Grim Reaper of the licensed trade hereabouts, or its Messiah? I know where I stand…

Styles100Saint or sinner? Depending on who you listen to, this man is either the kiss o’ death and Grim Reaper of the licensed trade hereabouts, or its Messiah and knight in shining armour. This is Peter Styles, owner of the Bush, Swan, Crown, Crown & Anchor, and Grosvenor all in St Johns, as well as the Sebright, Albion, Gun, Berwick (as was) and a good half a dozen more in the city and elsewhere in the county – and after­ a chat in the soon-to-be-revived Swan where I saw work-in-progress the other day and twigged that it’s pegged for opening by Christmas, I’m in no doubts as to where I stand. Firmly in the latter camp.

Granted, he’s a property developer and like every other – the pubcos included, as frankly that’s all they are too – he’s in business to see a return on investment. The difference is that he is not a company beholden to its remote shareholders whose only aim is profit at any cost: he’s actually a sole trader, investing his own money. What’s more, he actually gives a shot as to whether a pub closes or remains open and regardless of what that pudd’n-headed local CAMRA branch thinks, what he’s throwing is a lifeline and not a mill-stone.

That’s why he spends £100k a year at Jewsons, bringing each pub salvaged from the clutches of the pubcos up to scratch so that any new tenant can buy his beer and spirits anywhere he likes without being saddled with refurb and ancillary costs before he can pull his first pint. Sounds to me like a God-send and a plan for the future – and if the cost of keeping a pub open carries the risk of some additional element of change, so be it.   The construction of buildings on an unused car park (as per the Sebright Arms) or turning redundant upstairs rooms into flats (such as The Bush) is frankly a paltry price to pay in return for a) extension of the pub’s life as an alternative to its loss to yet another supermarket or yet more unaffordable housing, and b) financing the continuation of more of the same.

It’s also the route to what I consider to be the only salvation for a growing number of squeezed pubco pubs, clearing the way for committed and entrepreneurial landlords and/or, if they’re so inclined, local micro-breweries like Cannon Royall, Pope’s, St Georges, Winning Post and others, each running and servicing a clutch of maybe half a dozen pubs, gaffered by their own incentives-driven managers and all pulling in the same direction. It’s a situation that’s already working at the Bush (Cannon Royall), the King Charles (Craddock’s), and the Imperial (Black Country Ales) and there’s room for more. Inevitably, the time is going to come that an ailing pub he’s just bought is simply not viable – after all, there’s not much future in keeping pubs artificially alive and such a situation looks likely at the Albion, sad to say. But for the most part, I believe we can expect more of the same from Pete Styles who’s at least prepared to put his ackers where his mouth is by not ruthlessly shackling licensees to one-way and untenable contracts, thereby bleeding the industry white and forcing drinkers to chose the supermarket over the pub.

The more we chatted, the more I came to realise that he and I agree on most things pub-related, and that he’s nowhere near the Big Bad Wolf that some have marked his card as. Good on yer mate, I say. I like your style(s)!

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Posted by on October 2, 2015 in About


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No beating about the Bush… oh, I don’t know though!

What is it they say about one in the hand being worth two in the Bush? Well, what I’ve had in my hand of late is no concern of yours – but when it comes to ‘two in the Bush’, I’m yer man!  I say this because by an enormous coincidence, in the space of just four days this week, I’ve come across two photographs showing the recently re-opened Bush in St Johns from its hey-days of fifty and more years ago.

The first was when I was chatting to Dave Walker in the Brunswick on Sunday when out of a well-worn wallet he pulled a memory of one of his finest moments: the party after the Bush won the Worcester Crib League in 1962. Monday saw the picture – a bit dog-eared, but it’ll brush-up nicely, and showing Dave as a young man, as well as ever-popular Bush gaffers Les and Helen Jackson-Jones (here 1960-93, a remarkable span of years) – posted on the Worcester Pubs Then and Now FB site (

DWalk2Bush BoysWell, blow me if yesterday it was almost a case of déja-vù all over again (I know: it’s a very old joke!) when chatting to manager Claire, she ups and outs with ‘look what we found in the cellar this week’. And no, it wasn’t a lump of coal, it was a 57-year old photograph, this time in remarkably good nick, showing The Bush Boys performing here in 1958. Now, while I was to perform here with my own band six years later, I have to confess that the Bush Boys (and a girl!) were a tidge before my time – but a humming little combo they appear to be. There was Rita and her maraccas, that’s Mike Bowley who ran two little music shops in New Street up to fairly recently, layin’ down a mean bass-line on what looks suspiciously like a home-made one-string tea chest bass, Brian Maund on drums, wailin’ Moggy Holder as lead warbler, Bill Jeynes banjo (and probably guitar) and Wal Bowley on piano.

How come I’m such an authority on the St Johns rock-n-roll scene? I’m not. I pinched the info from an article that appeared in the Evening – er, sorry, Worcester – News in 2011, lovingly penned by my old mate Mike Pryce who I doubt very much would have recalled the Bush of the day, either. It came from an interview he’d had with Mike Bowley, and a fascinating insight into the times, and the Bush, it is too. Read it here:      

If I’d written it, I’d have called it ‘Beating about the Bush’. Which goes a long way towards explaining why Mike Pryce is rather more famous than me. Then again, as Mike has been a tee-totaller for more years than people have been alive, when it comes to the Bush, I can tell him a tale or two. Like the time…. ah, but then a picture’s worth a thousand words – and this one shows St Johns folk at play in a rather more innocent (and I would venture to say, fun-filled) era. A rare history lesson.

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Posted by on September 25, 2015 in About


Poss? Or just pub goss? The yes/no interlude…

Yes, the old Imperial is re-opening next Thursday as a real-ale bar. Woo-oo-oo!

No, I didn’t get an invite

Yes, Bush St Johns is ditto next Friday under the Cannon Royall banner.

No, ditto

Yes, I’m intrigued at talk of a new Marstons venture to be signed-and-sealed next Tuesday (poss)

No, I’m not surprised that they’ve ditched all that purple paint they were splashin’ about everywhere a while back.

Yes, more than poss (or poss just goss) that Bushwackers is going to re-invent itself as something else with new owners quite soon

No, I’m not in the least bit surprised that everybody’s pal Richard Appleton of the Dragon has had enough of Worcester. Or was it the other way round?

Yes, ex-barmaid of the Virgin due to step-in I hear after licensees are given the boot for…   well, I gather a whole shed-load o’ reasons

No, contrary to rumour, they’re not leaving the Blackpole, despite some very unhappy staff there after ol’ Ray Brierley collected his bus pass

Yes, I’d like to think that Wetherspoons’ extensive plans to restore the former glories of the once-great Crown (now called Lloyds No1 for reasons best known to themselves) as a hotel from next week could prove fruitful

No, nothing’s going to change at the Courtyard, Horn and Trumpet, Old Greyhound and/or Blackpole despite a nasty to-do at the former that’s led to the axing of a couple of DRP licenses

Yes, M+B are going to be busy with new-look Raven and Perdi both re-emerging – one as a Toby’s Tavern and the other as a Harvester.

No, I can’t remember which

Yes, there’s talk of an up-coming beer festival at the Winning Post at the end of this month.

No, it doesn’t bother me in the least that the Paul Pry closes early most nights and remains closed on Mondays because yes… I’m ticketted!  

Yes, I’m delighted to hear that up to tea-time yesterday, organisation of the CAMRA beer fest on Pitchie had been largely faultless.

No, I didn’t go, ‘cos they didn’t see the 2012 event the same way that I did! What’s not to like?  See it here:

Yes, I wondered quite how when I heard that the recent re-fit of the Talbot in the Tything cost £200K

No, I never did get to meet its new gaffer and neither did many others ‘cos he spends all his time in the kitchen. Yet more changes afoot there, I hear.

Yes, Vine lucky if it re-opens at Xmas as re-build costs go through the roof.

No, no pun intended

Yes, plans for Co-op store at the Goodie appear to have stalled

No, I haven’t followed up on rumours that police are not happy with the way Glovers’ Needle has been run and might lodge objection to renewal at the appropriate time

Yes, Lakes re-vamp as a convenience store looks close to completion. Think of me when you go shopping: it’s where I had my wedding reception (1969)

And no… I won’t leave it so long before publication of the next blog.   Promise!

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Posted by on August 8, 2015 in About


Herbie… just swannin’ around!

 SWanghost copy

As ghosts go, you’d place Herbert firmly in the mischievous class. He moves chairs about, knocks things off shelves, opens and closes doors, and tightens up gas taps that need a wrench to free ‘em up again… oh yes, and he tampers with cameras and things: he set my flash-gun off for no good reason when I was down the cellar of the Swan in Barbourne on Thursday to witness something that’s altogether alien territory for me – a séance.   He’s also befriended landlady Claire Bull (pictured above) who’s been a bit wary of him and his playful pranks since taking over the pub last year, but now they’ve been properly introduced via mystic Julie Dyde, they’ve become grand pals: better still, he’s going to stick around and he’s predicting rosier times for the pub.  Herbert showed his hand, if not his face, on Thursday and I and six others were there to witness it… actually, seven because Herbert’s new girlfriend Betty made a ghostly showing too.Think I’m losing me marbles? As I said to Julie before the session, I don’t go along with all this nonsense. I’m a journalist, I deal in facts and you won’t fool me. Besides, ‘when in doubt invent a ghost’ is a tactic most of us hacks abide by. To which, Julie just smiled and said ‘cynicism is good’. She also warned me that when I look at the photographs I’d be taking, I’d probably see a few orbs floating around. Don’t bloody think so, I reckoned. I’m meticulous about my cameras and there’ll be no blobs on my lenses I can assure you of that! It was just then that a measuring cup fell off the bar and rolled across the floor, swiftly followed by my flash-gun going off with no assistance from me, promise! There was a distinct gurgling in my left ear’ole too, but I put that down to the central heating.  It took Herbert a few minutes to come out of his shell, via the makeshift ouija board on a wobbly table, but when he did there was no shutting him up. Yes, he’s the one that does the shifting in the Swan. Yes, he turns gas taps on and off just to remind folk that he’s there. Yes, he opens and closes doors too. Yes, he’d love a pint of Banks’s please (Claire doesn’t have Banks’s for the present). Okay then, a pint of lager will do at a pinch. Yes, he’s taken quite a shine to Claire. Yes, he’s going to look after her. Yes, the Swan will do OK. And no, Claire’s son Dan won’t win the pools. Like, ever. Herbie even pointed out someone with the initials RF that drew a blank with the séancers, although a quick look at the ‘Worcester Pubs Then and Now’ book will reveal that the last-but-one tenant here was Rebecca Fahy, so I’m inclined to skip that one.

The séancers:  (l-r) Dan Bull, Ruby Delord; Colin Corbett, Julie Dyde, Claire Bull, Clive Corbett

The séancers: (l-r) Dan Bull, Ruby Delord; Colin Corbett, Julie Dyde, Claire Bull, Clive Corbett

Claire was pleased with the result. So was Julie who’s been calling up spirits for thirty years with some stunning results – especially around some of the City’s oldest pubs: she’s come across resident ghosts at the Hand in Glove (formerly White Hart where a misogynistic poltergeist has been known to vent his spleen on unsuspecting females, even with fatal consequences), the Eagle Vaults, Cardinal’s Hat, and what had once been Bottles Wine Bar – though she said she’d love to have a crack at Greyfriars, formerly the Old Oak in Friar Street. Nor does she do it for any commercial gain: she’s happy to share her gifts simply because she has this uncanny knack and because she wants to. More than a tidge unsettled I have to confess, I went for a wander through Gheluvelt park to get me ‘ead together as they say, and later mentioned the afternoon’s goings-on to Jim McKeever in the Winning Post who’s probably about as cynical and hard-nosed as I am: he just went white and he told me that Julie had done the same thing there ten years ago and that she told him things about him, his pub and his family that she couldn’t possibly – like, never in a million years ­– have guessed. 

Julie said there'd be blobs – or 'orbs' as she put it. No  bloody way, I thought.  We got blobs (unretouched pic - genuine.

Julie said there’d be blobs – or ‘orbs’ as she put it. No bloody way, I thought. We got blobs (unretouched pic – genuine.

Oh yes, and when I looked at the images that I took – using two cameras, just in case, both having been meticulously cleaned only a few hours before and both used earlier on in the day with not a trace of a smear or blemish – there, quite clearly, were two orbs floating around. Herbert and Betty foolin’ around. Again. Ooo-er!


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Posted by on January 19, 2015 in About


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The shocking tale of how The Virgin got its name

VirginsignDon’t you just hate it when a pub whose name has stood for centuries suddenly re-appears as something else – all too often with an unappetising association like a slug (and lettuce), or a toad (and tulip) or a pig (and drum). It’s a pet hate of mine and once they’ve made me the Ayatollah of England, there’ll be a few folk walking around with no hands, believe me. At least, one Worcester pub with an unusual name – so unusual, in fact, that it’s thought to be the only one so monicker’d in the entire UK – has clung on to it for several centuries now, a feat that I think we should celeb(r)ate: The Virgin, a name that some folk much less kind than me would reflect to be a total misnomer as such a commodity in Tolladine is a rare object nowadays. Of course, such a name also lends itself to some fanciful flights of imagination – not least as to quite how it came by its seldom-seen name. Anyway, a trawl through some interesting archives this week has erased that particular question-mark perfectly, and before you get carried away, here it is…. It comes from the days when the nuns of Whiteladies had free access to the lands east of the City where they could walk without being pestered by the young blades of the day – the merry men who inhabited Merry Men’s Hill (today, Merriman’s Hill) who, surprise, surprise were far more interested in lustful pleasures than spiritual salvation from the white ladies. Anyway, the nuns’ route took them along Whiteladies Walk (named in their honour) to Sansome Fields – not named in honour of anyone called ‘Sansome’, but from the French ‘sans homme’ (ie without men). Now while the majority of the White Ladies enjoyed the protection afforded by their Saint (Oswald), and so continued to use Sans Homme walk, some appeared to have been not quite so buttoned-up in their morals as they wandered still further from the nunnery as far as the usual place of recreation for the citizens of Worcester called Lovers’ Moor (now, of course, bastardised into modern-speak ‘Lowesmoor’). Then, according to the City’s leading newspaper of 150 years ago – oh! horror of horrors – for some of the couples, further privacy was required ‘…that they absolutely disgraced themselves so far as to accompany the Merry Men to a tavern some mile and a half further on and to this day The Virgin’s Tavern retains the memorial to their disgrace’ (Worcester Herald). So there you go: a right den of iniquity it seems, where the nuns not only ate, drank and were Mary but also got up to Lord knows what else outside! The Herald even throws light on why Shrub Hill is so-called… it appears the nuns and their merry men drank a liquor called shrub brewed from plants that grew in abundance here and that the more adventurous also ventured into nearby woods for reasons that I’m not particularly keen to go into here, but where at some stage in the shenanigans, they also drank the fruit of the pear – perry – in the woods that still carries the name. So now you know. Next week, the Cock Inn…

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Posted by on November 26, 2014 in About


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Oh no, another Worcester pub on its knees…

Aye up, I thought… another Worcester pub on its knees…
Then I realised it said ‘test’ when initially I’d read it as ‘taste’: easy mistake to make, I suppose. Even so, I’m struggling to get my head around this – a phrase I could have chosen better, assuming of course, I was so minded, which I’m not. Can somebody please tell me what this is all about… like, blood (I’m assuming that’s all that’s involved) tests in a licensed victuallers’ establishment, with drink – and, I’m assuming, at least a modicum of food – on sale? Is it a piss-take – or even worse? Has Environmental Health nothing to say about this (comments about it being rude to talk with your mouth full will be deleted, OK?), NHS is the place for this kind of activity – by which I mean ‘Not Here Sunshine’.
PS: don’t pester me with your homophobic and poofter-pandering PC comments: yes I am… bearing in mind that I was brought up in world where it was not just deviant, unnatural, wildly distasteful and something even animals don’t do, but was also illegal and punishable by a lengthy jail sentence. The world might have changed. That doesn’t mean to say that I have to…

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Posted by on October 15, 2014 in About


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Who is this barrel-bellied tw*t anyway?

Worcester News article, September 2nd

Worcester News article, September 2nd

It may or may not have occurred to you that I’ve been uncharacteristically schtumm about this (above) since it appeared in the Worcester News a week ago, the gist of it being, for those that haven’t seen it: a) fat git from Zimbabwe takes it on himself to visit a pub or two; b) gets his arse in his hand because folk aren’t fawning at his feet at a moment’s notice; and c) decides to slag-off every pub in Worcester but for three – the Bell In St Johns (so far so good, but here’s where it descends into farce) the Dragon, and the Plough, both headed by the same people of course, and both of which have banned me, scarcely a friendly act, for some paltry reason that’s quite beyond me.  Now, we’re all entitled to our opinions, and let’s face it, when it comes to pubs I’m perhaps the teensiest bit more opinionated than most, but there’s a number of disquieting issues this particular Worcester News article throws up, and in the absence of anybody else doing so, I’d like to chuck-in my two penn’orth for what it’s worth.  One: what’s the matter with Worcester’s 80-odd publicans that, so far as I can see, don’t appear to give a toss that they and their pubs have been labelled as lazy and unwelcoming by someone that purports to have visited each and every single one of you (a fact that I doubt, personally).  If it was me and my pub he was having a go at, I’d have a right go back, don’t you fret, and if he came back in I’d have him slung out on his ear’ole.  Two: what’s the matter with the drinking population of Worcester that we all sit back and allow a gobby foreigner to come in and criticise 95% of our pubs without putting up at least some kind of spirited defence?  Three:  why, oh why, is the Worcester News giving house room (and rather a lot of it) to this negativistic motor-mouth whose taste in pubs is, with the exception of the Bell, diametrically opposed to most other locals’ whose views are probably more intelligent, more considered and given the benefit of long-term experience, more relevant?  Surely ‘your’ Worcester News would be better off serving the City’s hard-pressed publicans by telling 53-year old Andy Hall Esq where to get off and that if he doesn’t like it, to bugger off home?  Four: how can anyone have the brass neck to have his picture splashed about the paper for criticising what I consider to be a key feature of what’s his adopted home?  So far as I’m concerned, anyone not from ‘round yur’ (as the local lingo has it) that doesn’t like it should do the decent thing and find somewhere more to their liking. Five:  aside from out-and-out publicity-seeking, what can he hope to gain from going public on this?  A better move might have been to have had a quiet word with the landlord.  Six: how can someone get it so spectacularly wrong?  After all, boss of the group behind the Plough and the Dragon – one Richard Appleton Esq – not only gives me, and 99% of everyone else I speak to on the subject, the distinct impression of going out of his way to be grievously obnoxious, but also to actively cultivate the reputation as the rudest landlord in Worcester and, come to that, the rest of the world bar none. Friendly?  ‘Avin’ a larf enchya?  Seven: who wears a hat indoors?  In my day that would’ve been considered ill-mannered and oafish.  And eight: who is that barrel-bellied tw*t anyway that has before him a book about Worcestershire pubs co-authored by a vicar, and whose lofty ambition, it seems, is to join the local coven of CAMRA, the leading light of which was once ‘the other half‘ to the other director of the group behind two of the three pubs he goes out of his way to hold up as shining pinnacles of friendliness and dogged servants to his inflated egotistical whims?  Personally, I think that Andy Hall, the Plough and the Dragon are made for each other. Tell you what, sunshine… you stick to the Plough and the Dragon; I’ll stick to the others that’d get my vote anyway, and maybe, just maybe, one day we can continue this conversation in the only common ground we would appear to share: the Bell.  But don’t hold your breath, as they say.

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Posted by on September 10, 2014 in About


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