Orford: Inheritance tax bill forces closure of Richardson’s Smokehouse

Steve Richardson

Steve Richardson - Credit: Archant

For three generations its oak-smoked delicacies brought mouth-watering flavours to the Suffolk coast.

Loyal customers would travel miles to savour its speciality treats, critics revered it, and television chef Nigel Slater once said its smoked cod roe was the “most heavenly” he had ever eaten.

But after almost 30 years as a commercial enterprise, Richardson’s Smokehouse in Orford has shut up shop for good, citing a huge inheritance tax bill as the reason.

The charismatic owner, Steve Richardson, who revived his grandfather’s tiny smokehouse to build the business’s esteemed reputation, died in January 2013.

His son Tim, 31, who had worked at the smokehouse since he was a teenager said the £70,000 inheritance tax bill the family had been hit with made it untenable to continue.

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“We’ve been hauled over a barrel by it,” he said. “This property has been in my family for generations, we worked hard at it but my dad died without a penny to his name.

“But because of how house prices have risen in Orford, they’ve asked us for £70,000 inheritance tax.

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“I was left with quite a quandary as to what to do – do I become a slave to the mortgage for the next 12 years or do I leave it and do something else?”

The smokehouse was first used by Tim’s great-grandfather Frank Berrett, who would cure meat on a non-commercial basis in the 1940s.

The rickety, blackened building fell into disrepair for a number of years until Steve Richardson took it on in the 1980s after being made redundant from his job at a steel factory. Starting from humble beginnings, Mr Richardson would smoke his daily catch and sell it around the local pubs – often trading it for a few pints of Adnams, as his ex-wife and long-term business partner Veronica Buckley once recalled.

Their reputation for quality soon grew, allowing them to open a stall next to the smokehouse and expand their range of experimental produce to include pheasants, garlic, and more, attracting food-lovers from all over the country.

Nigel Slater wrote fondly of his visit to the smokehouse for the Observer in 2010, when he praised the “subtle revelation” of its smoked Stilton, the “shimmering pink and gold smoked trout” and the “most heavenly” smoked cod.

Tim said he had received calls of support from all over the country after the smokehouse closed last Tuesday.

“People are absolutely devastated,” he said. “It’s overwhelming how much support we’ve had.”

Roger Hipwell, former chairman of Orford and District Inshore Fishermen’s Association, said everyone in the village was saddened by the news.

“I don’t think anybody has any negative comments about the decision – they can understand why it had to be made – but it was a major part of our attraction,” he said.

“They were part of the character of Orford. The general concern in the village is that it’s gone and what’s going to be replacing it, because it’s unlikely to be another commercial unit.”

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