The Royal Oak in The Drove in Lower Holt Street in Nonington


The last of Nonington’s alehouses to be licenced was The Royal Oak in The Drove in Lower Holt Street in Nonington The Oak is the last of  the old ale-houses still in business as licenced premises, although it is closed at present.

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 of 1832 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. Inquests had also been held in The White Horse, most likely since its opening, and they continued to be held at The Royal Oak.

William Wanstall the younger died during his tenure as licensee. The Kentish Gazette of Tuesday 18th October, 1836, contained the following notices concerning his estate.
“The estate of William Wanstall the Younger. Notice.
All Persons who have any claims or demands on the Estate of William Wanstall the younger, of Nonington, in the county of Kent, Victualler, who hath executed a deed of assignment for the benefit of his creditors, are desired, within one month from the date of this notice, to send an account thereof to Mr. Chalk, Solicitor, Dover. And all persons who stand indebted to the estate of the said William Wanstall are requested to pay the amount of their respective debts to Mr. Chalk, who is duly authorized by the assignees of the said William Wanstall to receive and give discharges for the same.

Stephen Chalk, Solicitor to the Assignees. Dover, Oct. 18, 1836”.

In the same issue of The Kentish Gazette was notice of an auction of goods from the estate of William Wanstall the younger which were presumably from The Royal Oak and most likely sold in situ by Whites and Goulden, auctioneers of Canterbury, who themselves ceased trading in December of 1844. 

Items of household furniture, glass, china ect., the property of Mr. William Wanstall in the Parish of Nonington listed to be sold by auction on Thursday, the 20th of October, 1836 were as follows: four-post bedsteads and hangings; feather beds; mattresses; blankets and counterpanes; mahogany double and single chests of drawers; dressing tables and glasses; night chair; mahogany wardrobe; mahogany dining, Pembroke, tea, and card tables; mahogany and painted chairs; beaufet*; Kidderminster carpets and hearth rugs; mahogany bureau; eight-day clock; pier glass; register and other stoves; fenders and fire irons; bed and table linen; a variety of glass and china; kitchen and washing utensils; beer casks; kneading trough; plate rack; meat safes; brine tubs; dairy utensils; mangle; and many other useful articles. All of these items were for viewing on the day of the auction, which was to commence at mid-day precisely.
* beaufet (plural beaufets). A counter for refreshments. A niche, cupboard, or sideboard for plate, china, glass, etc.; a buffet.

The type and apparent quality of the furniture listed indicates that The Royal Oak was a fairly high class establishment providing food as well as drink to locals and travellers alike. When renovations to The Oak were carried out in the 1960’s a spy hole in the form of a small trap door which looked down into the main room below was found in the floor of an upstairs room, most likely to allow the landlord to see who had entered the premises without having to go downstairs.

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 provision of good quality dining continued under the new licensee, the Kentish Gazette of Tuesday, 28th February, 1843, recorded the third annual meeting of the Nonington Agricultural Association as follows:
“The 3rd annual meeting of this Association took place at the “Royal Oak Inn,” Nonington, on Thursday, 16th instant, where the accounts were audited, and the officers and committee were unanimously re-elected. The members sat down to an excellent dinner at 4 o’clock, provided by Mr. Nash, the wines were of the best quality. After dinner the chairman, Mr. W. H. Harvey, propose the health of the Queen, which was followed by “God Save the Queen,” performed by Messrs. Holtum, Nash, and Maxted. Many other loyal and patriotic toasts followed, interspersed with glees. Previous to the meeting breaking up, it was resolved: “That the Secretary do convene a special meeting of the members to take into consideration the propriety of petitioning Parliament for the repeal of the malt-tax. A liberal collection was made in aid of the funds of the “Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society.”

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 seven men. On his death in 1855 John Nash’s widow, Harriet [née Sladden], took over and ran The Oak until her death in 1867.

Ale house were often where coroners held inquests, and in April of 1860 an inquest was held for William Henry Trice, a child, at the “Royal Oak Inn”. The following report of this inquest is from “The Kentish Chronicle” of 14th April, 1860:


T. T. Delasaux, Esq., and a respectable jury, held an inquest at the “Royal Oak Inn,” in this parish, on Monday, touching the death of William Henry Trice, a child, who died suddenly on Friday morning. It appeared that the deceased was taken ill at school on Thursday, being seized with purging and vomiting, and he died during the night. From the circumstance that another child had been taken ill in the same way, it was feared that he had been poisoned; but a post mortem examination having been made by Mr. F. H. Sankey, surgeon, at Wingham, it was ascertained that death resulted from natural causes.
The jury returned a verdict accordingly”.

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.  It was very common for a licensee to have a full time job or profession and for his wife to run the pub from day to day. During Leonard Woodruff’s tenure The Royal Oak continued as a venue for various meetings and dinners. On 22nd January, 1870, “The Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald” published a report of one such dinner:
“Nonington. Rabbit shooting.

On Tuesday Last the tenants on the Fredville estate with a few of their friends, enjoyed their annual day’s rabbit shooting in Frogham Wood, by the kindness of Charles J. Plumptre, Esq., of Fredville Park, in this parish. After a most excellent day’s sport the friends adjourned to the “Royal Oak Inn,” and partook of a most sumptuous dinner, capitally supplied by the worthy hostess in a style that reflected great credit on her, and gave general satisfaction. The rest of the evening was spent in songs, toasts, &c”.
The hostess referred to in the newspaper report was presumably Fanny Nash, and when Leonard died in 1873 Fanny 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. The pub’s interior was little altered for many years until in mid-January of 1987 building work was carried out during which the ground floor interior underwent extensive alterations to the main bar and kitchen with the unusual horse-shoe shaped bar installed during  previous alterations was replaced. These alterations were carried out after the heaviest snowfall recorded in East Kent for many years resulted in  access by road  to Nonington being temporarily cut off. Despite this bad weather the building work was completed inside of the week allowed for it.

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.

The Oak changed from being a tenancy held directly from the Plumtres of Fredville into a tied house leased from them by local brewers at some time in the late 1800’s. The earliest known brewer at present 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 William George Hoare, who was at the pub  from September of 1923 to October of 1926, and Walter Henry Purbeck, a former Metropolitan Police officer, who was licensee of The Oak until 1939.

Arthur Balcombe, was landlord from 1939 until 1945, the Second World War years, and his daughter Margaret married Frank Webb, my uncle.  During the war Canadian soldiers stationed in Fredville Park and other parts of Nonington used to go into the pub. This sometimes caused friction with locals as the soldiers often consumed large quantities of beer which caused the pub to run out, and new supplies were difficult to obtain due to rationing.

After the war Reg Reynolds took over, and his daughter Coralie married Ken Theobald, a local man. Coralie still lives in Nonington. Reg Reynolds was followed in the late 1950′s by Charles Kerr, who had the misfortune to be burgled during his tenure at the pub.

From the Dover Express and East Kent News, Friday, 31 October 1958.
Public House Burgled.
A quantity of money, believed to be over £100, was stolen from the Royal Oak, Nonington, which was burgled in the early hours of Saturday morning. The licensee is Mr. Charles Kerr.
Tony Usher, an ex-Royal Navy diver, took over from Charles Kerr in the early 1960’s but towards the end of that decade ill health caused by his time as a diver forced him to give up The Oak.

Until the early 1960’s The Oak also had a tea room at the end of the garden serving  teas to cricketers and the general public.

Tony Usher was succeeded as landlord by Nick Larsen, an ex-Metropolitan policeman, during whose time the pub greatly benefited from the admittance of male students to the nearby Nonington College of Physical Education and its subsequent expansion. The pub was so popular with locals and students that it was actually  sometimes impossible to get into the premises for a drink because of the number of customers inside.   Nick Larsen left in early 1975 and  The Oak changed from being a tenancy to a Whitbread managed house with popular managers such as Nigel Turnbull and John Nicholson running a pub which still thrived on local and student custom.  The pub reverted back to a Whitbread tenancy when Roy Faye took over in 1979 and during his tenure the reduction in the number of students and the eventual closure of Nonington College in 1986 sadly led to a loss of custom. Roy was succeeded by Peter Addis, who took over a now free house  in September of 1988 and was landlord until the early 2000’s.


One Comment

  • Mark Cowey

    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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