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?
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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.
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