Friday 6th December 2013
The White Bear, a Theakston's pub, has a very unusual location as it is right next door to the Black Sheep Brewery, and even shares some common walls. The original White Bear met its end in 1941 when a German bomber returning from a raid on Belfast dropped a bomb on the pub. Possibly it ran out of fuel on the long journey and had to turn back, or maybe the release mechanism got stuck whilst over the city; who knows.
I have not ascertained exactly where the old pub was. I would guess it was in front of the present building. However we do know that a new White Bear was created from some cottages that were attached to the Lightfoot Brewery. That concern was taken over by Theakston in 1919 and closed.
The aforementioned Black Sheep Brewery is now based in the former maltings of the Lightfoot Brewery. If you look at the photograph above, their main brewing room is the building with the triangular-shaped roof behind the pub.
The full history of the Theakston brewery is the subject of a separate article but its takeover by the Mathew Brown brewery of Blackburn is very relevant to the story of the White Bear. This occurred in 1984 and in 1987 that company was absorbed by Scottish & Newcastle. They quickly closed the Blackburn brewery as Theakson's was the real prize as they had such a good name for their beer.
A lot of the production of Theakston beer was moved to Scottish & Newcastle's Tyne Brewery but the big company eventually lost interest and there were quality issues with Newcastle-brewed beers. They did little for the White Bear and at the end of the 1990s it closed. It remained shut for over two years until it was purchased by some members of the Theakston family in 2000 and the long job of restoration began. Incidentally, one of the few items salvaged from the semi-derelict pub was a stuffed Polar Bear, which is now proudly displayed in the bar.
Another happy story was that the Theakstons regained ownership of their brewery in 2003 as the parent company became disillusioned with the pub and cask beer market. During 2009 the pub was extended into another part of the former Lightfoot Brewery buildings and became a very smart hotel with the addition of 14 double bedrooms.
Despite this and the fact that they promote their restaurant, there is still room for the drinker as the separate Public Bar, or Tap Room, is very much what you'd expect from a pub in the Dales.
When I visited there was a roaring (literally) log fire and I particularly liked the "chandelier" made of a cart wheel. The walls are covered with old prints and photographs and the room exudes a nice homely feel.
I took a look around the Lounge Bar, which they like to call the restaurant even though it has its own bar with stools. It is an L-Shaped room and it is very comfortable indeed.
Again there are log fires at each end and the floor is varnished wood, as is the upholstered furniture. Old framed prints are on the walls and it has a quite classy feel about it.
There are patio doors to the outside drinking area and right at the back around the corner of the room is a lovely wooden French dresser with a large display of plates.
Of, course the beers were from Theakston Brewery, about 600 yards (metres) away. They were Best Bitter 3.8%), Old Peculier (5.4%), Lightfoot (4.1%) and Black Bull Ale (3.8%). I understand they often have a guest beer from another brewer but I couldn't see one on this visit. I had Lightfoot as I had tried it for the first time at the brewery earlier and liked it a lot.
The White Bear is an excellent place to visit and it must be really nice to stay the night at the pub.
The White Bear, Wellgarth, Masham, North Yorkshire HG4 4EN. Tel: 01765 689319
Open: Monday-Sunday 11.00-23.00
Food is served: Monday-Saturday 12.00-14.30, 18.00-21.00;
Sunday 12,00-16.00, 18.00-20.30
The small town of Masham is isolated in the Yorkshire Dales but its lifeline comes in the form of the 159 bus. It is a useful but infrequent route that connects Ripon with Masham and then Leyburn and Richmond.
There are only five journeys a day on Monday to Saturday that run about every two hours.
There is a Sunday service of four buses but at infrequent times.