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England's first micropub located in Herne

Along the narrow, picturesque street that runs through the centre of Herne lies a drinking hole that attracts former nuclear submariners, senior police officers and millionaires.

Stood opposite the village's 700-year-old church, the former butchery's unassuming appearance belies the fact it is the country's first-ever micropub.

Dressed in a purple-striped shirt and wearing a jagged smile, landlord Martyn Hillier is sat at the end of a long table facing the door as I enter.

Butcher’s Arms landlord Martyn Hillier likes to keep things simple - and says pubs are for serving pints
Butcher’s Arms landlord Martyn Hillier likes to keep things simple - and says pubs are for serving pints

His left arm, paralysed ever since a high-speed motorcycle crash 40 years ago, hangs limply by his side.

He’s chatting to two of the pub’s regulars – Kev the Pickle and Adam – who are steadily making inroads into their two-pint jugs of ale.

Next to the pair is a pile of books. My gaze is immediately drawn to a paperback with the words Encyclopaedia of Unusual Sex Practices printed across its spine.

“One of the customers brought it in,” Martyn grins.

“It’s one of the first things women read.”

The 59-year-old took over the lease for the building in 1997, converting it into a florist-cum-off-licence.

He moved there following a stint running the Canterbury Beer Shop in Northgate.

The Butcher's Arms in Herne Street
The Butcher's Arms in Herne Street

It was not until 2003, following a change to licensing law, that Martyn considered establishing the Butcher’s Arms. It was eventually opened in November 2005.

“At that time pubs were closing left, right and centre, so I thought I had to do something different,” he explains.

“I didn’t want lager, spirits, music or a TV – just people talking. This is how a pub should be.

“It didn’t take a lot of work to transform the place – just some bar towels over the white tiles and I got a chippie in to knock it up.
"The cooler’s the most expensive bit. If you’re handy with a saw, you can do almost everything else as all you need is a sink, hot water and a toilet.”

As part of his attempts to distinguish it from other establishments, he decided to dispense of a conventional bar, preventing drinkers from spending inordinate time queuing for their drinks.

On top of this, Martyn decided not to serve food at the premises.

“You come to a pub to have beer; you go to a restaurant to have food," he said.

The barrels are kept in the former freezers of the Herne Street butchers, which became the UK’s first micropub in 2005
The barrels are kept in the former freezers of the Herne Street butchers, which became the UK’s first micropub in 2005

The landlord also positioned the seats and tables around the edge of the room so they face each other, forcing pub goers into conversation.

This has created a nucleus of regulars, all of whom – apart from Adam – have been bestowed with puckish nicknames, like Popeye, Bluto and Play-doh Paul.

“They’re mad in here,” Martyn says proudly.

“You would not believe what happens in here – we put the world to rights most nights. It’s better than TV.

“We get chiefs of police and doctors in here – all sorts of people. Multi-millionaires also come just to have the mick taken out of them.

"It doesn’t matter who you are, you’ll be brought down to the same level.

“Everyone talks and gets to know each other. If you go around other micropubs, you’ll find the same thing – they’re bringing the community back together.”

The pub, thought to be the smallest in the country, has baseball caps, rubber chickens and dogs hanging from its ceiling and bar towels, pump clips and posters decorating the walls.

"We get chiefs of police and doctors in here - all sorts of people... multi-millionaires also come just to have the mick taken out of them" - Martyn Hillier

A cardboard cut-out of Rik Mayall brandishing a pint of Bombardier peers over Martyn’s shoulder.

Through the door and the hanging plastic sheets at the end of the room, the barrels of ale are found stored in the butchery’s former walk-in freezer.

Even though there are just four of us in the pub, it feels as if we are no more than an arm’s length from each other.

“Thirty-seven people and a dog is the record,” Martyn reminisces.

“It was mental that night. They were all in here for about two hours.”

Since 2005 hundreds of others have followed Martyn’s example by converting small former offices, shops and restaurants into micropubs.

Having quickly become havens for real ale drinkers, their popularity continues to grow.

“I mainly get retired people who live round here in here,” Martyn says.

“You don’t need a big turnover because you’re never going to be a millionaire.

“Pubs have got too big over the years. This is how they should be."

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