A village pub that was bought and reopened by a multi-millionaire internet mogul has won a national award for its refurbishment.

Inside the Farmers Arms in Woolsery.Inside the Farmers Arms in Woolsery.

The Farmers Arms in Woolsery was one of two pubs to win the Refurbishment Award in CAMRA’s prestigious Pub Design Awards.

The pub reopened was saved from closure in 2014 when it was bought by internet power couple Michael and Xochi Birch.

The couple, who founded Bebo in 2005 and sold it to AOL in 2008 for $850million, bought the dilapidated pub and manor house opposite.

Michael has links to the village as his grandmother was born above the village shop.

Inside the Farmers Arms in Woolsery, which has undergone a two-year refurbishment.Inside the Farmers Arms in Woolsery, which has undergone a two-year refurbishment.

After years of work, Michael’s dream to bring the pub ‘back to life’ was achieved with a new look in January 2019.

The roof was reconstructed and re-thatched, the walls rebuilt and reclaimed oak floors were laid as part of the refurbishment.

The pub’s award citation said: “While many pubs around the country are being converted into housing, new owners Michael and Xochi Birch’s vision was to see it restored to a working pub, conserving the use it was originally designed for and retaining its unique character as a historic building.

“The historic layout was retained in refurbishment and restored in areas where the team removed modern additions. They also re-established the original entrances, with one being only five foot high.”

Inside the Farmers Arms in Woolsery.Inside the Farmers Arms in Woolsery.

Andrew Davison, chair of CAMRA’s Pub Design Award judging panel, said: “After purchasing this Grade II listed building, owners Michael and Xochi Birch commissioned Jonathan Rhind Architects to repair and update the near-derelict pub, a very simple vernacular building, without grand fixtures or fittings.

“They saw that its value lies in its historic fabric, its traditional materials, and its contribution to the streetscape.

“The architects’ approach was to retain as much historic fabric as possible, maintain the historic layout of the building, and ensure that any additions were sympathetic in design and materials.

“The project included almost complete reconstruction of the roof and its re-covering in locally grown wheat straw thatch, much repair and replacement of timber and cob, and demolition of an unsightly 1980s extension and its replacement by a simple contemporary structure, including a ‘corrugated iron’ roof as used on so many local farm buildings. The result is a pub which is once again at the centre of village life.”

Inside the Farmers Arms in Woolsery.Inside the Farmers Arms in Woolsery.

The pub, and the other winners, will be recognised at an event hosted in CAMRA’s new virtual pub, the Red (On)Lion, in line with social distancing measures.

To join the event, visit the Red (On)Lion’s website to book a place, limited to 50 participants.