Westerham brewer takes over Chiddingstone pub

Dulwich Preparatory School 2

The historic Castle Inn, which helps draw visitors to Chiddingstone, is set to reopen next month after a summer spent in the doldrums.

The well-known pub, which is owned by the National Trust, shut its doors on April 17 after former landlord John McManus decided to move on. The sudden closure caused controversy among local residents, who feared a loss of revenue in the tourist trade as well as the demise of a community favourite.

Now the Castle, which dates from 1420, will be run by Nick Naismith, who also turned around the ailing Wheatsheaf pub in Bough Beech, near Sevenoaks.

Mr Naismith is a director of Westerham Brewery, which could lead to a fascinating conflict of interests with local brewer Bob Dockerty.

His Larkins Brewery, which is a staple provider for many rural pubs in the region and is used to supply 80 per cent of the Castle’s draft beer, is based in Chiddingstone – less than half a mile from the pub.

It is understood that there will be significant set-up costs, in the region of £250,000, after Mr McManus stripped the Castle of all its fixtures and fittings.

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 is highly sought after as a place to live.

The National Trust has owned the freehold on the Grade I listed pub since 1939, as well as many other properties in the ancient village.

These include the Chiding Stone itself (a large rock behind the school), the village hall, Post Office, five residential cottages and the Old Manor.

The latter, a medieval hall, has also stood empty for more than a year despite various interested parties approaching the organisation.

Richard Henderson, the Trust’s Assistant Director of Operations responsible for the upkeep of the village, said: “We’re delighted to have found a new tenant for the Castle Inn pub after a period of temporary closure.

“Our first priority has always been to find the right person to care for the historic building, as well as having a successful plan to turn the pub back into a thriving business once again.

“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.

“We look forward now to working in partnership with our new landlord to prepare the pub for reopening and welcoming locals and visitors back in the near future.”

Mr McManus, who had worked as a chef at Le Gavroche in London, abandoned the tenancy after six years in charge.

He had taken over from Nigel Lucas, who owned the lease for more than 40 years. Mr Lucas had found the rent charges meant his business was no longer viable.

It is understood that the National Trust offered Mr McManus considerably more affordable terms. It is unknown what deal has been struck with the new tenant.

But the reappearance of this iconic hostelry will come as a relief to village regulars and thirsty tourists alike.

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