300-Year-Old Pub On Remote UK Island Looking For A ‘Monarch’ To Run It

Have you ever wanted to reign in a castle on your own isolated island? Just off of North West England might be the answer to this dream. Right now, you can apply for a 10-year lease to “govern Piel Island”. This will involve running the Ship Inn, campsite, and a 14th-century castle. Additionally, according to the Barrow Borough Council, the “crowning” ceremony will involve pouring alcohol over the new monarch’s head.

Become the Monarch of Piel Island

The council members say Piel Island is “a great asset to Cumbria“. But they also warn it was “a unique place and any operator needs to appreciate the constraints offered by power and weather“. [1] As a result, the operating position takes a lot of dedication, to endure uncertain weather and isolation. Keep in mind, there are no grocery stores on Piel Island. In fact, the island can only be accessed by ferry.

The new operator will have to manage the “maintenance of the Ship Inn, grounds maintenance of the surrounding area and management of camping and the toilet and shower block“. However, urgent repairs to the buildings and jetty will be outsourced.

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Arial view of Piel Island. At only 50 acres it consists of a pub, 3 houses, and the ruins of a 14th-century castle
Arial view of Piel Island. At only 50 acres it consists of a pub, 3 houses, and the ruins of a 14th-century castle. Image Credit: Simon Ledingham | BBC

This opening almost never existed. After the previous leaseholders left during the Covid-19 lockdown, people began to campaign in support of the island, calling it “the jewel in the crown” of the area and a “vital part of our heritage“. In addition to its rich history, the island is frequented by seals.

One vocal supporter, Ian Baker, said the pub was “integral to attracting visitors to this small but historic island. The entire island was given to the people of Barrow to serve as a memorial to those who died in the First World War. To honor the fallen we need to do all we can to attract people to the island — having a public house on the island helps attract people.” [2]

Read: The man who has lived as a hermit for 40 years

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The History of Piel Island

On its tourism website, Barrow Council said: “One of the most enduring aspects of the Ship Inn is the tradition of the king and knights of Piel. The tradition holds that each new landlord is crowned King of Piel in a ceremony of uncertain origin, in which they sit in an ancient chair, wearing a helmet and holding a sword while alcohol is poured over their head. By the 19th Century it had become an important aspect of the island’s history to such an extent that responsibility for looking after the helmet and chair fell within the tenancy agreement.”

Moreover, the “monarch” title of the island is a long-held tradition dating back to 1487. Ten-year-old Lambert Simnel, a pretender to the English throne, camped on Piel. About 4,000 mercenaries accompanied him to London for their coup. They were defeated during the Battle of Stoke Field in Nottinghamshire. Simnel was spared and pardoned; he even went on to become King Henry’s falconer. 

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Cut to the mid-1800s. At this point, “some of the local fishermen were sitting in the bar with a glass of very strong lemonade, and they were thinking, ‘Well, if we can’t have a future king of England, we’ll have our own king of the island,'” said tour guide John Murphy. “So a decision was made that any landlord or any landlady, in turn, will be knighted king.”

There began the tradition of anointing a monarch by dousing them with beer and vowing to “be a modest smoker, a good drinker, [and] a lover of all women or all men“. Additionally, the castle itself was built in the early 1300s by monks of Furness Abbey in an effort to deter Scottish raiders. [3]

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The Gorgeous, Isolated Island

In fact, Murphy, 72, has visited the island for over 60 years, conducting walking tours there in the summer. “When I was much younger, we had some amazing nights in the pub, and I must have slept on every blade of grass, drunk and sober, in rain, wind and snow. Over the years, I’ve staggered out of that pub looking for a tent that I couldn’t remember where I put. And then, I just curl up in a corner somewhere for the night.

Murphy would apply for the monarch position himself but he worries about his age. “I am considering it. I am seriously thinking: Could I end my days with a happy smile on my face sharing a pint with 800 seals?” But he added, “I think I could, you know.[4]

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Sources

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  1. “Piel Island: Search for licensee to run 300-year-old pub.BBC. January 17, 2022
  2. “Piel Island’s Ship Inn: Petition started to save pub.” BBC. March 24, 2021
  3. “Pub landlord, caretaker and monarch sought for isolated Piel Island.The Guardian. Mark Brown. December 20, 2021
  4. “Wanted: All-in-one landlord, pub manager and monarch for remote U.K. island.” CBC. Sheena Goodyear. December 22, 2021
Sarah Biren
Freelance Writer
Sarah is a baker, cook, author, and blogger living in Toronto. She believes that food is the best method of healing and a classic way of bringing people together. In her spare time, Sarah does yoga, reads cookbooks, writes stories, and finds ways to make any type of food in her blender.
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