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Hole In The Wall, Tunbridge Wells, Kent


The Hole In The Wall was situated on the High Street.

Source: Mike Donovan
We moved to Tunbridge Wells in 1961 and many times I was "allowed" into the rear room of this tobacco shop where there was a very special bar. It was extremely secret, cliquey, practically men only, definitely "professional clientele" only. From the High Street one would enter a magnificent Dickensian tobacconists, mahogany counter loaded with every kind of smoking essential, pipes, snuff, cigars, tobacco cigarettes Behind the counter was an enormous Mitchells Cigarettes mirror which I purchased many yearslater and it can still be seen at Sankeys on Mount Ephraim. At the back a beautiful etched panel door engraved 'smoking divan' led into a small room; here was a small bar which claimed to have a special charter license granted by King Charles 2, (I know for a fact that they had to go the The Bishops Palace, Lambeth to renew the license) Behind the little bar it was just big enough for two wooden firkins of Worthington E Bitter ( which was delivered direct from Burton by train, easy as the Central Station was almost opposite) and a small selection of spirits, A velvet curtain hid the stairs which led up to the private accommodation. An old arched and panelled alcove had a red velvet banquette with a table. There was a small cast iron fireplace, Old sepia pictures of the High Street covered with horse dung and a unique mains gas cigar lighter hanging on the wall by its thin black pipe. A small door led to the outside ally where there was a small lavatory (men only!) It was always a special treat, a privilege, I would never have got in without being with my father who liked to share a beer with George Coker, Douglas Smith and "Porky" Brown. The Landlord was tall aloof and not at all welcoming! Another part of the mystique was that "The Hole the Wall" was how the bar was referred, there was no signage to indicate that there was a bar at the rear. In my day it was called Allmans. I am not sure when but I would guess mid 1970's the business was sold and completely re vamped, The shop went, the whole ground floor was opened up, the mirror was about the only vestige of the past, The pub as it now was, was proudly the Hole in the Wall and after some colourful landlords, progressively went down hill from there, attracting more and more undesirable clientele. I think it finally went bust late 1980's, and has been many things since, a card shop, a tea room and currently a childrens clothes store. So sad because this was a local treasure and should have survived.
Guy Sankey (July 2012)
I visited 'The Hole in The Wall' while on business in The Pantiles, Royal Tunbridge Wells during the late sixties.
It was a habit of mine back then to check above the door for the name of the Landlord and I noted that the place operated under a Royal Warrant from King Edward VII. The Landlord explained that the King had been horse-riding with his entourage in the paddock at the rear of the Pantiles, when he fell off his horse and was winded but otherwise none the worse. The Landlord of the ‘Hole’ at the time was quick to the King’s aid, walking over with a tankard of ale.
‘Have that while you’re getting your breath back, Sire.’
‘Good Lord,’ said the King. ‘Where did you spring from?’
‘The Hole in The Wall over there.’
The King walked back with him and eventually managed to squeeze himself into a seat and finished his ale. ‘Do you pay for a licence for this place?’
‘I do, Sire. I do.’
‘Not any more’, said the King and the Warrant was issued soon after but I think there was a condition that the pub stayed in the family. The storyteller was the grandson or great grandson of the original.
Joe Fleming (November 2013)

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