Saturday, 20 June 2015

South Wigston, Leicestershire

The very centre of South Wigston is not a happy hunting ground for pubs. The closure of classic Victorian backstreet boozer the Grand Hotel, and more recently the Marquis of Queensbury, has left the immediate area around the rail station and shops unusually pub-free. The two social clubs will have mopped up much of the displaced custom, but the centre of the village has clearly ceased to be a destination for South Wigston drinkers.

It's in the surrounding residential areas that pub life continues unabated, particularly on the fringes bordering Wigston Magna where the two pubs featured here are found.

Nautical William

Throughout the 80's and 90's I would have driven past the Nautical William on many occasions, yet never felt inclined to pop in for a pint. At a time when 'locals' pubs like this were as common as 'local' supermarkets are today, it would have been just one more unremarkable boozer amongst many. It was also a far-flung outpost of Nottingham's Home Ales empire, offering the classic post-war beer range of Mild, Bitter, or an exotic 'mix' of Mild and Bitter. Even then, there was better available elsewhere!

The pub itself is a fairly typical 1950's building, of a type which I wouldn't have given a second glance at the time. Neither quaint nor 'historic' in the way some town and country pubs are, it's perhaps only because the pub sits on such a large plot that it stands out from the surrounding housing at all. But my view on pubs like this has changed over the years. To these eyes, pubs like the Nautical William are infinitely preferable to the new-build family dining venues which are replacing them, or the historic country pubs which promise much from the outside but have been stripped of all heritage and character within.

There's an honesty to these post-war community locals which makes them far closer to what I consider a proper pub to be than the glorified coffee houses and restaurants that so many have become of late. But it's exactly these kind of pubs, often standing on large attractive plots, that are being lost to housing and supermarket development at an alarming rate. This makes them all the more precious to pub enthusiasts like myself when they do survive largely intact and unspoilt, as is the case here.

Smartly refurbished in 2012, the Nautical William is now in private ownership, and still maintains its original multi-room layout. An entrance hall, which retains a now unused serving hatch (probably for off-sales originally, but possibly for corridor drinking), leads to a front dining room on the left, and smart public bar to the right (above). The games room to the rear of the pub is still well-used, and even the beer range has improved under the current owners.

Table Skittles, Darts and Pool are the mainstays of game play at the Nautical William, with skittles being played in division four of the Dunton Bassett Skittles League at the time I visited. There was also a skittle alley for the local game of Long Alley at one time, constructed by enthusiastic locals and opened in 1970. Whether this was in fact the current games room, which is about the right length for an alley, or another demolished building in the beer garden is not clear.

The skittles table is a W T Black & Son model. Most 'Blacks' tables are easily identifiable by the small oval plates on the front legs (though often broken or missing from the impact of a wayward 'cheese'), but they also carry information on construction stencilled on the woodwork underneath (below). This is table number 39, constructed in 1952 which is just two years before the Nautical William opened. Was this table bought from stock for the newly opened pub? If so it's quite possible that the skittles table is the only fixture at the pub contemporary with its original opening in the 50's.

Note also that this table was refurbished in 2013 by Colin Swinfen of Lutterworth, one of the few local craftsman skilled in the wood and leather work required for this job.

Chartwell Arms

I remember when the Chartwell Arms first opened its doors in the late 80's, a relatively rare occurrence even before the widespread closures of recent years. Known then as the Forryans Inn, the Chartwell is located on the edge of an industrial area, though it's essentially a residential estate pub. Bank's Brewery seemed to be one of the few who were actively building new pubs in those days, and a location like this would have suited their mixed food and drink offering, particularly back then when a lunchtime visit to the pub wasn't frowned on by employers in the way it is now.

The pub was given a fairly traditional layout which it retains to this day, with a lounge/eatery, bar area, and tile-floored games room which features Darts, Pool, and a slightly neglected Skittles Table tucked away in the corner. As can be seen in the advert for the opening (reproduced by kind permission of Midlands Vehicle Photographer), these were installed from opening, in stark contrast to newly opened pubs today, which rarely feature anything as social as a Darts Board, never mind the local game of skittles!

'Popular licensees Philip and Susan Hayes' are of course long gone from the Chartwell, and the current licensee is keen to establish games teams back at the pub following several years of instability behind the bar.

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