Iconic Tonbridge pub will open again soon – but how long until last orders?
by Andy Tong | 6th March 2019
TONBRIDGE'S most iconic public house will soon open again – but amid concerns that its listed status may make it unprofitable so that it has to close permanently.
The Ivy House at the top of the High Street has been lying vacant for almost a year, having shut its doors last April.
The building, which is believed to be 600 years old, was valued at £475,000. It has been bought by Jamie Brady, the landlord of the popular Carpenter’s Arms on Three Elm Lane.
He was unable to give a date for the relaunch because the well-known venue will require extensive refurbishment. He is dependent on Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council [TMBC] to give the necessary permissions.
Mr Brady is concerned that because it is a Grade Two listed property – one of only five in the town – he might not be allowed to carry out the necessary upgrade.
The previous publican, Dan Ward, had moved in to save the site in 2009 after it shut previously, and was very successful.
He wanted to extend the small pub in order to meet rising costs but was eventually forced to move on after nine years.
'I’m passionate about pubs and hopefully the council will help us out. Surely they must want to see it open'
Mr Brady told the Times: “I want to get it up and running, I think Tonbridge is really thriving and a lot of people will be moving here in the next five years.”
“I want the Ivy House to be a credit to the town. It’s the old toll house, the entrance to Tonbridge, isn’t it?
“I feel so sorry for it. I love pubs and I’ve always looked at it and it looks so sad.
“It’s very run down and I want to refurbish it, but there are certain things I can’t do without talking to the planners, it’s a listed building.”
The Ivy House is one of the oldest buildings in Tonbridge, situated by the northern gate of the ‘fosse’, or banked ditch that protected the castle.
Its rescue coincides with the demise of another historic town pub, The Primrose.
The 200-year-old premises on Pembury Road will be demolished to make way for housing after it proved unprofitable.
“Tonbridge is thriving in the centre,” said Mr Brady. “It’s changing, everywhere is being upgraded – look at the station. There are new ventures, new restaurants.”
He says the interior needs to undergo major changes. “Parts of it are shocking. You go out these days, you expect pubs to be of a certain standard. They aren’t all spit and sawdust, people want a lot more.
“I’m passionate about pubs and hopefully the council will help us out. Surely they must want to see it open, and I’ve got some money to invest.”
Eleanor Hoyle, TMBC’s Director for Planning, Housing & Environment, said: “The council hasn’t had any direct contact from the owner regarding potential works to the building, but would welcome the opportunity to discuss the future of Ivy House and advise him on his plans.”
She added: “The council doesn’t have any heritage grants available but bodies such as Historic England do have funding programmes that might be applicable.”
Mr Ward, who also vacated The Clock House on Barden Road last year, says the partnership he had with pub giant Enterprise Inns turned sour as they increased costs across the board.
His mother Sherry and stepfather Richard Martin ran a company called Kent Inns of Distinction in the east of the county.
They went into partnership with Enterprise to open the Ivy House up again, and spent £150,000 before they relinquished the tenancy to Dan.
He had previously been in the trade across the south-east, and arrived in Tonbridge after working in Tunbridge Wells at Tootsies, now the Bar & Grill, and TN4, which has reverted to The George.
“We were coming towards the end of our second five-year tenancy with Enterprise,” said Mr Ward, who now manages the Abergavenny Arms in Frant.
“There was also a rent review, which meant that was going up quite significantly, while our tie release fee with the brewery for our wines also went up considerably.
“We had the Ivy House for nine years. The turnover was good and there was a very good customer base. We had a lot of friends there – I get a lot of them coming up here now to see me.
'We were fully booked from Friday to Sunday and there was just no way that we could make any more money to cover the extra costs'
“There was no way of extending. It’s not the biggest pub in the world and we tried to do that but it’s Grade Two listed. We had to get professional architects in to get the smoking shelter built.”
He added: “We were fully booked from Friday to Sunday and there was just no way that we could make any more money to cover the extra costs.
“I really didn’t want to let go of her but I had to let my head rule my heart. It was a difficult decision, but in hindsight it was the right one.
“It will be weird to see the Ivy House without my name above the door, but I’m really pleased it’s opening again. We wish Jamie the best of luck.”
Mr Brady’s father Ray, brother of Arsenal footballing legend Liam Brady and an Irish international himself, ran the Railway and Bicycle pub next to Sevenoaks station, where Jamie grew up.
He himself has been running the Carpenters’ Arms for 27 years and has built up a formidable reputation as a publican.
“It was great growing up in the Railway and Bicycle, pubs used to be fantastic places in the 1970s and ‘80s, they were all packed.
“I think the Ivy House should be a hub of the community, and hopefully I can do a better job.
“I love the pub trade but it’s got to change, it can’t carry on like it was. People like Dan want to make it work but these breweries kill them.”
Why time ran out on the clock house’s tapas adventure
A combination of factors led to The Clock House on Barden Road closing down last year.
Dan Ward and his wife Polly opened it up as a tapas bar in April 2017 after Mojo’s closed down.
Mr Ward said: “We didn’t want to offer the same food as the Ivy House so we decided to try tapas. but after five months we realised it wasn’t going to work.
“It was at the wrong end of town and it was taking half the money of the Ivy House even though it was twice as big.”
The Wards have a young family – their two children are one and four years old – and they opened up a ‘Baby Café’ on the premises.
But Mr Ward revealed: “We also had a burglary there but we had very little help from the police.
“A forensics guy turned up but we never heard from them after that.
“We had a young child and another one on the way – that’s why Polly set up the Baby Café there – but she didn’t feel safe there anymore.”
He added: “The rent and business rates were very high, and we had no emotional attachment to the place like we did with the Ivy [House].
“We had built up a lovely business at the top of town but this was a different thing.
“There was trouble coming from people rolling off the trains. Without being disrespectful, it was not for us, we like a tranquil existence.
“But I’ll be back in Tonbridge, without a doubt.”