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The Thomas Tallis Alehouse, Northgate, Canterbury.

I spent quite a bit of 2015 wandering the highways and byways of Canterbury while researching my Canterbury Pubs book, which was published by Amberley in September 2015. As I discovered on a flying visit last week, while so much has remained the same there have been one or two notable changes.

My general conclusion, in the summer of 2015, about the general state of the pub scene in the cathedral city was that it had a decent and diverse selection of watering holes; from traditional and very old pubs such as the Parrot and the Unicorn through to the excellent Foundry brewpub and the contemporary Old Brewery Tavern. However what the city lacked, clearly, was a micropub.

That situation has, I am glad to report, changed, although the people behind the Thomas Tallis Alehouse in Northgate are keen to stress that they are not in actual fact a micropub at all, largely because alongside a selection of cask ales they also carry an extensive range of craft beer, in key-keg, bottle and even can.

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Scenes from a Canterbury alehouse.

Now we could quibble over terminology until closing time, but for me the spirit and execution of the Thomas Tallis Alehouse owes a huge debt to the micropub revolution that was started by Martyn Hillier at the groundbreaking Butcher’s Arms in Herne back in 2005. So you’ll find no piped muzak at the Thomas Tallis (not even piped Thomas Tallis), the use of mobile phones is discouraged and the gentle art of conversation is championed.

It comes as no surprise then to learn that the mover and shaker behind the enterprise is Mark Robson, who gave the world the Just Reproach in Deal back in 2011, which was among the first handful of Kent micropubs to open.

Most micropubs are housed in former shops, and indeed before the Thomas Tallis opened as a watering hole at 48 Northgate back in March this year the premises had enjoyed various uses, notably housing, in no particular order, a tattoo parlour, a florist, a hairdressers and a tea room. Interestingly, as recently as 1903 it was the White Swan public house.

What marks the Thomas Tallis from other micropubs – sorry alehouses – is the actual premises themselves, for this is a truly remarkable setting. The Thomas Tallis, you see, is housed in a 15thCentury half-timbered building attached to the gatehouse of the ancient Hospital of St John, now almshouses.

Forget mock-Tudor pub interiors, in places the Thomas Tallis is the real deal. To visit here on a solemn autumn afternoon is to step back in time just a little. Suddenly the alehouse epithet makes absolute sense. It also means it is highly likely that Thomas Tallis himself knew the building. Touch the walls and feel the history.

Tallis was one of the giants of early English choral music. His place and exact date of birth are a little hazy, although 1505 in or near Canterbury seems to be the generally accepted version of events. A more concrete connection between the city and the great man is that for a period he was a lay clerk at the Cathedral, although probably only for a couple of years (1541 through to 1543 according to some sources). He spent the last four decades of his life as both composer and organist to the Chapel Royal, a post he shared with William Byrd.

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“Don’t be a twat!”

The Thomas Tallis has three distinct bar areas. To the front is a small drinking den by the main entrance which leads to a larger, central room. A wood-burning stove is lit on cold days and features a “health and safety” note that warns unwary drinkers: “The fire may be hot. Don’t be a twat.” Wise words indeed.

The back room, which also features a window onto the aforementioned almhouses, is very Laura Ashley country cottage. One half expects to find Margaret Rutherford sitting in the corner knitting a pair of socks.

There were only two cask ales available when I visited, but my pint of Trigger from the Musket Brewery was tip-top. A blackboard listed 12 key-keg offerings while a beer menu, divided into four different beer styles, featured a thoughtful selection from brewers both English and international in bottle and can.

The Thomas Tallis is a welcome addition to Canterbury’s drinking landscape and yet another illustration that the great British pub, far from being terminally ill, is in fact reinventing itself.

And whatever you do, stay away from the fire.

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Canterbury Pubs is published by Amberley. It is available online and from all good bookshops. It is probably even available in some not so good bookshops.

 

 

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