The Griffins Head

Loran Smith's picture

CHILLENDEN, England – The Griffins Head is a country pub that is anchored in the village of Chillenden — which is near Wingham, which is near Littlebourne, which is near Canterbury.

Naturally, everybody knows where Canterbury is, and if you live close by, you know your way out in the country to The Griffins Head, which in reality is near grain fields of barley, wheat, and rape. And a ewe or two.

My guess is that some of those who frequent Karen and Jerry Copestake’s fine establishment, much more than a watering hole, haven’t spent an abundance of time at Canterbury Cathedral — no more than a lot of Georgians have trekked their way up Stone Mountain.

Jerry’s clientele, while far from provincial, likely knows more about cricket, Wimbledon, Ascot, the Henley Regatta, and the Open Championship than they do the murder of Sir Thomas Beckett or the times of Pope Gregory the Great, on whose watch the stunning cathedral was founded.

For 25 years, Jerry Copestake has been operating The Griffins Head on the premise that good food and a socially enhanced ambience will make customers and patrons inclined to return. A conversation with Jerry while he is cooking sausages, burgers, and chicken on his outdoor grill becomes privy to a few of his regulars, like Tim Deakin, who grinned and interjected with obvious pride, “Chillenden has no post office, no nothing — just a great pub.”

With that, Luke Sidders chimed in, “People come from all over to see this place and to have a meal and a pint or two.” As Tim and Luke spoke, James Flynn nodded approvingly. Where else would you find such customer appreciation and testimonials, eagerly volunteered?

Jerry has a historical document hanging on a wall inside — space where there is seating for diners, along with a seasoned dart board, which attracts keen interest, an aging bar for socializing and quenching, and a storied fireplace — which provides an illuminating history of The Griffins Head.

It had its beginning in 1275 during the reign of Edward I, or Edward Longshanks, owing to his uncommon height for the times, 6-2. You don’t have to rush to your encyclopedia or the Internet to conclude that this means it was something like three generations before Columbus was about to do his thing when the original building, John de Chillenden’s farm house, was erected and became a place for the making of ales and ciders.

“A license,” the document reveals, “was granted to the house in 1743 to one Elias Sloper.” Then in 1766 — when George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and the colonial boys were readying for revolutionary action — The Griffins Head got a coach license, which could be expected since Chillenden is on what was once the main road from Canterbury to Deal.

The Griffins Head in the Copestake era has had a few additions but has maintained its traditional character, which includes low ceilings and a nook-and-cranny construction. On a typical recent weekend, Karen is inside managing the kitchen, Jerry is behind the outdoor grill, stoked by simmering ash wood, with Holly Cooke, friendly and becoming, taking orders in an adjoining hut.

Inside, another attractive brunette, Bonnie Bruton, ensures that service is never lagging, as patrons — male and female (no gender distinction here like there is at nearby Royal St. Georges Golf Club, where there are no female members) — crowd the bar for imbibing and conversation on a variety of subjects.

The topics ranged from whether Rupert Murdoch, owner of The Sun, the tabloid that prints with a no-holds-barred policy, is a sinister bloke, to whether David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, knows what he is doing, to whether Irish golfer Rory McIlroy is the next Tiger Woods. And, of course, the lamentable circumstance of the closing of the nearby Charles Pfizer and Co. facility, where Viagra had its beginning.

The economy, the Common Market, the weather, sports — whatever topic of conversation — the congenial and compatible atmosphere at The Griffins Head is without peer. Hopefully in a pub-declining era, it will persevere. Long live the Copestakes.

[For 36 years the sideline radio reporter for the Georgia Bulldogs, Loran Smith now covers a bigger sideline of sports personalities and everyday life in his weekly newspaper columns.]