Pub-for-a-day family pulls pints for locals

Last orders: The Lion, closed in 1965 and now renovated as a home, opens just one more time
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The Independent Online
CLARE GARNER

It's open house but not on the house at The Lion, in Monks Eleigh, Suffolk, today. For the owners have decided to re-open the pub that has been closed since 1965 for just one day before moving into what is to be their family home.

Customers will be drinking bitter at pounds 1.50 not 9p a pint, but beyond such inevitable inconsistencies, John Ratcliffe and his wife, Carol Hibberd, 39, have done their best to recreate the atmosphere of yesteryear.

Mr Ratcliffe, 38, a joiner, has built a bar and planted some pub pews in the room which was once the saloon but is now their sitting-room. Other props include the original pub sign, a darts board, two log fires, and a live folk band for the evening. But this local will not last long. Come 11pm, orders will be the very last.

"It's nice to entertain the idea of running a pub, but personally the practicalities don't appeal. I like going to pubs but I also like to come home at the end of the night," Mr Ratcliffe, who has been granted a 12- hour "occasion" licence, said.

"It was a pub until 1965 and hasn't been lived in since 1968; so really people remember it last as a pub. It seemed appropriate to give it another chance to live as a pub. Apart from that, it's an excuse for a party and gives people in the village who have seen the renovation work going on over the last couple of years a chance to come and have a look in the house."

One villager who intends to drop in for a drink is Arthur Mayes, 76, a retired farm worker. "I've been around in the village all my life. I drank in The Lion in 1942. It was a big, decent pub with a social club upstairs," he said.

"We used to go round all the pubs in the village, going from one to the next. We used to have a sing-song but there is none of that now. All there is now is this disco - a lot of rubbish. Most of the people who used to go there will probably be dead now, but I will be going down there."

When the family bought the Grade II listed building two years ago it was "a bit of an eyesore". Now it is a six- bedroom home for the couple and their four children, Ashley, 13, Melanie, 11, Tom, five, and Lucy, two.

At one time there were four pubs in Monks Eleigh, of which only The Bull and The Swan survive. "In 1965 a huge rambling pub was seen as a liability by a brewery but now The Lion, with its river frontage and acre and a half of land would be seen as an asset," Mr Ratcliffe said.

Pub of the Year

The Egon Ronay Pub of the Year Award yesterday went to the Hoste Arms, in Burnham Market, Norfolk.

The pub, which has a staff of 20 preparing food such as terrine of duck and juniper with redcurrant and onion chutney, was singled out by Egon Ronay for possessing "the best qualities of the British pub".

The actor Stephen Fry presented the award yesterday to the landlord, Paul Whittome.

8 Egon Ronay's Old Speckled Hen Guide to Pubs & Inns is published by the Mirror Group's Bookman Projects.

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