Tollerton couple plan to reinvent village’s last pub

Village pubs are often referred to as the hubs of their communities but with closures having been widespread for decades is this really still so?

Si and Jo Millner, landlords of the Black Horse pub, Tollerton.
Si and Jo Millner, landlords of the Black Horse pub, Tollerton.

Where there used to be two or three pubs in a village some are lucky they still have one. Tollerton, just four miles from Easingwold, used to have three pubs and in a village census of 1851 it was recorded as having no less than four innkeepers.

Quite where the fourth pub was and what it was called seems to have been lost in the mists of time as the three that are readily recalled are the Black Bull, also known as the Tollerton Arms, which was closed and then demolished to make way for housing; the Station Inn, now a Cantonese restaurant and Chinese takeaway; and the Black Horse, which was closed for a year until reopening in the summer of 2013.

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Si and Jo Millner took over the Black Horse in November that same year. They’ve had many years of experience in the pub trade and with their two-year old son Isaac they decided that they would prefer to be in the countryside rather than in their home city of York.

They took on the New Inn in Huby and then the Black Horse six months later. Jo also had a bridal shop at the time and she stills runs a hair and beauty salon in Acomb. Si is also a masseuse.

Looking back on the past 14 months Jo is well aware of how thinly they were spreading themselves. Next week they come out of the New Inn, and the Black Horse is about to receive their full and undivided attention to build on what they have already found to be a wonderful village atmosphere.

“Tollerton has such a great community feeling about it. Everyone mixes in with each other no matter what the background. There are still a lot of people here who have always lived in Tollerton and there are some great events like the Tollerton Show. Last year we tied in a beer festival with it and it was a great success.

“We want to be a part of the community. To us, running a pub is a lifestyle not a job. You live here, eat it, breathe it and the people that you associate with in the village who come in become your extended family, that’s how you become an integral part of a community. In fact the bar staff and chefs end up being your family. It’s those kind of relationships that are so important.

“In retrospect we took on the Black Horse a bit too quickly after the New Inn, but now that we’re coming out of there we’re giving this what it really needs from what people have told us.

“This village has lots of different types of people and if it is to become the success we want it to be, as the place all of the community wants to come to we have to be able to appeal to everyone. We’re fortunate that it has three distinct rooms and we have just revamped our business plan. We’re keeping our traditional tap room atmosphere, complete with a log fire that the locals happily keep stoked up; but our other two rooms will include one where darts and table football can be played and where sport can be watched, and the other will become more of a restaurant-style and also include live music that has been asked for. At the moment there’s a feeling that if you want to go out for a meal you go to another village for it. We would like to change that and we’re fortunate to have a chef, Pete Booth, who has worked with Gordon Ramsay and has been working with us in Huby. I think people will see the difference pretty quickly when we start with the new menu in February.”

Si studied chemistry at university in Manchester, worked in the Loire valley in France for a couple of years, then returned to university in Luton to study sports therapy. He says the pub trade and real ales have lured him back.

“This is the job I keep getting dragged back to no matter what else I try. Jo worked all over the country too in pubs and restaurants as far as Dundee, Worcester and London. Maybe we’re just made for it.

“One of the passions I have developed has been for cask ales. Rooster based in Harrogate was one of those that set me off. It was the start of the pale ale trade where brewers began using lager hops to brew beer. It’s a twist that has since gone really well.

“When we came in we listened to what the regulars were telling us and we’ve continued listening to what everyone tells us they’d like. Because of having had the New Inn we have only been opening here at five o’clock in the afternoon. Next month we will be open from 12 noon every day and villagers can come in for a coffee or a cup of tea, something to eat. We’re looking into having a little library in one of the rooms and as well as providing food every day we will have a carvery on a Sunday.

“We’re also very keen on using local produce. Our potatoes come from father and son farmers John and Graham Sparrow who also enjoy a drink here and our beef comes from Tholthorpe. We’re also hoping to stock a range of locally produced beers.”

Chef Pete is a Lancastrian by birth but a confirmed Yorkshire lad: “I came over from Bury when I was 17. I love Yorkshire and what we’re going to be about here is completely honest, unpretentious, homemade, well-presented meals.

“It’s really important to me that the Yorkshire country pub atmosphere should be retained, that includes roast potatoes on the bar, good local ales and setting the world to rights.”