Several weeks ago I wrote a short post about the sudden closure of the historic Castle Inn, in the National Trust owned village of Chiddingstone, near to Tunbridge Wells. The closure was something of a shock to both locals and visitors alike; especially coming as it did at the start of the busy tourist season.
The actual reasons for the closure are still unclear, but this week Nigel Lucas, who was the previous tenant of the Castle, broke his silence with a short piece which appeared in the local free newspaper, the Times of Tunbridge Wells & Tonbridge. Mr Lucas had run the pub for 47 years, having originally arrived there in April 1964. From what he writes, he obviously enjoyed his time at the Castle, even if the work was, at times, “exhausting.”
He did describe the National Trust as “never the most generous landlords”, but then went on to excuse this because of their charitable status and the requirement to make the best use of their funds. He stated that “It became increasingly difficult to negotiate reasonable rents for what is in reality a small village pub without a car park.”
The final straw came when the Trust tried to increase the rent from £47,500 to £60,000, which he says, “For a small country pub was not feasible.” Eventually he ended up surrendering the remainder of his lease for far less than it was worth; a real slap in the face after nearly half a century of dedication and hard work.
Mr Lucas’s final words were, “Shame on you, National Trust, this is no way to treat one of your jewels. Everything has to come to an end, but it didn’t need to end like this.”
In reply Richard Henderson, the National Trust’s Assistant Director of Operations, who looks after Chiddingstone, commented:
“We want the pub to be a success in the village and have in recent years made changes to the tenancy at the Castle Inn to ensure its long-term place in Chiddingstone. We are now actively searching for a new tenant and are delighted to have had initial interest from several parties, which we will be following up.”
“As we’ve said before, we’re committed to finding the right conservation-minded tenant to care for this historic pub, which takes time. But we believe this care and attention is a vital part of our work to preserve its future in the village.”
However, with an historic pub like the Castle there needs to be balanced approach between preserving the undoubted character of the establishment and meeting the demands of a modern business. A sense of realism should also be maintained, particularly with regard to the rent levied on a pub which is virtually inaccessible by public transport, and with no car parking facilities.
You can read the full article, which appeared in the Times of Tunbridge Wells & Tonbridge, here.