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The oldest pub in Kent - the contenders for the title


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Which pub is the oldest in Kent?

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

Ye Olde Yew Tree Inn, in Westbere near Canterbury, was built in 1348, but hasn't always been a pub
Ye Olde Yew Tree Inn, in Westbere near Canterbury, was built in 1348, but hasn't always been a pub

A quick search on Google will bring up Ye Olde Yew Tree Inn, in Westbere, near Canterbury – but is it truly Kent's oldest pub? Here we look at the contenders...

The Yew Tree

The building itself dates back to 1348 and is said to be haunted by two ghosts.

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

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.

The Yew Tree pub today. Picture: Yew Tree / Facebook (52503014)
The Yew Tree pub today. Picture: Yew Tree / Facebook (52503014)

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

According to a Westbere village history pamphlet, the building was 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.

Coopers Arms, Rochester

The building now known as the Coopers Arms in St Margaret's Street, Rochester, was built during the reign of Richard I (1189-1199), according to the pub's website.

The Coopers Arms in Rochester in 1971
The Coopers Arms in Rochester in 1971

Monks from nearby St Andrews priory – renowned for brewing ales and wine – are said to be its first recorded inhabitants.

It became an inn in 1543 and has continued to serve beers ever since.

Legend has it the pub is haunted by a member of the Brethren of Coopers who was walled up and left to die. He is said to appear once a year in November.

Chequers Inn, Doddington

The Chequers Inn in Doddington, near Sittingbourne, is a listed 14th century coaching inn.

The Chequers Inn, Doddington, near Faversham, pictured in 2015
The Chequers Inn, Doddington, near Faversham, pictured in 2015

Another pub said to boast a ghost, the Swale tavern is reported to be haunted by a Cavalier from the English Civil War.

It’s rumoured you can spot him wearing a plumed hat from the overhanging window.

The Chequers Inn in Doddington in 1910. Picture: Rory Kehoe
The Chequers Inn in Doddington in 1910. Picture: Rory Kehoe

Apparently, if you listen carefully you can hear another ghoul with a passion for the piano, reported to be the deceased wife of a past landlord.

Now owned by Shepherd Neame, in recent years it has doubled as the village post office every Tuesday lunchtime.

The Good Beer Guide 2020 says the inn's "roaring log fire keeps customers warm in winter, and the pub frontage is a sea of flowers in summer".

Chequers Inn, Lamberhurst

Another Chequers Inn, this time in Lamberhurst, has been a pub since 1414 but dates back to 1137 when it was a manor house.

The Chequers Inn, Lamberhurst, in 1931. Picture: Rory Kehoe
The Chequers Inn, Lamberhurst, in 1931. Picture: Rory Kehoe
Italian father-and-son team Egidio and Giandonato Rosa took over the Shepherd Neame pub in 2017
Italian father-and-son team Egidio and Giandonato Rosa took over the Shepherd Neame pub in 2017

The Shepherd Neame pub in the picturesque village near Tunbridge Wells was taken over by Italian father-and-son team Egidio and Giandonato Rosa in 2017.

It also boasts five en-suite guest bedrooms and retains many original features, such as its oak beams and inglenook fireplaces.

Red Lion, Wingham

The Red Lion in Canterbury Road, Wingham, dates back to the 13th century.

The Red Lion Hotel in Wingham pictured in 1968
The Red Lion Hotel in Wingham pictured in 1968

It may have formed part of the Canonical College set up in 1286 by Archbishop Peckham.

But it was more likely the "market house", as a weekly market was licensed by Henry III in 1252.

A few years ago Bake Off judge Paul Hollywood joined a campaign to save the pub but now it is sadly shut.

Red Lion, Stodmarsh

Some say the Red Lion, in Stodmarsh near Canterbury, is so old that it featured in the Domesday Book.

The Red Lion in Stodmarsh today serves up quirky meals
The Red Lion in Stodmarsh today serves up quirky meals

But as far as we can establish, the pub was built in the 15th Century and then rebuilt in 1801 after a fire.

It was run from 2005 to 2013 by one of Kent's most colourful and popular landlords, Robert Whigham.

Much-loved former landlord of the Red Lion in Stodmarsh, Robert Whigham
Much-loved former landlord of the Red Lion in Stodmarsh, Robert Whigham

In 2009, he told a Channel 4 documentary he drank 15 pints of beer a day, with the first "sharpener" as early as 8am.

He said: "I've always been a lovable drinker. It's not arduous, it is absolutely such fun."

Keeping up the eccentricity, the pub currently serves dishes such as Kentucky-fried squirrel.

The Red Lion, Hernhill

One final Red Lion, this pub near Faversham dates back to the 1200s, according to its website.

Ben Edwards, then landlord of the Red Lion, Hernhill, pictured in 2012
Ben Edwards, then landlord of the Red Lion, Hernhill, pictured in 2012

"Steeped in history, this 13th Century hall house has been totally refurbished," it says.

Despite some digging, we can't find out much else about this pub. If anyone knows any more, please do get in touch.

The Angel Inn, Addington

This village pub near West Malling was a hostelry as long ago as 1350, being strategically situated close to the "Pilgrim's Way" to Canterbury.

The Angel Inn in Addington in 1930. Picture: Rory Kehoe
The Angel Inn in Addington in 1930. Picture: Rory Kehoe

It was Grade II-listed by Historic England in 1978.

The British Lion, Folkestone

Another oft-cited suggestion for Kent's oldest pub is The British Lion in The Bayle, Folkestone.

British Lion in 2009. Picture: Paul Skelton
British Lion in 2009. Picture: Paul Skelton

The inn is said to have been a favourite retreat of Charles Dickens between 1857-63, and has its own Dickens Room.

There may have been an inn here since 1460, known as the "Priory Arms".

British Lion in 1920. Picture: Rory Kehoe
British Lion in 1920. Picture: Rory Kehoe

In 1995, local historian Eamonn Rooney discovered that a large portion of one of the walls that still stands was once part of a late medieval priory.

Yet historians believe it is not even the oldest pub in Folkestone. The Black Bull in Canterbury Road pre-dates it by 40 years, the original Royal George in the harbour by 65 years and the Red Cow in Foord Road by 100 years.

The Three Daws, Gravesend

This historic riverside inn dates back to the 1400s.

The Three Daws in Gravesend was recently recognised by the Daily Mail for its tasty Sunday roasts
The Three Daws in Gravesend was recently recognised by the Daily Mail for its tasty Sunday roasts

The popular Gravesend pub was previously called the "Cornish Chough" and later the "Three Cornish Choughs".

It was originally five wood-fronted cottages, thought to be the work of shipwrights.

Behind the bar at the Three Daws in 1988
Behind the bar at the Three Daws in 1988

It is said that the premises boasted no fewer than seven staircases to ensure smugglers in the pub could always make a getaway.

In 1984, the Three Daws was closed for the first time in almost five centuries. During all of the fires in Gravesend, including the great fire of 1850, the pub remained virtually unscathed.

Today it is owned by Lester Banks and has been restored to its original charm and character.

The George & Dragon, Speldhurst

This pub, near Tunbridge Wells, is said to have been built in 1212.

The George & Dragon in Speldhurst in 1905. Picture: dover-kent.com
The George & Dragon in Speldhurst in 1905. Picture: dover-kent.com
Robert Wicks and Julian Liss-Griffiths at the George & Dragon in 2004
Robert Wicks and Julian Liss-Griffiths at the George & Dragon in 2004

Some say The George & Dragon even served soldiers on their return from the Battle of Agincourt.

It is advertised on the pub's website as "one of the oldest Inns in England – a place to eat, drink and sleep".

The George, Cranbrook

Dating back to about 1300, The George is one of Cranbrook’s most historic buildings.

Picture taken outside The George in Cranbrook in 1890. Picture: dover-kent.com
Picture taken outside The George in Cranbrook in 1890. Picture: dover-kent.com

According to the pub's website, it played host to King Edward I in 1299, and Queen Elizabeth I in 1573.

For more than 300 years, until 1859, a magistrate's court was held in an upper room of the inn, according to dover-kent.com.

"Here, witches and warlocks were examined by local inquisitors before being committed for trial, and probable death by burning, at Maidstone.

"Later, French prisoners-of-war were tried at the inn, being chained to a heavy beam in the floor."

The pub is now run by Shepherd Neame.

Jolly Millers, South Darenth

Landlord Ian Cowell got in touch with us last year about his pub, the Jolly Millers in South Darenth.

The Jolly Millers in South Darenth. Picture: Jolly Millers / Facebook
The Jolly Millers in South Darenth. Picture: Jolly Millers / Facebook

He said: "It apparently dates back to c.1584 and was previously used as the local 'Charnal House' or temporary morgue, being the only building in the village with a cellar suitable for storing corpses before they could be transported to their final place of rest."

The pub name is thought to derive from the flour mill that was located on the River Darent by Mally's Place Bridge.

The Milk House, Sissinghurst

Formerly known as the Bull, this pub dates back to the 1300s.

The Milk House in Sissinghurst
The Milk House in Sissinghurst
The Bull in Sissinghurst in 1931. Picture: Rory Kehoe
The Bull in Sissinghurst in 1931. Picture: Rory Kehoe

The name recalls Sissinghurst's former name Milkhouse Street, which changed after a local 19th Century smuggling gang brought it unwanted notoriety.

The village was a centre of activity for the infamous Hawkhurst Gang.

And smugglers are thought to have used the pub's priest hole to hide out.

Crispin and Crispianus, Strood

The Crispin and Crispianus in Strood was established in the 1200s and was still operating this century.

The Crispin and Crispianus in Strood in 1945
The Crispin and Crispianus in Strood in 1945

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

The Salutation, Dover

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

The Salutation in Dover shown on the right in the early 1930s
The Salutation in Dover shown on the right in the early 1930s

It was reported to have been connected by a tunnel to a nearby monastery.

The ancient pub later became The Salutation. Paul Skelton, owner of peerless Kent pub history website dover-kent.com, says: "I do recall that it was necessary to step down into the public bar – so it was easy to fall into, as it were."

It was knocked down in 1963 for the pavement to be widened and another pub with the same name was built on a corner 60ft from the original site.

However, this closed in 1983 and was replaced – for just seven months – by a Pizza Hut before becoming a Bradford and Bingley.

As to what's currently on the site of the original Salutation in the now pedestrianised Biggin Street, it is likely occupied by part of a large BrightHouse store.

The Roman Painted House, Dover. Picture: Google Maps
The Roman Painted House, Dover. Picture: Google Maps

Mr Skelton has one further contender for what would be not only Dover's, but perhaps the UK's oldest drinking hole.

The pub history supremo says: "I am still debating whether to put the Roman Painted House as a pub as well, which would take it back to Roman times about 200 AD.

"However, there’s no positive evidence as yet that I have found to prove it sold alcohol, but I expect it did as I believe it was a hotel in its time."

The Little Gem, Aylesford

The building which is home to The Little Gem in Aylesford, built in 1106, recently re-opened to the delight of drinkers.

The Little Gem, shortly after it opened as a pub in 1971
The Little Gem, shortly after it opened as a pub in 1971

The tiny building was once believed to be home to the smallest tavern in the county.

It was closed in 2010 and earmarked for residential development.

The Little Gem has now reopened
The Little Gem has now reopened

But thanks to the Saving the Little Gem campaign, it was bought at auction and the owner made sure it got permission from the council to be turned back into a pub.

In 2019 it was bought again by Goachers Ales, an independent brewery based in Tovil, Maidstone.

Royal Fountain Hotel, Canterbury

Today, as you stroll along Canterbury's St Margaret's Street and take a turn at HMV into the Marlowe Arcade, the route will lead you up towards Whitefriars.

A postcard showing a carriage outside the pub in St Margaret's Street, date unknown. Picture: dover-kent.com
A postcard showing a carriage outside the pub in St Margaret's Street, date unknown. Picture: dover-kent.com

Yet if you'd taken that same turning between the years 1029 and 1942, you'd have been stepping inside the city's first ever inn.

Trading under various names over the centuries, the Royal Fountain Hotel truly was a tavern steeped in history.

The four knights who murdered Thomas Becket in the Cathedral in 1170 are said to have first stopped off for a sharpener in the Royal Fountain, according to pub expert Rory Kehoe.

In 1299, the German Ambassador reportedly stayed at the inn en route to London to attend the wedding of Edward I and Queen Margaret, and "found the amenities much to his liking".

The dover-kent.com website continues: "An even earlier tradition states that Earl Godwin's wife resided there in 1029. Dickens, however, certainly stayed there in 1861."

The Royal Fountain was devastated by the Luftwaffe in 1942. Picture: Rory Kehoe
The Royal Fountain was devastated by the Luftwaffe in 1942. Picture: Rory Kehoe

According to “Some Old English Inns”, written by George T. Burrows in 1907, the Royal Fountain was in fact the oldest pub in England!

However, like so many historic buildings across the city, the inn met its doom during the Luftwaffe's Baedeker Raids in 1942.

Ye Olde Crown Inn, Edenbridge

Ye Olde Crown Inn in Edenbridge is said to have been serving wayfarers and visitors since the reign of Edward III (1327 -1377).

Crown Inn in Edenbridge with its distinctive sign across the high street in 1909. Picture: Mark Jennings
Crown Inn in Edenbridge with its distinctive sign across the high street in 1909. Picture: Mark Jennings

The pub is unmissable because of its unique Kentish bridging sign which spans the high street.

It has a "secret" passage running from the pub to the church, which was used in the late 17th century by the Ransley Gang for smuggling.

Ye Olde Crown Inn in Edenbridge in 2009. Picture: Peter Trimming
Ye Olde Crown Inn in Edenbridge in 2009. Picture: Peter Trimming

The first documented publican was a Mr Robert Fuller (1593), when the pub was known as Fullers House.

When the pub was renovated in 1993, builders unearthed an old pair of shoes, which are now housed in the museum next to the inn.

Legend goes that many older buildings had shoes in the walls, as suspicious folk believed this warded off evil.

So which is Kent's oldest pub?

Without knowing exactly when each building officially became a "pub", it's impossible to say for certain.

Yet surely it's worth stopping for a pint at all of those historic Kent inns which survive to this day.

If you want to know which pub was the first to open in your town, click here.

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

To read more of our in-depth features click here.

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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