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The Old Neptune's Ghosts


Fen Lander describes his favourite place - The Old Neptune Pub on Whitstable Beach. There are spirits in the cellar, and their spirits are high.

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									                                                                                                                15/09/2011 17:31
                                                                                                                    by Rod Marsden

                The Old Neptune’s Ghosts

                rate or flag this pageTweet                            I’ve been in, Actually, it ain’t like a pub at all - and
                                                                       that’s why I love the place.

                                                                       It’s like an art gallery - several of the really-good lo-
                                                                       cal artists hang their works on the timber walls and
                                                                       people come in to view and buy art. And musicians
                                                                       come here too - bloody good ones - to meet other
                                                                       musicians and artists, listen to some toons, have a
                                                                       beer or two and chill out, man. It was in the Neptune
                                                                       that I met Mick Hill of Original Artists, and told him
                                                                       about my whacky idea for a book. When I saw the
                                                                       work this guy is capable of I knew I had found the
                                                                       man to help me out. He does amazing sign boards,
                                                                       they’re brand new but he ages them so they look
                                                                       like they’ve been around for decades. The Guinness
                                                                       sign in the photo is one of his jobs- in fact there are
                                                                       examples of his work all over the Neptune, and all
                                                                       over the town (and some other towns).

                                                                       And then he painted the cover art for the book. It’s
                                                                       totally brilliant and ... err, as soon as a few people
                                                                       buy the book I’m going to pay him. I am. I think
                                                                       a change of subject is called for..... um, about the
                                                                       Neptune.... (there’s a link to his studios/workshop

                                                                       Another artist, Ron Chadwick, also displays his
                                                                       works on the Neptune’s walls. He’s known as Icon-
                                                                       Artman, because he does amazing - photo realistic
                                                                       - portraits of.... iconic figures, like Dali, Monroe,
                                                                       Marley and Lennon. I’ve put a few examples of his
                                                                       work in this article (he doesn’t need the advert). For
                                                                       the best view of his work though, come to the Nep-

                       The Old Neptune, in Neptune Gap on Marine       tune. The quality of the light that comes in through
                       Terrace, on the beach at Whitstable, is THE     the windows has something to it that you cannot get
                place to be. It attracts all kinds of weird and won-   in any gallery. Sometimes you can see that people
                derful examples of humanity. It’s like no-other pub    are torn between watching the spectacular sunset
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                                                                       out of the window or looking at the pictures and


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                The Old Neptune’s Ghosts

                other art on the walls and shelves. It’s like Aladdin’s     various unexpected directions, usually downwards,
       there. Justin and Emily put their pieces in         in the end.
                the Neptune too. They make paper mache things....
                things like fish, cats, dogs, people - all sorts. (linked        Marine Terrace Whitstable, Kent England -
                below). Justin also plays brass instruments, and he
                often turns-up and joins-in with whoever’s playing.             Marine Terrace, Whitstable, Kent CT5 1, UK [get
                Well, what about the floor? If you’ve never been in-
                side The Old Neptune before, that’s the first surprise      Marine Terrace
                that awaits you. Newcomers never fail to comment ,
                usually humorously, like: I haven’t even had a drink        Often, the crash or bang of some ornament or jug
                yet, and I feel pis**d . They are generally pointing at     diving off of the display-shelf behind the bar and
                the floor and the bar as they say it.                       hitting the floor prompts one or other of the ‘re-
                                                                            gulars’ to remark that ‘the ghost is at it again’. The
                Y’see, the floor and the bar have quite marked uphill/      Neptune has a bit of a history of ghosts and unex-
                downhill bends or slopes in them. One end of the            pected weirdness going on, and the way the floor
                old building has... er... settled down into the beach       and bar are warped does nothing to discourage the
                beneath it, while the other end stayed where it was,        peculiar happenings and imaginative explanations.
                and is still. They’ve done all sorts of engineering
                underneath the floor and the sinking has, they say,         Even the most pragmaticmember of staff, the ‘cel-
                stopped. Back about 15 years ago the previous Lan-          larman,’ takes it seriously. He’s witnessed a few odd
                dlords pulled-out saying the building was going to          occurences himself, and told me and the 5-0-Clock
                fall down. That sent a shock ‘round the town. But           crew about it one day after something heavy (a
                no-one reckoned on the Irish. They know a good              plaque) hanging on a hook unhooked itself and
                thing when they see one, and, undaunted by the              crashed to the floor. It had been a quiet afternoon
                seemingly perilous condition of the place, took it          until that crash, and it really made me (and a few
                over. A certain amount of hammering, sawing, cur-           others) jump. We went over to investigate and one-
                sing, heaving and laughter emanated from beneath            and-all agreed that it was impossible for that heavy
                the floor, for several months - or was it years? I forget   object to somehow get off of that hook. But it did.
                now.. we ignored it anyway and the place didn’t fall
                down. A few of us were quite pleased about that.            So, sitting back at the bar that remark was made
                                                                            again:: ‘the ghost’s at it again.’
                So now the floor’s got a nice bend in it, and so has
                the bar. People walk in through the door and stagger,       I expected the cellarman to ‘poo poo’ that, but he
                and have to lean on the bar before they fall over. It       surprised me. He told the gathered 5-0-Clock Club
                always takes them unawares. It’s quite weird. They’ll       members a story - and he had a straight face on
                put their pint pot on the bar and gawp in disbelief         when he told.
                as the glass starts to slide down the slope of the bar.

                                                                            He related how he’d had to go and buy a new mop-
                If there happens to be a band playing, the vibra-           handle ‘cos the old one was rotten. He’d screwed
                tions from the bass guitar or drums causes things to,       the new handle on (good sturdy timber handle) to
                seemingly of their own volition, propel themselves in       his mop-head and then did his mopping thing with
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                The Old Neptune’s Ghosts

                it. And then he’d put the nice-new mop in the tool        Back in the old days, when Whitstable’s foreshore
                cupboard over there in the corner, and gone home.         was very much a shipbuilding, oyster-dredging, ma-
                                                                          ritime community, a great storm blew-up one winter
                At this point, Dixie (one of the Landlord team) ente-     and a ship went to the bottom with all hands lost.
                red the bar and was listening intently and basically      A terrible tragedy. The unfortunates who drowned
                nodding in agreement to the cellarman’s story, with       were washed ashore along the beach where the
                the odd ‘aye,’ thrown in for comment.                     Neptune still stands. It was a harsh winter and Kent
                                                                          was under a deep blanket of ice and snow, so the
                He went on with his tale, and we were all ears. Next      decision was taken to use the cold cellar of the Old
                morning our cellarman went to the cupboard for his        Neptune as a temporary mortuary, for the twenty
                new mop and What The!?! The new timber handle on          or so bodies of the fishermen. So they were laid
                his mop was bent! Like a boomerang! The cupboard          there in the cellar.
                had been under lock-and-key since last night, and
                nobody had been near his new mop but him, and             Transport and communications were pretty much
                the last time he’d seen it it was as straight as a die.   non-existent then,(1850 or thereabouts) and the win-
                And it was bent so badly he had to get another new        ter lasted longer than had been expected, so the
                one. Dixie agreed that he’d thought the cellarman         ‘temporary’ storage of the bodies stretched on for
                was taking the p*?s, at the time, so the cellarman        a few months until the thaw of spring came. And
                reluctantly had to tell him what happened.                the bodies had begun to decompose. A foul stench
                                                                          filled the tavern.
                Dixie looked over the bar at me and the 5-0-Clock
                crew and nodding, says in his Irish lilt (is that the     Well, that’s the story as I’ve heard it told.
                right word - lilt ?) It’s true, lads. That handle was
                like a banana. I had to pay for another one.....          Now and then a bit of a whiff wafts fleetingly through
                                                                          the pub, and dissapears almost as soon as your nose
                                                                          catches it.. It’s become common-place to hear folks
                                                                          saying..... It’s those bodies, rotting in the cellar.....
                                                                          The more practically minded heads into the toilets
                                                                          with bleach and a mop, but as far as I’m concerned
                                                                          (and a few others), that stench has nothing to do
                                                                          with the toilets at all.

                                                                          I’ve actually forgotten many of the tales I have heard
                                                                          being whispered at the bar. Something they put in
                                                                          the cider, probably. But I do remember that there
                                                                          was a young lass that worked in the kitchen, and
                                                                          though she’d never heard of the Neptune ghosts she
                                                                          developed an unaccountable dread of the upstairs

                                                                          flat. Eventually, she refused to go up the stairs at all,
                                                                          saying that an eerie presence made itself known to
                And over the next few weeks, the ghost story’s star-      her whenever she went up there.
                ted to come out.
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                The Old Neptune’s Ghosts

                And one of the previous landlords had a large al-
                sation dog - fred I think he was called - that hated
                the cellar door being opened. It went crazy whe-
                never it was raised, it would stare down the steps
                into the dark cellar and it was as though he could
                see something there. It would bark, bark and bark
                at the cellar. its hackles raised, and wouldn’t quit
                going mad until the hatch was closed. If the dog
                ever misbehaved in any way, the landlord would
                point at the cellar door and tell the dog he’d open
                it if he didn’t behave. It really didn’t like that and
                would cower and slink away from the cellar door,
                to a position where he couldn’t see it.

                Poor old Fred....he’d be happier at the Neptune no-
                wadays though - the cellar’s hardly ever opened up
                as they use it for stowage space only. They’ve got       When you look at The Neptune from outside you
                a new ground-level cellar at the back of the buil-       can see why musicians and bands sound so good
                ding, that makes it a bit easier for the barmaids to     in there. It’s a wooden-box and acts like a huge re-
                change the barrels etc. On the subject of new bits       sonator. The interior walls are timber too, and the
                of the building....                                      building has a resonating, amplifying effect on the
                                                                         music. I’m not saying that crap musicians sound
                There are photo’s over the old fire-place that show      good in there - they sound worse actually - but bands
                the various states the place has been in in the past.    and artists and of course the audience really benefit
                There’s one picture that shows a large portion of        from the way the place is built - it’s wooden and has
                the pub missing - smashed in by the sea that was         hollow spaces beneath, around and above.
                breaking over the sea-wall with enormous waves.
                                                                         My favourite time to be in The Old Neptune is on a
                I met an old bloke in the Neptune last week who          Sunday afternoon. The atmosphere is so mellow....
                was saying he remembered the days when the floor         yesterday is a case in point. It was a beautiful after-
                had hundreds of holes drilled in it. He said that        noon, and as the Sun lowered to the horizon, the
                customers used to wear wellington boots in the bar       whole place filled up with golden light - it beamed
                because the sea used to come up through the floor        in through the windows and through peoples beer,
                boards! He wasn’t joking either! Can you imagine it?     wine or cider glasses, giving the impression that
                You’re standing having a beer and the sea is lapping     everyone was quaffing back pure, self illuminating,
                around your ankles! Surreal.                             liquid, alchemical gold. It was as though the bar and
                                                                         everyone in it had been touched by a magic-wand.
                                                                         And then the music started. Yesterday it was Steve

                                                                         Bolton, performing as Boltz. I took a picture on my
                                                                         mobile phone..... it didn’t come out too clear, but you
                                                                         get the drift..... look at that light behind him. If Dar-
                                                                         ren (Landlord) hadn’t pulled the blinds down behind
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                                                                         him, he’d have dissapeared in the natural light-show.
                                                                         It was incredibly bright, dazzling. Anyway, Boltz
                                                                         is doing his most-bodacious thing.and the place is


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                The Old Neptune’s Ghosts

                buzzing. When I look around at the gathered faces,        manoid Landscape. So, not only can you go there
                i realised that most of the audience were musicians       and purchase objects de art, of the types mentioned
                and singers.... and those that weren’t involved in        above, you can now buy a world changing book!
                music-making were artists of other kinds, painters,       Hurrah! The Neppy does it again!
                sculptors, and yes, even a writer or two (me being
                one of them).

                So, as you can imagine, the quality of the Old Nep-
                tune’s performers is -has to be- the dog’s wotsits,
                for such a discerning audience. And they ARE. They
                are. The brilliant musician Bill Clift was in the au-
                dience, and he was joined by all the members of the
                amazing band called We Ghosts - they performed
                on the Sunday here two weeks ago. And they were
                all there because Steve Bolton is one of those first-
                rate performers.who you just have to see. This pub
                is crazy..... I mean, what other pub puts on world-
                class acts like these, on a regular basis? Friday and
                Saturday too, it ain’t just Sunday. Boltz has played
                with The Who. He’s performed on many, if not all
                of Paul Young’s Albums and gigs. He is genuinely
                World Class! And in my local boozer! I can hardly
                believe it sometimes. It’s the only place I know of
                that puts on a Mardi Gras night every year.

                I was sitting there one rainy day a few years back,
                looked to my left at the bloke on the stall next to me,
                and it was Suggs (Madness). He was chatting with
                Tony Cool behind the bar, about the poxy weather.
                All very normal in The Old Neptune, nothing to write
                home about (I was at home anyway). Chris Evans
                strolled in one day with his wife and kids, sat at a
                table and had a quiet family lunch. No one batted
                an eye. There’s an autographed portrait of Peter O
                Toole on the wall and a small brass plaque on one
                of the benches where he sat. The Old Neptune was
                used as one of the locations for the film Venus, Mick
                Hill was an extra in the film, and is in a background

                shot as a customer. They’ve put a p**s take plaque
                on the bench where Mick sat in the film. Hee hee.

                To keep up the pub’s well-deserved reputation for
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                off-the-wall-ness, and doing things other pubs can’t
                imagine, I am proud to announce that The Old Nep-
                tune now stocks a few copies of my book, The Hu-


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