Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Castle Inn, Chiddingstone - Update



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 received Mr Lucas’s letter and I have since spoken with him. I am now working to address his concerns.”

“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.”

Without knowing the full details of the case it is impossible to comment further, apart from saying that charities are obviously big business these days, and are always looking for the maximum return on their investment.

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.

6 comments:

Martin Taylor said...

I enjoyed the Castle on my visit a while ago, though it was quiet and therefore beer not fantastic. Always tricky commenting from afar, but I've no idea how anyone could make a go of a pub with those restrictions on a rent of £60k, or am I wide of the mark.

Paul Bailey said...

You are certainly not wide of the mark, Martin. I was talking to a local publican the other day, and he reckoned that £60k was way too high for a pub like the Castle. As the previous landlord pointed out, the pub doesn’t have a car-park, which is rather ironic considering the only other ways of getting there are by foot, by bike or on horseback!

Last night, I was talking to a couple we know who live locally, and they said that bottom corner of Chiddingstone is looking very sad and un-loved at the moment, and they had seen numerous bemused-looking visitors, all wondering why this lovely old pub, in an equally lovely village, is closed.

Unfortunately I have heard dark rumours circulating that the National Trust are considering alternative uses for the building; possibly converting it into a tea room. With charity such big business these days, the people in charge of the commercial operations of organisations like the National Trust, are often quite prepared to compromise the original principles by which some of these charities were founded, all in pursuit of profit. When one looks at the large salaries awarded to many charity CO’s, then perhaps this isn’t entirely surprising.

If the Trust could take a realistic view of the Castle, and set a much more realistic rent, then I’m sure the pub has a viable future. If, as seems the case at the moment, they base the rent on property values, and try milking the place for all they can, then its fate I’m afraid, is far more uncertain.

Robin said...

I first started drinking at this pub in 1970 aged five with my late father when we had finished fishing on the local river, the Eden. Years later when I lived locally I started taking my one year old daughter for a squash. Dropping in for a Larkins on the way home or a Sunday lunch after a walk. This pub has been part of my love of this village and rural Kent. Let's see that magic continue please as a rare gem, an old rural Kentish pub with great beer and brilliant Sunday roasts.

Robin said...

I first started drinking at this pub in 1970 aged five with my late father when we had finished fishing on the local river, the Eden. Years later when I lived locally I started taking my one year old daughter for a squash. Dropping in for a Larkins on the way home or a Sunday lunch after a walk. This pub has been part of my love of this village and rural Kent. Let's see that magic continue please as a rare gem, an old rural Kentish pub with great beer and brilliant Sunday roasts.

David Underwood said...

I was shocked driving through Chiddingstone last week to see the Castle Inn closed down. My friends and I started going there as teenagers after getting our first cars around 1965. As it was great place to drive to being a truly traditional English restaurant serving really good food. Over the years we've been back many times especially around Christmas as the atmosphere created by Nigel, Felice and Chris was wonderful. I always remember Felice asking me for my book match (back in the days when smoking was permitted) to add to his huge collection obtained over the years from around the world. Some of them he showed us were stunning. Its so sad to see such a iconic place as it is now. But a big thank you from me and my friends to Nigel and his staff for giving us some fabulous memories.

Paul Bailey said...

If reports are to be believed, the National Trust are said to be close to finalising a lease with a new tenant. It does seem crazy for the Castle to have been closed all summer, thereby missing out on the busiest part of the tourist season, so we await developments with interest.