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Entrepreneur snaps up village pub to save it from closure

PUBLISHED: 15:10 18 March 2019 | UPDATED: 09:44 19 March 2019

New owner Mark Ward.

Picture: RACHEL EDGE

New owner Mark Ward. Picture: RACHEL EDGE

Archant

Businessman Mark Ward was so keen to prevent his village pub being turned into a home that he decided to buy it.

Six Bells pub in Preston St Mary.

Picture: RACHEL EDGESix Bells pub in Preston St Mary. Picture: RACHEL EDGE

Mr Ward first started going to the ancient Six Bells Pub near Lavenham 40 years ago as a youngster of 14 and has fond memories of wellie-wearing farmers slipping in for a pint on a Friday night, and the cosy, smoke-filled atmosphere.

“It’s a beautiful little pub,” he said. “I have fantastic memories of it.”

When he heard it could be going on the market, he stepped in quickly, fearing that, as with neighbouring villages, Preston St Mary could lose its only pub.

MORE – ‘I’ve had plenty of people telling me it won’t work’ says licensee at launch of ‘beer pub’

Mr Ward, who is managing director of Command Pest Control, lives and works in the village and is keen to preserve country traditions.

Six Bells pub in Preston St Mary.

Picture: RACHEL EDGESix Bells pub in Preston St Mary. Picture: RACHEL EDGE

“The previous owner Richard Martin had purchased the pub in 1999. Richard lives in the village and in 1999 the village pub was at risk of closing. We are grateful that Richard took control and has kept it running for the past 20 years,” he explained.

“Following a series of various tenants, the previous owner refurbished the building four years ago and his sons, who run a successful pub business in London known as the ETM Group, took over the management.”

When Mr Ward heard that Mr Martin was looking at the possibility of selling up, he expressed interest in taking it on.

“I have lived here all my life and I have been going in since I was 14. I want to keep control of that pub so we never lose it,” he said.

Six Bells pub in Preston St Mary.

Picture: RACHEL EDGESix Bells pub in Preston St Mary. Picture: RACHEL EDGE

A lot of local pubs have gone to the wall or are in decline, he says, but he believes the Six Bells, which he runs with local woman Ella Etheridge, is a big draw to neighbouring villages which no longer have their pubs.

Since taking it on on February 1, he has ‘de-cluttered’ and removed a large collection of taxidermy but kept the cosy atmosphere, he said. He has moved the pub food towards a selection of traditional and affordable meals and takeaways.

“Within six weeks we are getting the locals in which is very positive,” he said. Sunday lunch was sold out, with every seat taken, he added.

The dog-friendly Grade 2 pub, which is believed to date back to around 1411, includes timber beams and an old-fashioned open fire.

Six Bells pub in Preston St Mary.

Picture: RACHEL EDGESix Bells pub in Preston St Mary. Picture: RACHEL EDGE

“To my knowledge has always been a pub and at some point a brew house,” said Mr Ward.

“It was once divided into three bars, with the middle bar almost an exclusive club for local farmers and country folk who would congregate every evening. They had their own chairs and pint mugs – you were not popular if found sitting in one of their chairs.”

It remains a central hub of the village, as a place to meet, to host birthday and wedding parties, Christmas parties, funeral wakes and the odd auction of land.

“It was an easy decision to make this purchase as many of us are so disappointed to have seen so many of our local pubs close and be turned into houses, latterly The Bull at Thorpe Morieux and The White Horse at Hitcham, and countless others prior to that,” said Mr Ward.

The new owner is in the process of collecting old pictures of the pub and characters that used to go there. These will be framed and hung in the bars to keep the local history alive. He is appealing to anyone who has any pictures to let him know so that they can be copied for the collection.

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