'The Old Crown' is a public house in the small village of Hesket Newmarket, situated just inside the northern edge of the Lake District National Park, nestling in the Caldbeck fells. It is the only public house in the village.
Although the pub is believed to date back to the 18th century, our story starts in 1987 when Jim and Liz Fearnley had a dream of running a pub, serving curries and brewing their own beer. They had no experience either of running a pub or of brewing. They bought The Old Crown after a lengthy search. One of the attractions was the barn at the rear, which had its own access and lent itself to being converted into a brewery.
Liz ran the pub while Jim set about starting the brewery. Brewing began in 1988. At first the beers were experimental but soon Jim was producing marketable beers. Later the beers began to win prizes at beer festivals.
Jim and Liz ran both enterprises until 1995 when Liz sold the pub. Jim continued running the brewery until 1999 when he decided he wanted to retire. Villagers were worried the brewery might be swallowed up by a large brewer or close down. To stop that happening, 58 villagers and supporters got together and formed a co-operative to buy the brewery. Hesket Newmarket Brewery is today a thriving microbrewery that is going from strength to strength, selling its famous beers such as Skiddaw Special and Doris’ 90th birthday Ale.
Meanwhile Robert Robson, the owner of the pub, had sold on The Old Crown to Kim and Lyn Matthews. In April 2001 Lyn tragically died, leaving Kim to run the pub single-handed. After soldiering on for a while, Kim decided to sell up, and placed the pub on the market. Yet again, fears arose among locals and lovers of the pub that it might fall into the hands of a major brewery or pub chain or that new owners of the pub might be persuaded to remove the Hesket Newmarket Brewery beers and accept a franchise from a major brewer. In November 2002 a shareholder in the Brewery floated the idea of forming a second co-operative to buy the pub. The hope was that this would safeguard the pub and its unique character, and secure its future both as a vital amenity for the village and wider community, and as a special asset within the Lake District National Park. Not least, the aim was to safeguard the link between The Old Crown and Hesket Newmarket Brewery, so that regular visitors could sleep sound in the knowledge that their favourite pint would still be waiting for them whenever they called in.
We did it! Shareholders celebrate the achievement of their goal at the 'official opening' of The Old Crown under its new co-operative ownership.
125 customers of the pub eventually clubbed together to buy the pub. The Co-operative was officially registered as a community industrial and provident society in March 2003, and the purchase was completed on 21 August that year. The Old Crown is believed to be Britain’s first co-operatively owned pub.
Having bought the pub, the Co-operative then had to find someone to run it. on 22 September 2003 the new licensees, Lou and Linda Hogg, moved in.
When Lou and Linda decided to throw in the bar towel, The Old Crown once again acquired new tenants: Malcolm & Pat Hawksworth, who ran the pub from December 2006 to October 2008.
Then it was all change again. When Malcolm and Pat retired, the present tenants took over the helm on 1 November 2008. They are Edna & Keith Graham and their niece, Joanne Richardson. Keith, Jo and Edna have a very clear commitment to The Old Crown and to the community it serves. Their intention is to keep and develop The Old Crown as a place where locals, regulars and visitors will all feel equally welcome and at home.
The aim is that The Old Crown should continue to be a warm, cosy, friendly pub selling good food and tremendous beer brewed at Hesket Newmarket Brewery behind the pub. No pretensions, no standing on ceremony, just a great British institution doing what it does best – making customers old and new feel relaxed, comfortable and happy.
The Old Crown is living proof of the success of the co-operative model. The pub co-operative is on a sound financial footing, and recently financed the building of a new kitchen and dining room.
The co-operative ownership of this important resource demonstrates the strong sense of community spirit in this small Cumbrian village. The co-operative is based on democratic and voluntary principles, with members contributing on an equal basis to the capital of the enterprise and actively participating in policy formulation. The members of the co-operative strongly believe that ventures of this nature contribute to the economy and social fabric of Cumbria, securing local employment and fostering pride in the community.
The purchase was helped by grant funding from Cumbria County Council Rural Regeneration Fund and the Lake District National Park Sustainable Development Fund.
The Campaign For Real Ale – which has featured the pub many times in its Good Beer Guide - also welcomed the buyout. Good Beer Guide editor Roger Protz said: “With the growth of pub chains and global breweries, pubs are losing their community role, so I welcome the efforts to keep this classic pub rooted in its community.”
Julian Ross, who led the bid by customers to take ownership of the pub, says: “People say they don’t care about making a return on their investment. They want to preserve something that is important for the community. This is a cosy, friendly pub, which you can go into whether you’re wearing your wellies, walking boots, or a suit, and you won’t come out without speaking to someone. Regulars and visitors alike always find a warm welcome, great home cooked food (including the famous Old Crown curries), a friendly smile and a truly superb range of real ales.”