Friday 21st December 2012
As can be expected of a pub located just outside the city walls in the St Dunstan's district, the Unicorn has a lot of history. It was built in 1593 during the reign of Elizabeth 1 as a dwelling. It became a pub in 1664 although it had no trading name, just being recorded as a beer house.
It was registered as the Unicorn in 1692. In 1741 the name was changed to "The Star" but this was not popular and it reverted to "The Unicorn" in 1742. Flint and Kingsford Brewery purchased the pub in 1815. The company had only been established in 1797 so the Unicorn must have been an early acquisition.
Standing on the pavement outside the pub one can still see the buildings of Flint's brewery which are still standing even though they haven't brewed a thing since 1929. In relentless tide of takeovers in the 20th Century they were acquired by, or maybe they merged with, George Leney of Dover. Whatever, it didn't last long as they were soon under the control of George Beer and Rigden, a Faversham brewery who had merged with Rigden of Canterbury.
By 1950 George Beer were owned by Fremlin's brewery of Maidstone who kept the Faversham brewery open for a while. Eventually they were sucked into the massive Whitbread empire which closed the Maidstone brewery and re-opened the one in Faversham. That eventually closed in 1990.
Whitbread was forced by the Beer Orders Act to divest themselves of their pubs and so the Unicorn is now in the possession of a pub-owning company and this reflects itself in the beer range offered.
Having reflected on the history of this venerable boozer, let's have a look around inside. This is one of the most comfortable pubs I know. It is nowadays open-plan, so on entry one take a choice of the left or right seating area. The first thing to notice is the wonderful collection of breweriana on the walls, including some from Flint's Brewery, former owners. At the end of the left side there is a bar billiards table, a bit of a rarity these days. I think you notice the antiquity of the house when you visit the facilities and walk along the slightly sloping path. This was once outside as were the toilets themselves.
There are always four cask beers on offer with Shepherd Neame (Faversham, Kent) Masterbrew Bitter (3.7%) and Sharp's (Rock, Cornwall) Doom Bar (4.0%) being regulars. Then there is a pump dedicated to a beer from the owning company's list. On the occasion of our visit it was Caledonian (Edinburgh) Flying Scotsman (4.0%) and finally the licensee is permitted one beer free of tie and this comes from a local East Kent brewery. This time it was Whitstable Brewery (Grafty Green, Kent) East India Pale Ale (4.2%), which we both had and enjoyed. The pub is Cask Marque accredited.
This pub is well located, being just outside of the city walls. It is less than five minutes from Canterbury West Railway station which is served by an hourly train from London St Pancras running via the High Speed line that gets from London in less than an hour. See below for other transport options. Food is served on all sessions except for Sunday evening, so also please see below for the actual times. So, if visiting the ancient city, why not leave a bit of extra time to visit this wonderful pub?
The Unicorn, 61 St Dunstan's Street, Canterbury, Kent CT28BC. Tel: 01227 463187
Open: Sunday-Thursday 11.30-24.00; Friday-Saturday 11.30-01.00
Meals are served as follows: Monday-Friday 12.00-14.00, 17.30-20.45;
Saturday 12.00-15.00, 17.30-20.45; Sunday 12.00-15.30
Canterbury West station (5 minutes walk) is served by trains from London St Pancras via Ashford and from London Charing Cross via Tonbridge and Ashford. Most of these trains continue to the East Kent coast.
Canterbury East (20 minutes walk) has trains from London Victoria via the Medway Towns and Faversham and most of them continue to Dover.
There are many bus routes passing the pub but these are operating from the city centre to north Kent towns in the outward direction only.
Buses into the centre are now diverted to avoid St Dunstan's Street as they are no longer permitted to run through the city walls at the Westgate Tower.