In Search of The Lost Pubs of West Malling
…Where do I start…?
In a still thriving hostelry of West Malling, through my own nosiness and passion for all things historic, I managed to bag myself a seat on a bandwagon, or should I say a stage coach. My mission, should I choose to accept it, a blog on the lost pubs of West Malling.
With a head full of romantic notions of travellers resting their weary heads in one of our many coaching Inns; armed with a fistful of dates, names and locations; I transported myself back in time and worked my way through the information I already had. Once I’d located many of the lost pubs on google maps and found some old photos I set about working out how to bring the text alive. The only way to do that of course was to journey through the Town and locate these places for myself. I was eager to see if there was a glimmer of evidence of the particular function, the buildings that were still standing, had performed.
…A pub crawl with a difference…
On the wettest day we’ve had for a long time I trudged about the area, I had made myself a walking route to minimise over exertion, and with thoughts of preparing a walking map for visitors to the area. On foot the furthest starting point was St. Leonard Street, here would be the road that holds a story (or two) , one of the best pub stories I’ve found thus far. From 1755 – 1787 The Five Bells had been continuously licensed and then nothing until 1872- 1940 when it became the The Startled Saint.
The Startled Saint was a local pub for airman that were stationed at nearby RAF West Malling during and after the second World War. One of its most famous dwellers was Wing Commander Guy Gibson, stationed with 29 squadron in 1941. His first mission, to lead the entire squadron here, which then was at the edge of the airfield. He even took his trusted Black Lab Pup who joined them drinking from pint pots until he had a minor discretion involving too much beer and the nice clean carpets, and was henceforth banned from the pub. The dog, not Wing Commander Gibson. In 1943 Gibson led 617 Squadron on the Dams raid for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross. I defy you now to traverse St. Leonard Street and not whistle the Dambuster tune.
…Where have they all gone…?
I was disappointed on my route as I found so little evidence of any of the Lost Pubs. Winding my way through the graveyard of St. Mary’s Church I looked for two headstones, marking the final resting place of West Malling landlords, but alas, too much moss on the oldest ones to read anything. Onto Churchfields in search of the Churchfield Beerhouse, this had bounced between shop and Public House over the decades, first licensed in 1880, but may have been a beerhouse since 1864. I was told it would be easy to spot a house that had previously been a shop, but no such luck.
…West Malling High Street…
From the High Street, along King Street/Back Street, a detour of Ryarsh Lane, and back onto High Street and Town Hill, there had been no shortage of pubs in West Malling. Sadly, so little evidence that the 19th Century provided an abundance of watering holes, in excess of 21 at one point. One of the best things about the walk was seeing so many little details of the town that would normally pass me by. Also noticing how incredibly ugly the building that houses our local Tesco stands, a blot on our otherwise beautiful landscape. Here stood the Fire Station and The George Hotel, torn down in the 1971 and replaced by this dreadful eyesore, a time when conservation fell by the wayside. The George had stood proud and been continuously licensed since 1753.
The George Hotel, circa 1905
The Crown (formerly The Red Lion) filled the spaces between numbers 61-65 High Street, there are records of sureties given to the landlord of The Crown dated 1598. Although there are no signs of pub life the interiors of number 63 and 65 are well worth a look inside. 63, The Old Clock Shop dates back as far as the 14th & 15th Centuries, upstairs of The Hungry Guest will delight as they recently acquired planning position to expose the glorious vaulted ceilings.
Some of the private houses have held onto the names that the former beerhouses displayed. The Rose is now Rose Cottage, no. 60 Town Hill. The Cricketer’s Arms, Ryarsh Lane, last on the left boasts a blue plaque and is named Cricketer’s Cottage, tiny reminders of our town’s history.
…The icing on the cake…
Locally known as ‘The First and Last’, The Brewery Tap was first licensed in 1870, probably as a retail outlet for The Abbey Brewery. If you walk down Swan Street towards The Abbey you will see Abbey Brewery Court on your left. Joy upon joy you will recognise it as the brewery it once was (with a few changes it’s still clear).
THEN & NOW
…The Coach House…
There is still evidence in West Malling of what once would have been the storage for Coaches and tackle, the horsedrawn vehicles that transported all those weary travellers in search of food, drink and a bed for the night. The Coach House. A sign rests proudly on the door marking the spot of the only Coach House left standing in West Malling. Today it is a place for people, rather than coaches, somewhere to stay while you explore all the rich history and pubs that the Market Town still has to offer.
The Coach House 2017
…The Walking Route…
With the constraint of a word count, and holding your interest, I haven’t been able to write about all of the lost pubs. Below is my walking route, also a few pubs that are a bit further out for you to explore. It hasn’t been possible to pinpoint exactly where they all were, but there are a few clues, you just need passion, determination, a raincoat and a comfortable pair of walking shoes.
- The Sportsman – Sportsman Cottages. First left off the roundabout on the Bypass towards Kings Hill.
- The Five Bells/The Startled Saint – 120 Teston Road/ St. Leonard Street.
- Churchfield Beerhouse – End of Churchfields.
- The Nags Head – Corner of High Street & West Street. Behind the bus stop.
- The George Hotel – Where Tesco is standing.
- The Crown – 61-65 High Street.
- The Royal Oak – Next to The Joiners.
- The King’s Arms. Back Street.
- The Restaurant/The Pineapple/The Dried Haddock. Around the area of the Library.
- The Rose & Crown – 36 High Street.
- The Cricketer’s Arms – Ryarsh lane. Last house on the left.
- The Rose – Rose Cottage, no.60 Town Hill..
- The Swan Tap – Back of The Swan.
- The Railway Bell – Next to The Swan.
- The Brewery Tap – Swan Street (near to Abbey brewery.
- The Fir Tree – Somewhere in the woods…would have been the woods. Between Canon Court & New Barns.