Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Pub Closures – A Kent Village’s Experience

Hadlow Tower - local landmark
I was prompted to write this piece following a drive through the village of Hadlow, the other weekend. The sight of a once thriving pub, now converted into an up-market village shop, set me thinking about other pubs which have closed in this large Kent village.  Sadly, what has happened regarding pub closures in Hadlow; a village which still has a strong sense of community, mirrors the situation taking place in other parts of the country.

The village of Hadlow, which lies to the north-east of Tonbridge, is known for two things. The first is its well-regarded agricultural college, whilst the second is the Victorian folly, known as Hadlow Castle. The latter with its recently restored 175 feet high tower, is the tallest folly in Britain, and from the top of the tower one can see for miles over the surrounding countryside.

Up until the middle of the last century, Hadlow was also known for brewing, and the village was home to a thriving brewing concern in the form of Kenward & Court. At its height, the company supplied 68 public houses in the West Kent area, but in 1945 Kenward & Court was taken over by Charles
Former maltings - now  desirable apartments
Hammerton & Co. Ltd. of London. Beer was last brewed in September 1949. In 1952 Hammertons was bought out by Watney's, who then sold the brewery to Charringtons. Malting continued for several years and the brewery closed in the late 1960s, having been used as a distribution centre towards the end. The buildings gradually became derelict over the course of the 1970s, but were eventually listed in July 1979. There was much debate locally as to whether the buildings should be demolished or converted, but commonsense prevailed and in 1990 the old malting buildings were converted into flats.

Given the village’s past involvement with brewing one might expect Hadlow to have plenty of pubs, but whilst this was once the case, closures over the years have reduced the number to just three; and one of these is outside of the village.

I first became acquainted with Hadlow around 36 years ago, when I ended up working in nearby Tonbridge. I was living in Maidstone at the time and my journey to and from work took me along the A26. Back then I remember counting four pubs as I passed through the village and being interested in licensed premises and brewing took the opportunity, over the space of a couple of years, to try them all. Five years later, in 1984, I moved to Tonbridge, saving a commute of around 30 minutes each way. It was around this time that the first pub closure must have taken place.

The Blacksmith’s Arms was a small pub by anyone’s standards, but it was centrally located close to the
Former Blacksmiths Arms - now a fish & chip shop
entrance to Hadlow Castle. I probably only visited it a couple of times, but it was noteworthy at the time for stocking Sam Smith’s OBB. This was at the time when the Yorkshire brewery’s beers were quite widely available in the local free-trade; before they retreated to within the M25. It had a “modern” decor of stripped pine, but that and the Sam Smiths is all I remember about the Blacksmiths, apart from it being popular with the local village “lads”. After a period as a shop, the Blacksmiths re-opened as a fish & chip shop; a function it still fulfils today, trading under the name of “The Hadlow Fryer”.

The most recent pub to close in the village is now also a shop. Situated on the southern edge of the village, virtually opposite the former maltings complex, the Prince of Wales was (still is) an attractive, weather-boarded building. Like many former Kenward & Court pubs, the Prince of Wales became a Charringtons pub, and remained so for many years. I think I am right in saying that it never sold Draught Bass, relying instead on its much inferior stable mate, Charringtons IPA. Again it was a pub I rarely frequented, and judging by its closure it appears that much of Hadlow didn’t either. It’s therefore somewhat ironic that the pub is now an upmarket, second-hand shop.
The Harrow, once thriving; now closed

Two down and one to go, and the third Hadlow pub to close was a real surprise. Situated right on the A26 and heading out of the village towards Maidstone, the Harrow was a former Courage pub which was acquired many years ago by Shepherd Neame. Whilst no architectural gem, the Harrow was a pleasant long, open-plan pub, built parallel with the road, with a garden at one end and a car-park at the other. I always assumed it was a popular pub, in spite of the beer it sold. It had a good reputation for food, and the car-park always seemed full whenever I drove past. Twenty years or so ago the firm I worked for at the time, held its Christmas dinner there. The meal was excellent and the equally good seasonal porter almost made me forget I was drinking in a Shep’s pub.

The Harrow closed in 2014, with the brewery claiming they were unable to find new tenants for the pub. It remains boarded up with the site having been sold for redevelopment. This is rather surprising, in view of the good reputation the Harrow once had, and doubly so when on considers the amount of money which Shepherd Neame put into the place. However, the brewery does have another pub in the village, and this may explain why they were not that bothered to see the Harrow disappear.

Rose & Crown
Their other Hadlow pub is the Rose & Crown, tucked away down Carpenters Lane and not far from the converted maltings of the former Kenward & Court Brewery. I don’t know the pub very well, but from what I have heard it is doing OK, and is popular with local drinkers.

So what of the other pubs remaining in the village? Well, the most centrally located, and probably the most popular is the Two Brewers. This Victorian local is owned by Harvey's of Lewes, who acquired the pub some time around 2003-2004. A former Ind Coope pub, known as the Albion, the Two Brewers went through a lengthy spell of being called the Fiddling Monkey, which was really unfortunate as people often referred to it as the Piddling Monkey! It was primarily a young persons’ pub with all that entailed, so it was quite a surprise when Harvey’s bought it.

Many pundits said the brewery should instead have bought the Rose Revived; the other remaining Hadlow pub which I’ll come onto shortly, but it has to be said Harvey’s have made rather a good job on the place. The Two Brewers has an open plan interior, which is divided up into a number of different drinking areas by wood panelling and some etched-glass screens. The pub also has a good reputation for food, but the main draw, as far as I am concerned, is the wide range of Harvey’s beers on offer, including the brewery’s mild, plus seasonal specials such as Old Ale in winter and the 7.5% ABV Christmas Ale over the festive period.

The final Hadlow pub is situated to the south of the village in Ashes Lane; roughly half a mile before you come to Hadlow College. Until fairly recently it was known as the Rose Revived; a name which refers to a previous landlord who bought the run-down and ailing Rose and turned its fortunes around. It is a lovely old building which is around 400 years old, but under its former ownership it was rather “cliquey”. That said it always sold a very acceptable pint of Harvey’s and often had Old Ale on in winter.

Today, it is known as the Hadlow Bar and Grill, having been bought by a highly experienced chef with good knowledge of the local area. The new owner has carefully restored the pub, adding his own touches to this well-know pub. It’s rather a shame then that I have yet to set foot in this refurbished pub, so unfortunately I can’t report much else about it at present.

What has happened in Hadlow over the course of the past 30 years, where half the pubs in the village have closed, is typical of what’s been happening up and down the country during the past few decades. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that people’s habits have changed, (I know mine have), and visits to the pub are not a common, or as regular as they once were. But for those of us interested in pub history, it makes fascinating reading, albeit rather sad, to look back at these old hostelries; all of which have closed within living memory.

5 comments:

Martin, Cambridge said...

Interesting as always Paul.

I suspect the garden centre near the college absorbs some of the dining custom from retirees that would use pubs otherwise. 3 pubs in a village of (I guess) 2,000 or so isn't too bad.

Jeffrey Bell said...

Brilliant post Paul.

Paul Bailey said...

Glad you both enjoyed the post, Martin and Jeff. I agree that three pubs in a village the size of Hadlow isn’t bad in today’s environment, although I am still rather puzzled at the closure of the Harrow. Its prominent position on a main road must have attracted a fair amount of passing trade, so I suspect high property values must have played a part there.

It’s probably true that many Kent villages were historically over-pubbed, and I’m sure the same applies to other parts of the country as well. The situation is an historic one, due to the number of breweries in the county. I can think of places locally where, prior to WWII, breweries such as Kelseys, Leney’s, Fremlins and Style & Winch all had pubs. The first three were swallowed up by Whitbread, whilst the latter was absorbed by Courage. Throw in other former breweries, such as Westerham and Kenward & Court, and it is easy to see why there were so many pubs in this part of th country.

Changing demographics, a switch to healthier lifestyles, stricter law-enforcement and, last but not least, dozens of new and different leisure pursuits, and it is easy to see why so many of these pubs became surplus to requirements.

David Harrison said...

Good post! Hadlow is a bit out of reach for me-I think I went into the Rose... once or twice over the last forty years. I'm also amazed at the number of pubs in this part of Kent:here in Smarden we have three, all ex Style and Winch/Courage. All seem popular, but like many,I don't use them as I would like-basically because they are not in realistic walking distance, and two are Sheps.
I suppose a pub converted to fish 'n' chips maintains some form of conviviality.

Anonymous said...

There are several problems in going to a pub, the first being the draconian drink-driving regimen. Nevertheless in the Good Old Days I had a winning scheme. This involved driving to the pub on a Saturday night and having a good session at Happy Hour. The car would be left in the council car park which was free on Sundays. After a few bevvies it would be time to walk home. On Sunday morning or afternoon I would walk back to the car then go to a car boot sale. It was a brilliant scheme that (1) Halved the cost of beer. (2) Halved the petrol bill. (3) Halved the walking. Unfortunately on one very upsetting Sunday I discovered a £40 parking ticket on the car. There were no signs visible to state that the rules had changed. The ONLY notification was a two inch square label on the ticket machine which one doesn't go to when one knows that Sundays are free and when there is a gang of yobs around the machine trying to figure out how to get the money. Incidentally I pay £97 per month Council Tax ten months of the year. This is for a little Band B house which is virtually a two-up and two down. The tax would be higher still if I didn't get the Single Adult Rebate so wives or girlfriends are unaffordable. Everything closing down? Blame the council!