A Small British Island Is Looking for Someone to Run Its Pub – and Serve as 'King'

Piel Island has crowned the pub landlord as king of the island for at least 200 years.

Aerial image of Piel Castle, Piel Island, Furness Peninsula, Barrow in Furness, Cumbria, UK
Photo: Robert Harding / Alamy Stock Photo

Maybe you've always dreamed of running a pub? Or maybe you have bigger dreams: An island all to your own or being crowned a king (or queen)? A small British island is currently on the lookout for all three – though the gig may be harder work than it sounds.

Piel Island – a mere 50-acres large – is located about a half-mile off the Furness peninsula on the western coast of northern England. Thanks to the island's beauty and history, ferries shuttle tourists to and from the island from April to September – and so, this being England, the island has a pub: The Ship Inn.

However, running the pub comes with more responsibilities than just serving drinks: The landlord is also in charge of watching over the entire island – even during the quiet off-season months.

The Barrow Borough Council – the local authority who oversees the island – says the history of the inn dates back over 300 years, with the first recorded landlord, Edward Postlethwaite, serving from 1746 to 1766. Then, at some point, another interesting title was added to the job: Though the exact origins are unclear, since at least the 1800s, whoever runs the pub is crowned "King of Piel." As an initiation, this new leader must sit in an ancient chair, donning a helmet and holding a rusty sword, while buckets of beer are dumped on their head.

After a brief tenure by a partnership between the local government and a pub company to assure The Ship Inn would continue running after the previous leaseholders terminated their contract early, the island is once again in search of its next "king."

According to a brief prepared by the council, "Members felt that an open and transparent procurement for a suitably experienced operator should take place" with an emphasis on finding someone who could fulfill a 10-year lease. "Piel Island is a unique place and any operator needs to appreciate the constraints offered by power, weather, access and its location within an area of Site of Special Scientific Interest," they point out.

John Murphy, who for 40 years has been leading walks to the island – yes, during some low tides, you can apparently stroll over to the island instead of taking the ferry – told The Guardian that running the pub and overseeing the island was no easy task. "You can't just nip across to Tesco for a loaf of bread when you're on Piel Island," he was quoted as saying. "You'll need to have dedication and a strong passion for isolation and peace and quiet. It takes a special personality."

Along those lines, Sandra Baines – head of visitor economy and culture at the council – told the BBC, the job was probably "not the dream people might think it is." No one said it was easy being king.

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