We’re not called ‘Civitas in beero et pubbi fidelis’ for nothing – eh, Cav?


The Cavalier's smile is fading - or is it a smirk?

The Cavalier’s smile is fading – or is it a smirk?

The smile’s fading, but at least it’s still there…  or is it a smirk I’m seeing?  When it comes to Worcester, the cavaliers’ isn’t too healthy a track record: played 2, lost 2. But at least you could count on them to put up a bloody good fight against a tough old adversary – a trait that, it pleases me no end to say, continues to this very day.  First off, it took Cromwell’s ‘oppoes two months to nail ‘em in the Siege of Worcester in 1646; five years later, the underdogs once more stood their ground as best they could against a massive army that cost 3,000 dead at The Battle of Worcester. And now, here we go again as apparently overwhelming forces appear to have it in for the poor old cavs and The Faithful City – this time with a vision of sweeping away the pub that bears the name of one of them as the drive towards building houses on every square yard of Britain marches onwards. Strikes me cash-strapped Punch Taverns were only too happy to go along with the plan too, but here comes the fight-back… Seems there’s a clause tucked away somewhere in the legal jargon of The Cavalier‘s original deeds from around 1968 that decrees it has to remain as a pub for 100 years from that date. Admittedly, there’s only a tidge over half a century left, but at least the scene is set for another hotly-contested re-match between the Cavaliers and Worcester with law’n’order on their side and the massed ranks of baddies on the other. We’re not called The Faithful City for nothing – Civitas in bello et pace fidelis (‘The City faithful in war and peace’ – or as Bob Backenforth’s Worcester Pubs Then and Now only ever so slightly bastardises it: ‘Civitas in beero et pubbi fidelis ‘The City faithful to its beer and its pubs‘) so the battle-lines are drawn and I know which side I’m on. We’re with you, Tracey (Tracey Franklin – manager).

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Posted by on April 14, 2014 in About


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And this year’s winner is… my ex-missis. Again


Payl Pry, The Butts

Paul Pry, The Butts

Ms.Catherine Esther Louise Ottaway must be the best pub gaffer in the world bar none (well, I say ‘bar none’ when really I mean ‘bar one at least’; to whit, me, ‘cos that’s just what she did not so long ago on account of something quite innocuous I wrote in the book – and boy, did it unleash a backlash of abuse from the 1400+ members of the ‘Worcester Pubs Then and Now’ FB group But I digress. Where was I…? Oh yes, the best pub gaffer in the world…  See, yesterday, the local #CAMRA coven unveiled its ‘Worcester CAMRA Pub of the Year’ – The Paul Pry no less, licensee and dps Ms. Catherine Esther Louise Ottaway. The accolade takes the tally of Worcester pubs that have won the title since 1993 to just four, of which Ms.Catherine Esther Louise Ottaway has, at some stage or another, been very closely involved in three: The Dragon – winners 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2003; The Plough – winners 2006, 2008 and 2011 with no prize awarded in 2009; and, as of yesterday, The Paul Pry. Out of interest, the only other is The Firefly, winner 2012. Now, not having been permitted since last Christmas to set foot in any of the three she’s been associated with, I don’t doubt for one second that the accolade is eminently well deserved, and the local press will surely be reporting this particularly remarkable licensee’s incredible run of success once the Worcester CAMRA spokesman gets his usual two penn’orth in. HIs name’s Bill Ottaway – and if you didn’t catch it first time, here it is again: Bill Ottaway, former husband of said Catherine Esther Louise Ottaway. Look out for it – it won’t be biased in the slightest. Honest.


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Posted by on April 8, 2014 in About


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‘Empee saves pub from bulldoze-e-e-er. Read all abaht it-ah…’

DSCN2090If legendary newspaper seller Johnny O’Shea was alive today, this’d be the scene outside A.O.Jones on the corner of Broad Street and Angel Place… Drawing the paper from the pile folded over his left forearm I can even see him handing the Evening News and Times (‘Eeenooanti-i’) to his next customer, collecting the tuppence‘appeny or whatever it was, and pocketing it – all in one swift continuous move – in the right pocket of his white jacket. I can’t be sure, but it’s likely he’d even have folded the paper once more all in the same deft action… And It’d go like this: “Eeenooanti-i! Empee saves pu-u-u-ub from bulldoze-e-e-er. Read all abaht it-ah!”. Now as Johnny’s sales pitch went, it’s no match for his ‘Boy gets mother into trouble… eats ‘is dad’s dinner!’. Or ‘Man henpecked to death. Foul play suspected’ but in this day and age, it’s just about as likely. Except in this case it’s true. Gospel. And a heart-warming tale it is too. For ‘Empee’ read Robin Walker and for ‘pu-u-u-ub’ read The Coppertops. I called in there yesterday after being more than confused by a spate of rumours, some I suspect malicious, circulating about the pub that at one time held an unassailable reputation hereabouts for great food and great entertainment. I’d heard some time ago that Punch Taverns were putting it up for sale; that Morrison’s had their eyes on the site; that a fire on New Years Eve had all-but gutted the place and that it would never again re-open (it did – the same evening thanks to the efforts of the regulars); and that the ubiquitous (ie: bloody everywhere) University wanted to get their hands on it a) to knock it down and turn it into more flats for more students or b) to turn it into a students-only bar. Hands up fair cop guv, but I confess I even compounded the tale meself a week or two ago when I reported having been told that it was closing that very night! But, as rumours of impending demise so often have a habit of doing, they all turned out to be a mite fanciful as manager Seb O’Donnell (pictured here yesterday lunch) proved. And right glad I am too. Seems the regulars – and after yesterday I can safely attest to their being passionate about the pub as all regulars befitting the name should be – wrote to Robin Walker asking him to intervene. And not only did he do so, he emerged as a regular knight in shining armour with some smart moves even on a par with Johnny O’Shea’s. First he contacted Punch, found out their plans for the site, got the City Council on board, made all the moves to get the pub listed as a Community Asset, and then went the extra half-mile to tug on a few more strings to ensure at least a foreseeable future for the last remaining pub serving Dines Green and the surrounding area. Upshot?  Seb – who’s fulsome in the extreme in praise of our youthful MP’s energetic actions to safeguard the future of yet another threatened City pub – has now put in for a long-term lease and is in the happy position of being able to plan restoring The Coppertops’ fortunes to their former glories. Now that’s a story. Read all abaht it-ah…!

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Posted by on April 7, 2014 in About


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Why the pub trade is like the SAS

DownloadedFileStrikes me the pub trade is a bit like the SAS.  In the old days, both would take on pretty much anybody with a gung-ho spirit, a thirst for adventure, the ability to rough it when necessary, a pair of handy fists and the ability – not to mention the wanton desire – to kill folk in any number of gory ways if that was what was required. These days it’s all different.  Now, while the aforementioned attributes will surely stand you in good stead if perchance you find yourself in a tight corner, something else is the preferred attribute. Intelligence. That’s why I welcome the likes of Craig Webster to the trade.  As you may recall from a previous blog, Craig is the former manager of Lloyds TSB in Tewkesbury and very good he was at it too by all accounts… um, no pun intended (oh, I don’t know though!)  Today he’s the gaffer of The Swan in Barbourne and it strikes me he’s got his head screwed on right as he’s coming up with all sorts of bright ideas to keep The Swan afloat.. no pun int…(oh, but you get the gist).  Running a pub c2014 takes more than keeping your lines clear, remembering customers’ names, hiring twinkly-eyed barmaids ready and willing to show  just the right amount of cleavage to make it interesting, and turfing out the undesirables.  Which is why he’s kicking off his RATS campaign (Real Ale Tasting Society) and is looking at hooking up with Barbourne Cider to create a special in-house draught, brewery tours and other ideas.  It starts tonight at 7.30 with the election of King Rat who will have the final say-so on the beers the pub is likely to be offering over coming months and I might just pop along there meself. Who dares wins, eh?







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Posted by on April 3, 2014 in About



Dear Marstons…

3pints3Dear Marstons, having a lovely beery time here in sunny Worcester, but may I ask you a direct question – like, is everything still the same between us? I ask as I can’t help but feel you’re losing your grip on reality. The notion struck me yesterday when, it being a sunshiny sort of day and with nothing much better to do, I visited three local hostelries. Thinking of you and the pleasures we still share, I was quite content to sit back and watch the world go by – much as I always did. Sadly, there wasn’t much to see as everything seems to have ground to a halt. I suppose I could also have said ‘people-watching’, but seeing as your former friends and lovers have deserted you, I just watched the flowers growing instead. Now the reason I’m utterly convinced you’ve totally lost your marbles is that precisely the same pint in The Blackpole cost £2.49; in The New Inn £2.59; and in The Mug House £3.30. Of course I’m well aware that The Mug House is tenanted, unlike the other two that are managed, but would you forgive me for thinking that the only possible explanation for the wild difference in prices is that you have actually gone quite mad. What other logical explanation could there possibly be for you not to have recognised that: a) these prices are quite unsustainable; b) there’s no earthly justification for a 10p difference between the two managed pubs, both selling the same product, both under the same conditions, just a mile or two apart – aside from pure greed; and c) the price you charge your tenants makes it just a matter of time before the very last one chucks it all in for a game of soldiers. And then where will you be? Up the creek sans a paddle. Can you realistically wonder I’ve come to the conclusion that you have additionally developed suicidal tendencies on top of everything else? Until you see that the only reason people don’t go into pubs any more is because of the prices you charge, you’ll just continue on the road that leads to nowhere. It’s time that you owned-up to the fact that you’re playing right into the hands of Mr. Tim Martin and his #Wetherspoon chain and that while you continue to cut your own throats, it won’t be long before he’ll be the only one left standing. Hate to labour the point, but I have a third major concern too… that you are leaving yourself open to some grave charges under the Defence of the Realm Act. While you’re allowing the criminal spate of pub closures to continue unabated, you’re actively changing the face of Britain and destroying a critical factor that’s played a massive part in making the nation ‘Great’. Now there are those – and I have to say, I’m one of them – who genuinely think that that’s tantamount to treason which, don’t forget, remains a hanging offence. So think on, please. You’re doing yourself no favours and as I see it, are on a very slippery slope unless you get a grip and mend your ways. Anyway, must close now. Hope this postcard finds you as it leaves me. Love, Bob B

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Posted by on April 2, 2014 in About


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As I said to the bank manager ‘that (over)draught has got my interest – and that’s a bonus’!

SwanCraigMe and bank managers don’t get on. Never have. In fact, if I happened across a banker and a solicitor both drowning and I could save only one, it’d be a toss-up between going for a pint or reading the paper.  That said, here’s one – well, an ex – I could definitely make an exception of…  Quite by chance, and actually en route to somewhere else, I wandered into The Swan in Barbourne the other day, and came up against new gaffer Craig Webster. Now Craig isn’t yer run-o’-the-mill gaffer – dearie me, no! For a kick-off, this is his first venture into the trade; second, he’s one of us (ie from Worcester); third, he drinks his own ale (oh alright then, lager); and fourth, he’s good for some sharp-witted banter with the lads. So far, so good. But here’s the knock-out blow: he’s an ex-bank manager and one off the top shelf too, so it’s fair to expect him to have not only a workable and feasible business plan for upping the fortunes of The Swan but also – and here’s the difference – the financial savvy and expediency to match ideas that’d otherwise sound like so much bullsh*t in these days of tight-fisted pubcos and an industry gagging for a hefty dose of fresh new thinking. So he started to tell me of his plans and yes, I was genuinely impressed – so impressed, in fact, I stayed for a second pint – Wye Valley HPA and like liquid sunshine in its own right – and then a third. And right glad I am too. Here’s a few samples of his neat line in forward-planning… Bright idea #1: he’s setting up a Real Ale Tasting Society – RATS – for members to choose what ales they want to see in The Swan. Bright idea #2: a King Rat will be chosen on a weekly/fortnightly/monthly basis who’ll have the final say-so on which ales grace the bar. Bright idea #3: when the Society meets, there’s 50p off a pint and some other concessions too. Bright idea #4: he’s looking to tie-up with Barbourne Cider to create the Swan’s own branded scrumpy and all the RATSs can chip-in with suggestions on taste, strength and appearance. Bright idea #5: he’s reinstating the skittle alley that was sacrificed in the name of accommodation for too long and I hear already has a list of would-be takers. And then there’s the planned brewery tours. And new ideas for food – all of which are just for starters. Unusually for me, I could get to like this (ex) bank manager. Oh aye, and talking of professions, if I was a school-teacher, I’d give Craig 11 out of 10 for initiative and progress, I’d mark his report ‘shows early promise’ and then I’d give myself a detention to make sure I stayed behind for extra lessons of the HPA kind. PS: If you want to be one of the founding members of RATS, their inaugural meeting is next Thursday (April 3rd) at 7.30pm. There’s a chance I might even see you there.

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Posted by on March 25, 2014 in About


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The salutory lessons of the p*ssed-up postman and the boozy bobby

HeraldTell me something…  were Worcester’s magistrates a hardened bunch of wicked sadists or have we all become a nation of hopeless softies?  I ask the question in all innocence as yesterday I came across the sad tales of a pissed-up Worcester postman and a boozy bobby – both hauled up before the powers-that-were within a couple of weeks of each other in the summer of 1866 and both duly reported in the top-selling local rag ‘The Worcester Herald’.  In the first, William Bowen of John Street and driver of the mail cart between Worcester and Ledbury ‘…was prosecuted for having, on the 7th instant, while in charge of the mail cart between the two towns above mentioned, loitered on the road, by which a delay of 1 hour and 20 minutes in the delivery of the mails, was occasioned, and by which the transmission of 17 different mails was delayed.  He was also charged with being drunk on the same day by which cause the delay was occasioned’.  Seems he pleaded guilty ‘…and the Bench, taking into consideration the previous character of the prisoner, fined him in the mitigated penalty of  £3. 5s for both offences’ – about five weeks’ wages, about £2,500 in today’s devalued mintage I shouldn’t wonder.  A week or two later, a City beat bobby lasted just four hours both in his new job and his shiny new uniform…  At 10am on his very first morning – a Monday – P.C. Henry Naylor was, according to The Herald ‘…sent on duty for the first time.  After going on his beat he appears to have visited every public house he passed and by 2 o’clock was incapably drunk in Silver-street. P.C. Croft heard of the defendant’s being in such a state in Silver-street, and he took him to the police station.  He was charged with being drunk on duty’. Clearly guilty – well, you don’t argue with the toppermost of the coppermost, least of all when he’s also your boss and presumably witnessed the grisly evidence for himself – he was hauled up before the Beak and sentenced to seven days in gaol. Now, not for one minute am I suggesting that members of today’s Royal Mail or West Mercia Police might stoop so low as to echo two of their fallen predecessors’ misdemeanours, but in the hypothetical case that they might – just might – d’you think their sentences would match their Victorian forebears’?  No, me neither. Pity.

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Posted by on March 22, 2014 in About


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