If you've been taking a look at our sister blog A Middlewich Diary you'll know that the whole collection of Middlewich ephemera and memorabilia there is based on a collection of colour slides dating back to (mostly) the early 1970s. It was my experiences while showing those slides to such organisations as the Middlewich Round Table (41club) and the Middlewich Heritage Society which inspired this poem.
If I may digress for just one moment, I must tell you about the near disaster which befell me while showing these slides at the then brand-new Salinae Clinic in Lewin Street (can anyone tell me the date for the opening of Salinae? All I know is it must have been after 1985, when this poem was written, and most probably in the mid 90s. Failing that I'll take a look at the commemorative plaque in the entrance hall the next time I'm down there).
Someone from the Cheshire County Council had heard about my slide-show and, reasoning that as the slides were of Middlewich and district, and Salinae was in Middlewich (indeed was supposedly named after the Roman settlement here) this would be just the thing to interest everyone in the day care centre and keep them happy for an hour or so.
What neither I nor the person who booked me had remembered was that the majority of people who attend the day care centre at Salinae are not from the Middlewich area at all, but are (or were at that time, at least) bussed in from Crewe, Sandbach, Nantwich and other areas.
So the delighted gasps of recognition as each slide came up were, on this occasion, replaced by blank, uncomprehending stares (I seem to specialise in these blank, uncomprehending stares), augmented by one or two uneasy glances from those who thought I was some kind of lunatic, showing them old pictures of a town they'd seldom, if ever, visited before, and had no interest in.
Another one to put down to experience.
Anyway, while I was showing the slides around the town people used to shout out comments of varying degrees of usefulness, and it seemed to me that the most common comments were, 'That was a pub at one time,' or 'I used to drink there when I was a lad. It was a pub' and so on.
So I wrote It Used To Be A Pub.
Well when I say 'wrote' it, I mean wrote it down. The whole thing drifted into my mind virtually complete one night. You might almost say it 'came to me in a dream'.
Although, as I've said, the poem was based on the comments made while showing the Middlewich slides, it's not actually about Middlewich.
Middlewich does not have a 'High Street', whatever Tesco, the Winsford & Middlewich Guardian and various others might think. The nearest we have is Hightown but that's not a 'High Street'. Our 'High Street' is Wheelock Street. Confusing, I know, but there we are.
We did have a main post office years ago, and it did become sub (and has, if you'll pardon the expression, got 'subber' and 'subber' over the years as it's gone walkabout all over the town centre), but it wasn't 'adjacent to the bank'.
I don't know if our old Town Hall was built in eighteen eighty-one. If it was, it's mere coincidence. 'Eighteen eighty-one' is only there to rhyme with 'gone'.
And I don't think Sir John Betjeman ever honoured us with a visit (although he did, apparently, once visit Northwich). If he had, I'd have been the first in the queue to shake his hand.
The real target of the poem, of course, is that phenomenon of the 80s pub scene the 'fun pub'.
At the time the poem was written the Red Lion, on the corner of Wheelock Street and Nantwich Road, had been got hold of by a whizzkid pub designer and ruined. In an attempt to attract younger drinkers the old Victorian pub had been gutted and turned into The Cat's Whiskers - a total nightmare of a place where the 'in people' were supposed to gather for a spot of sophistication.
The Swinging Cat is a thinly disguised version of that trendy Middlewich 'funspot'. ('plague spot' might, have been more apt).
Now, of course, the Red Lion, after having suffered the final indignity of being the Cat's Bar, is being turned into flats (or 'apartments' if you really must) and has had a little bit of its dignity restored by having the name 'Lion House' attached to it.
Ironically, this is one building we will be able to look at in the future and say, truthfully, 'It used to be a pub...'
IT USED TO BE A PUB
by Dave Roberts
We're looking at some colour slides of this, our famous town,
And studying the buildings which have changed, or been knocked down.
Our first slide shows the High Street when it was the district's hub
And every other building in it used to be a pub.
The next slide shows the Town Hall, built in eighteen eighty-one,
A fine, upstanding building in its day, now sadly gone;
A neo-gothic masterpiece, of course, but here's the rub:
Not so very long ago it used to be a pub.
Now, here's the lending library which John Betjeman thought great
When passing through the town one day in nineteen forty-eight,
En route to a reception at the Ladies' Luncheon Club
(We didn't dare to tell him that it used to be a pub).
This picture shows the G.P.O adjacent to the bank;
A very ugly building, if we want to be quite frank,
It used to be a main post office, now it's only sub
And, in the years between the wars, it used to be a pub.
And here we see the old Red Lion, where we used to sup;
Now called The Swinging Cat and modernised, and tarted up.
It serves Real Ale in tankards, ploughman's lunches and such grub -
But we can still remember when it used to be a pub.
© Dave Roberts/Salt Town Productions 2011
Originally published on THE ODD EXCEPTION 17th September 2011