Saturday, 31 December 2016

Man of Kent - Tonbridge

I have a soft spot for the Man of Kent; an attractive weather-boarded pub tucked away down a side road, just off Tonbridge High Street, as it was the first pub I ever popped into for a drink after I began working in the town. This would have been back in 1979 - thirty-seven years ago; a frightening thought if ever there was one!

I was living in Maidstone at the time, having moved to the county town from London, some three months earlier. My then wife and I had bought our first house there; a two-up two down terrace which, whilst habitable, required a lot of renovation and quite a bit of tlc. Although when planning our move to the country, we had both factored in the cost of commuting into London, where we both had jobs, my wife was finding it a lot easier, financially, than I was. She was working for HM Government which was far more lucrative than my job in the private sector, so I consequently started looking around for something closer to home. This is where the position in Tonbridge came in.

The Man of Kent was listed in that year’s CAMRA Good Beer Guide; a good enough reason for a visit, especially as most of Tonbridge’s pubs appeared tied to either Courage or Whitbread. I was still commuting by train back then, as it would be a few more years before a car became affordable, and my route into work from Tonbridge station, took me past the Man of Kent.

The Man of Kent under Bass Charrington ownership
During my first week in the new job I waited for Friday to come along, and popped in at lunchtime. The pub had two bars back then and I am pretty sure that it was the right hand bar I entered. This would have been the saloon bar, so I was following that age old, but now lost, logic which dictates that a stranger would feel more welcome and less uncomfortable in the saloon, than he would in the public bar; as the latter would more likely be where the regulars hung out. Public bars were also viewed as places where the “rougher” element could be found.

My choice of bar was the right one, and I found myself in a pleasant room with a low ceiling, complete with old beams, and an open fire burning at one end. There was bench seating running along part of the front exterior wall, and  it was here that I plonked myself down; having first obtained a pint.  The Man of Kent was owned by Bass Charrington at the time and sold Charrington’s IPA and Draught Bass; both on hand-pump.

I opted for a pint of the latter as it was (and still is, when I can get it), a favourite of mine. I made it a habit of calling into the Man of Kent on Friday lunchtimes and even managed to entice my co-worker, a young lad of similar age to me, away from his regular haunt of the Castle. The latter was a Courage pub, but as my colleague Ray was a Guinness drinker, he wasn’t too bothered, although I think he missed the chance to ogle the girls from the accounts department, who tended to frequent the Castle.

I spent six years working for the Tonbridge-based firm and during that time I continued to use the Man of Kent, but I also discovered a number of other pubs at the south end of the town. Towards the end of my time there, I moved to Tonbridge, having fallen for one of the girls from the said accounts department! After divorcing my first wife, I later married the company accounts manager, and 30 years later we are still together.

The company didn’t last anywhere near as long though, as in 1985 a substantial part of the business was sold off to a competitor, and most of the workforce was made redundant. I was one of the people who last their jobs, but my wife was kept on by the much smaller company which emerged. I ended up working in a variety of different places, for companies which were either taken over or sold on, but eventually I secured a job back in Tonbridge, only for that to disappear six years later, when the firm went bust.

There had been substantial changes in the beer market by the mid 90’s, when I started work in the town for the second time, but I do remember drinking in the Man of Kent, on a number of occasions and enjoying the Draught Bass. The pub had changed during this time, first with the two bar being knocked through into one, and then with the provision of a raised separate drinking area, behind the serving area at the rear of the pub.

Some time around the start of the new millennium, the Man of Kent was sold on. Bass had retreated from brewing primarily because the government of the time refused to countenance a merger with Burton-based Allied Breweries. Bass’s brewing interests were bought by North American giant, Molson Coors, and the pubs ended up in the hands of either Enterprise or Punch. Draught Bass did a vanishing act from much of southern England, but locally Harvey’s Sussex Best began appearing on the bars of former Bass Charrington pubs. Recently the Harvey’s has been joined on the bar of the Man of Kent by a rotating beer from Tonbridge Brewery.

Son Matt and I received an invitation on the day after Boxing Day to join his cousin and her partner for a few drinks at the Man of Kent. The reason the couple had chosen the pub was they have two dogs and the Man of Kent is one of the few “dog friendly” pubs in the town. We therefore strolled down to meet them, arriving at the pub shortly after 7.30pm.

We found them, complete with hounds, at a table in the raised area of the pub, so after grabbing ourselves a drink, sat down and joined them. There was no Tonbridge beer available, but the Harvey’s was in excellent form. It was so good that I scored it as a 4.0 NBSS. Heidi and Phil also thought the beer exceptionally good, which was praise indeed as neither of them are Harvey’s fans. The ingredients for a good evening were all there, and I was looking forward to an evening spent chatting whilst sinking a few more pints, when the spoiler came in the form of the landlord, who appeared round the corner to inform us the pub would be closing in half an hour! His reasons were that the pub had been open until 1am that morning and he was tired; but there was also a bit, which I didn’t properly catch, about him and some of the regulars disappearing off somewhere in a taxi. (Publican’s outing?)

I didn’t say anything to our less than genial host, as I didn’t want to spoil future trips out with the dogs for Heidi and Phil. Also, having worked in the licensed trade, I respect the right of any landlord to some time off; or to close early, but some advanced notice (a note on the door?), would have been appreciated. There wasn’t really time to get another round in, especially as none of us wanted to rush, so we drank up and left, and the evening ended on a downer.

We said our goodbyes outside the pub and Heidi and Phil walked home with their charges. Matt and I called in at the recently reopened Gatehouse, just around the corner. As this Stonegate Pub Company Inn is very much food-oriented, it was unlikely to welcome dogs anyway, so I didn’t bother asking. The pub was quite quiet, and the Taylor’s Landlord, whilst drinkable, was nowhere near as good as the Harvey’s we had been forced to leave behind.

I’m not sure there is a moral to this tale, but whilst I’m obviously pleased that the Man of Kent is still trading, it didn’t quite provide the enjoyable evening out it had promised when we first stepped through the door.

1 comment:

Jacqueline said...

It seems as if the Man of Kent has gone through many changes throughout the years. While it still kept its outer veneer mostly the same, it appears the same can’t be said for the staff. It’s unfortunate, but the spirit of place can sometimes be lost to time. It’s good the pub is still standing, though.