub and now I’m a publican, I’ll run it until I retire and then sell, surely you don’t need any more of a plan than that. I ran The Bell for three years, loving every minute of it and it provided me with everything I needed on a day to day basis even though I wasn’t making much money. The bank were making a lot more than I was. I’d also become business savvy. I’d discovered spreadsheets and developed philosophies on business. I surmised that a small pub company was the best way forward, so I decided to sell the Bell, pay off the debt and take on some brewery tenancies. I’d have some capital to invest, rent would be considerably less than the interest I was paying and I now had a strong house style which I knew would go down well with customers in other areas.

I was able to secure the first tenancy, the Fox Revived at Norwood Hill, before I sold the Bell. That gave me some time to set it up and get it contributing before the income stream from the Bell was cut off. The following year I took another tenancy, the tiny Great Eastern in Brighton and the following year another one, The Black Jug in Horsham. I also had an exciting project in the pipeline that had been brewing for a few years, The Old Harker’s Arms in Chester. It was an empty basement in a canal side warehouse owned by Martin Taylor, a local antiques dealer who I had bought furniture from. Martin had been very patient in allowing me to get planning permission to convert it to a pub and then to go through a rare and difficult process to obtain a new alcohol license. I eventually got both and was all ready to go except – no money.

At the same time as all this was happening, I took on Graham Price. He started in late 1988, part time to begin with, while he was in the process of selling a hotel he and his father owned. Graham had worked for me in 1981 as a barman during holidays while he was a student and I’d kept in touch with him over the years. I was and am a great admirer of Graham – he has an excellent work ethic, picks things up quickly, pays great attention to detail and can make things work. He’s also good fun to be with and loves pubs. I was sure we’d make a good team and this was indeed the case. In 1989 I sold him 20% of the company and that was it, I had my first partner and we were a team.

At about the same time I was introduced to Jonathan Russel at 3i plc. He had a peppercorn fund to invest, that is to say small amounts of money for small companies. Jonathan really liked our pubs and realised that our problem was security. The high street banks would not lend to us as the tenancies we owned were not assignable, so they couldn’t sell them if the worst happened. JR offered to lend us the money we needed unsecured in exchange for an option on 20% of the company. We had a deal.

So things were looking up: I had three tenancies, a lease on a new pub in Chester with planning and a license, I had a top quality partner and we now had the money to make it all work. By the end of June 1992 we were up to 5 pubs.

We did what I think is our best work in the next 10 years while we had youth, enthusiasm, experience, sound finances and, perhaps above all, an economy that wanted us to do well. We built The Grosvenor Arms in Aldford in October ‘92, Pant-yr-Ochain in Gresford in August ‘94, The Armoury in Shrewsbury in March ‘96, The Dysart Arms in Bunbury in May ‘97, The Cross Foxes in Erbistock in June ‘98, Glasfryn in Mold in June ‘99, The Corn Mill in Llangollen in June 2000 and Pen-y-Bryn in Colwyn Bay in July 2001.

Then we had a little break for a few years, a consolidation, before starting again with The Combermere Arms in Burleydam in July 2004, The Fox in Chetwynd Aston in November 2004 and the Hand and Trumpet in Wrinehill in February 2006.

In 2007 Graham and I discussed selling. The reasons behind this decision are for another day but sell we did. Then I sat at home for 10 years, watching Midsomer Murders. I missed the pubs terribly and so when the beautiful Swan at Marbury came on to the market I couldn’t resist, and this little company, Pubs Limited, was born. Shortly after I bought the Black Bear in Whitchurch, then the Hare in Farndon, then the Henry Potts in Chester and now the Druid Inn, making five in all. Why I don’t know, I can only assume it’s because I still love pubs.

So the Druid is making good progress. We have completely stripped out the pub, all the wiring and electrics have gone, all the fixtures and fittings, soft furnishings and furniture. In effect we have a lovely clean building to start again. The truth is we are hardly changing the layout at all. We’ve moved the Ladies and Gents upstairs but will keep a single loo downstairs for those who find stairs tricky. We will completely redo the back of the pub, creating more of a courtyard with plants than the garden that was there before. It’ll be a smaller version of what’s behind The Black Bear in Whitchurch.

We have bought some lovely turn of the century (1900 that is) floorboards of close grained pine and also some pitch pine board for the floor. We also have reclaimed quarry tiles for around the bar. We have bought, mounted and framed nearly 300 interesting images. We have all the furniture, my usual brown furniture, despised by many but loved by me. Apart from that I think old customers will be surprised at how much is the same – it’ll just all be in good nick.

Watch the website (druidinngorsedd.co.uk) for more information. Or maybe that Facebook thing.