Cheltenham Original Brewery owned the Compasses in 1891 when the rateable value per annum was £22.10s.0d. The valuation of the licensed ale house had decreased slightly to £21.5s.0d. in 1903. The Compasses Inn traded alongside the Welsh Harp and the Dove & Rainbow, just a few yards away in Burton Street. There is a reminder of its previous brewery heritage on the corner of the pub with a unique ‘Cheltenham Ales. Wines & Spirits’ sign. The Compasses Inn changed its name to the Cavern in the late 1990’s.
Above image courtesy Tony Burford. (Thomas Sharpe, the landlord is far right. c.1964)
The New Street pub, trading under the names of both the Compasses and the Cavern, raised a great deal for charity organisations. It was also renowned for music, as landlord Lee Sharp was a member of the band, Duke.
Lee Sharp was friends with Screaming Lord Sutch, 3rd Lord of Harrow. The colourful character, born David Sutch, was an eccentric 1960’s pop star whose early works were produced by the legendary producer Joe Meek. Screaming Lord Sutch has the dubious honour, according to a 1998 BBC poll, of releasing the worst album of all time in 1970, despite the fact that Jimmy Page and John Bonham – members of Led Zeppelin – together with Jeff Beck and ex- Jimi Hendrix Experience bassist Noel Redding contributed to the record. Screaming Lord Sutch, however, will probably be remembered as the founding member of the Monster Raving Loony Party, of which he contested and lost the 40 elections of which he stood. He died in June 1999. A year before he died Screaming Lord Sutch performed with Cheltenham bands the Ramrods and the Diamonds at the Cavern pub. He was joined by his friend, the much-missed local character Dancing Ken who also stood as parliamentary candidate for Cheltenham for the Monster Raving Loony Party. A 1950’s disco, raffle and barbeque was held on the August Bank Holiday in 1999 in memory of Lord Sutch with money raised being donated to local children’s hospitals. Dancing Ken Hanks continued to support charitable events at the Cavern after his friend’s death. The Cavern Club was set up and an impressive £813 was raised by Ken in the first six months of 2005 alone, with an extra £571 being raised for patients with breast cancer. Dancing Ken said: “The Cavern is a small club but always willing to help.”
The Battledown ward at Cheltenham General Hospital and the children’s ward at Bristol’s Frenchay Hospital were recipients of a fundraising effort in September 1999 by the regulars of the Cavern. A tower of coins reaching up to a meter in height were assembled in the bar of the pub and were ceremonially knocked down by nurses from the Cheltenham children’s ward. A barbeque was held to boost the funds.
The pub had a brief change of identity in 2002, rebadged as Nostalgia.
An application by the Cavern in June 2006 to extend the opening time to serve alcohol until midnight from Monday to Saturday and 11.30 pm on Sundays was opposed by some residents. Despite the pub being there for generations a resident from Great Western Road said: “We have only lived in the area for eighteen months, but we have seen a significant rise in noise levels.” Another resident from the same street said: “The premises are in the middle of a residential area and it’s bad enough putting up with the noise levels.” Concerns were also expressed about vandalism to the neighbourhood. Lee Sharpe, landlord of the Cavern, tried to allay the fears of residents with the statement: “The premises are being refurbished at the moment to include sound-proofing and customers are asked to leave quietly by the doorway that faces Waitrose, not houses.” He added that cameras were being fitted in the bar and door staff would make regular patrols of the pub. The application also sought permission for live music and indoor sporting events.
The Cavern was struggling to be a viable concern by March 2010. Lee Sharp said: “There’s no money in it anymore. The smoking ban has hit us hard, but the real killer is the cheap supermarket booze. We don’t have enough custom to keep us going.” He added: “We have had some great times over the years. It has always been a true local’s place and I will take some very fond memories with me.” An ex-customer wrote to the ‘Echo’ lamenting that the closure of the Cavern was “a real blow to the community. Lee put on lots of music nights and food without charging people. Lee and his group are good musicians and anyone could get up and join them, not to mention all he did for charity. I’ll miss Lee and I wish him well for the future. A real fun pub run by a man who always had a joke to tell. Good luck mate.”
Lee Sharp bought the premises outright and planned to reopen the pub in April 2012. He intended to relaunch the pub as the Continental. Lee told the Gloucestershire Echo: “[The Continental] was one of my favourite pubs when I was about 18. I want to turn the pub into a little live music venue, get some of the old lads back and enjoy some good beers. I think the pub trade is finished but I am going into this with an open mind. I want to get the pub back to like it was in the good old days, go back to basics.” Unfortunately, the funds to redevelop the pub were not available and Lee had to admit that the pub had permanently closed. In February 2013 he said: “The mortgage is £4,300 a month. I am giving back the keys to the mortgage lender next week. It has been a tough decision, but I have been working here for no wages for the last few years, and the building is so old and dilapidated, it needs a cash injection of £100,000.”
In August 2016 an application was submitted to Cheltenham Borough Council for a ‘change of use of a former public house [the Cavern] to six flats comprising four one-bedroom flats and two two-bedroom flats.
Landlords at the Compasses Inn include:
1844 James Islip
1859 Samuel Bobbett
1870 Mrs White
1878 Thomas Wheeler
1885 Frederick Crowther
1891 John Cavell
1902 Joseph Evans
1903,1906 James Charles Pockett
1919 Mrs Lizzie Cullen
1926 Geo. Whittern
1939 Frederick A.M. Walter
1963 Thomas and Alice Sharpe
1999,2006 Lee Sharpe (Cavern)