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The Borough Arms: new landlords make success of taking pub back to Victorian heyday

WHENEVER Carl and Debbie Millward drove past the Borough Arms in Lymington they’d look at each other and say: “Who on earth would take that pub on?”

Well, the answer is: them!

A year on they’ve made such a success of it, the Borough has now acquired a reputation as being one of the best pubs for food in the town. A recent posting on Facebook praising their grub got well over 100 comments all saying the same.

Landlady Debbie says she was gobsmacked by the amount of nice messages saying: “I was in the hairdressers when I first saw the post and I was worried about the sort of response it would get as sometimes social media can be cruel.

“But when it reached over 100 and counting and they were all saying nice things, I was like ‘wow!’ We are so delighted, it really meant a lot to us.”

The couple decided to take over the Borough Arms after having a look around and being told that it would be having a substantial refurbishment.

Debbie and Carl Millward, landlords of the Borough Arms pub in Lymington
Debbie and Carl Millward, landlords of the Borough Arms pub in Lymington

Debbie said of the pub which she believes dates back to 1838 and is owned by Allied Taverns: “We could see the potential. When we took it over, it felt quite forlorn but we have always relished a challenge.”

“There are a few really old photos of the pub back in its heyday in the Victorian times and I’d really like it to look more like that. We’re going to have a refurb and do the outside up. But I still want it to have the feel of a real country pub.”

Pointing out one photo which shows a coach and horses arriving at the pub with a grand couple alighting, Debbie said: “I want the Borough to look fresh and clean like it does in that picture, a really inviting and fun place to come to. I want families, pensioners, and people on their own all to feel welcome here.

“We put on lots of events like charity quiz nights, race evenings and live music.”

On my visit there is a roaring log fire and a packed house, here for the OAP special carvery lunch on a Wednesday which is a bargain at just £6.95. For that you get the choice of two roasts and normally a special, like a homemade pie, plus a huge choice of fresh veg.

The Borough’s carvery is the reason why so many people took to Facebook to praise the pub. On a Sunday it’s £9.95 and there are four joints on offer, a vegetarian option, two homemade specials and a choice of eight veg.

Debbie said: “Last week we did 70 covers, so bookings become essential.”

It’s not just on a Sunday that you can get a good value meal at the Borough. On a Tuesday there is steak night with two 8oz sirloin steaks with onion rings and chips plus a glass of wine for just £22.95 for two.

On Wednesday there is a curry buffet night where three delicious curries, including a vegetarian one are available, along with rice, naan, poppadums and a glass of wine for £19.95 for two.

Debbie said: “Our food isn’t fancy, just old-fashioned really good home cooking and people really seem to like that.”

The couple spent 22 years in Florida where Carl was a car panel beater who got the chance to work on special projects for the famous Planet Hollywood restaurant. One of the vehicles he helped restore was the classic Munsters’ car from the TV show.

They had to move back to England in 2014 for family reasons. Debbie, who was brought up in Dorset, said: “My parents were hoteliers and before we went to America we worked for a company in Wales basically going into pubs that had ‘issues’ and sorting them out.

“We built the trade back up, then brought in managers to take over. It was very rewarding work.”

When the couple returned from America they decided to come back to Debbie’s roots taking over the Royal Oak in Downton.

Debbie said: “It had closed three times in five years. We brought it back up to being a really good pub. We loved the pub and gained a lot of regulars, it was quite heartbreaking to have to leave it. But what’s been lovely is that a lot of customers have found us again and our now coming to the Borough.”

The reason the couple left the Royal Oak is, Debbie says, because it was owned by a big company who she felt ‘didn’t care’ about its tenants, or their customers but its ‘profits.’

She said: “The Borough is owned by a company that has just 500 pubs. They really take an interest in them and they’ve been a fantastic support to us.”

The couple are waiting on approval from planning authorities before they carry out the refurbishment of the Borough but hope it will be given the go-ahead soon.

Once the pub reopens they hope to be offering a gin menu and entertainment for all tastes.

Debbie puts her and Carl’s success so far with the Borough down to their dedication.

“To us, running a pub isn’t just a pub. It can’t be,” she explained. “You have to be here to chat with the customers, you have to build the right atmosphere, sometimes we work crazy hours but it gives you great satisfaction.

“What’s been really nice is people popping in and saying what a lovely time they’ve had and saying ‘I haven’t been here for years but what a difference!’ That’s such a nice thing to hear.”

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