November 2, 2019 – An authentic UK telephone box in Europe’s oldest town, an English pub in a Slavonian field, Yorkshire puddings in a Vinkovci restaurant, and Croatia’s first cider apple orchard. Meet Steve Gaunt, the man behind a little bit of Yorkshire in eastern Croatia.
Croatia never ceases to amaze, but my recent trips to eastern Croatia have made me realise that I will spend several lifetimes in this beautiful country and never get to know it completely. My first visit to Vinkovci, the oldest continuously inhabited town in Europe, started with a very bizarre sight – an authentic British phone box.
Little did I know that the phone box was just the start of it. After asking a few questions, I learned about a Vinkovci restaurant which used to serve Yorkshire puddings, found myself searching for – and finding – a truly authentic English pub in a field in a village just outside Vinkovci, which is also home to Croatia’s first cider apple orchard.
And the link to all of these weird and wonderfully random British things was due to one man from Leeds called Steve Gaunt. Although I have yet to meet Steve in the flesh, I have a feeling that will change soon, and I am grateful to him for finding the time for an email interview, in which he explains why there is a British phone box in Vinkovci, why he opened a pub in a field in the middle of nowhere. And much, much more.
1. One of my recent surprises visiting eastern Slavonia was finding a little slice of Yorkshire in Vinkovci. It started with a British phone box in the middle of town and ended with me in a field in a nearby village standing outside an authentic-looking English pub called The White Boar. And you are the chap responsible for it all. Tell us briefly how you came to be a Yorkshireman in Vinkovci for almost 30 years.
Back in 1991 when war broke out here, I was the overseas operations manager for a UK travel company and had the responsibility for running all aspects of overseas operations and troubleshooting. I was in Slovenia when it kicked off there. I decided to go to Croatia in the offseason to see how I could help and ended up in the fledgling army with a bunch of other Brits. That was early November 1991.
I was badly wounded in June 1992, spent three months in hospital, then went back to the UK, worked a while to raise cash then came back here on Christmas Day 1992 and started to piece some kind of new life together. I got Croatian citizenship in June 1993 and also became a photo reporter, eventually becoming hugely successful; almost every day I had a front-page photo in one paper or another.
I was captured by Serbs in 1993 whilst on assignment and charged with spying. I was only a month in there but it was the worst time of my life. I started working for the museum on digs and such then married a young local girl and she had six children in seven years.
I keep fit building additions to my buildings and metal detecting. My collection in Vinkovci Museum is valued in six figures. I also build old fashioned HTML5 based websites for small organisations which gives me a little pocket money. The rest of the time I spend shouting at Croatians that I am not responsible for Bleiburg.
(A keen metal detecting enthusiast, Steve organises a metal detecting rally – here he is being interviewed about it.)
2. And before we talk about the pub, what is the story with the telephone box?
The telephone box was an off-hand joke. After the war had quietened down, aid came from various organisations. One of these was CARE (Croatian Aid & Relief Expedition) based in South Wales. This organisation along with others brought in tons of stuff in a most disorganised fashion. After meetings with them we organised them to adopt a village (Cerić) and bring what they needed at the time of progress with resettling in their devastated village, things like tools and materials in the beginning, toys, and other non-essential items at the end.
This worked well and after 4 years they thanked me and asked me what I wanted for myself. Taken aback, I said a barrel of Tetley’s bitter or a phone box. Not thinking to hear from them again, I got a call telling me the truck with the phone box was on its way. I went to see the mayor and he jumped at the chance to have it. As there had been a public telephone on the spot where mine now stands, we had no bureaucratic problems. I only insisted that the light should work and that a phone was installed.
I recently found some gold paint and so touched up the phone box since your visit. As you can see, it makes all the difference.
3. And before we talk about the pub, I also heard a rumour that you introduced Yorkshire puddings to the menu of a Vinkovci restaurant. True, and what was the story if yes? How did locals take to them?
Yes, it is true, Yorkshire puddings were once served in a Vinkovci restaurant. It was called Ruža ( sadly gone now) and they learned very quickly how to make the perfect Yorkshire pudding. If only I could get them onto making pies in this country… People liked the puddings, but this was just after the war, business was slow, and money short. The restaurant eventually closed.
4. And so to the pub, which really took me back to rural England. Tell us about the idea and the realisation. Getting anything built in Croatia is a challenge, and I assume that an English pub might have involved some additional fun and games.
I know you had problems with paperwork in Dalmatia, but I can actually transfer ownership of land or a house in Vinkovci in a single working day. I just sold a house for one English friend to another English friend, despite the shadow of Brexit.
So, one day a local guy who was my sergeant in the war asked if I wanted to buy his land. Well I had no money, but agreed to take a look. As you know from your visit, it was a bit of a lonely spot and I wan’t sure, but the plot was in the building zone. Just before we left I heard a nightingale sing from a plum tree at the end and that swung it.
He wanted 2400 euro and I offered to pay 100 a month for two years. He refused, but called me the next day and said OK. Later on, he reduced the price if I could pay the rest immediately and by luck I had some money then and paid up. Then I started building a small wood-framed house at the end of the plot, which is the little white house at the end of the field.
Now this plot was in an area that was an abandoned hamlet and all the plots but the one over the path from the pub were for sale, but at a price. This was 2013. Then I was approached by the widow who owned the house where the pub now stands and that came with two plots. She wanted 3000 euro and I had the money borrowed and paid before an hour was up!
I knocked down the old house and put in a cellar, then built the old house back where it was. I had dabbled with brewing before and thought it would be a fine idea to have my own little pub for it (we have a flat in Vinkovci so didn’t need a place to live as such). I had also planted cider apple trees and hoped that they might thrive and let me make cider (again, mainly for myself).
I got the electric company to put up 18 poles to run electric there and that doubled the value of the land for me and all my neighbours. I finished the pub with the help of my children in March 2016.
Meanwhile, fellow metal detectorists had been visiting from the UK including Gordon Heritage of Discovery Channel fame. Gordon wanted to move nearby so we got the cottage to the left of the White House and fixed it up fior him. Two others came and took the house behind the pub, which we rebuilt in 2016 and another mate took a house over the railway line where the little horses are. So now we had an English village.
5. You have a really great beer selection on offer. Tell us about it and how hard it is to maintain stocks and get deliveries. There can’t be many Yorkshire beers being shipped to eastern Croatia.
British beer comes in haphazardly, every visitor always brings me a load. Some can even be bought in Lidl. But I don’t rely on them, there is a decent local brewer who listens to me and he produces two good ales. But where the Croats are concerned, they don’t care much and will drink any Croatian beers, which are getting better and more varied.
I only put draught on when there is something important happening, such as a private party, a detecting rally, or the event we have on the 18th of November each year when foreign volunteers attend the event in Vukovar then party at my pub.
(The foreign volunteers who fought for Croatia in the video above)
6. How is business? I assume you have a loyal set of regulars. Do many people know about the pub and do you get passing tourist traffic?
There is not much business outside organised events because I can’t always have someone there. Locals don’t often come, but enjoy it when they do. Whilst waiting for you we had some locals and folk from Knin, Delnice and Osijek. My second son always has partied there but that doesn’t put anything in my pocket. To be honest I wouldn’t want to run it as a business, far too demanding. I am happy as it is. You can see more about the pub on the Facebook page. There is also a website.
7. Did I see cricket on the pub’s Facebook page? And cider production?
Well I have the equipment and myself and another local English volunteer and invalid, Rodney Morgan, like cricket, though we can’t play, but we get the gear out and try every now and then until broken roof tiles and car windows puts us off.
I ilke cider. I thought I would make Croatia’s first cider orchard so planted about 50 trees and set about the great and painful five-year experiment to see which (if any) English varieties would thrive, or at least survive. I got a chap in the UK to send cuttings and I grafted them onto local varieties, and now have about 10 different ones, two of which show promise, though the drought of the last three years has set them back some.
I got just 12 litres of juice from this year’s meagre crop, but if I can make it work, I have customers for every drop I can make.
Anyway, Gordon will buy brewing gear so if the cider doesn’t pan out, then we will make beer (the thing with my English neighbours is, they are rich and I am poor, at least financially).
8. For those wanting to come for a pint and meet a Yorkshire legend, tell us where the pub is and how to find it.
The pub SHOULD be easy to find, I have put it on Google maps but they continually refuse to correct the errors in the street layout and naming. ‘Here we go’ maps have it perfect now.
This is the correct location above, and below what Google Maps will give you. You need to take the path to the left of the railway line, whereas Google sends you on the right.
I am on my land almost every day, that is always something to do (check out my Facebook page) and it gives me a quiet place to write and update my books (I have published a book on medieval rings, because nobody else had). There is also my diary of the war, just basic stuff, but it sold well in Croatian language and some other published projects.
Željeznička Ulica 39, Andrijaševci
Call 098 667 527
And this is how I eventually found The White Boar.
Finding Steve’s pub was just one of many discoveries on my recent trip to Slavonia. Check out 9 other things I learned while visiting during Days of Croatian Tourism.