Restoration work on iconic country pub charges ahead
PUBLISHED: 08:37 26 January 2020 | UPDATED: 08:01 27 January 2020
One of Norfolk's most iconic country pubs is being restored following a three-year closure. Reporter STUART ANDERSON visited the team breathing new life into Lord Nelson's old watering hole in Burnham Thorpe.
Pubgoers will soon be able to raise a glass to Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson in the naval hero's former local.
The Lord Nelson pub in Burnham Thorpe is set to reopen in early summer after a closure of more than three years.
Holkham Estate, which bought the 17th century venue in July last year, is spending close to £1m on its restoration and the addition of new rooms.
Richard Leigh, Holkham Estate's construction manager, said they were looking forward to bringing the pub back into use.
Mr Leigh said: "It's amazing how many people are interested in this pub. We've been contacted by people from all over the country - from Leicestershire, Yorkshire, everywhere. I've been approached by one guy who lives in Kent who has named one of his children after Nelson.
"They always come to Norfolk and they used to come here for a drink and a meal - they just love it."
Brewery Greene King used to own the Lord Nelson, but they closed it in September 2016 after a row with former landlords Debbie and Peter De Groeve.
The pub was registered as an asset of community value later that year, and put on the market for £350,000 at the start of 2019.
Works on the site started in September, and a team from RobSon Construction are now restoring the original building and laying the groundwork for the extension.
Mr Leigh said: "Nobody wants an empty pub in the village. Not one as important as this either, so the fact that we can restore it and reopen it for the community is great.
"We want to be finished as early in the summer as we can - I'd like to think the building will be opening early July."
Mr Leigh said some parts of the original structure - which includes a 'wardroom', Nelson bar, snug and flat upstairs - had needed major work.
He said: "The roof was in really poor condition - there was a lot of decay - so we had to do a lot of structural repairs on there.
"We've had to rebuild a lot of the old walls around the cellar because they were collapsing.
"The chalk was starting to break off and the mortar had failed - there just wasn't any integrity left in the wall."
He added: "The Nelson bar has an old hatch which a lot of people will remember.
"That was the only bar in the old pub - a lot of people have fond memories of that so that stays in our proposal."
A 20th century extension is being fitted out with a kitchen, bar, cellar and plant room, while the new parts of the building will house toilets and a 'Victory' dining room.
Mr Leigh said: "We're still thinking about some of the internal finishes - we've got a 'mood board' in the office which the interior designer has produced, which we're using to see how we can evoke nautical feelings, because of the Nelson connection."
Once complete, the pub will have around 70 covers inside, and another 64 in the outdoor seating area.
And although Nelson memorabilia which once filled the pub may not return, Holkham's managing director, Peter Mitchell, is speaking to parties who have items related to admiral that could be featured.
Mr Leigh said: "We're building as much display space as we can into the design."
There will also be a new retaining wall which will separate the garden from the outdoor dining area.
Horatio Nelson was born in Burnham Thorpe in 1758 in a rectory which was pulled down in 1803 and replaced with a barn that is now a bed-and-breakfast.
He attended Paston School in North Walsham, and used to break up the 30-mile journey at the start and end of term by staying at his uncle's home in White Lion Street, Holt, in a building now known as the Nelson House.
As a young naval officer he sailed to the Caribbean, where he met and married Frances 'Fanny' Nisbet, who he married and brought back to Burnham Thorpe.
They lived at the rectory for the next five years, during which time Nelson is said to have spent many hours at the pub. This no doubt helped him compose his letters of protest to the Admiralty at his lack of a ship.
When war against France was declared in 1793 and he was given command of the Agamemnon, he celebrated by laying on a dinner for the villagers at the pub.
The Lord Nelson pub at Burnham Thorpe: A timeline
1637: The building is erected as an alehouse called The Plough. Horatio Nelson was born over a century later in the nearby rectory.
1784: For the following five years Nelson, then a young naval officer, spends many hours at the pub. He lived at the nearby rectory with 'Fanny' Nisbet, who he married in 1787.
1793: When he's finally given command of a ship, the Agamemnon, he lays on a meal at the pub for the villagers.
1798: The pub is renamed the Lord Nelson, after his victory over the French at the Battle of the Nile.
2016: Suffolk-based brewer and former owners of the pub Greene King close it down after a row with the former landlords Debbie and Peter De Groeve. Later that year, the Friends of Burnham Thorpe group registers the pub as an asset of community value.
2019: The nearby Holkham Estate buys the Lord Nelson, and draws up plans to restore the building to its former glory.
Summer 2020: The planned grand re-opening of the pub.