Prime ministers and presidents have called in and the world’s press has camped on its doorstep, but today The Bernard Arms is in a sorry state.
The pub, restuarant and hotel in Great Kimble has been closed for more than a year, the garden is overgrown, and former landlady Jacquie Brown contacted the Herald to tell us she hoped it wouldn’t stay that way for much longer.
Sadly, the day after The Bucks Herald spent a lovely afternoon interviewing Mrs Brown, she died suddenly at the age of 82. Now, almost two months later, her family have given their blessing to her story being told.
Mrs Brown, who lived in Bridge Street, was the landlady throughout the sixties and seventies and offered hospitality to several prime ministers and many of their staff.
Edward Heath was her favourite, he used to walk down to the church, played the organ there and then pop into the Bernard Arms for a coffee before a car was called to take him back to Chequers or Downing Street.
“He was a friendly person,” said Mrs Brown. “He was my favourite, he was a gentleman.”
Indeed, when Mrs Brown and her husband Mick were on holiday on the Isle of Wight they watched Mr Heath take part in the Admiral’s Cup race during Cowes Week and had dinner with him afterwards.
But despite these happy memories Mrs Brown was very concerned about the current state of the closed pub, which is the oldest in the village and was once known as The Bear and Cross.
“Everybody is very sad because it’s all falling to bits.
“There are rumours that it’s going to be converted into flats, or become a permanant car park for the school. It needs to be re-opened as something to do with the village, it’s been here a long time. It would be useful if it could be reopened as a pub and a shop.”
Mrs Brown and her husband took over the tenancy of the pub in 1963 when their son Jonathan was five and their daughter Frances was two.
They were both experienced hoteliers.
The pub had seven bedrooms, a restaurant and two bars which eventually they converted into one.
They had no idea it was located so close to the Prime Minister’s country home, but found out pretty quickly after they arrived.
“We used to get telephone calls from government hospitality to ask us if we could cope with large numbers of people coming for coffee or a meal, or to stay.”
They regularly entertained the entourages of visiting presidents and got swamped by journalists looking for stories.
“I don’t like the national press to be honest, we always had them hanging around, sticking their foot in the door, eavesdropping.”
Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister when the Browns took over the pub, then came Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, Wilson again and Jim Callaghan. Mr Heath and Mr Wilson visited most regularly.
When a French president stayed at Chequers his security people lodged at the Bernard Arms and Mrs Brown said: “They had spare blood for him in case he was involved in an accident and we had to keep it in the fridge. Fortunately they had no need for it!”
Despite all this excitement Mrs Brown admitted her happiest day was her last.
“The days were long, I did 96 hours a week for 23 years.
“I was up at 6.30am and often didn’t get to bed until 1.30am. We didn’t have a holiday for the first five years.”
After her husband died in 1978 she retired and bought her cottage a few hundred yards away.
“I’ve enjoyed my retirement,” she said.
The Bucks Herald has tried to speak to R J Tapping & Sons which has a board erected in the pub car park, but they have not returned our calls.