Overseeing a small island dominated by a castle, seals and a pub, an English council is searching for a new king or queen.
Claimants to the ancient throne, carved from old oak and soaked in the beer of coronations past, can apply for the job through the local government’s website.
The job listing, posted this week by the Barrow Borough Council in Cumbria, is technically seeking someone to run the pub on Piel Island, half a mile off England’s northwestern coast. Winters are wet, travel is limited and an eccentric tradition of naming a king survives at the island’s old pub.
“We’re not talking about St. Lucia or the Hawaiian islands,” said John Murphy, a 73-year-old resident of nearby Walney Island, and the guide of walking tours of the area for four decades. “We’re talking about a small and very isolated island in the north of England.”
The primary responsibility of the position, called a landlord, is to run the pub, called the Ship Inn, and to manage and maintain the island’s roughly 50 acres of grass, rock and sand. Neighbors include four private cottages and a 14th-century castle with a history of medieval monks, Scottish raiders and a pretender to the English throne.
After the previous landlord retired, Ann Thomson, the leader of the borough council, announced the search for a new one, describing the island as “an absolute jewel in the borough’s crown.”
But she said the successful applicant would need to be dedicated to the task. “While there are periods when the pub and the island is bustling with people,” she said, “there will be periods of quiet too — something the successful applicant will need to embrace.” The council is seeking someone who will make a 10-year commitment.
Separate from the announcement, the council described the custom that sets the job apart: “Tradition holds that each new landlord is crowned ‘King of Piel’ in a ceremony of uncertain origin.”
Tony Callister, another member of the council, said in an interview on Wednesday that the custom would continue. “The person coming in gets the title of King of Piel, which is nice to have, and there’s no reason for that to change,” he said.
The origin of the ceremony may be obscure because the pub, said to be over 300 years old, also has a murky history. It may also be because the title probably originated from a 19th-century pub game and the ceremony involves a lot of beer. Seated in the old chair, outfitted with a rusty helmet and sword, each new landlord gets a gallon of beer poured on their head, Mr. Murphy said.
He said the new landlord also swears an oath whose terms include being a good smoker, a good drinker, and “to give anyone found dead on the sands free refuge in the pub.”
Once the pageantry is over, the regent of Piel Island has to see to their duties: stocking the bar and kitchen, running the pub, and tending to various parts of the island, including campgrounds where visitors can stay overnight.
The duties do not involve Piel Castle, which is overseen by English Heritage, a charity that manages historic buildings and monuments. The borough council said several projects were planned for the island this year, including adopting a green energy plan.
From April to September, Piel Island welcomes a host of visitors, some of whom find their way to Barrow on trips to England’s Lake District. On Piel, they can book a room at the inn, watch seals and sunsets over a pint, and tour the ruined castle, which was built up by monks affiliated with the nearby Furness Abbey.
The monks used the castle as a place to store goods from their estates, take refuge from Scottish raiders in the 1300s, and possibly to smuggle materials like wool. “It becomes this symbol of defense,” said Mark Douglas, a properties curator of English Heritage. “Not many abbots built castles as well as monasteries.”
The island is also where Lambert Simnel, the young son of an Oxford tradesman, landed in June 1487 with an army of mercenaries and a claim to be the rightful heir to England’s throne. He marched on London, was promptly defeated by Henry VII, and wound up a kitchen servant.
The “King of Piel” custom was probably invented in the early 19th century as a reference to Simnel’s doomed claim, Mr. Douglas said. “Sort of a looking back to the good old days, and reinventing some kind of arcane ceremony,” he said. “It’s a bit weird.”
In the fall and winter, the history buffs and picnickers leave the island to the birds, the seals and two full-time residents in one of the private homes. “It’s a very tranquil place,” Mr. Murphy said. “If you don’t have any customers, you have to be a Robinson Crusoe and enjoy the facilities that you’ve got in your mind.”
Mr. Callister said some parts of the landlord’s contract would be negotiated with the council, including pay and whether the landlord would have to live on Piel year-round.
“It’s an opportunity for somebody that’s really open-minded, loves that style of business, loves the outside, loves history,” Mr. Callister said. “At the end of the day, when we all get a little bit older, you think, ‘I wish I’d have done that.’ Don’t pass that opportunity over.”
Mr. Murphy said the job requires someone who, at minimum, doesn’t mind a lot of time alone. He described the winter as “very harsh indeed,” with storms bringing heavy wind and rain. “You are virtually stuck on the island alone.”
And once you’re there, you have only so many ways to leave. When the tide recedes, it’s possible to walk — carefully, if you know the way — across two miles of sand. But when the tide returns, the only transport is a small ferry that Mr. Murphy described as “a rowing boat with a little engine on the back.”
He said one of the island’s two full-time residents, in order to pick up groceries from a Tesco’s supermarket, has to call ahead and then drive across the sands at low tide. In order to legally make that drive, Mr. Murphy said, one has to acquire a special license from the Duke of Buccleuch, who owns the sands around the island “through ancient rights.”
Mr. Murphy acknowledged that this was all a little weird: “I see that pub from my house every day and I smile every day, and think how absurd are we.”
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