One of the city’s finest buildings is falling into dereliction

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Hubert Pragnell has concerns about the outside of the Falstaff in St Dunstan's

by Hubert Pragnell

For hundreds of years one of the most famous hostelries in England and featured in books on England’s historic inns.

Back in 1905 the Canterbury Guide describing various buildings in St Dunstan’s Street commented:”[T]he old Falstaff Inn with its well-wrought ironwork and sign -board beyond which is perhaps the most picturesque non-ecclesiastical monument in the city.”

Fortunately in spite of damage wrought on the city during the Second World War  including to nearby buildings in St Dunstan’s Street, it survives. However would  we class it as picturesque today?

Said to date back to 1403, although much of the timber-framed structure  was heavily restored in the 17th century, it was renamed the Falstaff in 1783, when it was enlarged to handle the increasing coaching traffic.

At some time, perhaps in the 19th century the facade was painted white, and this is the state in which it remained until the disastrous repainting a few years ago.

Peeling paint on the front of the Falstaff

It is a Grade 2 listed building. At ground floor level it is faced in Kentish red brick and the upper floors a face of whitish mathematical tiles, however these have been covered with the skin of chocolate colour paint gradually pealing to reveal the tiles beneath. 

Sadly, its present external appearance suggests it is falling into gradual dereliction as the paint peels and flakes, and tiles dislodge from the sloping roofs.

The great mistake a few years ago was to paint the exterior in this vile colour which is a disastrous choice, not only from the aesthetic point of view but also due to the heat and sunlight causing the colour to peel.

This in turn allows rainwater and frost to penetrate between the paintwork and solid wall and to find any entry between the tiles or brickwork, causing internal damp to build up. 

Whoever painted the frontage even covered a screen of red Kent hung tiles in this horrid paint film. 

It is to be hoped that the present management are aware of its appearance and the effect it might have on visitors to Canterbury, and the appearance of the lower end of St Dunstan’s Street, which is passed by hundreds of visitors each year on their way into the city from Canterbury West station.

Obviously, to set in motion another restoration will cost money but unless urgent action is undertaken, the facade will deteriorate further.

And news gets round when potential guests ask others about the hotel. When finally circumstances force a restoration, or perhaps redecoration would be a better term, it would be nice if the mathematical tiles could be exposed in their natural colour, or at least the original white colour-scheme restored.

I must stress that this is in no way a criticism of the hotel’s interior, its comfort or its cuisine.

And finally, what about the inn sign? When I came to Canterbury it was a wonderful painted portrait of Sir John Falstaff, perhaps a 1930s version, suspended from the fine wrought-iron frame. 

Sadly, this was removed in the 1990s and now we have a silly little board with a stylized FF motif. What a let-down for what was one one of the most celebrated hostelries in England.

Hubert Pragnell is a teacher, art historian and sits on the committee of the Canterbury Society

2 COMMENTS

  1. Totally agree with Hubert.

    The external deterioration of this building is quite shocking and the owners who no doubt live far away from Canterbury should come and see for themselves and feel suitably ashamed of their neglect.

  2. I had hoped the owners of this building would have responded in same way to Hubert and David’s comments but they don’t seem bothered. In the meantime they have applied for Planning Consent to make substantial alterations so they can’t be short of cash.

    The worst aspect of their lack of care was replacing an area of mathematical tiles….a flush finished and mortar pointed version of tile hanging…with a patch of render. In spite of being an historic city, were the owner and the guy who did the work, not familiar with this material? A change of material on an elevation requires a Listed Building application so our City Council should take action.

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