FOR more than 700 years it was one of the biggest industries on the south coast.

Lymington was a major manufacturer of salt thanks to an unbroken line of 163 “salt pans” that stretched all the way to Hurst Spit five miles away.

A complicated process resulted in the evaporation of seawater enabling salt crystals to be skimmed off and loaded aboard ships for transportation.

The industry survived until 1865 when it fell victim to cheaper salt from mines in Cheshire.

Today one of the few reminders of the once flourishing trade is a country pub that has been described as Lymington’s “hidden gem” – the 17th century Chequers Inn at Lower Woodside.

Its unusual name is thought to reflect the fact that the salt exchequer had its headquarters at Lower Woodside Green.

The picture postcard pub is almost at the end of a long, leafy lane that leads down to the Solent and an area still known as The Salterns.

But the former salt industry is not the building’s only brush with history.

In 1914 it was badly damaged by a stray shell from Fort Victoria on the Isle of Wight. The projectile crashed through the roof, wrecking an outhouse used as a beer store and demolishing an outside toilet beside a neighbouring cottage.

These days The Chequers and the surrounding countryside could not be more peaceful.

Situated only a short distance from the sea the pub is a popular halfway house for people making the scenic walk from Milford and back.

It also attracts couples from Hurst View Caravan Park as well as Lymington residents and visitors to the historic town.

The pub boasts an award-winning garden and an attractive courtyard, complete with a bar, where customers can sit and watch live sport on a large TV.

Owner Simon Thoyts, 52, can look back on a 40-year association with the business, beginning with the time when he lived next door.

He said: “I’ve worked here since I was 12 and carried on even when I had another job, helping out in the evenings and at weekends.

“I worked as bar manager for the previous owner for 15 years and have been the owner for the past 16 years.”

Described by regulars as a “proper pub” the Chequers is renowned for its rustic charm and pleasant simplicity.

Mr Thoyts added: “It’s never had carpets and there are no airs or graces.

“We welcome everyone, rich or poor, and there’s a real cross section of customers. I’d describe it as a happy-go-lucky sort of place – we don’t take anything too seriously.”

Trevor Parr, 64, of Lymington, has been visiting The Chequers for 40 years and calls it the best pub in Lymington.

He said: “It’s a proper pub, not one of those plastic places. As Simon says, it’s a happy-go-lucky place.”