The County becomes part of chain gang
For decades Ashford was never really one for the trendy eaterie or gastropub. It was a town of traditional public houses selling alcohol and bar snacks. The hostelries that existed in the town were the mainstay of social gatherings and the haunts of regulars, with many of them owned by brewers Courage, Whitbread or Fremlins.
There was, however, also a time when the small number of hotels in the town either stepped up a gear to keep up with the times, or even changed their identity completely.
It was in 1998 that the former County Hotel in the High Street opened as a JD Wetherspoon house, as part of the chain founded in 1979 by entrepreneur Tim Martin.
The ‘hotel’ name remained, but Wetherpoon chose not to continue the site as an actual hotel.
The County, once a Courage establishment, had previously been known as the Fernley Commercial and Temperance Hotel and, until its conversion by new owners, had a ballroom with one of the best sprung dancefloors in the area.
The County still includes a section of ceiling reputed to have been salvaged from the Crystal Palace after its destruction by fire in 1936.
Wetherspoon originally made one of the former bars a seating area, but this was removed a few years back.
Many of the old rooms have been left in their gutted state with fixtures and fittings removed and floorboards exposed. Some were converted into toilets and staff accommodation.
It is sad that the other rooms and the space above The County is going to waste and many would say the chain should maybe consider converting these back to hotel rooms due to a need for accommodation in the town centre.
This week, Remember When looks back to 1998, to the start of Wetherspoons reign at the former hotel. The pictures show The County before it was opened to customers following a major refurbishment.
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An exterior picture of The County Hotel in the Lower High Street in 1998, showing the premises following an extensive refurbishment by new owners JD Wetherspoon, before opening its doors to the town
Inside The County, the former ballroom is seen here minus its sprung dancefloor after being converted for eating and drinking by Wetherspoon’s. This view shows one of the former bars used to create a booth for privacy