Wood's and Holdens big in publican's 50-year history
A couple who pioneered serving pub bar food in the West Midlands are this month (July) celebrating 50 continuous years in the licensed trade – and have stuck to selling local real ales throughout that time.
Even when real ales were going out of fashion, Peter and Cecile Williams stuck by the policy of offering well-kept draught beer, and Peter has been buying from south Shropshire brewers Wood’s since the brewery started 35 years ago and from Holdens, Dudley, for 40-plus years.
Peter said, “I’ve always believed in the value of keeping a good pint and I was taught how to keep a good cellar by two very experienced Shropshire licensees. My family history is in the licensed trade, with both my grandfather and my great grandmother keeping pubs. My grandfather, James Woodnorth, was a chairman of Shrewsbury Licensed Victuallers and I’m a Fellow of the British Institute of Innkeepers.”
“We’re both proud to have reached 50 years of continuous service in the licensed trade and we’re still thoroughly enjoying it.”
Extensive bar food menus are part and parcel of pubs these days, but when Peter and Cecile started in the trade at the White Horse in Pulverbatch, West Shropshire, in July 1965, it was unheard of.
“We’d seen a pub in Leicestershire serving chicken in the basket in the public and lounge bars, but it was unheard of on this side of the West Midlands,” said Peter. “We knew it had potential, so we started doing the same thing – and it took off like a house on fire. Our turnover when we took over the White Horse was £50 a week and beer was one shilling and ten pence – less than 10p in today’s money. Within six weeks, when we fine-tuned the basket meals, adding scampi and plates of ham and eggs, our take rocketed to £1,000 a week.”
The couple left the White Horse 14 years later, and as well as opening the Just Williams wine bar in Shrewsbury they renovated the town’s Pengwern Hotel before moving to the Halfway House Inn, Bridgnorth, where they have been since 1997. The Halfway is one of Shropshire’s oldest pubs, with a license running back to 1620.
Conscious of changing trends within the licensed trade, the couple added adventure and corporate hospitality to their traditional pub food and drink roster, and developed accommodation. At the Halfway House, they also have a caravan park.
“This spread of activities has kept us going through some very difficult times, and we’re strong now, when country pubs in particular are finding it very hard to survive without a reputation for food and good beers,” said Peter.