Neil Pickford

Neil Pickford
Neil Pickford
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Neil Pickford, who has died at 62, was one of Beverley’s best-known characters, not only as publican of both the Monks Walk and the Lord Nelson, but also as the long-serving verger at the town’s Minster.

He had served the Minster for a decade before retiring, after an earlier career in publishing and journalism.

A native of the Cotswold town of Dursley, he went up to Oxford to study politics and economics, as a contemporary of several Conservative cabinet ministers past and present.

At 25, he became the youngest newspaper editor in England, and graduated to the editorship of Bristol Illustrated and Gloucestershire and Avon Life.

“I can’t remember how many times he was made redundant,” his widow, Gill, recalled. “The last time it happened, he was toying with the idea of going
into teaching, and then the vacancy at Beverley Minster came up.”

His post at the Minster, for which it adopted the alternative spelling virger, named after the staff of office, involved supervising the upkeep of the place. The Minster described him as “a colleague and friend” and it will be the setting for his funeral next Wednesday.

But it was in another role,
 as landlord of the Monks 
Walk on Highgate, the oldest surviving timber-framed building in Yorkshire, that he cemented his reputation in the community.

He had decided to take it on after seeing the For Sale sign over the door, even though his only previous experience of the trade had been a student job as a cellar manager for a brewery in Oxfordshire.

The new place was in disrepair, following a bankruptcy. It had been a Sky Sports pub, but Neil ripped
out the TV and the fake antiques and in so doing, discovered
that the room above the bar 
had a wall with timber supports that could be dated to 1270AD – in the reign of Henry III and within half a century of Magna Carta.

It had originally been a corn warehouse at a time when Beverley was among the richest towns in England, its streets lined by the premises of London merchants.

Neil had been in the process of financing a purchase of the pub, and his family decided to open it last weekend to allow his friends to raise a glass.

“We had people coming in all day,” said Mrs Pickford. “It’s early days but we do intend to keep it going because it is a real community venue now.”

Last year, she and Neil took on a second pub, the Lord Nelson in Flemingate, which he said he would turn into a “an oasis”, free of sport and music, where drinkers could have a quiet natter over a pint.

“I want to create something almost like you see in Corrie or EastEnders, where people come and they just natter,” he said at the time. “Those pubs are right in the heart of those communities and without them you wouldn’t have a soap.”

Mr Pickford is survived by Gill, sons Tim and Gerald, and his mother Josie.