Thorley Taverns is a multi-outlet public house chain which currently operates 33 pubs, 28 of which are situated on The Isle of Thanet in Kent, England. The founder and chairman is Frank Thorley, born 9 December, 1935. Thorley works with his son Philip, born 4 February, 1963, who is assisting in continuing to build the business.
There are so many Thorley-owned taverns in the area that it is called 'Planet Thorley' by locals. A play on the local name for the area is Planet Thanet, as it is a 'world away from anywhere else'.
Frank was first employed in the insurance business, changing direction to work as a newsagent. From this humble beginning, he expanded into the wholesale tobacco industry, during which time part of his job involved supplying vending machines to the public house trade.
His first foray into property ownership was his purchase of The Angel, Crosswall, in London in 1971. Another four London pubs were then added to his portfolio over the next four years, before he purchased The Charles Dickens, in Broadstairs, Kent, in 1975. This was his first property in Thanet, and it set the tone of things to come with many more following. His investment in this property, involving a major overhaul, made it one of Kent's most popular venues. Due to personal circumstances, The Charles Dickens was sold in 1980. However, this did not deter Frank from continuing his expansion in the Thanet area.
The Expansion Period
Thorley Taverns, by which name the company is now known, began acquiring further establishments which were largely in need of investment. The Royal, opposite Ramsgate Harbour, was the first in Ramsgate. It was a derelict pub which had had a number of attempts to reopen, but they were all doomed to failure. After a large amount of investment and refurbishment, it again proved a hit and became a popular destination eatery. It is a large two-storey pub, with sweeping views of Ramsgate's Royal Harbour. It also had a large dance area on the ground floor, popular with the youth of the area.
Thorley Taverns then made a brave and different acquisition in the Fayreness Hotel, on the cliffs of Broadstairs. This was a leap of faith as it wasn't a public house, but a magnificent hotel overlooking the English Channel. Again, as has become a Thorley Tavern trademark, major investment, alterations and refurbishment turned the establishment around and it has become a thriving venue.
Following the acquisition of The Royal, The Royal Oak, just a little further down the road, was purchased in 1998 and has become a major hotel in the town.
The Hotel De Ville, a famous hotel which once had residents such as John le Mesurier and Arthur Lowe, was next for a makeover, as was the Pegwell Bay Hotel (which is on the cliffs of Pegwell, overlooking the bay, as its name suggests).
There have been many further investments in property, both in and around Thanet. At the time of writing there are 33 properties in the Thorley Tavern portfolio.
The Thorley Chain is very distinctive, with its smart interiors and selection of real ales, and is aimed at the younger end of the market generally, with live music proving to be quite a draw.
However, many locals do get the impression that any property is available to Frank, and are worried that all hostelries in Thanet will fall under his chequebook creating a dearth of non-Thorley establishments in the area. So they are not popular with all the locals, by any means.
It is hard to see the growth of this company slowing, and it is seen by many as the Wetherspoons of the South-East. Certainly, Thorley Taverns are firmly established on the Isle of Thanet, and the future seems sound despite the strident concerns from established local residents.
The area suffered a similar fate in the 1960s when another predatious company was purchasing properties and breweries. In the 1960s, Thomson and Wotton (1554 - 1969), the independent brewer in Queen's Road, Ramsgate, and Cobb and Co (1577 - 1967), the independent brewer in King's Street, Margate were both absorbed by Whitbread. Thomson and Wotton is now the site of a Waitrose Supermarket, previously known as Ramsgate Coach Stop, while Cobb's is now a retail outlet.
A Sample of Thorley Taverns
There is a sample of Thorley Taverns in this Entry which is a stroll around a number of pubs in Broadstairs to enable comparisons, as well as giving a flavour of some of the other distinctive hostelries in the area.