Residents of Chiddingstone are concerned that the closure of their local pub might prove to be a long-term problem impacting summer tourism and the revenue those visitors generate.
The popular and renowned Castle Inn closed its doors on April 17, following the abrupt departure of the landlord John McManus. Most of its fixtures and fittings have been removed.
Picturesque Chiddingstone, regarded as a jewel in the crown of south-east heritage sites, was featured in the Merchant Ivory film Room with a View in the 1980s and has been a major attraction ever since.
Highly sought after as a place to live, it is called a “National Trust village”. The conservation organisation has owned the freehold on the Grade 1 listed pub since 1939, as well as many other properties.
These include the Chiding Stone itself, the village hall, Post Office, five residential cottages and the Old Manor, a stunning medieval hall house.
The National Trust says the closure of the pub, which dates from 1420, is ‘very much a temporary measure’ as it assesses any work required on the medieval building – this is a ‘standard process’.
Richard Henderson, the trust’s assistant director of operations responsible for the upkeep of the village, said: “We remain committed to keeping the spirit of this medieval public house alive.
“We’re in the early stages of assessing any work required and plan to re-open the pub as soon as a suitable tenant is found.”
However, some villagers told the Times that another local official of the National Trust had said it does not have enough money to do the necessary work.
Their concern is heightened by the fact that the Old Manor has stood vacant for nine months after the tenants moved away to buy their own home.
Parishioners are wondering if the trust’s ‘standard process’ of works may be delaying occupancy of this remarkable building, even though it was described as having been left in ‘immaculate condition’.
And the fear is that the pub, a central hub of the community but also a popular restaurant with a garden that can cater for more than 100 people, might find itself lying fallow for a similar period.
Mr McManus left the pub last month after six years in charge. He had previously been a chef at Le Gavroche in London and spent 13 years as executive chef at the Ashdown Park Hotel.
He took over from Nigel Lucas, who had owned the lease for more than 40 years. It is understood that Mr Lucas, a pillar of the community, finally decided to give up his life’s work when the National Trust’s rent charges meant the business was no longer viable.
Locals have expressed an interest in taking over the premises, but have yet to hear back from the trust.
Ann Gilbert, who lives between the inn and the Old Manor, described the closure as ‘immensely sad’.
“It’s the most fabulous pub in my lifetime,” she said. “It shouldn’t be empty. My fear is that whoever goes in there will have to part with a lot of their own money. It will take the best part of £100,000.”
Mr Henderson said the Old Manor “is temporarily vacant whilst we consider what works are appropriate to preserve its important place in Chiddingstone village.
“The Trust takes great care when programming such specialist works and is committed to finding the right conservation-minded tenant to care for our historic properties. Both take time.”
THE CHIDING STONE
Folklore has it that in medieval times nagging wives, wrongdoers and witches were brought to the stone to be chided by locals, giving the village its name.
It has also been suggested that the stone was once used by ancient druids as an altar or place where judgements were passed.
Another theory is that the stone was simply used as a boundary marker by Saxons.