“We must have some VERY thirsty villagers,” says pub protagonist Barrie Lovelock, after pledges to help buy Tolpuddle’s Martyrs Inn topped an astonishing £400,000 in just a month.
Villagers are hoping to buy the building and spend a further £50,000 turning the inside into a ‘proper’ pub rather than a gastro destination.
They feel so strongly that Tolpuddle should have a pub many have pledged between £1,000 and £50,000 each to rescue it.
Amazingly, some £75,000 was pledged in just an hour, not long after the campaign was launched at a meeting on December 9. And Barrie himself is willing to part with up to £100,000 to help get the boozer open.
He said: “There’s a great deal of enthusiasm to see the beating heart of our village reopened.”
Of primary concern to many is the fact that, having lost their shop and petrol station years ago there now seem to be few facilities in the village for the 500 or so inhabitants.
It is also thought the lack of a pub can reduce house prices by as much as ten per cent.
The pub has been closed since 2020, just before covid hit, and villagers thought it would swiftly reopen.
“However that didn’t happen, and locals anxiously waited for news.
It’s not the first time villagers have banded together to save their pub. In 2004 many people signed a petition to stop the building of homes on the beer garden and car park – a move which locals feared would harm the viability of the pub and lead to its closure.
An amended scheme saw much of the garden turned over to homes before the pub was sold off.
The village once had three pubs, but like most villages that dwindled to one – The Crown, which stood where the Martyrs Inn is now. In 1896 the local landowner sold the lease of the Crown Inn to brewers Hall and Woodhouse of Blandford.
The Crown burned down and was rebuilt in 1921. Then in 1952 it was renamed after the Tolpuddle Martyrs, and officially re-opened by Vic Feather of the TUC.
Several landlords and landladies followed and the pub was busy, until the bypass took away passing trade in 1999. It then adapted, with the pool table being removed to make way for more restaurant tables – food overtaking drink in its fortunes.
Most recently it was owned by the Athelhampton House estate before being bought by a private individual who lives nearby. But their plans to open it as a community hub never quite happened, which is understandable given the double blows of both the covid pandemic, then spiralling energy costs.
Barrie thinks it can be profitable, however – but that it has to be a proper pub, where villagers can socialise.
It has to be independent as they can source much cheaper drinks.
And food should be pub grub rather than fine dining.
Though there are plans for guest stints by celebrity chefs, along with quiz nights and even market stalls outside on some weekends.
The plan is to raise as much of the price of the pub as possible before taking out a mortgage for the rest.
However a mortgage may not be necessary given how fast the pledge pot is growing. If all goes to plan, the Martyrs Inn could be open by May.
Barrie, 76, has had property in the village for decades and ten years ago he had affordable homes built there, selling them for 75 per cent of the market value (bank valuation).
So he knows about property and running a business. The pledges of cash would be matched by shares, at £500 per share. Costs will be relatively low, with 75% rate relief and no rent. Barrie’s property development company would work with volunteers to carry out the refurb, making the bar more ‘inviting’. Once expenses have been paid, the shareholders should receive about a 4% return.
Key to this success is the recruitment of a landlord who can really make it work, and Barrie has just the couple in mind.
The consortium’s offer will need to be accepted first however, to tempt this pair away from their current employment.
Barrie said: “We will create a nice environment then look to provide other facilities the village has lost, perhaps offering basic groceries.”
For more information about the project, go to tolpuddlevillage.co.uk/the-martyrs-inn
n To get involved, contact Barrie at firstname.lastname@example.org