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Secret Drinker reviews the Prior’s Oven in Spalding

Maybe a few of you may have woken up behind bars after a heavy night, but have you ever had a beer in a former prison?

To be honest, I didn’t even realise I was in an ex-clink when I ordered my drink at the Prior’s Oven, but that all soon changed after a quick chat with an extremely likeable barman.

Impressed by the place’s old stone wall’s and sharp-domed ceiling I began asking a few questions about its history, to which I was swiftly handed a leaflet entitled ‘13th Century Cafe - 21st Century Micro Pub’.

The hexagonal bar at the Prior's Oven, where drinkers gather to chat
The hexagonal bar at the Prior's Oven, where drinkers gather to chat

Convinced this was excellent customer service and not a clever way to shut the boring punters up for a few minutes (most certainly not someone as naturally endearing as me), I began learning about the place’s potted history.

These days many boozers struggle to offer you a beer mat, so to be handed a slip of paper answering all the questions I was forming in my head was an intriguing delight.

It turns out this 700-year-old building, now a micro-pub surrounded by a travel agent, estate agent and long-closed public toilet, began life as part of the Priory of Spalding but, because of its shape, has always been known as ‘the oven’.

The Prior's Oven in Spalding
The Prior's Oven in Spalding

Originally, this was the monastic prison where rebellious brothers and members of the public were locked up and - if stories are to be believed - tortured.

A lofty tower was added but nowadays only only the strong lower vault of the original building remains, but legend has it that an underground passage leads to the historic Monks House building a mile away.

“In the cellar there are signs of an entrance to such passage,” my note explains.

Inside the Prior's Oven
Inside the Prior's Oven

“Although it may have led to a dungeon where the worst enemies of the prior were incarcerated.”

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Thankfully, times change and there’s no longer anything torturous about a Friday afternoon in Prior’s Oven - which has also been tea room and blacksmith’s - sipping a pint of Barn Ale, one of the handful of rotating ales on tap, with wines and ciders also available for those with different tastes,

Regular readers of this column will know that I’m a big fan of places that offer something a little quirky in their decor, from the secret passage to the toilets at Grantham’s Nobody Inn to the racing theme of Bourne’s Jubilee Garage to the dog loving madness of the Whichcote Arms.

A pint of Barn Ale and a read of my leaflet
A pint of Barn Ale and a read of my leaflet

But this Spalding venue - a labour of love for owners Nathan Marshall and Charlie Rawlings, I’m told - doesn’t need any of that. It’s simplicity and devotion to its drink are its charm.

Its hexagonal - once octagonal bar - the simple, ample seating and old, framed artwork which hangs from the plain white walls are just props to get the good times going.

This small, intimate room - once again named in the latest CAMRA Good Beer Guide - is one of those wet pubs where the punters lead the mood, as I soon learned as the customers trickled in, began their very public chats and allowed the place to come alive.

Not bad for a former prison
Not bad for a former prison

None of them seem to be held here against their will these days either.

My only word or warning is the steps down from the place’s one toilet are quite steep and you may want to check them out before sinking too many pints, as we don’t want to be building a secret passage to the nearest A&E.

A lovely little pub you should stick on your bucket list.

Beware the steep steps from the toilet
Beware the steep steps from the toilet


DECOR: Simnple but effective. The building’s history speaks for itself and its focus on its drinkers is wonderful. 4/5

DRINK: A pint of Barn Ale (ABV 3.9%), by Tydd Steam Brewery, an enjoyable, not too heavy, drink. 3/5

PRICE: £3.50. Yes. Three. Pounds. FIFTY. PENCE. It felt like buying a pint back in the noughties. 4/5

ATMOSPHERE: The punters make it. And make it they did. 4/5

STAFF: Barman Luke was a great host, likeable bloke and polite enough to shut me up with a leaflet. 4/5

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Do you agree with the secret drinker or have any suggestions where he should go next? Where is your favourite beer garden? Email secretdrinker@lincsonline.co.uk or comment below.

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