Dispute halts reopening of world-famous Marshwood pub

The bottle Inn remains shut after the owner and new “tenant” fall out over repairs to the ancient pub

A BITTER dispute has halted plans to reopen the world famous Bottle Inn at Marshwood.

The beer was set to flow again at the troubled pub – closed since the winter - but an exchange of increasingly angry e mails, half way around the globe, has put its future in doubt once more.

New “tenant”, Chris Thomas claims the pub’s Australian-based owners have failed to honour an agreement to re-thatch the 16th century building and repair the porch and car park.

Without these works he says the business cannot reopen because no one will insure it – and he remains �10,000 out of pocket for major improvements he has already carried out inside.

But owners Michael and Pauline Brookes say it is Kent-based Mr Thomas who has broken their deal – failing to pay them any rent.

As a result they said his contract for the pub – renowned for hosting the world stinging nettle eating championships – had “now expired”.

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This week work on the historic inn was at a halt with an “opening soon” sign discarded against an outbuilding wall.

Mr Thomas said: “Although I have a legal document we can’t open the pub until these promised works are completed, we can’t get public liability insurance cover until it is re-thatched and the car park repaired.

“The owners are in breach of contract…and now the pub is about to be lost to the village.”

Mr Thomas says he is now considering forming a consortium and exercising his “contractual right” of first refusal to purchase the pub.

Meanwhile West Dorset District Council confirmed it is concerned about the state of the inn.

Development Services Manager John Greenslade said: “The district council is aware of a problem with the pub roof and porch and has been in contact with the owners with the view to them addressing the problem.”

In a statement from Australia the Brookes told The Herald:

“We arranged for a thatcher to start work on Monday 8th August but as he (Mr Thomas) failed to pay his first instalment of rent (�325 a week) we could not go ahead as the bank would not lend us the money for the start of the thatch.

“We are incredulous as to his claims of spending �10,000 in the pub, because firstly we took photographs of the pub on the day of our departure – May 28 - and subsequent photos of the kitchen (re-grout of tiles and floor covering) are all we have seen of any improvements etc.”

The Brookes claim:

* No contract has ever been sent back to us and therefore has now expired.

* No ingoing bond or other fee has ever been paid.

* No stock or fixtures and fittings have even been purchased.

* No goodwill has been paid.

* No rent has been paid.

They added: “Christopher Thomas is making claims as a person who has no contract with the owners of the Bottle Inn and has never paid any ingoing or rental whatsoever to become the tenant at the pub – not one pound at all.

“He has also failed to maintain the gardens and general upkeep of the pub which were conditions of a contract he failed to sign.”

Marshwood resident Mark Van de Weyer said:

“The village is fully behind Chris Thomas in trying to revive The Bottle. With the accompanying land and the various outbuildings it is a site with enormous potential. I am delighted that Chris is sticking to his guns and trying to force Mr and Mrs Brookes to get the place repaired rather than just giving up like the previous landlords have done.”

* Despite its global fame as the venue for the world stinging nettle eating championships, the Bottle has struggled to provide a year round living for its landlords in recent times.

The last to reluctantly throw in the towel, this winter, were Shelley and Simon Dumper – born-again Christians who even tried to double up the inn as a centre for Sunday worship.