Is this Yorkshire's most flooded pub? Wakefield landlady's livelihood hit 14 times in two decades

One day the beer garden of Sam Thompson-Hall’s pub is full of customers for business as usual. The next there are people canoeing in it.

It’s traumatic to live through even the once, but in Sam’s two decades at the helm of The Navigation in Wakefield, her livelihood has flooded a staggering 14 times. She can do little but hope for the damage to be minimal as water seeps inside the building and she is forced to confront the fact that temporary closure is upon her - again.

And though the licensee of what could well be Yorkshire’s most flooded pub would be forgiven for feeling beaten and demoralised, she’s shown remarkable resilience in keeping going when times have been at their toughest. “I think you have to be resilient with the flooding and staying put,” she ponders.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“But the people we have here aren’t particularly customers now, they’re more like friends because we’ve been here so long [and that keeps us going]. I don’t want any medals for being here. I’m happy and [the pub trade] is all I’ve ever known. I enjoy it, even with what happens. I’m quite a positive person and don’t let anything at all get on top of me. I just sail with it, so to speak.”

Sam and Sharon Thompson-Hall, who run The Navigation pub in Wakefield.

Sam, 45, who runs the pub with her partner Sharon Thompson-Hall, has quite literally weathered the storm to keep it going. Several, in fact.

December 2015 was particularly bad. Storm Desmond, followed weeks later by Storm Eva, wreaked devastation, bringing one of the worst bouts of flooding the landladies have ever witnessed.

The pub, which is situated in an island location next to the Calder and Hebble Navigation and the River Calder, was marooned back and front, with picnic benches carried by the torrent and dumped on the banks.

Inside, a thick sludge and trail of water damage was left behind in the cellar, kitchens and lower bar after the flooding subsided. The clean up and restoration work took seven months.

The landladies finally fully re-opened the pub at the end of August, after it was shut due to February flooding - and then the coronavirus hit.

Only this year, another £114,000 has been spent on a revamp after the latest flood, caused by Storm Ciara in February, filled the cellar and wrecked the downstairs bar and function room once again.

Sam estimates the cost of damage and repairs over the years has run into the millions. “It’s got to be,” she says. “When it comes in high, you’ve got to get the dehumidifiers, all the plaster has to come off, the doors have to come off, it’s a full refurbishment, all your kitchen equipment and everything.”

Read More

Read More
How Britain's remotest pub in Yorkshire has been surviving lockdown

This year has been particularly tough for Sam and Sharon. Like many other businesses, they’ve felt the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The pub was already shut in the aftermath of the flooding when the UK went into lockdown and some of the refurbishment work was put on hold due to issues with supply.

The pub has been flooded 14 times in the two decades that Sam has run it. Photo: Sent in by Sam Thomspon-Hall

“On the fourth of July when everybody was ready to re-open [as lockdown restrictions eased] we opened the top bar but the bottom bit, which is the main summer bar that we use for functions and summer days, wasn’t ready [after the flooding],” says Sam. “It was sourcing materials that was the main problem.”

The building, owned by Star Pubs & Bars, was at last able to fully re-open its doors on August 29, having been shut since February 9. Though Sam has received Government support in the form of business rates relief and a loan, she believes the winter ahead could be tricky. “We’ve missed a lot of the summer this year and we’ll struggle in the winter because we normally put the money in the bank from the summer to get us through.”

The pub’s location and clientele means it is normally the summer - and drier - months when custom comes in. Marketed as family-friendly, it has a 240-seat waterside garden with a play area and ice cream parlour and caters for walkers, boaters and cyclists with barista coffee served alongside alcoholic drinks and a menu for dogs.

Sam can still recall visiting the pub with her father, Stephen Hall, before the family took it on twenty years ago. “I’ll never forget the day we came down to view it. There was a manger in and dad said ‘how do you staff it’ and he said ‘you wake up on a morning, open the curtains and if the sun’s out, you get on with it and get as many pairs of hands as you can. If it’s raining, nowt’s going to happen. Simple as that. You are ruled by the weather' - and that’s been in more ways than one.”

It was somewhat inevitable, she says, that she followed her father into the pub trade. In her early childhood, her dad ran pubs in Bedale and Hawes in North Yorkshire before later taking on alehouses in Pontefract and Outwood in West Yorkshire and High Hoyland in Barnsley.

Sam was helping from the age of 10, initially collecting glasses. “Once it’s in you, it’s in you,” she says, recalling how she took on The Navigation with her dad in 2000. She took it over fully from him six years later. “It’s been up and down with all the floods,” she reflects.

“The really high ones take out the kitchen, the bottom bar and everything. The other ones run over the skirting boards and in the cellar so you can turn those around pretty quick and they don’t shut you for so long."

Whilst Sam says she has some buildings insurance as part of the lease and rent agreement on the pub, she claims she’s now unable to get insurance to cover fixtures and fittings or for business interruption.

“When it shuts, we can’t pay our staff or anything because we don’t have any income coming in at all,” she says. She relies on a bank of 15 family and friends to help her staff the pub and when a potential flood alert is raised by the Met Office, it’s all hands on deck to empty the bottom of the building and move the furniture into its top bar.

The electricity and boiler are switched off and, though there’s been many flood defences put in place in the pub over the years, it’s then a waiting game for Sam and Sharon, who live above their livelihood, to see how high the water rises.

“You’re just thinking please go down, please don’t go too high,” Sam says. “Each time it seems to get higher and higher. You hope for a little flood, because you are going to flood...It then leaves behind an inch of mud, river silt. It stinks like a mucky old fish tank, it’s horrendous.”

Does she ever feel like throwing in the towel? “Maybe in the beginning,” she says, honestly. “When the 2007 [flooding] happened and then it hit again in 2008, you do think is it worth it? But now I think because we’ve been here so long and we know how it trades and what to do in a flood, we get on with it. It devastates our business for a couple of months.

“The beauty is though you’re then starting again with a fresh pub - we normally do a re-launch with a big party and, in 2016 for example, it was ever so busy. This year we’re not able to relaunch because we can’t have a party and be inviting hoards of people, so that’s a big challenge compared to what we normally do.”

Sam has just received a long-service award from Star Pubs & Bars to mark her 20 years at The Navigation - though she says a two decade anniversary party is unlikely to be on the cards this year, with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite the damage and regular closures, she says it is her “ideal pub” and is about to take out a further five-year lease on it. “I don’t think I’d have another pub,” she says. “This will be the last one. I wouldn’t go into another, just because of where this is and what it is and how we’ve managed over the years to get it how we want it and right for the way we trade.

“The setting is gorgeous, and the pub and the people are lovely. I can’t imagine being anywhere else. Customers enjoy sitting out in the garden and watching the river and the boats go by. It has got a real holiday vibe...It’s a nice place to be, a nice little set up we’ve got.”

Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today.

Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you'll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers.

So, please - if you can - pay for our work. Just £5 per month is the starting point. If you think that which we are trying to achieve is worth more, you can pay us what you think we are worth. By doing so, you will be investing in something that is becoming increasingly rare. Independent journalism that cares less about right and left and more about right and wrong. Journalism you can trust.

Thank you

James Mitchinson