The Bath Tavern was owned by Greaves & Tasker of Stow on the Wold in 1891. Presumably this is the Stow Brewery later owned by Augustus Green. The annual rateable value of the licensed ale house was £20.5s.0d. In 1903, twelve years later, the Bath Tavern had been bought by Mitchell & Butler of Cape Hill, Birmingham. The rateable value per year had increased slightly to £22.0s.0d. As a matter of reference, the Stow Brewery was acquired by the Cheltenham Original Brewery in 1914, so the ownership of the Bath Tavern from Greaves & Tasker to M&B is unexplained.
The Bath Tavern was run for almost 130 years by the Cheshire family. Frederick Cheshire was believed to be behind the bar in 1878 and an 1883 reference confirms that he was in residence. Phyllis Cheshire took over the pub in 1957 and was serving behind the bar for 40 years until 1 ill health caused her to retire in 1997. Sandra McKinnes took over the running of the pub in her absence. Sadly, Phyllis died in June 2000. She was known by all her regulars simply as ‘Auntie’.
Phyllis’s three sons, Andy, Paul and Geoff, decided to sell the Bath Tavern. Andy Cheshire, a company director, said: “When I pulled my first pint it was the equivalent of 7 pence. In 130 years we never once had the police in. Mum was a very good judge of character and if you weren’t polite you wouldn’t get served.” In fact, I can testify to Andy’s observation of his Mum’s character as the Bath Tavern holds the dubious distinction of being the only pub that I have been temporarily barred. It happened when I complained to Phyllis about a dodgy pint of Draught Bass, perhaps hoping for a straightforward replacement with Uley Bitter. She retorted in no uncertain terms: “Well, everyone else is drinking it. If you don’t like my beer get out and don’t return again.” However, I did return to the Bath Tavern on many other occasions to enjoy the unique atmosphere of this lovely pub untouched by time – a true Victorian classic local. I made a point of never complaining about the beer though, not that I had to as the quality was invariably excellent.
Entering through the front door there was a small bar to the left, measuring just six feet by ten feet. A central corridor, with a serving hatch from the bar, led to a larger room to the right. Ornate etched glass bay windows on the front of the pub and a basic outside gents’ toilet made the Bath Tavern a remarkable survivor of times gone by. The small bar had basic wooden shelves and panelling. The Bath Tavern was deemed noteworthy of national importance and it had a deserved listing on the Campaign for Real Ale’s National Inventory of Unspoilt Pub Interiors.
On 9th June 2001 the pub reopened under the new name of Tavern in the Town. The press release invited customers to ‘come along and experience a warm welcome in our totally transformed modern yet traditional bar’. It is believed that the wooden panelling and bar back was riddled with dry rot. The decision was taken to transform the interior to a single room drinking space, keeping the style as traditional as possible. The loss of such a gem is certainly lamentable but given the circumstances of the rotten interior structure and the admittedly awkward design it is perhaps inevitable that change had to happen. Even the outside toilets were reconstructed. At least the pub didn’t close when the Cheshire family called it a day. A new feature at the pub, totally alien in ‘Auntie’s’ days, was the installation of Sky TV.
Julie Wathen took over the Tavern in the Town in November 2003. Julie was a member of the group Tight Fit who had a hit single in 1982 with The Lion Sleeps Tonight. She said: “This freehouse pub came on the market and we fell in love with it. We want to create a gastropub with good, wholesome, home-made cooking but keeping the feel of the traditional pub. I want to introduce some lunchtime trade and tapas in the evening. We have a lot of work to do before we start it up properly.”
In August 2008 some residents of Belmore Place complained about customers from the Bath Tavern and Bell Inn spilling out from the pubs “into their once quiet and peaceful private road.” Belmore Place intersects the two adjacent pubs in Bath Road. One resident, an unnamed male aged 43, told the ‘Gloucestershire Echo’: “We are at our wits end. There are only twelve houses in Belmore Place yet we have two pubs on our doorstep. We now have to put up with people smoking and drinking outside our houses late into the night. All we want is a quiet life without being disturbed by the constant noise coming from these two public houses.” Perhaps I might suggest that the residents who complained had actually chosen to live in Belmore Place where the two pubs had been trading for generations.
The Bath Tavern was put on the market again in March 2012 with an asking price of £420,000 for the freehold. Colliers International handling the sale expected a keen interest. A spokesman commented: “The Bath Tavern is a pub we would all like to have as our local. As a business it offers a simple, but successful formula with a largely wet trade. Less that 10 per cent of total sales come from the simple bar snack menu. This will represent the perfect balance of trade for many, but potential owners wishing to develop the Bath Tavern as a gastropub will have plenty of scope.”
Landlords of the Bath Tavern include:
1859 John Knight (Bath Road Tavern – see entry for Bath Road Stores)
1870 William Haines
1878 Elizabeth Davis
1883,1902 Frederick Cheshire
1903,1906 Mrs Elizabeth Cheshire
1919 Frederick Cheshire
1926 Mrs Blanche Cheshire
1957-1997 Phyllis Cheshire
1997 Sandra McKinnes (caretaker)
2003 Julie and Gary Wathen
2005,2012 James Diamond Dobson