A village with no pub

by Steve Renshaw

Nocton was one of the villages we considered when we were looking to settle in the Lincoln area. Situated seven miles south-east of the city, Nocton is a leafy hamlet of traditional stone cottages with pantile roofing. There’s a handsome church, a village green and ducks on the beck. A classic Lincolnshire village, you might say. But, apart from a small post office, there are no shops and, crucially, no pub.

In the years since then, I’ve passed the sign on the Sleaford road pointing towards Nocton but, with no pub there, I’ve had no reason to visit the village again. And then, earlier this year, we received an e-mail from Nocton Club, asking us to let CAMRA members know about a St George’s Beer Festival that they were holding.

As the Club didn’t appear on our database, I did some Googling. The history of the village is inextricably linked with Nocton Hall and the associated estate. The fenland of the Nocton Estate was drained in the 18th century and became prime agricultural land.

In 1936, the Estate was bought by Frank Smith, founder of Smith’s Potato Crisps. Most of the cottages in the villages of Nocton and Dunston were owned by the Estate and occupied by its workers. The company encouraged and supported social activities, including sports clubs, fetes, dances and staff dinners. Particular attention was paid to the development of the social amenities, and large halls were provided in Nocton and Dunston.

The village hall in Nocton opened in 1946 and it incorporated a licensed social club. Many village organisations have used the hall for their activities, including the Women’s Institute, a friendship club, a heritage group, a young men’s club and the youth club.
Following the demise of Smith’s Crisps in the 1970s, ownership of the village hall was transferred to the Parish Council. Unfortunately, the original building burned down in January 1979. The insurance payout did not cover the rebuilding costs but the whole village got involved in fund-raising to make up the shortfall. Within two years, the current, brick-built hall, which includes the two-roomed social club bar, was constructed.

The late Len Woodhead’s excellent little book, “A Lincolnshire Lad Looks Back: Nocton Estate – The Home of Smith’s Crisps”, contains some photographs of the opening night of the new social club. There are three keg taps visible on the bar serving Whitbread Trophy, Ansells Best and Heineken.

Over the intervening years, support for the club has ebbed and flowed. However, thanks to the efforts of an enthusiastic committee, it now appears to be the centre of community activities, as it was in the days of Smith’s Crisps. Membership has been widened to include all residents of the parish, and the new logo, with “social” dropped from the name, reflects a break with the past.

I visited on a Sunday afternoon, when the club is open to non-members. I was pleased to find that, in addition to keg beers, two real ales are served. The club has joined CAMRA’s LocAle scheme, so at least one of the ales is sourced from a local brewery.

And what about the beer? The local brew was Outlawed (3.8% ABV) from Springhead Brewery in Laneham. It’s a golden ale with tropical and citrus fruit hop aroma and flavour.
To celebrate Lincolnshire Day, Nocton Club is holding a mini beer festival on 3rd and 4th October, featuring ales from the county.

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