Saturday 25th June 2016
Linda and I were in this part of south-eastern Kent to visit the Berry pub in Walmer where there was a presentation to the licensee Chris Barnes for winning the CAMRA Kent Best Cider Pub award. No small achievement either, as there are so many pubs in Kent selling lots of good cider. Whilst in another pub on the way to Walmer I was reminded that the Freed Man micropub had been open in the same town for a few months.
So we had to visit and I’m so glad we did, as it is an excellent little pub. I have recently read that the current trend for micropubs is an echo of George Orwell’s piece entitled “The Moon under Water” about a fictitious pub that was published in the (London) Evening Standard on Saturday 9th February 1946. The pub was everything a good pub should be, according to the author.
Even in those days he felt it necessary to create the perfect pub in fiction as in his travels he hadn’t found it.
The message behind that is even more apposite today. For at least the last sixty years and maybe more, the large breweries and latterly pub companies, have been telling the British drinking public what they want without consulting them. It has still not sunk in and their closures of run-down unsustainable pubs continues.
It is from this background the actual freed man, Ian Goodban, opened this pub.
He worked as a licensee for a large regional brewery and found it a very difficult life as everything was regulated, especially the prices he had to pay for beer and other drinks as part of the tied system, so the solution was to open his own pub. I remember when he got into bit of bother with the brewery for selling beers that weren’t brewed by them.
Whilst on this subject please let me expunge another theory. I have heard that micropubs are harming the trade in conventional pubs and that might or might not be true, but if so, only to a very limited extent. What micropubs do is extol the “Moon under Water” theory where people go to the pubs they want and not what they are given.
Please do not become confused by Tim Martin of Wetherspoon’s who has named a number of his pubs “Moon under Water” and variations thereof. They are the antithesis of the micropub and not just in size. However the chain has some merit as they expose drinkers of mainstream brewery’s beers to a vast range of small brewer’s products at very reasonable prices; beers they might otherwise have not tried before.
Well, how do you actually create the perfect pub? It has to be welcoming, comfortable, relaxing and offer the drinks you want. Certainly the Freed Man hits all these spots.
Ian has said he would like it to be referred to as a mini-pub rather than a micropub. I honestly believe that “micropub” just describes a small pub, nothing more.
There are some people in CAMRA who waste time trying to define this type of pub. It is always going to be inconclusive and I don’t understand why they persist, just accept each for what it is!
I know that Ian wants to describe his pub in a way that differentiates it from the “ale/cider/wine only” establishment but he needn’t worry just because his pub serves spirits, plays background music and has an extensive wine list. The most important ingredients are there. It serves good cask beer and it is a beautiful pub. The drinkers of Walmer should regard themselves as very lucky to have it on their doorstep!
Linda and myself visited in June. The pub had opened for the first time earlier in the year, on Saturday 23rd January 2016, to be precise. A major clue to its former use is the postbox on the pavement outside. This pub joins a number of others that were formerly post offices.
Sadly, this is more a comment on the decline of services in suburban and rural areas, rather than an increase in micropubs. This Post Office had closed some time ago and its last use was as a shop selling equipment for solar power.
The entrance door is on the right of the black-painted premises. Inside you are assaulted by the sheer quantity of the decorative items. I will attempt to detail the most notable of them. The floor is of varnished wood, on the walls you find a multitude of old paintings and beautiful carved wood-framed mirrors. Most of the illustrations are of a maritime nature and there are some photographs.
So moving slowly around the room in a clockwise direction, facing the window to the street are a pair of glass-topped circular tall tables with associated high stools. Moving down the left side of the room there is a nice wooden table with six seats. Then there is the bar which is constructed of wood with four tall stools in front. Above there is a large handsome bell which is no doubt used to signify “last orders”.
I’ll mention the most notable aspect of the bar counter a bit further on. Right of the bar is the toilet and then a corner bench that is covered with cushions. Above is a whale bone found on a nearby beach and a slightly tattered red ensign that looked as if it has some history. In front of the corner unit is a shiny wooden table faced by leather cushioned seats. High up on the walls are wooden crests of naval ships. There is also a 1936-built clocking-in machine.
There are normally four cask beers available and when we visited they were: Titanic (Burslem, Staffordshire) Nine Tenths Below (5.9%); Lytham Brewery (Lytham St Annes, Lancashire) Lytham IPA (5.6%); North Blyth (North Blyth, Northumberland) Ali the Greatest (3.9%) and Eden Brewery (Brougham, Penrith, Cumbria) Eden Best (4.0%).
Now, the best bit. These are dispensed via an old Victoria Beer Engine that looks a bit like a cash register. These are often illustrated in those old pub supplier’s catalogues that are framed and found on pub walls, but this is the real thing, so now we know what the real thing looks like. Rather surprisingly Ian found it on E-Bay. There’s one in the George at Southwark, London, an ancient galleried coaching inn, yet I’m not sure if that is still in use.
As mentioned earlier there are spirits available including a few single malt whiskies and Polish Vodka. There are usually 10 to 12 different wines offered. These are displayed in a rather novel way as a bottle of each type is found dangling on string from hooks on the wall. Cider is served from a box on the bar counter. When we visited it was one from the Weston’s stable. There is no food available but there are the usual packaged crisps, nuts, scratchings, etc. Free WiFi is offered.
This superbly decorated pub is not to be missed if you are down on the south-east Kent coast.
The Freed Man, 329 Dover Road, Walmer, Kent CT14 7NX. Tel: 01304 364357
Hours: Monday/Wednesday-Thursday 12.00-21.00; Tuesday 12.00-22.00;
Friday-Saturday 12.00-23.00; Sunday 12.00-16.00
Buses stop right outside at the Thompson’s Bell stop. Routes are the 12 running from Canterbury to Deal via Whitfield, the 15 and 15A from Canterbury to Deal via Dover and the 93 local route.
Around the corner in Station Road use the Neville Gardens or Walmer Baptist Church stops for the 13/13A. Also about five minutes away are stops for the route 82 Deal to Dover at St Clare Road and Grams Road. All of these routes run hourly Monday to Saturday except the 93 which is irregular.
There appears to be no routes on Sundays or in the evening. I am surprised there is nothing on Sunday. I suspect there maybe but I couldn’t find the details.
Walmer station is close. At the time of writing it is served by just one train an hour from Ramsgate to Dover. When the sea wall between Dover and Folkestone is restored there will be one train per hour from Ramsgate via Deal and Walmer to Dover, Folkestone, Ashford to London Charing Cross.
There will also be one per hour from Margate via Ramsgate, Deal and Walmer to London St Pancras going via Dover, Folkestone, Ashford and the high-speed link.
From Walmer station head in a south-easterly direction along Station Road until it meets Dover Road. Turn right here and you will immediately see the pub on the right side of the road. It should take just over five minutes.