Historic inns and hotels
One of Kent's most attractive features, if not the most prevalent, is undoubtedly its fascinating history, engulfed in turbulence, hardship and extraordinary events, vividly preserved through the many remaining medieval constructions, some of which are still functional. Many Kentish inns are steeped in legends surrounding the smuggling trade and have been consecrated as smugglers' hideouts and dealing locations in a number of literary works. Kent's oldest pubs don't go back a century or two, but five and sometimes even six, which grants them a remarkable appeal and draws a great variety of visitors.
1. The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury (dating from the 15th century). The present hotel joins three buildings with different functions, a medieval coaching inn, which dates back the farthest, a pub and a wood mill. It is located in close proximity of Canterbury city centre and thus provides easy access to a number of focal points, such as the Cathedral and its surroundings. Initially called the White Hart, the inn received its current name in 1783, the inspiration being a Shakespearian character.
2. The George Hotel, Ashford (dating from the 16th century). This is the oldest surviving inn in Ashford, with an endurance of over 500 years. Its character is given not only by its commendable resilience but by the history of some of its building materials as well. The timber beams, for instance, are believed to originate from a disused wooden ship.
3. New Flying Horse Inn, Ashford (dating from the 17th century). Akin to many old Kentish inns, this inn retains most of its original architectural features, such as the oak beams supporting its ceilings. It is situated within easy reach of both Ashford and Canterbury, offering a plethora of historical attractions to explore. During the 17th century, the building was used as a posting house.
4. The Abbot's Fireside Hotel, Elham, Canterbury (dating from the 15th century). This excellently preserved building, which also comprises a restaurant, has not been altered in terms of structure and offers the experience of medieval open fireplaces, original wooden beams and lead window frames. The hotel is also furnished with antique furniture, which adds to its character. Throughout its history, the building has boasted many notable visitors, such as the Duke of Wellington, who used it as his headquarters before his final clash with the French emperor Napoleon. It also served as a hideout to King Charles II and the Duke of Richmond during troubled times.
5. The Evenhill, Littlebourne, Canterbury (dating from the 16th century). Situated near Canterbury, this inn meets the requirements of any visitor seeking the warmth of a history-laden refuge. It preserves its period features, such as open fireplaces and wooden beams, and also offers home-cooked traditional Kentish dishes.
6. King's Head Inn, Wincheap, Canterbury (dating from the 15th century). This inn also merges modern comfort with an epochal décor. It is set in a conservation area, which is well worth discovering as it boasts many remnants of Kent's ancient and medieval history.
7. St Crispin Inn, Worth (dating from the 15th century). This building was originally erected in 1420 as a farmhouse on what was then the Nebynson family estate and remained linked to that estate until 1625, when it was sold to a farmer, by the name of Clement Gardner. It became the property of various members of the same family through a number of sales, until it was finally sold to a brewer and in 1690, the building became a hop brewery. It was then sold to a shoemaker named Michael Ambrose, who named it ''The Crispin'', after the patron saint of shoemakers. It was first used as an inn during the 18th century and it has been ever since, changing ownership quite a few times and seeing its fair share of tempestuous events.
8. The Bowl Inn, Charing (dating from 1512). This spacious inn was originally a 16th century farmhouse, later converted into a brewery at the beginning of the 17th century, in 1606. It retains its original timber features and the log fire is still functional.
9. The George Hotel and Brasserie, Cranbrook (dating from the 14th century). Probably one of the oldest buildings of this type still in use in England, this hotel displays a delightful array of artwork and period furniture. There is even an eccentric room with a four-poster bed, complemented by a gold painted ceiling.
10. The Pilgrim's Rest, Littlebourne (dating from the late 16th or early 17th century). This building has had a variety of functions throughout the centuries. In the 19th century it was inhabited by a farrier, to later belong to a butcher, approximately a hundred years later. It has been carefully renovated, in a bid to strengthen its structure yet preserve most of its features.
Historic inns and pubs used by smugglers
Although a great number of inns were used by smugglers as meeting places, some in particular remain in popular culture by being mentioned in certain historic or literary works. There were two main routes in Kent for this activity - the South Kent Smuggling Trail and the North Kent Smuggling Trail. Tunnels were built under certain inns and sometimes even structural changes were made to the buildings themselves (the Three Dowes pub in Gravesend is a good example; no less than seven staircases were built near the exit, with the purpose of facilitating escapes from excise claimers). Many infamous gangs were operating in Kent, sometimes clashing with local authorities or with each other, for territorial reasons.
The Smugglers Bar Restaurant, St-Margarets-At-Cliffe, Dover. This pub was originally named The Carriers Arms and was renamed in remembrance of its past, which was closely connected to smuggling alcohol. Apparently, the Kentish village of St. Margarets-At-Cliffe was a key location for smugglers at a time when this activity was very lucrative throughout the whole county. During the 18th century and for some time during the following one, smugglers sold illegal alcoholic drinks (rum in particular), which had been imported form abroad. The illegal merchandise was often stored in a number of locations within the village and then sent further to a variety of places.
The Woolpack Inn, Warehorne. This inn is believed to have been built sometime during the 16th century, by consolidating and expanding existing structures, and was initially used as a farmhouse. It was later used, during the 18th and 19th century, for the commercialisation of wool, as wool fairs used to take place there. Therefore, its name most likely derives from this activity. It is mentioned in a book called ''Smuggling in Kent and Sussex 1700-1840'' (by Mary Waugh) as a prolifically used location, among a small number of other Kentish inns. Apparently, its geographical position granted those engaged in smuggling ample views of its surroundings and allowed them to spot any incomers in good time. Among other popular items, quantities of wool were smuggled at this inn as well, besides the ones sold within the boundaries of the law.