Essence of England ~ Chapter 1 | Charlie Luxton
In our Essence of England series, we speak to creatives, entrepreneurs and familiar faces from across the country about their lives, work and what ‘Englishness’ means to them. And who better to kick off the series than Charlie Luxton, co-owner of the Beckford Group? True Grace dining candles have adorned tables at Charlie’s inns for years, so we seized the opportunity to introduce him to our community.
Charlie Luxton ~ Beckford Group
As the co-owner of much-loved South Wiltshire pub, The Beckford Arms, with a background as operations director at Soho House, Charlie Luxton knows a thing or two about classic British hospitality.
He’s even contributed to a book on the subject: ‘A Waiter’s Handbook: The Heart & Art of Hospitality’, which the group gifts to every new member of staff. With chapters on everything from ‘Reading the Guest’ to ‘Order of Service’, the book is peppered with elegant illustrations by artist friend Zebedee Helm and charts demonstrating wine pairings and meat cuts. The message is clear throughout - a commitment to taking the job seriously, but never oneself.
The Beckford Arms feels like the quintessential English country pub, from the open fireplaces to the rowing strips adorning the walls (Luxton’s grandfather competed for Great Britain in the 1932 Olympics). So it’s surprising to find out that Luxton grew up in Australia, only settling in Wiltshire in 2015 after stints in Jakarta, Singapore, Paris and London.
The Beckford Arms. Fonthill Gifford
Charlie Luxton. Beckford Group
~ All Images by Jake Eastham
We sat down with him (and his dog Pepper) in the cosy library at the Beckford to learn more about his Anglo-Australian upbringing, his top tips for South Wiltshire weekends, and what he’s ordering at the Beckford bar.
You were born in Australia but studied in the UK. Do you feel more Australian or English?
Not entirely either. I grew up in Melbourne mostly, although we moved around a fair bit, but I went to school and university in England.
My father was Australian but he went to Cambridge University and fell madly in love with anything English. After university he moved back to Australia and joined the Australian Secret Service. My mother is originally from Cornwall. She moved to Australia when she was nineteen and met my father at a party on her very first night – and that was that!
When my family eventually moved back to England, we lived in my grandmother’s house in Penzance, where I later got married. I’ve always felt pulled back towards the West Country, so I suppose it’s not surprising I’ve ended up living here!
“[An English pub] is a real leveller in every sense.”
What first drew you towards the hospitality industry?
I left university during an economic downturn and my stepfather told me that I should either take up something useful, like plumbing, or I should learn a language. I didn’t fancy the former so I moved to France to do an intensive French language course. I fell in love with Paris so I found a job in a restaurant run by another Australian and worked as a waiter-barman for three years. I had just about enough French to get away with it!
When I moved back to England, I tried insurance and absolutely hated it. When I inevitably got fired – a blessing in disguise – I went back to hospitality, working in a place on the King’s Road, Chelsea. It was while working there that I was connected with someone who eventually put me forward for a role as Assistant Manager at Soho House.
What inspired you to take on The Beckford Arms?
When I was working at Soho House, I’d trot off to a gastropub almost every weekend – I absolutely loved the atmosphere. When the Beckford lease came up for sale, I felt drawn to it and the surrounding countryside.
In an English pub, it doesn’t matter who you are and where you’re from. It’s a real leveller in every sense. In all our groups pubs, I strive to create an environment where anyone can come in and feel comfortable.
What do you love most about working in hospitality?
From the moment someone walks into a pub or restaurant and you sit them down, hand them the menu and offer them a glass of wine, you’re giving them an experience. When they look you in the eye at the end of the night and say thank you, that’s the best feeling – it goes right through you.
Hospitality is immediate: whether you get it wrong or right, you’re always on show. If you’re having a bad day or your business isn’t working properly, everything goes off-kilter. But if it’s working, it’s so satisfying.
What’s your approach to seasonality?
Seasonality is about approaching food the way we used to, before we got used to eating whatever we want, whenever we want it. Really, it’s a no-brainer. Sourcing produce when it’s out of season is much more expensive. It would be silly to put asparagus on the menu in December, for example, because it would need to be shipped across the world and British asparagus tastes so much better anyway. So, why not wait until it’s in season?
What’s the secret to a great pub?
Good eye contact. And dogs! Being dog-friendly is essential.
What are you ordering at the bar?
A lager top. I spend most of the day in my various pubs keeping an eye on everything and I have to be able to get home safely in the evening! If I’m not driving, it’s a Guinness.
What should be on the agenda for a weekend in South Wiltshire?
Definitely a visit to Messums – it’s worth going simply to see the incredible mediaeval barn, which is Grade 1 listed and one of the largest thatched buildings in Europe. Plus they always have great exhibitions on.
Pythouse is stunning, too. The walled garden has Victorian engineering, with incredible attention to detail.
What does Essence of England mean to you?
Immediately, I think of “green and pleasant land”. I’ve been known to stop the car on the drive back to Wiltshire from London to force my kids to admire the countryside!