Home   Canterbury   News   Article

Ye Olde Tree Inn in Westbere is one of Kent's oldest pubs

The bid to be crowned the oldest pub in Kent has many challengers.

All corners of the county have historic inns which can lay claim to the title, but the debate over who makes the strongest case is never likely to reach a conclusion to satisfy all.

Ye Olde Yew Tree Inn, in Westbere near Canterbury, is the oldest pub in Kent - or at least the oldest building to still be home to a pub
Ye Olde Yew Tree Inn, in Westbere near Canterbury, is the oldest pub in Kent - or at least the oldest building to still be home to a pub

Ye Olde Yew Tree Inn, in Westbere near Canterbury, however, appears to have one of the strongest cases to make.

At the very least, the consensus seems to be that the building itself - dating back to 1348 and said to be haunted by two ghosts - is one of the oldest in the county to still be home to a pub.

It undoubtedly has a lively history, welcoming a queen and one of Britain's most notorious criminals over the centuries.

But is it actually the longest-running drinking establishment in Kent? Almost certainly not.

According to a Westbere village history pamphlet, the building was in fact a grocery shop in the early part of the 19th century.

It was not until about 1830 that it became known as the Palm Tree - "palm" being an old Kentish dialect word for yew.

Unsurprisingly, there are a number of inns across Kent which have been serving pints for far longer. For example, The City Arms in Canterbury has been operating as a pub - albeit under different names - since 1693.

The City Arms in Canterbury has been operating as a pub since the 17th century
The City Arms in Canterbury has been operating as a pub since the 17th century
The Castle in Ashford - Above photo, date unknown, by kind permission of Roy Moore
The Castle in Ashford - Above photo, date unknown, by kind permission of Roy Moore

In Ashford, the Castle was established as a boozer in 1702 and was welcoming punters right up until the early 2000s. The site is now home to a branch of Halifax.

And in Maidstone, the building which was once home to the Mitre Hotel pub dates back to 1650.

In the early 1980s it became The Arches Inn before rebranding as Bar Chocolate, which specialises in cocktails.

Above photo showing former landlord Gordon Lapraik outside the Mitre Hotel in 1924. Kindly supplied by Glyn Sutcliffe
Above photo showing former landlord Gordon Lapraik outside the Mitre Hotel in 1924. Kindly supplied by Glyn Sutcliffe
The Red Lion pub in Sheerness. Date unknown.
The Red Lion pub in Sheerness. Date unknown.

The Red Lion in Blue Town, Sheerness, dates back to at least 1768, with a local newspaper at the time reporting that catalogues for a household furniture sale should be picked up at the pub.

The building was probably constructed just before this date and was also listed as the Swan Inn from an ordnance survey map of 1864.

Meanwhile, some buildings date even further back than the 14th century property which is home to the Yew Tree. But sadly, last orders has been called on these historic taverns.

One example is The Crispin and Crispianus in Strood, which was established in the 1200s and was still operating this century.

Crispin and Crispianus public house in Strood, Kent. - undated file pic
Crispin and Crispianus public house in Strood, Kent. - undated file pic
The Crispin and Crispianus in Strood in 1945
The Crispin and Crispianus in Strood in 1945
The Crispin and Crispianus pub in Strood dated back to the 1200s but was devastated by fire in 2011. Picture: William Shuter
The Crispin and Crispianus pub in Strood dated back to the 1200s but was devastated by fire in 2011. Picture: William Shuter

But the iconic pub, said to be a favourite of Charles Dickens, was devastated by fire in 2011.

Going back even further, the Annunciation in Dover was reported to have served ale in the 1100s.

It was reported to have been connected by a tunnel to a nearby monastery. The ancient pub - which later became The Salutation - survived right up until 1983.

Salutation above shown on right in the early 1930s. On left can be see the "British Queen" and in the middle (same side) the "Prince Albert"
Salutation above shown on right in the early 1930s. On left can be see the "British Queen" and in the middle (same side) the "Prince Albert"

So, situated in an ancient building and set to reopen as soon as social distancing rules allow, Ye Olde Yew Tree can fairly claim to be one of Kent's oldest.

The heavily-beamed Grade II-listed property has certainly welcomed its fair share of interesting characters over the years.

Both Queen Anne and the Archbishop of Canterbury are reputed to have stayed there, perhaps warming themselves in front of its large inglenook fireplace and enjoying the stunning views across Westbere lakes.

Infamous 18th century highwayman Dick Turpin is said to have hidden inside to evade capture from the law.

And during the English Civil War the building, believed to have been a "hall house", was used to treat wounded soldiers - later gaining a reputation of being haunted by two ghosts.

Postcard showing the Yew Tree circa 1900. Picture: Rory Kehoe
Postcard showing the Yew Tree circa 1900. Picture: Rory Kehoe
Another postcard from around 1900. The Yew Tree became a pub in about 1830 and was then known as the Palm Tree. Picture: Rory Kehoe
Another postcard from around 1900. The Yew Tree became a pub in about 1830 and was then known as the Palm Tree. Picture: Rory Kehoe

Another big personality of the Yew Tree's history was Alf Burke, licensee between 1962 and 1982. He was said to be a talented accordionist and would sometimes play to punters, his encore always being to sing 'The Hole in the Elephant's Bottom'.

Despite being Kent's oldest, the pub has had to move with the times.

In 1938, an application was made for a wine licence as "not all ladies are fond of beer".

It added: "In the old days before so much use was made of motor cars an old beer house might have been sufficient, but nowadays there is an influx of visitors who prefer something different from beer."

The turn of the century proved to be a tumultuous period for the historic tavern.

Peter Malkin and his partner, Kate, outside the Yew Tree
Peter Malkin and his partner, Kate, outside the Yew Tree

A campaign was launched in 2001 by villagers desperate to stop the owner from getting planning permission to turn the Yew Tree into a house.

It was sold to businessman Peter Malkin - owner of Bridge Place Country Club, which has since been taken over by The Pig hotel group - who spoke of his passion for restoring old buildings.

He said: "When I read in the Kentish Gazette that this wonderful inn might be turned into a house, I just had to do something about it.

"In particular, I love old pubs because they represent so much about England's history and heritage."

But within months he sold the Yew Tree as he had two other businesses to look after in Devon.

Kate and Leo O'Reilly took over the Yew Tree... twice!
Kate and Leo O'Reilly took over the Yew Tree... twice!

By 2003, the pub was in the hands of Kate and Leo O'Reilly.

They embraced its heritage and had food served by waitresses dressed up as "serving wenches" in the style of Queen Anne's era.

"We wanted somewhere which had atmosphere rather than darts, snooker and a juke box and we found exactly what we were looking for when we got to the Yew Tree," said Kate. "It was a case of love at first sight."

The pub was soon attracting culinary royalty, with celebrity seafood chef Rick Stein saying the Yew Tree's prawn ploughman's was the best he'd ever eaten.

Yet the following year, the pub had a new couple behind the bar - Cevdet and Louise Yilmaz.

A look inside the heavily-beamed Yew Tree in 2008
A look inside the heavily-beamed Yew Tree in 2008

"We're hoping to be here for a long time but you never really know what's going to happen," they said.

Then, in 2005, the O'Reillys returned.

Keeping the royal theme going, they even secured the services of former Buckingham Palace chef James Sallows.

Kate said: "This place has such character and atmosphere and we know our customers' needs so well.

"The pub is the heart of the village. We expect to stay for good."

But in 2007, the Yew Tree changed hands once again, with husband and wife Russ and Sally Glinn taking over.

Russ Glinn took over the pub in 2007
Russ Glinn took over the pub in 2007

"When the chance came up to get this pub we jumped at it," Mrs Glinn said.

Yet before long they had hopped off and it was taken over in 2008 by Jayne and Kevin Knight, who ran the pub on behalf of Enterprise Inns.

Jayne and Kevin Knight didn't last long in charge
Jayne and Kevin Knight didn't last long in charge

When the Knights left after only six months, it's no surprise Westbere residents launched an urgent plea for stability at their cherished village pub.

Fortunately, since 2009, the Yew Tree has been in safe hands.

Mark Abbott and his Swedish partner Anna Svensson moved from London to leafy Westbere - and started a family.

Mike Abbott and his Swedish partner Anna Svensson and their children Alice, nine, and Ellen, six, at the Yew Tree
Mike Abbott and his Swedish partner Anna Svensson and their children Alice, nine, and Ellen, six, at the Yew Tree

Anna, 44, told KentOnline that during their tenure locals have started coming back to the Yew Tree.

Regulars have watched the couple's young daughters, Alice, nine, and Ellen, six, grow up, and the pub itself has become more family-orientated.

"We are on first-name terms with most of our clientele," Anna says. "We are now part of the community.

"We fell in love with the place. It's a real different lifestyle to run a pub like this."

Residents and staff from Newlands Home, Westbere, enjoying cream teas at the Yew Tree. Picture: Jeannette Dawson
Residents and staff from Newlands Home, Westbere, enjoying cream teas at the Yew Tree. Picture: Jeannette Dawson

But like thousands of others across the country, the Yew Tree was forced to close in March due to the lockdown.

Yet Anna and Mark, 49, have managed to keep in touch with their regulars - many of whom are elderly and having to isolate at home.

Anna has been calling them up for a chat and delivering weekly "non-profit" boxes of essentials around the village. Deliveries of fruit and veg cost £5, while the £10 boxes also contain cheese and meat.

In order to help cope with the loss of earnings, they also plan to start a takeaway service of pub favourites like their curries and beef pie, as well as a fish and chips collection.

But the family, who live above the pub, are finding life in lockdown "very strange".

Alice and Ellen with donations for Help for Heroes outside the Yew Tree during the Covid-19 lockdown. Picture: Yew Tree / Facebook
Alice and Ellen with donations for Help for Heroes outside the Yew Tree during the Covid-19 lockdown. Picture: Yew Tree / Facebook

Anna said: "We miss the interaction and the people - it's the purpose of the place.

"We are very lucky we are still in contact with our regulars."

Once pubs are finally allowed to re-open, Anna thinks the Yew Tree could cope better than most with the social distancing measures.

"The layout of this pub means we can have a one way system, which is different from a lot of places," she says.

She also thinks the lockdown experience will inevitably lead to more people working from home.

The Yew Tree pub today. Picture: Yew Tree / Facebook
The Yew Tree pub today. Picture: Yew Tree / Facebook

This means "rush hour pubs" - which get busiest when people finish work - will be hit harder than "destination pubs" like hers.

Striking a more optimistic tone than most landlords, she adds: "It could benefit the whole industry."

Let's hope that measures are put in place to ensure all our favourite pubs in Kent - from the oldest to the newest - can not only survive, but thrive in the years ahead.

Thanks to Paul Skelton for permission to use information and pictures from his website www.dover-kent.com.

Like pub history? Click here to find out the history behind every Wetherspoons in Kent and what was there before

Read more: All the latest news from Kent


More by this author


Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More