How we saved the King’s Arms



The King’s Arms has been a pub since at least the 18th century and was once one of seven hostelries in Shouldham (others included the Rampant Horse, the Chequers, the Victory, the Black Horse and the Three Horseshoes). Since 1963, when the Rampant Horse (also on the Green) closed, the King’s Arms has been the only pub in the village.

The earliest record of ownership is that of Hogge & Seppings, a brewery founded in 1767 and based at Setchey Bridge. In 1928, this was taken over by Norwich’s Bullard’s Brewery, which provided beer for the King’s Arms for more than 30 years. Bullard’s is a famous Norfolk and Cambridgeshire family, and an old regular of our pub, the late Peter Martin, remembered a car being driven around Shouldham with its occupants shouting from a megaphone: ‘Vote for Bullard!’ Denys Bullard was the local MP in the early 1950s.

Bullard’s (and the King’s Arms) was taken over by national brewery chain Watney Mann in the early 1960s, which, in the late 1980s sold many of its pubs (including ours) to Brent Walker, an entertainments conglomerate. A few years later, Brent Walker formed Pubmaster, a pubco that owned the King’s Arms until 1997. In 1998 the pub was bought by Andrew and Tracy Burrell-Saward, who reopened it in 1999 after refurbishment and ran it until 2003. It was then bought by Glen Bishop who ran it with his partner Joy, before eventually selling it to Punch Taverns (then the UK’s largest pubco) in 2006. It was when Punch closed the King’s Arms in 2012 that our campaign began.

Save Our King’s Arms!

Summer 2012

The King’s Arms closes its doors with the departure of the last licensee and is put up for sale.

December 2012

The pub has been closed for nearly six months and fear mounts in Shouldham that it will be turned into a house. A group of villagers decide that something must be done. The email list of our local newsletter, Shouldham News, is used to build up support for a community buy-out. No-one in Shouldham knows what this entails.

11 January 2013

The first public meeting is held in the Chalk & Cheese, across the Green from the King’s Arms. More than 50 people attend, to hear speeches by an advisor from the Plunkett Foundation (a charity that helps set up social enterprises in rural communities) and a representative from CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale.

January 2013

After the public meeting, volunteers are asked to leave their contact details. Those on the list are later invited to attend a follow-up meeting where a committee is formed. SOKA (Save Our King’s Arms) comes into being.

February 2013

Meetings of the committee start to be held regularly. A Chair, Secretary and Treasurer are appointed, and Shouldham Community Enterprises (SCE) is registered as a company, run for the benefit of the community. We are on our way!

March 2013

Work begins in earnest, with sub-committees formed for fundraising, grants-searching, business planning, publicity, and the community share offer. The King’s Arms is listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV) by King’s Lynn & West Norfolk Borough Council at the request of Shouldham Parish Council.

Spring and Summer 2013

The whole village gets behind the campaign to save the pub, and various fundraising events are run – from Open Mic nights at the Chalk & Cheese to pop-up pubs in a marquee on Shouldham’s village green. A local lad does a sponsored cycle ride around Shouldham to raise money for our funds. Events also include a ‘fun jog and walk’ to celebrate the centenary of one of Shouldham’s most famous sons, the footballer Alf Kirchen (whose photo is still displayed in the pub). Alf was born in Shouldham and went on to play for Norwich, Arsenal, and England.

The opening date for the community shares launch is chosen: Friday16th August. We decide to hold a Beer Festival to coincide with the launch.

Publicity is vital to the project’s success and the Eastern Daily Press (EDP) becomes a strong supporter of our cause. Throughout the summer and autumn of 2013, our campaign is featured on the front page of the newspaper several times, and the editor comes to Shouldham to host a ‘pub quiz’ held in Colt’s Hall Barn.

16 August 2013

With much fanfare and publicity, Shouldham Community Enterprise’s share offer is launched. Our local MP, Liz Truss, gives a speech in support of the project in Shouldham Village Hall. The launch coincides with the first King’s Arms Beer & Music Festival (held on the Green while the pub remains closed).

30 September 2013

The share offer is still almost £30,000 short of its goal when the deadline is reached, so the committee decides to extend the offer by another month. Inventive ways of gaining extra publicity for our cause include contacting actor, writer and comedian, Stephen Fry, who has a house not far from Shouldham. Stephen sends out a message to his millions of followers on social media in support of our cause. It helps us get over the line.

30 October 2013

Days before our final deadline, the community share issue total reaches £150,000 – from 189 people nearly all of whom live within 15 miles of Shouldham. Our goal has been reached!

1 November 2013

During our share issue, the SCE committee begins to see the results of various grants applications. Just two days after meeting our target for the share issue, we receive notification that SCE has been awarded a major grant from the Social Investment Business (SIB) that will more than match the total we have raised ourselves. We have saved our pub!

January 2014

After weeks of negotiations, ably led by James Lee, we come to an agreement with Punch Taverns. Almost exactly a year after our first meeting to save the King’s Arms, the keys to the building are handed over to us on Shouldham Village Green. A photo of the event makes the front page of the EDP.

January-August 2014

Once we have gained ownership, the work to get the King’s Arms ready for opening begins. We still have enough money to remodel the pub, including creating the Oak Room restaurant by knocking down a wall and combining two spaces into one, levelling floors, moving the bar, and creating a new entrance into the garden. These complex and extensive works in an old building require considerable expertise. We also design a community café on the end of the building, which later will be converted into part of the new kitchen.

Much of the non-structural refurbishment work is carried out by our heroic band of supporters, including building a high-quality oak bar, painting the interior walls, re-tiling the gent’s toilets, completely landscaping the garden, and buying extra furniture for the bar and restaurant.

While this construction work continues, members of the SCE committee are busy advertising and interviewing candidates for the position of manager and chef. By the summer we have appointed our first manager, Ian Skinner, and it is agreed that, together with his partner Abbie, he will live above the pub.

12 September 2014

The official re-opening of the King’s Arms! In attendance are local dignitaries, including representatives of the King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council (which has given us firm support). They join various members of the media and large crowds of our supporters from across the region and beyond. The event kicks off our second Beer & Music Festival. We celebrate hard – the sun shines, the beer flows, the bands play, and the entire weekend is a resounding success.

6 January 2015

After a few months, our first chef decides to return to London. By an immense stroke of luck, this coincides with Jo Freeman being available for work. Jo has recently been chef at a nearby pub and already lives in the area. Her style of cooking quickly finds favour with locals and soon gets the King’s Arms listed in the national Good Food Guide.


Triumph follows triumph. In the years following its reopening, the King’s Arms wins the West Norfolk CAMRA Pub of the Year Award an unprecedented four times. We also win the East of England Parliamentary Pub of the Year, the 2016 East of England Rural Community Ownership Award, and an award from Pub is the Hub. The King’s Arms has become a beacon for community-owned businesses across England, with SCE providing advice for several pubs in East Anglia that are now owned and run by their local communities.

During the pandemic, the King’s Arms continues to support the village of Shouldham, providing a takeaway service when it is forced to close and setting up a fruit and vegetable distribution scheme. We are awarded various grants that help us to build a heated pergola over the terrace at the back of the building. This enables customers to use the pub even when restrictions mean they are unable to sit inside.

The King’s Arms is also a financial success. Because of our status as a Community Benefit Society, all profits must be reinvested in the business or used to support local community projects. This allows SCE to set up ventures such as a community café (the pop-up café now takes place monthly, with proceeds being donated to charity) and a school meals service for St Martin at Shouldham primary school, which ran for six years. SCE also supports Shouldham’s community orchard, which opens in June 2022 as part of the village’s celebrations for the Platinum Jubilee. Profits generated have allowed SCE to provide sponsorship to Shouldham Football Club, Denver cricket club and other ad hoc events such as a local history evening. In addition, the monthly quiz has generated many thousands of pounds for various mainly local charities or causes.

2022 to now

After nearly eight hugely successful years at the helm with his partner Abbie, Ian Skinner, our first manager, decides to hang up his bar towel. With the great good fortune that has characterised our pub since its reopening, SCE persuades our chef, Jo Freeman, to take on the additional role of manager. Jo has risen to the task with aplomb, maintaining the highest standards in the kitchen as well as managing the bar, and the pub’s varied programme of events.

In 2024, we are celebrating a decade since our community took ownership of the King’s Arms. With the help of our village and our supporters, Shouldham’s pub continues to go from strength to strength!



No account of the King’s Arms would be complete without an honourable mention of those tenants, licensees and owners who took charge of running our pub throughout its history. As can be seen, the list is incomplete. If anyone has more information about previous tenants and licensees, please get in touch.