How a North Yorkshire pub frequented by Jack Charlton and Rishi Sunak was saved by its villagers

When the small community of Carlton-in-Coverdale was in danger of losing its historic pub, The Foresters Arms, nine years ago they came together with a verve and passion that would have put much larger populations to shame.

Keith and Lesley Sharpe with Barney the dog outside The Foresters Arms at Carlton in Coverdale.
Keith and Lesley Sharpe with Barney the dog outside The Foresters Arms at Carlton in Coverdale.

Meetings were held, a committee formed and a beer pint pot was put on the door of the village’s agricultural machinery business where residents left their hand-written pledges of funds that would purchase the building as a community pub.

Over £350,000 was raised. Not bad for what the 2011 census reported as a community of just 232.

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Locals gave countless hours in refurbishing the establishment that is said to date back to the 17th century and during the 19th century was variously recorded as being called The Hare & Hounds and The Board before taking the name it still goes by today, having been the regular meeting place of the Coverdale Forester’s Friendly Society.

The Foresters Arms at Carlton in Coverdale.

Want more farming and rural news? Join our dedicated Facebook group.This largely tranquil, beautiful North Yorkshire backwater, a favourite of walkers and cyclists, with the formidable hills of Roova Crags and Penhill nearby and the River Cover to the south of the village was once a favourite of Leeds United legend, Jackie Charlton, who passed away recently.

Keith and Lesley Sharpe, also of the World Cup winner’s north-east heritage, celebrate five years as tenants of The Foresters Arms this weekend and have recently signed up for a further two years.

It has been a turbulent time for everyone during the past four months but add the floods in February and November 2019 and there would be plenty of potential for this pub to be back under serious pressure.

“The level of support we received during lockdown was wonderful,” says Keith. “We are officially here as missionaries,” he adds with a smile. “The first thing the locals told us was that they were like no other folk.

“We’re different, they said. Well, they are, in the best way. During lockdown we have been supplying a takeaway menu on food and beer and one Sunday afternoon we dealt with nearly 50 covers.

“In a community of just over 200 that’s 25 per cent. We slept from the end of that afternoon until Monday lunchtime. It went so well that we have been asked to continue with the takeaway in addition to our restaurant bookings.”

Such was the strength of feeling for the work Keith and Lesley have undertaken, including the magnificent flower display they have maintained outside of the pub throughout recent months that the Chancellor and their local MP, Rishi Sunak, sent a personal message of thanks.

“At first we thought it was one of those letters that has just perhaps been sent out to everyone, but he had written it with notes specific to us. One of the villagers had contacted him. Rishi has been into the pub before and he’s pictured with our dog. Everyone always remembers Barney the dog, better than they do Lesley and I.

“We lease the building from the Coverdale Community Pub Ltd. The owners are the 340 shareholders and there is a stipulation that 54 per cent of the shareholding must always be owned by locals. We are now shareholders too.”

Keith and Lesley had intended to slip gently into retirement following careers in sales, a mobile phone company and running a home and giftware shop in Chester-le-Street, but they’ve now been involved in village pubs for the last ten years including a year at The Shoulder of Mutton in Appleton Roebuck, near York, and what Keith terms as babysitting The Woodman Inn in Burneston near Bedale.

“We found we loved it down here and moved into the Dales renting a property five miles from here in Preston-under-Scar.

“We’d been to the Foresters a few times when Lesley said we should look at perhaps getting ourselves part-time jobs, maybe 15 hours a week. It hasn’t quite worked out that way.”

“Keith told me I’d love it,” says Lesley. “We’re now working 15 hours a day, but the people around here and those who come to stay in our three rooms are really so nice. Many sent us cards and flowers wishing us well during lockdown.

“And last year, even with the floods we still had walkers and cyclists coming during the winter. We have been hit business-wise like everyone else lately, but we are back open again and we’re taking it one step at a time.

“We started with drinks on July 4 and opened the restaurant last weekend on what we thought would be a soft opening, respecting that some might be nervous. We were fully booked. The atmosphere was tremendous and it was great to be back. We have found we can get eight tables out on the patio area, which also looks great with all the flowers.”

Local beers are a speciality for The Foresters, the original home of Wensleydale Brewery over a decade ago that is now situated in Leyburn. Keith has Black Sheep, Theakston, Wensleydale and Timothy Taylor with one guest beer from either Yorkshire or his north east homeland. He’s from Morpeth originally and Lesley from Durham.

The man whose beer mug held all those pledges nearly a decade ago is local agricultural engineer, Ray Brown, who has lived and worked in the village all his life.

He’s chairman of Coverdale Community Pub Ltd and is always mindful of making sure the credit goes where it is due.

“The pub had been closed in January nine years ago and it wouldn’t be here today if it hadn’t been for the commitment of the original committee, everyone who put in the money to buy the building and the work on refurbishing it from one end to the other creating what we have now.

“People like Peter Pearson, Tony Jones, Jenny Walker, Mike Hammond and many others made sure our little utopia out here between Kettlewell and Leyburn still had its local pub, restaurant and bedrooms.”

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