Meet the landlords of the oldest pub in Yorkshire

Step inside The Bingley Arms and you're never far from the distant past.

The Bingley Arms in Bardsey
The Bingley Arms in Bardsey

This family pub in the idyllic village of Bardsey, between Leeds and Wetherby, has a strong claim to be England's oldest inn. The hostelry is mentioned in the Domesday Book and has a recorded history dating back to 953AD, although it's thought it could be even older.

The original building on the site was a rest stop for monks travelling between the great abbeys of Kirkstall and St Mary's, York, and they would enjoy food and ale to break their journey. In recognition of their patronage, the business traded as The Priest's Inn until 1780, when the dawn of the coaching age and the purchase of the Bardsey estates by the Lords Bingley saw it change its name to The Bingley Arms. At one point - around 1,000AD - it served as the local courthouse. In the beer garden stands a yew tree even older than the pub itself.

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Ryan and Kay Sugden run the pub - which has a strong claim to be the oldest in England

Past landlords clearly had an affinity with their clerical customers, as two priest holes were built in the inn during the 1500s to shelter Catholic clergy fleeing from persecution following the Dissolution of the Monasteries. They're both still accessible today - the larger of the two is used by Santa Claus during the pub's Christmas parties - and it's one of the few buildings to have more than one of these hiding places in the same chimney.

Even more fascinating are the remains of an underground passageway that once ran between the inn and the village's equally ancient church, All Hallows, which dates from 950AD. Although the tunnel itself was filled in before the car park was built in the 1930s - the exact date is unknown - the entrance is still there within the walls of a storeroom once used as a snug for drinkers.

There's also a Dutch oven - one of the only ones in England still in its original position - and a centuries-old stone inglenook fireplace that was revealed during alterations to the building in the 1700s.

A portcullis and several medieval artifacts were removed from the pub by a previous owner, but a remarkable amount of history has survived and is preserved by landlords Ryan and Kay Sugden, a stepmother-and-stepson duo who took on the licence after the death of Ryan's father and Kay's husband Ged three years ago. The family have a long association with the village and were regulars before taking on the business.

A stained glass window in the pub

They now welcome visitors from all over the world.

"We get people from the USA, Holland, Australia - a lot of Dutch visitors do garden tours in the area and then pop in.

"The best thing about running a pub as old as this one is getting to share it with people - visitors go 'wow' when they see it, they can't believe the history and they love the fireplace with the priest's holes," says Kay, whose mother was a barmaid at The Bingley Arms in the 1960s.

Ryan Sugden beside the entrance to the secret passageway, which once ran between the pub and the church

The downside of being responsible for such an old structure is, unsurprisingly, the upkeep required to maintain it.

"We try to keep up with the maintenance but the whole building needs re-wiring really. The regulars are supportive and it's still very enjoyable to run," adds Ryan.

"People will travel long distances now to visit a decent pub - we've not really modernised at all, we've tried to keep it traditional," says Kay.

Although tenants of a brewery, the Sugdens do have plans to develop The Bingley Arms and maximise its potential as a heritage asset. They're keen to restore the old bar where the entrance to the secret passageway is - it's been a basement room since the floor was lowered by a past owner, and they would love to open it to customers once again.

Looking up into the priest's hole inside the fireplace

The late Ged even had plans to turn the room - referred to jokingly as the 'dungeon' - into a museum with the tunnel as a focal point.

The pub also occupies a perhaps surprising place in Leeds United mythology, having been a favoured drinking haunt of star players during the Champions League era.

Club legend Gary Kelly lived in a luxury house in Bardsey, and would regularly invite his extended family over from Ireland to party at his new local. The likes of Rio Ferdinand and Robbie Keane were also regulars.

"We get the Norwegian supporters' club stopping by after they've come over for a game at Elland Road. - they visit every year. Back in the day, the players would take over the taproom. Gary Kelly and Steve McPhail lived locally, although they've both moved back to Ireland now. We don't get players in these days really - nowadays they might not be able to afford to live in Bardsey, and they don't drink as much. Patrick Bamford does live in the village and he's been in for a meal."

The pub is also popular with the paranormally-inclined, and seance evenings have been held.

The rear of the pub was at one time the frontage

"There's supposed to be the ghost of a little girl who was murdered who haunts the taproom. Some people tell us that in certain rooms upstairs they get a 'feeling' when they're alone," says a sceptical Kay.

The pair have recently entered into negotiations with the building's owners for a further 10-year lease, and hope to eventually convert part of the site into guest accommodation.

"We don't want to lose its character - pubs like this are few and far between. We do need to improve our disabled access, but it's very hard to change the lay-out as the doorways are so narrow.

"We do good home-made food, traditional meals and Sunday lunches - we've got a good reputation and we'll always give people a warm welcome," adds Kay.

The entrance to the underground tunnel, which has been filled in
A group of men outside the Bingley Arms in 1893