The licence of the Prince of Wales in Portland Street was surrendered in February 2014 by owners Enterprise Inns and the property was acquired by a Winchcombe based property developer. In the Spring of 2015 planning permission was granted for the conversion of the pub to multiple occupancy comprising of eight bedrooms with a communal living area. It was claimed by the developers that no interest had been expressed in retaining the building as a pub with the suggestion that the business had “limited trading potential.” The Prince of Wales had seen the arrival and departure of four tenants in the same number of years, with the pub even closing for six months in 2012. The fading fortunes of the Prince of Wales in the last few years of trading seemed to spark no concerted campaign to save the pub when threatened with closure, and the property is now in residential use.
Perhaps surprisingly the successive attempts of revitalising the pub always kept loyal to the traditional name of the Prince of Wales with no attempt to change the identity into something more contemporary which might have appealed to a different and targeted clientele. Yet the pub had been a viable proposition in the 1990’s and 2000’s when under the tenancy of Irishman William (Billy) Burke with his wife Diane, who transformed the Prince of Wales as a destination for Irish racegoers and the general racing fraternity. The back bar of the pub was full of racing and horse related artefacts. The Prince of Wales was an honest, traditional local under no pretensions to be anything else. The 1996 edition of CAMRA’s ‘Real Ale in Gloucestershire’ even listed three real ales available on handpump, including Hook Norton Bitter and the local brew – Whitbread West Country Pale Ale. Billy and Diane had left the Prince of Wales in 2005 when the new tenant was keen to promote what was then thought to be the cheapest pints in Cheltenham – £2.50 for John Smiths bitter and Carling lager. The intended clientele clearly not targeted towards the discerning beer drinker concerned with quality over quantity.
A new tenant took over the running of the Prince of Wales in the Spring of 2012 with the intention of transforming it into a family-friendly pub. He immediately scored a spectacular own-goal which created bad publicity in the press at the very time that he needed their support in his new venture. ‘Dancing’ Ken Hanks was a Cheltenham legend who brightened up the town with his colourful and assorted attire of clothing which reflected his love for American Country music. He was also an admirable charity fund raiser, contributing more than £1 million for good causes for which he was awarded a Medal of Honour. Yet when Ken walked into the Prince of Wales pub in late March 2012 he was denied service because the landlord alleged that his customers already in the pub felt ‘uncomfortable’ with his garish and unusual appearance. Feeling embarrassed by the ban Ken took refuge in the nearby Cotswold Inn where he was given a complimentary pint. The resulting bad press must have been a nightmare for the new tenant who had just invested £10,000 into refurbishing the Prince of Wales. The pub closed soon afterwards and did not reopen until September.
The next attempt to revitalise the fortunes of the Prince of Wales was by former Commonwealth Games bronze medallist boxer Pat Lewis, and his partner Caz. The couple had previous experience in the local pub trade running the Cat & Fiddle in Whaddon Road just prior to closure. Pat claimed that the previous incarnation of the Prince of Wales had turned it into a wine bar, and it was their intention to revert it back to a traditional pub. Yet the brand-new signage proclaimed that it had a ‘champagne lounge; with ‘wine served by the glass’ – how else would you serve wine? A publicity photograph from the invited guests reopening night on Wednesday 14th November 2012 showed guests at the bar behind two unused real ale handpumps. Perhaps this was indicative of the direction the Prince of Wales would take. Clearly the emphasis was attracting custom from the racing fraternity again as great efforts were made to get the pub ready for the November Cheltenham Open meeting. Sadly the expected upturn of the pubs fortunes never took place and the Prince of Wales limped on until the decision was made to surrender the licence.
But there were happier times at the pub. Probably the most celebrated landlord of the Prince of Wales was ex-Southampton right-side winger Terry Paine who combined his time at the Prince of Wales in the late 1970’s with his role as manager at Cheltenham Town Football Club. Terry was selected to be part of the 22-man squad for the legendary World Cup team in 1966 but, in the event, only played in one match against Mexico. After his influential career with Southampton Terry was a player-coach at Hereford United, helping them win the Division Three Championship in 1974.
The earliest recorded landlord of the Prince of Wales was J. Brown in 1863. The Cheltenham Original Brewery were the owners of the Prince of Wales in 1891, keeping the property in their estate twelve years later in 1903. The annual rateable value of the licensed ale house remained constant at £34.0s.0d. throughout that time. However, a photograph taken in the late 1930’s, when William Henry Robins was mine-host, clearly shows that the pub was tied to the Flowers Brewery of Stratford on Avon. Did Cheltenham Original Brewery sell the Prince of Wales to their rivals? The Stratford on Avon ‘real’ Flower’s brewery closed in 1968 when Whitbread merged Flowers with West Country Breweries to form Whitbread Flowers.
So the once proud Prince of Wales has now permanently disappeared from the Cheltenham pub scene. Another lost pub. An inevitable casualty of the downturn in the pub trade in recent years, or a deliberate strategy by Enterprise Inns to manipulate the direction the pub was taking away from its core values of a humble traditional town ale house to a themed pub without having an actual theme. At least the wine was served by the glass. It is a shame the ale wasn’t.
Gloucestershire CAMRA. Real Ale in Gloucestershire (1996): ‘Popular town centre pub for good mix of the race-going fraternity. In noisy back bar there are many artefacts of horse sports. Quieter front bar room. Garden with slides and swings for children.’ Beers – Boddington Bitter, Hook Norton Best Bitter, Whitbread West Country Pale Ale.
Gloucestershire Echo: Derek Goddard Column: 22nd July 2003: “Many years ago Bobby Charlton telephoned me and I didn’t believe it was the man himself. I told him he was speaking to the King of Siam before it dawned on me that it really was Bobby Charlton, before he was Sir. He wanted a telephone number for Terry Paine, who was in England’s World Cup squad of 1966 and ran the Prince of Wales Hotel in Cheltenham.”
Public Notices. Cheltenham Borough Council: Dated 20th July 2005: Prince of Wales, 11 Portland Street: An application has been made to Cheltenham Borough Council by William Burke and Diane Burke to vary the premises licence. The Licensing Register can be inspected during normal business hours at the Municipal Offices.
Gloucestershire Echo: Monday, October 31st 2011- £2.50 for a town pub pint? We’ll drink to that. By Max Wilkinson: (Edit) Are these the cheapest pints in Cheltenham town centre? The Prince of Wales is selling lager and bitter for just £2.50. With prices having soared in many boozers the manager Lorraine Thorndale has put on the offer to prove drinkers can find a good deal. She contacted the Echo after a story challenging readers to find a pint for less than £3 in central Cheltenham. Mrs Thorndale, who has been in the trade for 22 years, said: “People pop in and say ‘that’s cheap’. They can’t believe it’s only £2.50 and it’s a shock to a lot of people but we need to let everyone know that there are still cheap pints out there.” The pub is owned by Enterprise Inns and run by Mana Taverns, which put on the deal of this month. The cost of a pint of standard John Smiths bitter and Carling, two widely available brands, are advertised on a chalk board outside.
Gloucestershire Echo: 8th February 2010: 1932 Echo was under pub carpet: A refurbishment at a Cheltenham pub unearthed a small part of the town’s history. Paul White, who took over as landlord at the Prince of Wales in Portland Street in December, was lifting up the old carpet when he discovered a copy of the Gloucestershire Echo dating back to 1932. He said: “We decided to have a mini refurbishment to make the place look better and brighten it up more. When I lifted up the carpet I found an old copy of the Echo. It’s just interesting to find out what was going on at the time.”
Public Notices. Cheltenham Borough Council: Date 30th March 2010: Prince of Wales, 11 Portland Street: Re-roofing of main building and existing pitched roofs to rear.
Gloucestershire Echo: Tuesday 3rd April 2012 – Ken is shocked at pub refusal: For many people “Dancing” Ken Hanks is a Chetenham hero, having over the years raised more than £1 million pounds for charities. But when the stalwart strolled into the town’s Prince of wales pub in his signature cowboy hat, he was dismayed to be refused service because he made some of the clientele feed “uncomfortable”. The 76-year-old moved on to the nearby Cotswold pub where he was given a complimentary pint by the landlord. The quirky character, who is often seen pottering around the town centre with a decorated trolley, said the episode had left him humiliated. “I was pretty shocked,” he said. “In 76 years I have never been refused entry to anywhere. I hadn’t done anything wrong. It was embarrassing because quite a few of my pals were inside the pub. I won’t be going back there under the current management. There are plenty of other places in town where I am very welcome.”
Dancing Ken was awarded the Medal of Honour at a special ceremony last year for his tireless fundraising work. Ben Horsley, landlord of the Portland Street pub, said the decision to refuse service, on Friday night, was a one-off. “It was nothing personal,” he said. There was a large group of customers who were obviously put off by him being there. They were going to leave if he stayed. I’ve got no problem with the bloke but I have a responsibility to keep my customers happy,” he added. “I admire the fact that he has done a lot of charity work and on any other occasion he is welcome to come back.”
Gloucestershire Echo: Friday, 6th April 2012: Dancing Ken lifted by public support: Dancing Ken Hanks says he has been touched by the messages of support following his surprise ejection from a Cheltenham pub. The 76-year-old, who is known as much for his quirky outfits as his tireless charity work, was left shocked when staff at the Prince of Wales refused him service because he was reportedly making some customers feel “uncomfortable.” Since the incident people have been stopping the colourful character in the street to express support. “So many people have been coming up to me to say how sorry they were about what happened,” said Ken. “It has meant a lot to me because I was a bit shocked by it. It’s nice to know the majority of people are behind me.”
Gloucestershire Echo: 25th April 2012 – Ben raises a glass to improved fortunes: Ben Horsley, the new landlord of the Prince of Wales pub, is hoping a new makeover and fresh start will improve its reputation. The 25-year-old has taken over the drinking hole in Portland Street, Cheltenham, in a bid to turn around its reputation. He said: “The pub has had quite a bit of bad press over the past few years. I am changing all of that. Ben has already spent £10,000 on renovating the venue. “When I took it over there were problems with the walls and it was a bit of a mess. We had to clean it up and it now has a completely new inside,” he said. Ben, who lives above the pub with his fiancé Laura Tye and two-year-old daughter, added: “I want to promote it as a family pub.”
Gloucestershire Echo: Monday, November 19th 2012: ‘Sleeping giant’ back in business in time for races. By Jack Maidment: Packed to the rafters and with dozens of customers spilling out the front door, it’s as if the Prince of Wales was never closed. Many people might have forgotten about the pub in Portland Street after it was left empty for more than six months. But now in the hands of former Commonwealth Games bronze medallist boxer Pat Lewis, 50, and his partner Caz Kapesi, 40, the pub has already recaptured some of its old magic after reopening on Thursday night. Freshly decorated with plenty of beer on tap, the pub was ready for the hundreds of people looking for a traditional watering hole after a day at The Open at Cheltenham Racecourse this weekend. Pat said: “The plan was always to open towards the Paddy Power meeting to give us a little bit of a head start. Because the pub has been closed for six months, I think people have got used to just walking past so we have to change that and get people back in. Because of its location this pub should be a big pub and it always has been. We are bringing back a sleeping giant.”
The Prince was a wine bar in its previous incarnation. Before that it was a popular pub, particularly with Irish race visitors, and with good reason as it was originally run by Irishman Billy Burke. Caz said: “We opened on Wednesday for a private party and then we opened to the public on Thursday officially. We knew a couple of months ago that we would be taking it on. It is now a proper drinkers’ pub again. When it was held by Billy burke it was thriving so really now it is back in the family because I am from the same roots in Galway as Billy and my maiden name is Burke.” Pat and Caz have made numerous changes to the pub’s décor but said the things that made the pub a success in the past remained. Pat said: “This has been in the pipeline for a while and so once we had done the work, we needed to refurbish the pub because it had been standing empty for about six months, we were able to open. Before we took over, the Prince of Wales was being run as a wine bar and I think that did drive the original customers away, so we have turned it back into a traditional pub. It is really the only traditional pub in the town centre where people can finish work and get in.”
29th May 2015 – Plan to turn pub into home: A town centre pub could be turned into housing. A bid has been submitted to Cheltenham Borough Council to convert the Prince of Wales in Portland Street into a house of multiple occupancy with eight bedrooms
Public Notices. Cheltenham Borough Council: Date 2nd June, 2015: Prince of Wales, 11 Portland Street: Conversion of the Prince of Wales public house to a House of Multiple Occupancy comprising 8 bedrooms.
Gloucestershire Echo: 8th August 2015 – Prince bows out for conversion to homes: By Fushia Singleton-Hoare. Yet another pub in Cheltenham is to be turned into homes. Developers now have permission to convert the old Prince of Wales pub, in Portland Street, into a “House with multiple occupancy” with eight rooms. Each room will have an en-suite bathroom, and there will be two kitchens and a communal living area. Upper Langley Developments were granted permission to make the changes by Cheltenham Borough Council. The company said it its planning application that the property will provide high quality and be a more cost effective option for eight professional people from all backgrounds. “They could be local people who want to house-share or new people to the area who have relocated to work in Cheltenham,” it said.
Pub company Enterprise Inns was the landlord of the Prince of Wales until it surrendered the licence in February 2014. The pub was advertised for sale in October 2014 and the developers bought the Prince in March 2015. Upper Langley Developments said there was no interest from any pub retailers when it bought the building, “suggesting the business had limited trading potential.”
Letters to the Editor – Pubs being sold off to developers: So Upper Langley Developments, and no doubt Enterprise Inns, are claiming no-one wanted to buy the pub (‘Former Prince of Wales pub gets permission to be turned into homes’). I know of at least one person who offered to buy it, but was turned down – as always happens. Those of us who have been watching the pub companies and their developer friends for a while know that this seems to be common. There seems to be much more money to be made from building flats than running pubs. I wouldn’t be surprised if exactly the same thing will happen to the Russell Arms, The Junction and the Ryeworth Inn in the town. John. Chelt. Online.
Landlords of the Prince of Wales include:
1830 Susan Dangerfield
1859 William Giles
1863 J. Brown
1865,1875 Charles Hoskins
1876,1879 Anthony G. Titley
1883 B. Land
1885,1891 George Smith
1894 John Llewellyn
1902 Frederick J. Roberts
1903 Charles Alfred Jackson
1906 Charles Craddock
1910 Harold Swift
1919,1927 Arthur William Ryder
1939 William Hy. Robins
Late 1950’s / early 1960’s George Warmington (moved briefly to the Coopers Arms in the High Street)
1999,2005 William.J. Burke
2009 (Dec) Paul White
2011 Lorraine Thorndale
2012 Ben Horsley
2012 (November) Pat Lewis & Caz Kapesi