Before moving to Rye, Pete Anderson had a senior management role within the print and banking industry. His job involved frequent trips to Europe to attend management meetings and, as a consequence of his travels, he contracted meningitis. As part of his recovery, he and his partner Lee Ransom went to stay with relatives in Rye and both fell in love with the place. Talks soon followed about a change of lifestyle. Ransom is a chef and has trained in hotel management so together they decided to set up a restaurant and found Fletcher’s House, a 15th-century building in Lion Street, where the playwright John Fletcher was born.
Anderson describes the change of career as challenging: “One minute I was sitting round a table in Poland discussing a Nectar customer loyalty scheme and the next heading back to Rye to work out menus. I could sit in a boardroom meeting with a CEO and give a presentation to 100 staff, but on the day I opened the door of Fletcher’s, I had no idea how to deal with customers on a one-to-one basis and I was shaking – a real bag of nerves.”
Ransom has now left catering to train in body stress relief and has just embarked on a new business offering just that. But for eight years, Anderson and Ransom built Fletcher’s House together; living above the shop, open six days a week, and getting up very early to prepare the home-cooked food. During that time, they have built a following of loyal regulars who have become friends. For many of them, Anderson has become a lifeline. He collects one woman (once well known among the aristocracy and a driver of top brass in the Army) from her house six days a week and gives her lunch, then walks her home and puts the TV on and rushes back to Fletcher’s. He has also been doing the weekly shop for another customer for eight years and provides outside catering for two others who can no longer walk to the restaurant. Regulars also come for lunch or tea once a week from villages outside Rye.
So often older people become invisible, but not for him: “The fascinating thing about Rye is that there are so many untold stories. When you have a business you see the other side. Customers trust you and confide in you. The only negative is that a two-minute job of, say, going to the bank ends up taking 30 minutes because of the people you bump into on the way. Nothing can be done quickly.”
The Fletcher connection
The picture of playwright John Fletcher that hangs proudly in the restaurant is a copy of the original that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. Anderson saw an article in The Times about the gallery’s appeal to keep the portrait in the UK and he organised a Christmas draw. Local artists, businesses and individuals donated generously, raising £3,000 that resulted in the happy outcome of the picture remaining in the gallery and an invitation for Anderson to visit.
One of their regular customers, Freddie Lees (ex RAF Bomber Command and diplomat in Malaya – a fantastic raconteur and friend who died in 2012) looked up at the picture over lunch one day and questioned why Rye didn’t celebrate its famous Jacobean playwright, John Fletcher. The seed was sown, which led to the formation, by Mike Eve and others, of the Fletcher Group, its aim being to buy the Monastery on Conduit Hill and turn it into the Fletcher Theatre. One of the first meetings of the group was held in Fletcher’s restaurant. As a member of that initial group, I remember a lot of passion, heated discussion and disagreements in the room, but also laughter; above all there was a sense of excitement and surprise at the vast mix of talent and expertise of people, all wanting to play a part in setting up a new cultural venture. It was all helped along with wine and food perfectly hosted by Anderson and Ransom. The rest is another story. However, as a result of that seed, Rye now has a very successful cinema, the Kino, just down the road from Fletcher’s.
A few months ago, Fletcher’s temporarily lost the signage of its famous playwright from the front of the building when it became The Earl of Sussex pub in the BBC production of Mapp and Lucia. Anderson enjoyed the buzzing atmosphere in the town during filming and said: “Rye is in the headlines again through Mapp and Lucia, but that is Rye as it is today – nothing has really changed.”
For the past seven years, he has run annual fundraising events, raising in excess of £20,000 for local charities. His community activities have recently extended to becoming a panel member of The Rye Fund – distributing funds to local community groups.
Independent locally owned businesses are essential to a local economy and community character but Anderson, like most small business owners, is concerned about the challenges ahead; the proposed increase to the minimum wage and national insurance contributions, new legislation on pensions, high business rates and rents all have to be absorbed, and there is a limit to how much customer prices can increase.
When Rye’s Tourist Information Centre shut, a leaving lunch was held at Fletcher’s. It was a sad occasion: “They provided a good service for Rye and it was the end of an era which will have a negative effect on the town.” On the plus side, the new cinema has resulted in much greater footfall, but on the negative side it will lead to some landlords charging higher rents.
Fletcher’s, like many others, has to look for ways of maximising income. It runs events in the lovely upstairs room – wakes, family celebrations, business and social lunches – and it has just started to sell a small range of tourist items such as Rye tea towels, bone china mugs, jams and relishes. Art cards and watercolours by local artist Martin Bradshaw are also for sale.
While I was talking to Anderson in Fletcher’s, one of his regulars came in and said: “Oh Pete, I forgot my shopping list. I will let you have it tomorrow!” That seemed a fitting note on which to stop the interview, enjoy a welcoming cup of coffee and homemade scone and let him get on with his work.
Photos: Dee Alsey