Blakeney’s Kings Arms on the North Norfolk coast has survived storms, floods, fire and pestilence over the last 250 years. And yet again, the Georgian public house - the oldest in Blakeney - had to shut its doors - this time to weather the Covid-19 pandemic. However, in the capable hands of its landlady Marjorie Davies - no stranger to a drama - the pub has now re-opened.
The Grade II listed building, close to the village harbour, was originally three fishermen’s cottages. It was re-roofed in 1760, the year George III came to the throne and the date is proudly proclaimed on its roof tiles.
In its history it has survived a fire, two floods – 1978 and again 2014, when the sea washed through from Westgate Street after the Coastal Path’s bank was breached in winter violent storms - and now a pandemic. It was closed twice, in 2020 and 2021, when all pubs in the country were shut by government.
But there is a special theatrical link to this traditional, old-fashioned Norfolk inn. Marjorie, landlady for the last 45 years, who runs the pub with her son Nic, had a career on the stage in London’s West End before she moved behind the bar in Blakeney with her late-husband Howard.
Marjorie and Howard appeared on stage regularly including in the classical musical My Fair Lady where Howard took the lead male tenor role of Freddy while Marjorie danced in the chorus. She also appeared in the Black and White Minstrels – a weekly variety show which ran for 20 years on British television.
The glamour of the stage, film and television has been further enhanced by Oscar winner actor Olivia Colman. She worked as a waitress at the Kings Arms during holidays at Gresham’s School, Holt, where she was a pupil, and has returned on occasion to see Marjorie. On one occasion Marjorie says that the multi-international award-winning actor – Oscar, Golden Globes, BAFTAs - was in the bar with her dog on a chair when she was ‘ticked off’ by Nic for allowing her dog to sit on the furniture!
Marjorie has continued her dancing links and for 30 years has arranged the choreography in the twice-yearly productions of the Blakeney Players. The next production by the Blakeney Players, postponed by the national lockdown, is ready to stage. The musical has been written and cast. It is ready to go.
Marjorie and Howard made the leap from the theatre to North Norfolk via a six-month apprenticeship in the pub trade after looking after a friend’s pub while they were away. The Norfolk link came from Howard’s aunt who lived in Wells-next-the-Sea. They fell in love with the county.
They were tenants at the Kings Arms for about six years before the former Norwich Brewery began selling their pubs to their tenants. Now Marjorie and Nic have a team of 12-15 to keep locals and holidaymakers happy in their freehouse which offers a large selection of traditional local ales, many of them pulled by hand.
There is no trace of Farrow and Ball paint or any suggestion of latest trends or fashion, and they are proud of it. If there is a table free, grab it. The current practice of booking in advance and having a bar full of empty booked tables does not exist here.
‘We are unique in not taking bookings but the bar is alive. I don’t want to change it,’ said Marjorie. ’It takes a lot of thought and planning to retain the character the way we have done.
What made us different was we started offering food. Nobody offered food in pubs at that time. That remains really important offering good quality and good value.’
The Kings Arms has a series of interconnecting rooms creating bar areas and kitchen. It has four bedrooms and three flats for holidaying guests, dining rooms and a huge garden with picnic tables.
It offers traditional pub fayre in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with bird watching, sailing, walking, and peace and quiet on the doorstep.