A beer in England’s smallest pub

My cousin, Emmy Watts, and I set out on Friday, 26 May 2007, on a Mission.

We had heard that a certain Mr Martyn P Hillier was running the smallest pub in England, The Butcher’s Arms in Herne. We could not let this situation obtain without us checking the credentials of a possible bounder and blackguard.

Who was this chap who had gained possession of one of Leslie Greensted’s former string of butcher’s shops in Kent?

Herne is in Kent, slightly to the south of Herne Bay.

I had heard a report on the wireless, now more vogueishly called the radio, that beer was being sold on the premises.

I rang Mr Hillier in indignation, and let him have it with both barrels.

“I say, old chap,” I said, “you’ve got one of my grandfather’s butchers shop, and I’m jolly well going to have to come and take it back from you. I’ll be bringing another of his grandchildren whom you won’t much like: she’s a girl.”

Well, that swung it. We agreed a date to meet.

On a blazing late day lunchtime, last Friday, we met Martyn, and he’s a delight.

Martyn Hillier outside The Butcher's Arms, Herne

Martyn Hillier and Emmy Watts outside England’s smallest pub

So are both his pub and customers. Emmy’s and my joint grandfather would have been delighted.

The pub is tiny. It sells beer, cider and wine, and, possibly, crisps. There are six seats, I think, with a couple of high-ish tables. I’d guess it can hold no more than eighteen people standing. When we arrived we were the fourth and fifth. Half an hour later, it was packed.

A little while ago, Martyn gave a talk at CAMRA‘s Annual General Meeting about the big future for micro-pubs in the UK. And this, in turn, spawned five or six similar micropubs. You can contact Martyn on this link to find out more.

Emmy inside the Butcher's Arms

The bar, already crowded with ten people.

Apart from the beer being great, the conversation is good, too. All the customers know each other. Martyn is a friend, and he’s supplying something they want, which is:

No lager, no foreign beer, no coach parties, no quiz nights, no Sky football, no karaoke, no nachos, no sharing plates, no shots, come to think of it, no spirits, no brand promotion nights, no product sampling, no trouble with the Police, and no trouble with the neighbours.

It sounds like heaven, but what do the drinkers get in return?

They get a landlord who is independent and free to do as he likes, beer which is live, fresh, delicious and affordable, amiable conversation, a snug little pub, and no pressure to buy anything much apart from a beer every now and then.

Martyn Hillier has found a market which has been waiting for him to arrive. He gives them time to chat, great beer, no external pressures, and respect. What more could a chap want?

The lesson is this: know your market, give them what they want at a price that they think is fair, and be respectful.

Emmy and I drove away, quietly wondering if we ought to go back for just one more beer.

Finally, we’ll never really know what Leslie Greensted would have thought of The Butcher’s Arms. He died in 1956.

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