After tens of thousands of pints pulled, countless Sussex Smokies lovingly made and hundreds of fundraising pub quizzes, Gyles and Mo Culver have decided it’s time to retire as Landlords of the White Hart.
The pub has seen many changes since the family took over back on the 17th April 2000, at the time their children Katy and Will were still at school and the pub was a very different place. Over the years they have worked tirelessly to create a warm, welcoming family pub, a proper ‘local’ with good pub food and a place at the bar for friendships and conversation. Memories have been made, while the highs and lows were celebrated and commemorated.
It’ll come as no surprise that Gyles and Mo met in a pub. They started as relief bar managers in the City of London, working in about a dozen pubs in total, the infamously haunted Pump House in Aldgate was one of the first. These were proper ‘drinkers’ pubs and the learning curve was steep; in the three hours at lunchtime and after City offices closed the pub was heaving with suited punters, 20 deep at the bar and waving bank notes, while orders were totted up rapier-fast in their heads with no electronic till in sight.
It was exhausting but fun work, they were bitten by the hospitality bug and it wasn’t long before the brewery offered them their first pub, the Spaniards in Hampstead Heath. After a short spell they moved to the Sun in Marlborough in 1986, which was one of the first pubs owned by the Slug and Lettuce chain. Here they experienced the beginning of industry changes as bistro food and a more relaxed, family environment became integral to the new pub experience. They then moved on to The Chequers Inn, Rowhook, and have memories of the great storm of ’87 when the pub was the only place in the village with heating. For three weeks the village was without power and Mo cooked meals for all the locals on the pub’s solid-fuel Aga. Later, when Katy was born in ’88 and Will in ‘91, the family became even more embedded in village life; the pub and the regulars loved chatting to the children and Katy remembers sitting on the kitchen table as Mo baked bread.
This sense of family and community is something Gyles and Mo have carried with them to all the pubs they’ve run, but none more so than the White Hart. Many would think that the anti-social hours that a publican keeps would be detrimental to family life, but the Culvers found it to be quite the opposite. Gyles and Mo always had time to spend with the children during the day rather than rushing off on a long commute as some parents did, and the children benefitted from gaining confidence as they chatted and charmed the customers. Strong bonds and friendships were made with this extended family and, subconsciously perhaps, the ‘secret to their success’ was formed; the inclusiveness of one big pub family.
The White Hart had been owned by brewery Hall and Woodhouse for just two years when the Culvers took on the lease in 2000. In those two short years, the pub had seen no less than 9 different managers. The pub was ready for some updates; out went the nicotine-coloured paintwork, the sticky carpets and the fruit machines. In came Mo’s style of cooking, with Sussex favourites and fresh, locally sourced produce.
Coming to a busy village pub from a quiet, rural one was a bit of a culture shock at first, Friday and Saturday nights could be wild! At this time, what was The Raven (then the Henfield Tavern) opposite was still open, as was the Gardeners Arms. HFC team members were (allegedly) once responsible for the removal of pub furniture one evening, found the next morning outside Budgens! Inter-pub darts championships and tug-of-war teams at the Village Fair were a regular event, they were happy and busy times.
Gyles and Mo have always been supportive of the village, one of their most important contributions has been the tireless fundraising for our local First Responders, HART. We have tried to come up with a total fundraising figure over the years; at the last count we think it’s in the region of £20k donated from pub quizzes, sponsored events and collection pots. That sum has provided quite a few lifesaving village defibrillators.
Times change and pubs have also changed; perhaps it was the smoking ban, or the cheap supermarket booze which made the difference to how we all socialise. However, Gyles and Mo came through these times stronger, creating a meeting place for families, a great place to share a meal with friends and family. White Hart Pub Quizzes were famed across the County, as was the brilliant Sloe Gin Competition.
Gyles and Mo have always valued firm friendships with their staff. The recurring theme in old photos are of good times with staff and customers, huge smiles, Christmas parties with Gyles as Santa, and friendships which saw the ups and downs of people’s lives interwoven with the life of the pub. In an industry well used to a high turnover of staff, this attitude is quite unique. Staff become friends, returning again and again, with ties as strong as family.
Both Will and Katy have happy memories of living above the pub as well as working behind the bar. Katy has gone on to forge her own career in hospitality, after a degree at Bournemouth she then worked for the Ginger Group for five years. Will is now living in Arundel with his girlfriend Amy and Sprocker puppy called Rudy, he’s taken a step back from hospitality and now works for a healthcare software company.
Gyles and Mo have worked hard for their retirement and the recent lockdown has given them a taste of things to come; the time for walks and enjoying the garden. They are planning to travel; explore France and take a road-trip to Cornwall. There’s even talk of a new, four-legged member of the family joining them soon!
The final words go to Mo. “Our time at the pub has been just wonderful, looking back on the past 37 years running pubs, and in particular the last 21 at the White Hart, I can honestly say I’d not change a single thing. We’ve opened our arms to our White Hart family and the times we’ve spent enjoying a glass of wine with them at the end of the evening have been some of our favourites. Most of all we’ll miss the people, because they made the pub what it is.”
The White Hart has been a centre of the village for so many locals. We all have memories of celebrations, birthdays, anniversaries, memorable times with friends as well as sad times, the goodbyes and tributes to people we love. As the White Hart enters a new chapter, this legacy will continue. New landlords Chris and Leisha will create new memories in this beautiful old oak-beamed building, where the Culver’s made their mark in such an enduring way.
“They say ‘find a job that you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life’, this is exactly how it felt working with the Culver’s. I wish Gyles and Mo every happiness in their retirement, this may be the end of an era but not the end of friendships with the White Hart family.” Jennie Bryant
“Gyles and Mo have been the most kind and generous hosts. We can recall so many memorable times and wonderful meals at The White Hart. We have made so many good friends there including Gyles, Mo and their children Katy and Will. We will miss you.” Libby and Ashley Serpis
“A group of us, all regulars in the White Hart, have had many trips to Twickenham to watch the rugby, as well as the cricket at Sussex. Once we were hurrying the driver to make sure we caught last orders, forgetting we had the landlord in the taxi! The Culvers are a lovely family, I will miss them in the White Hart, as many others will.” Trevor Simmons
“Our friendship, as with many of Gyles and Mo’s customers, has been a wonderful journey over the last 20 years. So many things; their love of rugby, their unwavering support of charity events, the fantastic parties, food and hospitality, not to mention their emotional support, has made the White Hart more than just a pub.” Tracey and Steve Prescott
“HART will be forever grateful for the support that Gyles and Mo have given us over the years. They have, through quiz nights, collection boxes and charity events, helped HART install & maintain many defibrillators in the village. They and their customers have raised many thousands to assist our volunteer first responders. Our fondest good wishes to them both for a happy and enjoyable retirement.” Nigel Higson, HART
“Gyles has been an enthusiastic supporter of the cricket club for many years, sponsoring the team’s kit & the highly successful White Hart six-a-side match. The club also enjoyed his excellent hospitality when he & Mo provided lunches on match days. We were delighted to elect him as a Vice President in recognition of his contribution.” David Jemmett, Henfield Cricket Club
“When I started at The White Hart I had no experience in hospitality, but Gyles & Mo gave me a chance. 14 years down the line they have become like second parents to me. They treat their team with such respect and patience. We all wish them the happiest retirement, and I believe I speak for many when I say their leaving the pub will leave a huge hole in the village.” Marisha Gray
“Gyles & Mo are going to be sorely missed, as are their children Katy & Will. In the 10 years my family have lived in the village The White Hart has been the pub for us. We will miss the chats, friendly welcome & of course Mo’s stupendous roasts. Whoever takes over has big shoes to fill. It really was Gyles, Mo, Will, Katy & their superb staff who put the heart in the Hart.” Mike (aka Jack the Lad)
“In 2007 we were house hunting and decided to pop into The White Hart. Little did we know it was to become like our second home and the hub of our social life! We’ve had so many amazing times; quizzes, parties, celebrations. We can’t imagine the place without Gyles & Mo.” Siobhan and Ed Reynolds