The Cat & Fiddle was a large red bricked building built in the 1940’s by the Cheltenham Brewery to serve the Whaddon estate. It became part of the West Country Breweries estate before passing into the ownership of Whitbread (latterly Whitbread Flowers).
The Cat & Fiddle was acquired by Arkell’s Kingsdown Brewery of Swindon in 1999. Being located almost opposite Cheltenham Town Football Club’s Whaddon Road ground, the Cat & Fiddle has always been a popular pub for football fans enjoying a pint or two before or after home games. Yet Cheltenham Town’s promotion to League One was not necessarily always cause for celebration.
An evening football match between Plymouth and Cheltenham Town on 23rd November 1999 sparked trouble when so called fans from Plymouth calling themselves the Central Element went on the rampage inside the Cat & Fiddle. Even before the match police were aware that violence could erupt and police intelligence estimated that up to 100 hooligans, many with criminal convictions for violence and public order offences, were attending the match. A group of about 50 Plymouth supporters arrived at the Cat & Fiddle about half past three and spent four hours drinking. When Cheltenham Town beat Plymouth the football thugs returned to the Cat & Fiddle and tore up posters and hurled furniture around. More than 30 police officers surrounded the pub and went inside and ordered the troublemakers to leave. Landlord Graham Elliot said: “Ninety per cent of the Plymouth fans in the pub were just a bit rowdy but there was a hardcore of 10 per cent who seemed intent on causing trouble. I spoke to three lads who said they go to the away games but not as spectators, they are looking for trouble.” During the match two arrests were made for racist chanting and another for being drunk and disorderly. A fourth arrest was for a public order offence for throwing a smoke bomb onto the pitch.
A champion boxer took on the lease of the Cat & Fiddle in March 2008. Pat Lewis was a Commonwealth bronze medal winner and former soldier. He also ran the Cheltenham Boxing Academy on Lansdown Industrial Estate. He said: “Whaddon is the biggest community in Cheltenham and we’re determined to make this pub somewhere everyone wants to visit.” His partner Caroline Kapesi added: “I’ve always wanted to own my own pub and the Cat & Fiddle has so much potential. We can’t wait to get it established.”
The Cat & Fiddle closed in April 2009. The leaseholder handed the remainder of his tenancy back to Arkell’s Brewery, the owners, claiming that trade at the Cat & Fiddle had been adversely hit by the relegation of Cheltenham Town Football Club to Division Two. Mr Lewis also was the lessee of the St. James’ Hotel in Ambrose Street, another Arkell’s pub. He said: “The fact that Cheltenham Town are heading for relegation will have a serious impact on match-day revenue, as we’ll be losing most of our big games. But I have had a fantastic one-and-a-half years at the Cat & Fiddle with great support from the local community. I’ve worked hard to clean up the image of the place which has had a bad reputation in previous times.” A spokesperson for Arkell’s Brewery said: “We are looking at this as a short-term closure. We have already received half a dozen applications from people wanting to take it on. [The Cat & Fiddle] is a busy pub in a great area, and with the right person at the hem, could do very well indeed. We are currently assessing the potential candidates to take the pub on and hope it can reopen within the next two months.”
After a major clean-up operation with painters decorating the interior, and the installation of large TV screens to enable customers to enjoy sport, the pub should have reopened on 7th July 2009, but problems with the wiring necessitated further electrical work to make the venue safe. Ian Leng, the new tenant, said: “I’ve got the electrician here and the deeper we dig the bigger the problem us. I couldn’t open just on health and safety grounds. When the pub came up, I thought it looked like a good prospect. It’s right in the heart of Whaddon and I’m sure there are lots of people who are keen to see it open again. I’m confident I can get the place doing well. I wouldn’t be taking it on if I wasn’t.” He added: “Obviously you get the match-day crowds, and that will be an important part of our trade. But I want to make the pub a real focal point for the community, with darts and pool teams.” A determined effort was made to rid the pub of problems it might have had in the past and a zero-tolerance policy was enforced towards drug users. In September 2009 a licence was obtained so that the Cat & Fiddle could host live music events. Ian said: “We thought Whaddon was lacking in terms of a live music venue. Hopefully, this will enable us to give the community something it has never had before.”
The Cat & Fiddle closed again in November 2009. A spokesman for Arkell’s Brewery admitted: “Over the past two years the pub has been unable to sustain itself economically despite significant brewery investment.” A pub regular said: “It has been too quiet here since it reopened and this time, I think it may have closed for good. People can get cheaper drinks elsewhere and a lot of locals would rather go to pubs and clubs in town.” Tenant landlord Ian Leng added: “We never managed to recover the regular punters who left when the pub closed earlier in the year. It’s a real shame, but I don’t think the pub has a future. It has a tired and worn out look to it and it would need some serious money spent on it to give it a lift.”
Rumours started to spread in February 2010 that pub chain JD Wetherspoon might be preparing a bid for the Cat & Fiddle, but this was quickly denied by Wetherspoon spokesman Eddie Gershon. However, Arkell’s brewery did confirm that the pub was in the process of being sold but declined to name the purchaser. A former regular of the pub said: “People want to see the place open again. We don’t want it boarded up because it does nothing for the community. Hopefully the place will re-open as a pub in some form or another. No one here wants more flats.”
Social housing provider Bromford bought the pub from Arkell’s in September 2010 and a formal application was submitted to Cheltenham Borough Council to demolish the Cat & Fiddle. Contractors Markey Builders outlined their plans for the construction of 16 affordable homes on the site which were approved in March 2011 on the condition that the use should be restricted to supported housing only, meaning only residents with special needs such as elderly people or those with learning difficulties would be allowed to live there. The motive behind the restriction being concerns about the number of resident’s private cars and limited parking facilities. Councillor Colin Hay (Liberal Democrats, Oakley) said: “Good pubs are part of the fabric of the community. If we are not careful there will be nowhere left for people to sit down and get to know each other. It’s a difficult one because we are also short of housing. But nevertheless I think it is a shame to lose our only remaining pubs.”
The sale of the Cat & Fiddle was held up by funding difficulties and in October 2011 the boarded-up pub was falling into a bad state of repair and had been broken into by youths who had started small fires. A Whaddon Road shopkeeper said: “It’s bringing the whole area down. Having a boarded-up pub here is no good for anyone. It’s just a sitting target for anti-social behaviour and this long delay is not helping.”
Metal barriers were erected around the derelict Cat & Fiddle in December 2011 and demolition finally took place on Monday 30th January 2012. The replacement 24-flat sheltered housing block was completed in October of that year providing homes for young people who are in danger of being left homeless. A spokesperson for Bromford Social Housing said: “We believe everyone needs the opportunity to have a great place to live. This supported housing accommodation will respond to the needs of young people in the district.”
1991,2007 Graham Elliot
2008 Pat Lewis and Caroline Kapesi
2009 Ian Leng