It’s only in the last few years that our regular trips to the in-laws have become bearable. By that, I mean of course the pubs in Tunbridge Wells have improved, as Paul Bailey has reported recently.
Little Southborough isn’t Tunbridge Wells though. What it gains in views over the Weald it loses in terms of any real retail or pub scene. A real dormitory/retirement village. Home security systems are a higher priority than hops in the beer.
We took our in-laws on a stiff walk around the Common and the famous cricket ground to work up a thirst for a pint. The Weald of Kent has some of our best walking; well-signposted, occasionally challenging, soft underground and with wonderful views.
Mrs RM The in-laws lasted an hour before bringing out the toilet card (as it were) to call the walk short. I was quite happy, slow walking is harder than running.
The Imperial is Shepherd Neame’s tenanted Pub of the Year. It’s also the only real pub in a town of 11,000, if I exclude the Hand & Sceptre “Dining with Rooms” monstrosity (and WhatPub seems to). The rambling old Weavers is currently closed, the one-time GBG Bat & Ball long since changed from a quirky alehouse to a Chinese restaurant. Perhaps Leominster isn’t doing that badly.
I can only assume that the Shep’s award is for the introduction of an unobtrusive Italian catering operation into the pub. WhatPub is fair to say it hasn’t lost its local character, though the number of children in the pub at 4pm on Wednesday would be an issue for some. A rather plain interior, but at least unfussy.
Very South-East London in feel, with cheerful old boys at the bar and a bloke with a laptop doing a beer blog. All the seating was around the wall, and conducive to a decent session. Some younger lads came in later on, and the atmosphere was very welcoming. Fans of 1980s europop are particularly well catered for; I’d forgotten how ubiquitous Jimmy Sommerville’s 70s covers were 30 years ago.
What really struck me was how little real ale was being sold. Four slightly different lagers (Asahi, Hurlingham, Orangeboom and Sam Adams). I’ve never tried any of those.
My in-laws are moderate drinkers, but always go for the real stuff on their occasional pub visits. Spitfire (NBSS 3) and the Bay (NBSS 2.5) were cool, which is worth a mention. My father-in-law would opt for Harveys given the choice, but was blown away by the craft in Fuggles in the Wells, as youngsters call it.
A craft keg would have suited us, but that’s not really Shep’s way. I did come across a Samuel Adams branded cask beer near Tenterden, but it was very dull.
Back to the in-laws for gin and cake afterwards.
If only I could persuade Paul to set up an off-licence/micropub there.
13 thoughts on “THE IMPERIAL, SOUTHBOROUGH”
Southborough has lost the majority of its pubs over the past couple of decades. You mention the quirky Bat & Ball, Martin. Back in the late 80’s, when I worked in nearby High Brooms, the Bat was a regular lunchtime stop, with its winning combination of keenly priced lunches, plus an excellent choice of unusual (for the area), cask ales.
I’m not quite certain what happened after my job took me away from the area (to Lewes in fact!), but as you point out the Bat & Ball is now a Chinese restaurant. At least it didn’t suffer the fate of the Bell, which was virtually next door. Demolished 20 or more years ago, the boarded up site still stands empty.
The Flying Dutchman, opposite, closed several years ago, after a number of unsuccessful incarnations as a Sports Bar and a fake Irish pub (Ryans). The Royal Oak, round the corner in Speldhurst Road, was another Shep’s pub. Much more of a local than the Imperial, it too called last orders, probably around 10 years ago.
The Weavers, should re-open, but no-one is quite sure when. It started life as a restaurant, before morphing into a pub, and a few years ago was offering a reasonable range of beers. There was another really basic pub called the Crown, just along from the Imperial. I think I only went in there once and that was to conduct a quick survey for a local guide.
The best pub in Southborough, and one which is sorely missed was the Beehive. Tucked away at the back of the common, at the quaintly named Modest Corner, the Beehive became a victim of its own success. It was a lovely old weather-boarded pub, converted from a couple of adjoining cottages. With its low ceilings and rustic furnishings, open fires in winter, plus some good ales it became something of a destination pub; particularly during the summer months.
Parking was always a problem, and with cars clogging up the narrow lanes leading to the pub, local residents began to voice their opposition. With some well-to-do moneyed people amongst them, the Beehive’s fate was sealed and its licence eventually revoked. I don’t know what CAMRA did about the closure (if anything), as I was otherwise occupied at the time, following the birth of our son.
So if you want a beer in Southborough now, it’s Hobson’s choice with the Imperial as your only bet. As you point out Martin, there is little ale sold in the pub, and this unfortunately is the case in most Shep’s outlets. I am not being unkind when I describe them as a “contract lager” brewery.
Finally, with another two and a half years to go before my mortgage is paid off, there’s no chance of me opening any licensed premises! After that, I want to travel, rather than being stuck behind a bar; so unless one of my Premium Bonds comes good, and I can afford to open a micro-pub and install a manager to run it, it’s Shep’s only in Southborough for the foreseeable future.
That’s all really helpful Paul, my father-in-law isn’t an expert on pubs ! I do recall walking to the Beehive, and remember the Bat & Ball as being quite adventurous in the ’90s.
You’re sensible to keep out the trade, there’s more chance of my brother-in-law, also a Paul in Southborough, packing in piano tuning and starting a micro !
High perching stools at a table made from a solid cask – where are you meant to put your legs?
One pub for 11000 residents is a very low pub to person ratio, particularly somewhere with a largely elderly population thus the majority will be of drinking age. I wonder if there are any towns with a lower ratio than that.
I doubt it Tom, perhaps a few suburbs that look to big cities. Not even masses of restaurants (small upmarket ones), but lots of wine and gin at home.
I discovered the exotic Pimms while drinking (underage) with a boyfriend at the Bat and Ball. Someone I knew claimed they got a dart in the head at the Flying Dutchman, but maybe that story is apocryphal. Either way more Highwayman than Dutchman. Beehive at Modest Corner was a classic. Showing my age by admitting I remember it.
Underage drinking is to be applauded Mrs RM. Your youth sounds wilder than mine. Amazed your memory is holding up. Did you have any luck with the Newtown quiz by the way ?
The hidden beer may be Master Brew. My brothers and I were told by a Faversham resident at the Elephant that, “Those beers will make you sick.” Certainly not my first choice, but I did not find them that objectionable.
I’ve always liked Sheps, particularly Master Brew, in a decent pub that looks after its beers. Plenty in Faversham. Yes, I should have had the MB.
Shepherd Neame ales, to be clear!
My ancestor William Ralph, his wife and their 2 children, are listed in the 1871 census as living at the Beehive Tavern, Southborough. He was a Brewers Labourer. They must have been in the attic.
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The Beehive was the picturesque pub tucked away in the Common that’s now houses. Would be best pub in Southborough if it still existed. Ever been there ?