Raise a glass to Telford pubs of the past - and those still serving

The Unicorn. Pear Tree Bridge. The Rose and Crown. With 11 pubs in 2.7 miles, the B5061 between Wellington and Oakengates used to be one fantastic pub crawl.

With The Greyhound at one end and The Cock Hotel at the other, hundreds would flock to the varied and characterful pubs along the stretch.

Dave Ballinger recalls a vibrant pub scene when he first moved to Telford 30 years ago.

Eleven pubs in a row in the old days - see the breakdown below

"The Unicorn was my first local, I was living in lodgings at the time and I used to go in with my landlord and landlady,” says the 52-year-old.

"It used to be a thriving place, they did some good food in there. The Cumberland sausages were excellent. The White Lion was another popular place, it was always quite busy on Saturdays at lunchtime and evenings.”

Three decades on, this short stretch of road is a microcosm of the changes which have taken place in the pub trade in Shropshire – or across the country for that matter – over the past decade.

1 - Peter and Liz Arden at The Cock Hotel in Wellington

Of the 11 pubs which lined the route three decades ago, just three are still trading. A fourth, The Hare & Hounds, has a sign outside promising it will be reopening soon, while a 'To Let' sign sign hangs above The White Lion.

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Many of these have been lost forever, though. The Greyhound, at the junction with the Eastern Primary route at Oakengates, was once such as well-known landmark that the traffic roundabout outside is known as ‘Greyhound Island’ to this day.

2 - The Swan, just across the junction from The Cock Hotel in Wellington

However the pub is long gone, although given its colourful reputation, there may well be some people in the area who were not entirely sad to see it go. Records suggest there may have been a pub on the site since the 18th century, and an 1896 inspection revealed that it had stabling for two horses, but was in need of some repairs.

It briefly made the news in 1910, when it held the inquest into a murder. Then in November 15, 1972, The Greyhound made the headlines again when a lorry smashed into the pub just before closing time, prompting landlord Alan Tonks to quip: "I was thinking of redecorating the place anyway.”

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3 - The former Buck’s Head, which is now a Domino’s

In 1991 the rowdy behaviour and vandalism which had been afflicting the pub became so bad that the relief manager and his family fled in fear, refusing to return. The pub closed in the mid-1990s.

The Hare & Hounds, which was known as The Omnibus until the 1990s, is closed at the moment, although a sign outside says it will be reopening soon. The pub has stood in Holyhead Road, between Oakengates and Ketley, for about 200 years. Harry Kumar, who is leasing the building from Punch Taverns, says the refurbished pub will open again on August 27.

4 - The Horseshoe Inn, not far from Ketley Brook roundabout

No such optimism for the next two pubs along the stretch, though. The Pear Tree Bridge had been in what was then known as New Road since the 1700s, a time when the area was known for its apple and pear orchards. It took its name from the bridge that crossed the Ketley Canal in front of the pub, slightly to the north of the line of the present Holyhead Road.

The pub closed in 2007 and was finally converted into flats in 2011, despite objections from Oakengates Town Council.

5 - The Blue Elephant, formerly the Seven Stars

A bit further along, the Rose & Crown looks particularly forlorn. It was trading as a pub as recently as last year, but now lies empty following a troubled few years which saw it the scene of a violent assault in 2015. Planning permission has been granted to convert the main building into a four-bedroom house.

The Unicorn is at least still a place where people can socialise, now being used as the Mauchak Indian restaurant, which opened in 2008. Like most of the pubs along this stretch, much of its early history seems to have been lost in the mists of time, although it appears to have been in Ketley since at least the early 1800s.

6 - The White Lion, on the Holyhead Road, has stood for centuries. Right, locals at the pub in days gone by.

In 1992 it changed its name to The Pudding, after being taken over by the Little Pub Company, and kitted out as a Mad O’Rourke’s theme pub. It continued into this form until 2003, when it reverted back to its original name, but this was the beginning of the end for The Unicorn, which closed its doors in 2006.

According to the sign above the door the White Lion has stood in Ketley since 1661, and in the late 1980s it was renowned for its food. But it has struggled in recent times, and finally closed this year, with a ‘to let’ sign up.

7 - The Unicorn is now the Mauchak Indian restaurant

The junction between the B5061 and Waterloo Road is still known as the Seven Stars, decades after the pub which stood at the crossroads was renamed. Then again, the Seven Stars is reputed to have been at the junction since 1579, so it is perhaps not surprising that the name has stuck. Sadly, the old building, which was a famous coaching inn, was demolished in 1964 as part of a wider redevelopment at the junction.

In an attempt to create a trendy theme pub to capitalise on the yuppie era, the Stars was renamed Twenty’s Video Bar in 1988 – supposedly because you had to be 20 or over to gain admission, although some recall this not always being the case. The venue was launched in a blaze of publicity – literally – when fire-eaters performed a dance on the roof for the opening ceremony, bringing along their pet snake Muscles to add a slither of extra drama.

8 - The Rose & Crown is set to become a house

It proved to be a short-lived fad, though, and by the early 90s the video bar concept seemed about as relevant as shoulder pads and red braces. After just four years the pub was given yet another revamp, when it became the Elephant & Castle. This was much more than just the usual refurbishment though, and the pub doubled in size to create a cocktail bar and restaurant. Like Twenty’s before it, it attracted mainly the younger set, but after a few years it was struggling once more, and finally closed its doors in 2008 when it became the Blue Elephant restaurant.

Continuing towards the Ketley Brook roundabout, we come to the first of the three pubs which have defied the odds and are still in business. The Horseshoes in Station Road is still very much the traditional community local, with nostalgic pictures looking at the area’s past on the walls.

9 - The old Pear Tree Bridge Inn at Oakengates

The Bucks Head, which lent its name to Telford United’s football ground, closed sometime around 2006, and remained empty until 2010 when a Telford Christian group turned it into a youth centre. Since 2013, it has been occupied by Domino’s pizza chain.

Also still trading is Christopher’s Bar at the Swan Hotel in Wellington, although for how much longer remains to be seen. Chris Witton, who has kept the Swan for the past 37 years, has sold the pub subject to contract after gaining outline planning permission to knock it down and turn it into 20 flats. A previous plan to knock the pub down to make way for a supermarket was rejected by councillors in 2004.

10 -The Hare & Hounds is getting a new role

Mr Witton says the despite various initiatives including £3.95 carveries, special events and discount bed & breakfast offers, he has been unable to make the pub viable.

"People don’t go into the pubs any more, they would rather sit at home with cheap beer,” he says. "It’s terrible, we’re losing all the community spirit that used to go with the pubs.”

11 - The Greyhound is now another Domino’s branch

There has been a pub on the site since the 15th century, but the original timber-framed coaching inn was demolished in 1960 after its structure was damaged by death watch beetles. The present Swan Hotel was built shortly after.

Finally we come to the 250-year-old Cock Hotel, which proves that it is still possible to succeed in the pub trade today, despite the obvious difficulties. Helped, no doubt by its prominent location, the Cock has won countless awards over the years, including Telford and East Shropshire Camra’s Best Town Pub of the Year in 2014. Landlord Peter Arden, who has kept the pub with his wife Liz for about 20 years, is due to retire but says he is confident the new owners will keep the tradition going.

Peter says crucial to the pub’s success is that it has kept its unique character, without falling into the trap of loud music and televised sports. "We keep eight beers on, that’s what we’re all about,” he says.

Source: Shropshire Star | Date: 20 August 2018

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