IF you had wandered into the village pub in the pretty Dales village of Barningham just 18 months ago, you might have been forgiven for considering it a little eccentric.

The Milbank Arms was little changed since 1860. It hadn’t even got a bar. Beer was dispensed by landlord Neil Turner, on a Charles and Diana tray, from a little cellar cubby hole at the foot of a short flight of steps. Neil was particularly noted for his cocktails – all 87 varieties of them – attracting a regular annual pilgrimage by a group of women from London. The food offering amounted to a bag of crisps.

Then Neil retired, and the pub near Richmond closed at the end of March last year, after being run by the Turner family since 1939.

There were concerns about its future, or indeed, if it had any. Despite being valuable community assets, village pubs are having a hard time. But Sir Edward and Lady Natalie Milbank, the owners of Barningham and Holgate Estate – and, thus, of the pub – refused to be deterred by commercial concerns and submitted plans for a total revamp of the grade II-listed building. “In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to make changes, but the fact that there are only eight pubs in the country without a bar tells its own story,” said Sir Edward in support of his scheme.

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A design and access statement described the pub as being “in a state of disrepair” and “not able to support itself commercially” as it didn’t serve any real ales or cask beer and could not provide accommodation or serve food.

Now the Milbank Arms has just been relaunched, with a bar, luxurious accommodation in four en-suite bedrooms and delicious, locally-sourced food and drink. The interior layout has been opened up to accommodate many more guests and to facilitate the serving of food.

It’s taken more than a year and during the whole process, Sir Edward and Lady Milbank have gone to great lengths to appease their critics – CAMRA, the Georgian Society and some villagers – who said the no-bar pub was unique.

“It still is,” says Lady Milbank. “The cellar bar forms an integral part of the character of the newly-refurbished pub. Neil’s famous cocktail list is even being served there, exactly where he used to mix them; part of his miniatures collection has been used to decorate this room. We urge all those who had concerns to come and enjoy the Milbank Arms now it’s reopened.”

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During renovations, careful and painstaking consideration was given to all the historic elements of the 200-year-old former coaching inn, which has been on the site since before 1690 when the Milbank Family purchased Barningham Estate. The pub has been licensed since 1774.

“We take the historic integrity of the building very seriously,” says Sir Edward. “Structurally, and in the interior decoration, we have made numerous references to the wonderful past history of this pub, the village, the estate and the Milbank family.”

Next to the bar is a roll call containing the names of all past publicans, going back to the 1690s when the Milbanks arrived, a list compiled with the help of the Barningham History Club. The old Milbank Arms sign has been restored and hangs in pride-of-place over the fireplace in the main bar area, and a sign naming Mrs Hannah Turner as licensee has been restored.

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“We also bought historic prints of the area at auction to adorn the walls of the pub,” says Lady Milbank. “We hope people will enjoy, as well as find historically interesting, these references to the local area.”

As well as vintage prints, the lovely new interiors designed by Lady Milbank boast lots of antiques, comfortable bench seating and considerate lighting. There are cosy corners and private areas where customers can gather.

Where the Milbanks have gone for contemporary fittings, such as the bar counter and table tops, oak from the estate has been used. “Crucially, all of the services employed on this project were provided by local highly-skilled craftspeople and technicians,” says Sir Edward.

The Milbanks had clear ideas about the look and feel of the pub – both upstairs and downstairs. “We wanted to create a classic British country pub with exposed beams adorned with hops, a log fire, stone flag floors and classic country tweeds and leathers,” says Lady Milbank. “The colours are rich and sumptuous – I have a ban on the use of the colour grey! I think you can create an intimate atmosphere harnessing good light and colour.”

In the large bedrooms, there is a traditional country, yet luxurious feel, with colourful floral wallpapers and fabrics from Colefax & Fowler and Nina Campbell, alongside heritage-styled bathrooms. Bedheads and blinds were made up to Lady Milbank’s designs by Niche Living, in Barnard Castle.

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It’s all come together beautifully, but asked what she considers the most vital component of a successful pub, Lady Milbank is quick to answer. “People! We feel the most important ingredient for the perfect country pub are the people who run it and the community that enjoys it.

“We are employing the wonderful services of Coghlan’s, who run the tearoom and artisan bakery in Barningham Park Coach House, to do the catering at the pub, and we’ve picked a great team to welcome guests and deliver high standards of hospitality.”

Outside, a parking area has been created to keep the village free of cars, around which a mixed hay meadow has been sown to attract butterflies and bees, as well as an extensive orchard of fruit trees which will hopefully yield an abundance of delicious fruit to be used in the pub.

Given that every piece of professional counsel they obtained advised them against putting money into a village pub, the couple are thrilled with the newly-revived Milbank Arms.

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“We decided the benefits to the village, the estate and the surrounding area as a whole far outweighed the financial ones,” says Lady Milbank. “We see the renovation as part of our responsibility and duty as owners and custodians of this wonderful institution and historic building and hope the pub will complement the already crucial institutions in the village, such as the church and thriving village hall.”

To celebrate the reopening, the couple downed a pint of their very own Milbank Arms Extra Special Bitter, brewed by cousin Jack Milbank of the Bargara Brewing Company.

“We will support the pub as much as we can, of course,” laughs Lady Milbank. “I do love everything, from cider to gin, but we were mostly looking forward to cousin Jack’s Extra Special brew!”

W: themilbankarms.com

I: the.milbank.arms


Head Cabinetmakers – Antony Nixon, Barnard Castle

Builder – Chris Henderson and father Neil Henderson

Pointing – Reece Marriot

Joiner – Peter Dickinson

Painters – Michael Thompson and Father

Windows – Simon Wade – Teesdale Glass, Barnard Castle

Roof – Craig Sutton – Teesdale Stone Slate Roof

Stone flags re-layed by Billy Thatchely

Sign and furniture Restorer – Luke Jordan, Barnard Castle

Plumber and Electrician –Teesdale Renewables, Barnard Castle

Coghlans from the Barningham Coach House

Blinds, headboards, seat pads being made by Niche Living, Barnard Castle

Website and branding by Peter Jones Design and Art Direction

Beds – manufactured in Yorkshire through Simply Beds in Catterick

Carpets – Burts of Darlington