The Royal Oak in The Drove in Lower Holt Street

The Royal Oak sign hand-carved by Steve Finnis.
The Royal Oak sign hand-carved three dimensional pub sign hand-carved in the 1990′s by Steve Finnis, a pub regular.

The last of Nonington’s alehouses to be licenced was “The Royal Oak” in The Drove, Lower Holt Street, Nonington,  which is now the only one of the old ale-houses still open.

William Wanstall junior was licensee of “The Hawks Head”, formerly “The White Horse”, next to St. Mary’s church when it closed in March of 1832. The closure was possibly  because William Osmund Hammond, the owner, had become opposed to the sale of alcohol because of his religious convictions, but more likely it was due to his concerns about the effects of alcohol on the working abilities of the lower classes.  Alehouses at this time opened at six o’clock in the morning and closed at ten o’clock at night.
For some six months or so after the closure of “The Hawk’s Head” the only alehouse in the parish was “The Redd Lyon” at Frogham.  William Wanstall and John Wood obviously saw the need for an alehouse, or two, in the more heavily populated Church Street, Holt Street and Easole Street area.   At the next annual Wingham licencing sessions in September of1832 William Wanstall and John Wood were both granted a licences, William for “The Royal Oak” and John for “The Walnut Tree”, both premises being a couple of hundred yards apart in Lower Holt Street.
The Royal Oak was most probably named after the ‘Majestie Oak’ in nearby Fredville Park.  The new “Royal Oak” premises was owned by by J. P. Plumptre, Esq., of Fredville as was the long established “Redd Lyon” at Frogham.

The road running from Holt Street past The Royal Oak over the hill to the church was then known as Church Hill, later renamed Vicarage Lane, but is always referred to by locals as “Oak Hill”.

With the granting of the licence William Wanstall became liable to pay the Parish Poor Rate on the premises. His father, also William, was the Parish Clerk in the mid-1830’s and listed for many years in parish records as a shoemaker and cordwainer. William senior first had a house and shop premises in Easole Street but later moving to premises, now called the Old Post Office, in The Drove which adjoined the southern end of The Oak garden.

The Parish Vestry, an early form of the Parish Council had met in The Hawks Head, previously The White Horse, since at least the early 1700’s and after its closure in March of 1832 the Vestry’s fortnightly meetings were held at The Royal Oak after its opening in September of that year. Vestry meetings normally began at “eleven of the clock in the forenoon” and decided on such important matters as raising revenue through parish rates for the administration of the Poor Laws and the maintenance of the roads within the parish.

John Hopper, who had previously been the landlord of The Redd Lyon at Frogham, took over The Royal Oak from William Wanstall on November 1st, 1836.  John Hopper was licensee for some nine years or so until he was succeeded in 1845 by John Nash, who in addition to being the licensee was also the receiver of mail at The Oak. Prior to its closure The Hawks Head had fulfilled a similar function. It was common for village alehouses to serve as parish post offices during the 1840’s and 50’s. The Oak was also the venue for inquests held in the parish, in January of 1873 one was held for Barnett Samuel Wood, aged two, who had been accidently shot at Holt Street Farm.

The 1851 census records John Nash, aged 44,  as being the Registrar of BD [births & deaths] & Marriages, victualler, and surveyor of highways [a parish vestry appointment] who employed 7 men.

On his death in 1855 John Nash’s widow, Harriet [née Sladden], took over and ran The Oak until her death in 1867. Harriet’s daughter, Fanny Charlotte Nash, had married Leonard Woodruff, a brick layer from Walmer, in 1863 and he took over the licence when Harriet Nash died.  When Leonard died in 1873 Fanny Woodruffe took over the licence from her late husband.

Richard Jarvis Arnold, born in the parish and resident there in the 1880’s and 1890’s recalls in his memoirs which were taken down 1936 by Dr. Hardman, a local historian, that: “the public houses were the Royal Oak  kept by Woodruff and the Walnut Tree beer house kept by Sheaf”. Dr. Harman noted that “The Oak” had “since been rebuilt”  indicating that the pub underwent alterations at some time from the late 1890’s to the early 1930’s when the memoirs were taken down. These must have been mainly internal as the building appears to have retained its original external features including windows and doors. In January of 1987 the ground floor interior underwent extensive alterations, with the unusual horse-shoe shaped bar installed during the previous alterations being replaced.

The widowed Fanny Woodruffe married James Stow in 1876 and her new husband became licensee and continued as such until in 1896 when Fanny again held the licence in her own right until 1899 when William Henry Sayer became the new land-lord.

In 1918 William Sayer’s nephew, also William Sayer, opened a cycle repair and taxi service in stable buildings to the rear of the pub [now the car park]. The business expanded to include motor vehicle repairs and fuel sales and in 1926 to the younger William Sayer moved the business to its present premises in Holt Street which had previously been the public laundry. He continued to run the business until his retirement in 1948 when the business was taken over by his nephews, Charles and Arthur Betts. Since Arthur’s retirement the business has been run by his son, Terry.

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The Oak became a tied house leased by local brewers at some time in the late 1800’s and The Oak became a tenanted pub. The earliest known brewer was Gardener & Co. Ltd. of Ash whose brewery in Sandwich Road in Ash dated from 1837.  In 1951 Tomson & Wotton Ltd or Ramsgate amalgamated with Gardner & Co Ltd of Ash to form Combined Breweries (Holdings) Ltd. which was acquired by Whitbread & Co Ltd in 1968.

Subsequent landlords of The Oak included Arthur Balcombe, who was the land-lord during the Second World War, his daughter Margaret married my uncle, Frank Webb. Reg Deal and Reg Reynolds, who’s daughter Coralie still lives in the parish, were landlords during the 1950′s. They in turn were followed as tenants by Tony Usher and Nick Larsen during the 1960′s with Nick leaving in 1975 to be followed various Whitbread managers who included Nigel Turnbull and John Nicholson.  At the end of the 1970’s Roy Faye became licensee for some ten years or so with Peter Addis taking over the by then free house in 1988. The Oak is now the only one of the old alehouses still open.

Subsequent landlords of “The Oak” included Arthur Balcombe, land lord during the Second World War and who’s daughter, Margaret, married my uncle, Frank Webb. Reg Deal and Reg Reynolds, who’s daughter Coralie still lives in the parish, were landlords during the 1950′s  followed by Tony Usher and Nick Larsen  during the 1960′s with Nick leaving in 1975 to be followed various managers who included Nigel Turnbull and John Nicholson.  Roy Faye became licencee at the end of the 1970′s with  Peter Addis taking over from him in 1988.

Until the early 1960’s “The Oak”  also had a tea garden, serving teas to cricketers and the general public in a building at the end of the garden. For many years it was the ‘local’ for students at the nearby Nonington College of Physical Education until the College’s unfortunate closure in the mid-1980’s.

One thought on “The Royal Oak in The Drove in Lower Holt Street

  • November 8, 2016 at 17:17

    Many happy hours spent in this particular drinking establishment. Spent a lot of time like most students from the College in there during my three years at Nonington.


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