Friday, 26 April 2013

Ghosts In The Loggerheads? Whoever Would Have Thought It?

Liz and Nick have been running the Loggerheads for long enough now to settle in, get to know everyone and get to know the ghosts.  They’ve had a busy time with all those ghosts.  I do not kid. 

The Loggerheads is Shrewsbury’s iconic pub. To describe it as small and dark with narrow, sloping quarry-tiled corridors, a centrally located not exactly over-large bar and a variety of tiny booth-sized rooms called things like ‘Poets Corner’ and ‘Gents Only’ merely scrapes the surface. Nothing on the outside indicates what you’ll find within.  Because it’s atmosphere you’ll find within.  There’s not another pub in Shrewsbury quite like it.

The Loggerheads isn’t the oldest pub in town.  Far from it. It’s earliest history is unknown, but it’s reckoned to date somewhere in the latter half of the 17th century, which is fairly modern by Shrewsbury standards. Certainly records show a public house on site in 1780, called the Greyhound.  Since then it was renamed several times - the Horse and Jockey, the General Lord Hill, the Shrewsbury Arms and finally the Loggerheads, officially taking on the nickname it had already acquired.  


As old buildings go, the Loggerheads doesn’t have a huge amount of recorded history. On 9th May 1822, it was sold at auction. 'All that old established and much frequented public house and premises known by the sign of General Lord Hill, now in the occupation of Mr. Thomas Williams. The situation is central and the premises are in excellent repair. To any person desirous of making a good thing of the business by keeping a superior tap of home brewed ale, or to a maltster or brewer desirous of securing the custom of a good house, a most advantageous opportunity presents itself.'

How many times the Loggerheads has changed hands since then I’ve no idea, but ten years later it was advertised to let after the landlord, Mr. Brindley auctioned off his household furniture, brewing vessels and 140 gallons of ale. By 1900, the inn was owned by T. Cooper & Co. of Burton-on-Trent and the landlord was one Joseph Russell, his house consisting of three public and nine private rooms, including accommodation for ten people in three bedrooms.

At some time the pub contained a brothel, according to Liz who’s seen the ghosts queuing up for it on the staircases, beer in hand.  She’s been Landlady now for fourteen months and has seen plenty of ghosts in the Loggerheads – and not just after last orders when the doors are locked and the lights go out. 

Liz is a care-worker by training, a job she loved. Before becoming Landlady of the Loggers, she worked for a number of years in Brittany while Nick was stuck in Shrewsbury, unable to sell their property, trapped by the recession.   This was a difficult time for the whole family.  Wanting to return to the UK and put the family back together, Liz and Nick looked into starting a joint business venture. As a Loop Baby, born on College Hill, Nick was keen that that venture should be in Shrewsbury, and when the Loggerheads came up, they jumped at it.  In Liz’s words, ‘There was only one pub in town that either of us could imagine wanting to take on – and this was it.’

Liz and Nick took on the Loggerheads as untrained novices. Their first day was Valentine’s Day 2012.  It was getting on for thirty years since either of them had pulled a pint.  They’d never been into a pub cellar and had no knowledge of how to run one.  When they opened the door at 11.00am, there were seven ex-licensees standing outside, and three of the town’s current licensees, as well as somebody wanting to celebrate their 70th birthday with friends.  They all piled into the front bar, which is very much the inner sanctum of the Loggerheads, and sat with arms folded, waiting to see what would happen next.  Liz and Nick stared at them.  They stared back.  Then Nick laughed.  ‘Go on,’ he said.  ‘What do you want? Which glasses? You’re going to have to tell us.  We don’t know.’

A book was run on Liz and Nick.  Their sticking it out for six months was reckoned to be the maximum.  It was only thanks to YouTube that they learnt to do the cellar. Some people were horrified to see ignorant first timers in charge of the most precious pub in Shrewsbury. The only way they got by, according to Liz, was by asking questions.  And the help they had, she says, was fantastic.  ‘We couldn’t have put it all together and made it work without an incredible amount of support.’

Marsdens is the brewery that owns the pub, but the Loggerheads provides a selection of ales from a number of other breweries. Banks and Pedigree are available all year round, but annually there are fifty other ales too.  This is a proper pub, Liz says.  A drinking pub.  A local. She doesn’t see herself as its owner.  She sees herself as its keeper.  It’s up to her to preserve what’s good about it, ‘to keep it nice,’ as she puts it, and to respect it.

To this end, before changing anything Liz talked to the locals about what they liked about the Loggers and what they felt needed to be addressed.  Major structural problems had been dealt with six years earlier when the front wall had begun to move away from the rest of the building.  This meant that Liz was free to turn her attention to lesser matters, like careful redecorating, installing an extra pump so that mild could be available all the time, and making the seating – especially in Gents Only – more comfortable [cushions] without actually removing what was already there [benches].  

Fires also went into every room.  This was something else the locals wanted, in keeping with the pub’s character, and this is what they now have.  There’s a newly set up darts team too, a poker night on Wednesdays, live music at weekends and a Tuesday night slot for younger musicians in Gents Only, as well as the long-standing one on Thursday nights. There’s wine on offer too, as well as all the ales.

And there’s a refurbished menu.  All of it’s what you’d call comfort food - Sunday roast, local steaks from the grill, sausages and mash with lots of choice and flavour, served between 12.00 and 3.00pm Tuesdays to Saturdays, and 5.00 and 9.00pm Tuesdays to Thursdays.  In other words, at times when the pub’s less likely to be used exclusively as a drinking hole.  

Liz works in the pub from eleven in the morning until three the following morning.  It’s a long day.  Three of her and Nick’s children have left home, one’s just off travelling,  another works in the pub with them, and then there’s the eleven year old for whom this has been a huge change of life. ‘But there’s a sense of family about this pub,’ Liz says.  ‘People look out for you, and they look out for your children. I’ve moved around a lot in my life, so have never really had a proper base.  But I’ve got one here.  The friendship here is a powerful thing.’

The Loggerheads is an old-fashioned pub. With its tiny, dark rooms and slightly odd layout, it’s the sort of pub you can imagine being ripped apart, themed and spat out again in homogenized form.  It’s to Liz and Nick’s credit that they haven’t gone down that road.  At least, I think it is. One day last summer, an American lady, ‘as round as she was tall,’ says Liz, fell backwards off her stool in Gents Only and had to be helped up.  She was fine, no bones broken or anything like that, but she held back until the pub was quiet, then said, ‘I thought I ought to tell you, you may not realize it   – your floor slopes.’ ‘Oh dear,’ said Liz. ‘We’d better see what we can do.’ But I’m happy to report that her floor still slopes.

Another time an old chap came into the bar drunk.  He tried to order a pint.  Nick said he’d had enough and sent him on his way.  The old chap went down the road, in through the next door and up to the hatch of what he didn't realize was the same bar. Here he encountered the same  face behind the bar - and the message was the same as well. ‘How many bloody pubs do you own in this town?’ was what one disgrunted drunk wanted to know. 

By day the central room is very much an inner sanctuary [though not so much at night].  Liz is aware of people feeling uncomfortable about coming in, as if afraid of invading a private space, and she’ll always try to catch their eye and draw them in.  It’s the place to be, she says, for stories and company.  It isn’t the room for sitting drinking on your own.  That’s more likely to happen in Poets’ Corner or Gents Only. 

Gents Only is where the music happens on Tuesday and Thursday nights, and Poets’ Corner is the tiny back room [just about enough space for four little tables and a couple of benches] where the Shrewsbury Poetry Society used to hold its meetings.  This explains the Samuel Beckets and Sylvia Plaths that once lined its walls.  Those old photos have gone since Liz moved in, and I wonder why.  Liz says that the locals found them gloomy. They were mug shots, not friendly pics.  Only two people, she said, have asked what happened to the poets since she took them down.  And now that’s three, because of me.  Mug shots or not, I liked those old poets. Ghosts, I reckon, might turn in their graves.

So here we are then, back to them again.  And, according to Liz, there are plenty of them in the Loggerheads too. There’s the lady she sees coming into the lounge dressed all in black.  Then there’s another lady with two children who wakes her up at night, standing by her bed. Then there’s the gentleman who opened the door and walked in one day, dressed in a long green velvet coat, white socks and three-cornered hat.

And then there’s the noise.  Lying in bed at night, Liz will say to Nick, ‘Can’t you hear the chattering along the top landing?’ But he can’t.  She’s been out onto the landing too, and seen it as it must have been in the old days, all the walls dark, the wood work unpainted and men crowding the landing and stairs.  She’s asked them to cut the noise – and they have.  But another night she’ll wake up and they'll be at it again.  

A good night for seeing ghosts is Tuesdays, Liz says, though she’s no idea why.  So if you’re thinking of going for a pint at the Loggers, and you want a bit of a thrill, Tuesday nights might be a good bet.

PS. If you’re wondering about the name ‘loggerheads’, some reckon it’s likely to be a corruption of 'lubber's head', the old English for a leopard's head, as mentioned by Shakespeare in Henry IV Part II when Falstaff is invited to dinner at the Lubbar's Head in Lombard Street. I mention this in passing because Falstaff is a subject I’m hoping to get onto in a couple of weeks time.  Look out for it, and in the meantime read your Henry IV Part I.   

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