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Former Thorpe landlord to retire

PUBLISHED: 15:30 22 February 2010 | UPDATED: 08:20 02 July 2010

Robert Dawson-Smith has sold up his pub and is retiring from the Saracen's Head

Robert Dawson-Smith has sold up his pub and is retiring from the Saracen's Head

Ed Foss

A simple Sunday lunch yesterday brought to an end one of Norfolk's most colourful pub careers, marked out most recently by recession busting success and featuring stints at some of the county's best loved eateries across 45 years.

A simple Sunday lunch yesterday brought to an end one of Norfolk's most colourful pub careers, marked out most recently by recession busting success and featuring stints at some of the county's best loved eateries across 45 years.

Robert Dawson-Smith retired from the business of hostelries after a lifetime of cooking, bonhomie and, by his own admission, walking a knife edge of political correctness with his bar room banter and famous roadside chalkboards.

For nearly 21 years he has been at the helm of the Saracen's Head at Wolterton, near Aylsham, famous for its food, décor and for being a middle of nowhere hideaway. When he moved to the inn and restaurant in 1989, it was a dilapidated shell.

Before that Mr Dawson-Smith had run a deli in Aylsham which supplied Harrods and Selfridges, been in charge at the Buckinghamshire Arms in the shadow of the National Trust's Blickling Hall near Aylsham for nearly 11 years and managed the Town House at Thorpe St Andrew as a 23-year-old.

It was the Town House where he met his wife Daphne: “The best looking girl in Norfolk walked through the door one day,” he said.

In recent years the chalkboards both inside and outside the Saracen's had become a tourist attraction all of their own, with Mr Dawson's non-conformist, acerbic wit and unapologetically barbed political comments mixed in with simpler messages about what might be on the menu that day.

Much of his early career was marked out with an infamous personal battle with alcoholism which saw him give up drinking in 1986.

It is a subject which he remains happy to discuss and describes with more than a little humour and enthusiasm, as well as a serious note, stating: “There is life after drink.”

Retirement has come about thanks to the sale of the Saracen's leasehold, which Mr Dawson-Smith first put on the market in 2007, knowing at the time it might take time to sell.

“It's going to be sad, of course it is, waking up on Monday morning and no longer doing what I have done for so many years,” said Mr Dawson-Smith.

“But I am 66 years old now and have a garden to worry about, we want to travel, I have a book planned called 'Indiscretions of an Innkeeper' based on four and a half decades of true stories.”

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