Help wanted: English island seeking “landlord king”

Published 4:21 pm Friday, January 28, 2022

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Have you ever wanted to live on your own island? If so, I think I’ve found the perfect job listing for you.

The only problem is the commute across the Atlantic Ocean to the UK might be a bit of a hassle…

Sorry to dash anyone’s hopes and dreams for a gig on a tropical paradise. The island in question is Piel Island, located roughly half a mile off England’s northwestern coast.

According to reporting from NPR (and subsequent reporting from the New York Times and The Guardian, because I was so curious about this story that I had to read more), the town council of Barrow-in-Furness has a current job listing for someone to take the position of landlord of the island, since the previous person retired. It’d be a 10-year job and start this April.

It’s a small island with not much there other than a pub, the ruins of an ancient castle, a few private residences (only occupied full-time by two people at the moment), and seals that are swimming by. The landlord’s job duties largely include running the pub (named the Ship Inn) and maintaining the island’s 50 acres of land. The 14th-century castle is taken care of by a nonprofit, so no worries about learning how to clean stone or how to ward off the drafty winter winds there.

This is all well and good, but perhaps the most exciting part of the job is that the lucky landlord also gets crowned King (or Queen) of Piel Island. As the tradition goes, at the coronation ceremony the landlord sits in a fancy chair with a rusty helmet and sword, and then gets beer poured on their head.

Sounds a bit sticky and gross, in my opinion. (And who’s going to clean all that mess up? Sounds like that falls under the landlord’s job description!)

According to the New York Times story, the king’s oath includes promising to be a good smoker, a good drinker, and “to give anyone found dead on the sands free refuge in the pub.”

(Please feel free to insert some sort of Weekend at Bernie’s joke here.)

No one is quite sure how the “king” tradition got started, but I’m just going to assume there was some alcohol involved. Perhaps… a lot of alcohol.

As with most any piece of land, if you look back far enough, there’s some interesting bits of history along the way too. The castle was apparently built in the 1300s by monks from the nearby abbey in order to avoid Scottish raiders and also use the space to store up their goods. Allegedly, it might have also been used to help smuggle wool too. (Very multipurpose! Nice!)

In 1487, a young man named Lambert Simnel used the island as his gathering place as he prepared to assume what he said was his rightful place on the throne of England. He took his army of mercenaries from Piel Island to London… and then was quickly defeated by Henry VII.

Oh well.

At least, they got to enjoy the scenery of the island before their humiliating defeat.

In the present day, it’s just a quiet little tourist destination during the spring and summer of the year where visitors get to enjoy the wildlife (the aforementioned seals), get drunk at the pub, and tour the castle ruins. (Perhaps not specifically in that order.)

In the NPR article, Ann Thomson, one of the town councilors, described the landlord job as needing to go to someone who will be very dedicated. “While there are periods when the pub and the island is bustling with people, there will be periods of quiet too – something the successful applicant will need to embrace.”

The island is accessible only by a very small passenger ferry or guided walks across the sand during low tide. Retired guide John Murphy said in the Guardian article, “You can’t just nip across to Tesco [supermarket] for a loaf of bread when you’re on Piel Island. You’ll need to have dedication and a strong passion for isolation and peace and quiet. It takes a special personality.”

All in all, I think it’s probably one of the most interesting job postings I’ve ever accidentally stumbled across. It’s not a job I myself would want, despite how much I enjoy a good amount of solitude, but it’s still interesting to think about. Not many people can call themselves a “Landlord King” after all.

If I were to have my own island, I think I’d rather have it located a bit closer to home. Perhaps a tiny island just sitting in the middle of the Roanoke River would be nice. I wouldn’t open up a pub, but maybe a little bakery would be cool to have. (I’d have to hire a baker, of course. I’m not that good to stock the shop myself.) And I wouldn’t go through all the trouble of a fancy ceremony to crown myself as island queen. I’d probably just find a fun fancy hat to wear and give it a friendly wave at any boats passing by.

What would you do if you had your own island?

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or at 252-332-7206.