New chapter for oldest watering hole

Whitby’s oldest coaching inn, dating back to the late 1600s is being given a new lease of life after being brought back from the brink of demolition.

And with a bit of luck you might even be able to buy a drink in the place soon.

The White Horse and Griffin, in Whitby’s historic, cobbled Church Street has been taken over and the new owners of the business have had a job on changing more than just the name above the door.

Business partners Andrew Clews and Ed Henebury said they were prepared to “expect the unexpected” when they got the keys to the restaurant at the beginning of February and they admit they haven’t been disappointed.

With an ailing reputation the once nationally renowned White Horse and Griffin was a business on its knees, confirmed by the fact that in ten years there had only been 39 positive pieces recorded on the travel review website Trip Advisor.

So what drew the successful businessmen to the place which had been on the market for months?

They had been looking to take on a family friendly cafe bar in Harrogate but wasted a year on the project. It never got off the ground because they couldn’t agree terms and by a chance conversation found out about the White Horse and Griffin,

Andrew said: “Things started to move quite quickly, Stewart Perkins was keen to sell and had been for some time. The only other offer on the table was from an off-shore developer who wanted to rip the place up and turn it into apartments.

“Stewart had taken the best part of nine years building it from dereliction and was keen to see it continue as a restaurant with rooms. Obviously, the place has been here 400 years, it would be tragic to turn it into flats.”

So, after a month of sitting on it and observing how the place and the staff - 20 local people who would have been out of a job otherwise - worked, Andrew and Ed set about a renovation programme which is already running into six figures.

The place has been re-wired and re-plumbed, had the internet, till and phone systems installed, new floors and lighting and half the kitchen equipment has been replaced.

The ten rooms above the restaurant have been refurbed and national stockists have been swapped in favour of local suppliers which now include Beevers, Halders and Jacksons butchers, Fortunes, Billy Wilson fruit and veg and Ventress for milk.

But is has not all been plain sailing.

The pair had to deal with a less than favourable reputation and an on-going dispute with residents of the yard next door over plans to change the terms of the alcohol licence.

The White Horse and Griffin may be the oldest coaching inn in the town but it’s probably the only one where you can’t buy a pint unless you are having a meal.

A submission to the local authority to change this has not gone down well with residents who are concerned about extra noise and rowdy behaviour and there is also a whole host of disgruntled customers in the first few weeks of Andrew and Ed’s reign.

But these things are being smoothed out and a decision is expected to be made over the coming months on the issue. Meanwhile, the White Horse and Griffin is starting a new chapter in its 400 year history.

Andrew said: “With any old building there is going to be some things that are worse than you expect and things that you just don’t know about. If you are resurrecting a building that was close to its knees you are going to expect more bad news than good.”

“And we have not been disappointed” pipes up Ed as he recalls how the roof was in need of repair and every room has been re-decorated.

He added: “We knew we would get a lot of complaints at the start, things were happening that were out of our control. People were saying this didn’t work and that didn’t work in the rooms and it was frustrating because we couldn’t do anything about it.

“It would have been easier to shut the place for four weeks but people would have lost their jobs and we didn’t want that. We took it on the chin, we could turn it around and the most gratifying thing is when people come downstairs and say we have had a lovely time and will come back. You can’t buy that sort of satisfaction.”

And with those Trip Advisor figures now reading 15 positive reviews in three months it seems the tables have turned.

However, it appears that it’s not just the paying guests that the new owners have to worry about.

Over the years there have been many musings about the presence of the supernatural but coming from staunch army background, Ed wasn’t a believer..until recently.

He added: “I don’t get scared but everybody has a story and we get lots of people telling us their ghost stories. Put it this way, I would say my view of that sort of thing has changed fairly rapidly in the short time that we have been here. There are ghost stories from here and there is a reason for that...”