Annie Gilbert cuts the ribbon at the Castle’s relaunch with (l-r) General Manager Colin Pilbeam, Jo and Nick Naismith and Dave Hayward, Front of House Manager

VILLAGERS in Chiddingstone are celebrating with a glass of cheer after their ‘local’, the Castle Inn, finally reopened its doors this month, having stood empty for a year.

The pub has been relaunched by Nick Naismith, Chairman of Westerham Brewery, who also brought back to life the Wheatsheaf in the nearby village of Bough Beech in 2014 after it had closed.

The Castle dates from 1420 and, along with many other buildings in the Tudor village, is owned by the National Trust. They appointed Mr Naismith as tenant last October after a six-month search for a suitable candidate.

Gary Churchill, the Trust’s Estate Manager who looks after Chiddingstone, said: “We’re delighted to welcome Nick Naismith’s company as the new tenant of the Castle Inn pub. Our first priority has always been to find the right person to care for the historic building.

“Nick and his staff have experience successfully refurbishing and operating similar listed pubs in the area – and we were drawn to his plans to offer locally sourced produce on the menu.”

He added: ““This took time, but we are confident that the thorough selection process will ensure its place at the heart of the village for years to come.”

The premises required extensive refurbishment after the previous landlord, John McManus, stripped the pub of its fixtures and fittings before his sudden departure on April 17 last year.

BUILT TO LAST The Castle Inn dates from 1420

The renovation to the Grade II listed building, described as a ‘sympathetic facelift’, was partly funded by the Trust, who spent £70,000 on structural work such as repointing a 15th Century plinth with traditional lime mortar.

“We have made the most of the lovely historic features while also giving the inn a fresh, welcoming feel,” said Mr Naismith, who is also involved with The Carpenters Arms at Limpsfield Chart and The Royal Oak at Crockham Hill.

“It was very important to us to respect the incredible heritage of the building, so we have preserved all the fireplaces, tiled floors and oak panelling, but have also redecorated throughout.

The Castle’s reopening was marked by the cutting of a ribbon by Annie Gilbert, who has lived next door to the pub for 30 years and used to frequent it even before she moved to the village.

“In the days before I lived in Chiddingstone, we used to drive down from London on a Friday night just to have dinner at the pub,” says Ms Gilbert.

“It’s such a stunning building, in such a beautiful setting, and everyone was devastated when it closed as it’s such a major part of the village. Needless to say, we are over the moon to see it open again.”

The National Trust has owned the freehold on the Grade I listed pub since 1939, along with the Chiding Stone itself (a large rock behind the school), the village hall, Post Office, five residential cottages and the Old Manor, a medieval hall next to the Castle which has also been lying vacant for more than a year.

Mr McManus, previously a chef at Le Gavroche in London, abandoned the tenancy after six years in charge. Before him Nigel Lucas owned the lease for more than 40 years until a hike in the rent meant his business was no longer viable.