Nigel Lucas, landlord of Chiddingstone’s Castle Inn for almost half a century, breaks his silence about the closure of the village’s iconic pub as reported by the Times
I did not intend to make any public comments about the closure of the Castle Inn.
But, as the person named in your article May 18 as the previous tenant of the pub for 47 years, having arrived in April 1964, maybe I can help with a few facts.
The National Trust were never the most generous landlords but that could be excused as they are a charity and bound to make best use of their funds.
However, as the years went by, it became increasingly difficult to negotiate reasonable rents for what is in reality a small village pub without a car park.
We were fortunate to have a true public bar – the hub of the building – as well as a separate saloon and an intimate restaurant.
Who remembers Felice, my first head waiter – now buried across the road in the churchyard – the only man I knew who could put a whoopee cushion on a seat as a lady sat down and get a kiss for it?
He worked with Chris King for many years and he in turn assumed the responsibility of managing the restaurant for more than 20 years – although he only arrived for a week’s trial. He also assumed ‘ownership’ of the fabulous garden.
God bless them and the many wonderful people who worked so hard to care for our hundreds of loyal customers.
Life was exhausting, the customers many and varied and totally classless – a tractor driver could drink a pint with a prince in the public bar – but it was also fun and so rewarding because of the customers.
As Philip Everest, a late church warden at St Mary’s, was once asked on BBC television: “What’s the centre of the village?”
He replied: “It’s midway between the church and the Castle Inn. The landlord gives me my wine at Holy Communion and my first pint when the pub opens.”
The National Trust raised the rent inexorably until they tried to increase it from £47,500 to £60,000, which for a small country pub was not feasible.
When I tried to sell the remainder of the lease, everyone agreed it was a non-starter so I gave it away for £45,000.
I heard the National Trust let it for £25,000 a year, but that’s only a rumour! Perhaps someone knows.
All things have to end but it didn’t need to end this way, with every stick of furniture, all the fixtures and fittings sold off in a mad scramble of a jumble sale.
Everything I had held so dear was piled into trailers on the backs of 4×4s to be scattered to the four winds like so much junk.
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.
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.”