The Smallest Pub In Britain Holds A Haunting Secret

It's no secret that the British love a few pints down at their local drinking establishment and the U.K. is famous worldwide for its pub culture. Sadly, much has been written in recent years about the demise of the traditional hostelry, with thousands closing annually and beloved watering holes replaced by insidious supermarket chains. Even so, it is unlikely that the good old-fashioned pub, a cornerstone of many communities across the nation, will completely die out. According to IBIS World, 27,650 pubs and bars were open for business in the U.K. in 2023, ranging from cozy country taverns to infamous inner-city boozers. They come in all shapes and sizes, too, from sprawling drinking complexes down to the country's smallest, the Nutshell in Bury St. Edmunds.

Over the years, many British pubs have battled for the title of the nation's most diminutive place to grab a pint. The Little Prince in Margate on the U.K.'s coast has only enough room for six people inside. The Lakeside Inn in Southport once held the title of "Britain's Smallest Pub" in the Guinness Book of Records, while the charming Signal Box Inn in Cleethorpes is only 8 feet by 8 feet in size. There is evidence to suggest pubs might get even smaller; in 2022, an iconic red telephone box was turned into the world's smallest cocktail bar. As of 2023, however, the Nutshell held the official title and it has one thing over its rivals: Not all of its spirits are contained in bottles.

Why is the Nutshell so special?

The Nutshell is a cherished landmark in Bury St. Edmunds, a fine historic town in Suffolk, U.K. that makes a pleasant day trip if you're staying in London. The Grade II listed premises was once a fruit shop back in the 1820s before it was converted to a pub in 1867. The floor space measures only 15 feet by 7 feet and serves two kinds of beer from the local Greene King brewery. Estimates vary, but it is said that there is only enough room for between six and 20 patrons, and it can get crowded towards the upper end of the scale. That is nothing, however, to the Nutshell's record: 102 people and a dog once crammed into the tiny space.

Apart from the novelty of its size, the Nutshell is noted for its quirky decor. The low ceiling is covered in old bank notes and a mummified cat holds pride of place over the bar. The rather grisly moggy was discovered behind a fireplace in 1935 and is thought to be around 400 years old, dating back to a time when unfortunate kitties were bricked up in walls to ward off evil spirits. If the stories are to be believed, touching the dried-out cat brings bad luck, as a group of flyers from nearby RAF Honington supposedly found out when they stole the dead animal for a joke. A series of accidents on the base persuaded them to return it to its home at the bar.

The ghosts of the Nutshell pub

The curse of the dead cat is just one of the spooky stories attached to the Nutshell. The great British pub has a history dating back over 2,000 years to the time of the Romans, so perhaps it isn't surprising that some clientele have decided to linger in their favorite watering holes long after they have passed away. As such, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of pubs in the U.K. that claim at least one resident ghost, usually attached to some grisly or tragic backstory from centuries ago. These spooky tales all add to the charm, and the Nutshell has more than its fair share.

One of the more chilling stories is the ghost of a young blond-haired boy, first sighted in the '70s. The tale goes that the lad was drowned in a bathtub and now haunts the upper floors of the pub. Another is the spirit of a Victorian gentleman with long hair who lingers near the entrance to the upstairs bathroom. Downstairs, the ghosts of a monk and a nun make the cellar their eternal home, where they allegedly met for an ill-fated affair using tunnels that once connected to the nearby Abbey garden.

The Nutshell pub is one of the top tourist attractions in Bury St. Edmunds and it is certainly worth a visit for a pint and a photo opportunity. Whatever it lacks in size, it certainly makes up for in character and lore.