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Medway's lost pubs and what they are now, including the Upper Bell Inn, Cliffe's Black Bull, and Chatham's Good Intent

From being the inspiration for many of Charles Dickens' novels in the 19th Century to Florence Nightingale setting up the first Army Medical College in Fort Pitt in Chatham in 1859, Medway has a rich history, and its many pubs have been here through it all.

The Dover Kent Archives, the go-to for all your Kent pub history needs, holds information on more than 800 pubs, past and present, across the Medway Towns and parishes. In fact, there are records of 282 in Chatham alone.

Crispin & Crispianus public house in Strood, April 1992
Crispin & Crispianus public house in Strood, April 1992

Every one of these places holds a past that only its patrons can every really know, but this list will take a look at some of the pubs from times gone by, and what stands in their place today.

Black Bull in Cliffe


The Black Bull in Cliffe has stood on the corner of Reed Street and Church Street for more than four centuries.

In 2002 the building was sold as two private semi-detached houses after closing down, and a third house has been built in its car park, but the pub has been traced back as far as 1590.

The building's original wooden structure was destroyed in a fire in 1887, which is when it was built as it stands today.

Local legend suggests that the pub was haunted, although reports differ on who it was haunted by. Some say that an old sailor who drowned at sea walked through the building, looking for his lost love. Others believe that the Black Bull was built on an ancient burial site, and the ghostly footsteps and opening-and-closing doors were thanks to the wandering souls.

In the early 20th Century, the pub was the go-to for Cliffe's cricket club, which used to play out on the village's marshes.

Although the pub is no longer in use and patrons are not passing through anymore, the current owners have kept the name up on the wall of their house as a reminder of what used to be.

Good Intent in Chatham


Heading down into Chatham's New Road you will find the Good Intent.

Brothers and renowned jazz musicians Vic and Tony Pitt lived in this building when their father Jim managed the pub in the 1950s and 1960s.

Vic Pitt, among other accomplishments, played bass, electric bass and tuba in the Chris Barber Jazz and Blues band, from July 1977 until his retirement in 2007.

He also recorded with other big-name jazz artists including Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball.

His brother Tony, who passed away last year at the age of 80, was an accomplished jazz guitarist and banjo player, who also performed with Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball, among others.

Vic passed away a few months after his brother in July of 2021.

The pub closed in the late 1980s after several license infringements. It eventually opened again after a long closure but this was short-lived.

Since the pub shut its doors for good in the mid-1990s, the building has had several names, including the Royal Tandoori, which was an Indian restaurant, then briefly the Royal Thai Cuisine, before becoming the Royal Ruby, another Indian takeaway, as it stands today.

The restaurant's website says that it is closed until further notice, however, so who knows what the future holds for this 19th Century pub?

Magpie Tavern in Chatham


Just a 15 minute walk away is the Magpie Tavern, also known as the Magpie Inn, found in Magpie Hall Road.

Earliest records of this pub date back to 1862, when it was tangled up in an assault trial involving two inmates of the nearby Medway Union Workhouse.

A drunk man named William Bromley was sentenced to six weeks of hard labour for attacking his acquaintance Frederick Corrie.

William allegedly fell down outside the Magpie, and when Frederick tried to help him stand up, William jumped on Frederick and began to beat his victim's head with what witnesses believed to be a stone.

William then covered his victim in mud. When the two men returned to the Union later that evening, the Union's master described Frederick as being "smothered" in mud, and with blood running from his head.

The best part of the next 150 years for the Magpie were relatively free from controversies, until it closed for the first time in 2009.

After some refurbishment, it opened later that year, only to close again soon after. The pub had closed permanently by 2011, when it was quickly sought after by the Diocese of Rochester, which was responsible for the neighbouring All Saints' Church.

Today, the Magpie Tavern and Inn has traded beer and spirits for tea and coffee, with the building officially opening as the Magpie Centre, the church's community centre and café, in 2015.

King's Arms in Chatham

The site of the King's Arms in 2019 Picture: Google Images
The site of the King's Arms in 2019 Picture: Google Images

Until 2002, the 17th Century pub could be found at 18 Medway Street in Chatham. Today, nothing remains of the original building, after it was ravaged by a fire and eventually demolished.

However, during its existence, this pub held a dark history after it was connected to a tragic case of drowning and death.

In 1840, a boat full of merchant ship workers capsized on the River Medway, near to the King's Arms.

Of the 16 men on board, only nine made it to shore alive - some by swimming, some picked up by a fishing boat.

Survivors and those whose bodies were recovered were taken to the pub, while any available surgeon tried to help resuscitate the drowned men.

Over the following days, six of the seven bodies had been recovered, and the inquest began at the pub, where the deaths were ruled accidental.

Within days of the inquest, the pub's landlord, Mr Benjamin Braddy, passed away. A report in the Kentish Gazette said: "He had for some time been in bad health, but his end was accelerated by that melancholy catastrophe".

In the 1990s, the pub closed when the building was damaged in a fire, and remained in a ruined state until it was demolished in 2002.

Until 2019, the site where this once-loved pub stood remained boarded up and overgrown, as construction work took place around it.

In 2020, the empty land finally received some attention when it was dug up for construction along with the car park beside it, as part of the Chatham Waterfront development. The work, which will see the site turned into an apartment block, is expected to finish in 2023.

Crispin & Crispianus in Strood


Across the River Medway in London Road in Strood is the site of the Crispin & Crispianus, a pub that, in its heyday, was frequented by Charles Dickens.

Records of this pub date back as early as the 1200s. It was reportedly once the meeting place for the Guild of Shoemakers, so it is named for the profession's two patron saints.

Dickens was said to be a regular at this pub, where he would drop by on walks from his home at Gad's Hill.

Crispin & Crispianus public house sign, undated
Crispin & Crispianus public house sign, undated

In his 1860 novel, The Uncommercial Traveller, Dickens featured the pub and described how travelling workers would stay there.

The pub closed its doors in 2010 for unknown reasons, but that wasn't the end of the story.

In 2011, the derelict building was gutted in an arson attack, which remains a mystery even now.

Firefighters putting out the blaze at the Crispin & Crispianus Picture: William Shuter
Firefighters putting out the blaze at the Crispin & Crispianus Picture: William Shuter

The historic building was able to be saved, although it spent several years boarded up and structurally unstable, even after it was bought in 2012.

After changing hands again last year, plans were made for it to become a B&B and tea room.

As of 2021, the building has managed to keep its facade and sign and seems to have finally recovered from the blaze which destroyed its roof and most of its interior.

Upper Bell Inn in Blue Bell Hill


Heading south from Chatham, by Maidstone Road in Blue Bell Hill, you could once find the Upper Bell Inn.

As of 2019, all that stands in its place is a boarded up perimeter and a mass of overgrown greenery.

Past staff and residents there have claimed the building had its fair share of ghost stories, and that is unsurprising with the many odd stories associated with the pub.

In 1816, two men found a woman who appeared to be asleep under a tree in the woods by the pub. They chose not to disturb her, but found her, a few days later, in the exact same position. A quick check of her pulse proved she was still alive, but they were disturbed by what they were seeing - sparing the more gruesome details, she looked more like a corpse than a living person.

The men called into the pub for help, carried her to an outhouse, and sent for a surgeon.

A report from the Observer says: "through this humane, kind, and constant attention, this unfortunate woman has been rescued from the jaws of death".

The woman, who revealed herself as Ann Martin, said that she had moved to Chatham Barracks from Lewes with an artillery soldier. She had left the soldier and decided to return home by foot, with no money or means of transport. She had only reached Blue Bell Hill before, "oppressed by fatigue, she, in a fit of despair, laid herself down to die", according to the Observer, where she had stayed, unmoving, for 11 days before being found.

In 1841, an overcrowded horse-drawn bus lost control when the driver tried to pull up at the door to the pub and one of the horses had become tangled in its chain travelling up the hill.

The bus began to speed down the hill and, with no other way to stop it, the coachman ran the vehicle into a heap of stones at the bottom of the hill.

Somehow, the bus stayed upright and all passengers, including the eight people on the outside of the bus, managed to survive without injury.

The Upper Bell Inn left derelict in 2010 Picture: Google Images
The Upper Bell Inn left derelict in 2010 Picture: Google Images

An article from 1859 details a sudden death near the Upper Bell Inn, when an unmarried 69-year-old woman named Mary Hardy was found dead in a pool of blood one night.

A surgeon was called for but refused to attend because she was already dead, and the coroner was called the following day, but again refused because there was no indication of violence, and the county magistrates would not fund an inquest for a death by natural causes.

To find out about lost pubs in Maidstone, click here.

It was later found that she had a severe lacerated bruise on her forehead and the pool of blood beneath her was two feet long.

There was uproar in the town as some people thought this was cause for a coroner investigation, with the Rochester and Chatham Gazette describing her death as "a failure of public justice".

In its more recent history, the pub began to struggle after the road that ran past it, the sliplane onto the A229, closed, and it lost most of its through-trade. It shut its doors for good in 2004 and remained derelict until 2013, when it was demolished.

As of 2019, the site is unused and has been taken over by nature.

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