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Sunday Telegraph Stella Magazine Tracey Moberly Cider with Roxy (and Sue, and Liz ... ) Sunday December 6 2009
Immortalised by the legendary Annie Walker in 'Corrie' and Peggy Mitchell in 'EastEnders', the British landlady is a national institution. But with the traditional public house on the decline, and publicans being replaced by career managers, is she a dying breed? Kelly Rose Bradford meets eight who are going strong Photographs by Alice Hawkins TRACEY MOBERLY 43, HAS RUN THE FOUNDRY IN SHOREDITCH, EAST LONDON, FOR NINE YEARS Pubs never featured in my upbringing because my parents don't drink. My grandmother had an affair with the landlord of a local pub, so maybe that put my mum and dad off, but growing up in Wales I was always into socialising and going outj there was little else to do in the Valleys. The Foundry is very different to most pubs, and I am not your normal landlady. I see my pub as a creative space, a meeting place for an intellectual and artistic hub of people, where there is music, art and performance, and where people can come together. I like weaving people into little groups and I'm constantly amazed who becomes friends with whom after one-off introductions. I am obsessed by my work as an artist, writer and activist for union workers, and the pub provides a platform for that We have exhibition and performance areas and have had over 2,500 artists here over th~ past decade. Pete Doherty hosted our poetry nights at one point Kate Nash had an exhibition and sang here one evening, and Bjork's producer happened to be in the roomj he then whisked her off to Iceland for a recording contract that launched her career. My customers are a constant source of inspiration to rilej you never know who is going to come in or what they'll do. I now have a publishing deal for a book that mixes a selection of my ' artwork (and also a lifetime of the Foundry) with the words of every text message I've received since 1999. MEENA BANGHARD 24, HAS RUN THE QUEEN IN BEDFORD FOR A YEAR People are surprised when they see me in the pub. I have actually had customers say, 'You're Asian! You're a girl!' which, to be fair, I would probably have said, too, if I'd walked in and seen me. But when people say it to me I just find it exciting and funny, and of course I wish there were more Asian girls out there rurining pubs. Before the Queen, I had no experience of the licensed trade. There used to be seven pubs in this area and they all closed down. My dad ended up having to go out of town to see his friends, and people's social circles were breaking down as a result. When the last remaining pub came up for sale my dad said, 'Let's buy it and give it a go' Initially, I saw it as a big challenge, but I am really into the whole idea of family businesses and I thought, 'I'm doing this for my dad and all the other people who rely so much on their local pub for their sense of community: That's the thing with pubs - we need to be here for people for everything from wakes to weddings. ROXY BEAUJOLAIS IS IN HER SIXTIES AND HAS RUN THE SEVEN STARS IN HOLBORN, LONDON, FOR EIGHT YEARS. SHE IS ALSO THE PROPRIETOR OF THE NEARBY PUB THE BOUNTIFUL COW I do this for the laughs. Now I'm old and don't drink anymore I'm probably not as much fun as I used to be, but when I was younger, in the 1970S, I worked in the evenings at Ronnie Scott's. I'd have the day to myself, then at nine o'clock I would paint my face, put a flower in my hair and be the woman on the door. But these days I am what I am ... You eventually turn into a bit of a caricature of yourself. I sometimes catch my girls, the bar staff - the 'belles of Carey Street' as they're known - taking me off. And of course we have the cat, Thomas Paine, named after the English radical. I buy his collars from Westminster Abbey Choir School and I don't think they know who they are for. They say, 'How old is the boy?' Then people come in and ask if it's a flea collar. I say, 'No, darling, it's show business: I mean, does it look like a flea collar? As a landlady I want my customers to go away contented. It's not just about the barristers who drink here after courtj there's my weekend regulars, too. This pub is so charmingj it's 400 years old . and tucked away. It fulfils people's ideas of what a pub should be. It's like a home for the bewildered. MRS GASSON (DOT) 78, HAS RUN THE ADAM AND EVE IN CHELTENHAM FOR 31 YEARS I started working in pubs in 1947, then between 1958 and 1963 I ran a pub with my first husband. Back then you had to make your own amusement in the bar. There was no jukebox or one-arm banditsj we had the piano and that was it For the most part I don't think people use their pubs as a social place anymore. They go out and drink themselves silly at the weekend and then stay in the . rest of the week. But we are essentially a traditional beer-and-skittles pub and have loyal and regular customers. I am up at 6.30 and always thank the Lord for another day. I work until 11.30pm, and the only time I take off is Thursday lunchtime, when my husband and I go to another pub for lunch. All my enjoyment in life comes from my job. I take an interest in everything, and love talking to people and finding out about them. As landlady I am here to listen to them, to hear their problems and be a shoulder for them to cry on. I'm Granny Dot to my younger customers. The brewery wants me to stay until I'm 80, but it's my customers who keep me here, so who knows when I'll retire - 80 or beyond that, if the bones are willing. VICTORIA KEVANS 28, HAS RUN THE VICTORIA PUB IN HITCffiN, HERTFORD SHIRE, FOR FOUR YEARS My mum ran the Victoria before me, and I have lived here since I was 16, but because I had seen how hard my mum had to workI was never interested in becoming a landlady myself. But then my mum passed away unexpectedly when I was 24. I was just out of university and had no choice but to sort the business out; bills needed paying and the pub needed 100kirIg after. I never intended to take it on permanently, but as I got more involved in the day-to-day running of the pub I really started to enjoy it, and I began to realise why my mum loved it so much. And being irI the pub and having so much support from the customers helped me deal with my mum's death. I am a dedicated landlady now - traditional but forward-thinking. I am very proud of where I have taken the Victoria; we're a real community centre. I know everyone on a first-name basis and my customers see me as a friend. That's what being a landlady is all about. It's lovely here, and We have no trouble; the only difficult thing I have ever had to deal with was a pre-op transsexual, who was quite obviously still a man, using the ladies toilets, but even that was manageable. SUE ROBERTS 45, HAS LIVED IN THE THREE KINGS IN HANLEY CASTLE, WORCESTERSffiRE, ALL HER LIFE We resist change here. My grandfather came in as landlord in 1911 and my family has been here ever since. My gran took over from him, then my dad, then my mum and now me. I have never wanted to do anything else. I did go to university - I have a maths and science degree - but I never had any ambition to do anything outside of our pub. My grandmother ran the pub with a rod of iron: no swearing, no bad behaviour. My mum was less formidable, but as landladies we've always had the respect of the customers. I just have to give people a look and everything is fine. My mum is 86 now and has Alzheimer's; she still ijves in the pub and I look after her. When the Customers began to realise she was ill they were excellent with her - malsing sure they gave her the right money, reminding her of the right drinks and glasses, looking out for her. That's the kind of pub we are. I don't have bar staff; it's just me, and if I need to go out or attend to something I hand over the keys to the first customer through the door. I like to think that's what all village pubs are like. It's certainly how they should be. HEATHER FROST 41, HAS RUN THE STRATHY INN IN THURSO, CAITHNESS, FOR TWO YEARS When I first married I was a social worker working with children and families, and my husband, Craig, was a civil servant. We lived in London, but used to talk endlessly about escaping the city and running a business; I was keen on a B&B and he wanted a pub. We dipped our toes into the big lifestyle change by moving to Devon. From there the desire to go completely rural and work for ourselves really took off. We decided to look for a pub in the Scottish Highlands and spent two years searching for the right opportunity. We wanted something remote and beautiful, a place where people would want to come at the end of the day. The Strathy Inn was all of those things. As a social worker I only ever dealt with people at the most difficult times of their lives; as a landlady I deal with them when they are enjoying themselves. It's a huge difference. I have no regrets about my career change, despite people's perception of landladies. I once had a customer look at the books we have on the bar with incredulity before asking, 'Why do you run a pub if you are literate?' I found that really astonishing. LIZ SMART 50, HAS RUN THE VULCAN IN CARDIFF FOR 17 YEARS I don't know anything apart from being a landlady. I worked in a record shop once, but I've run pubs for the past 31 years, 17 of them at the Vulcan. Six years ago they said they were going to pull it down and develop the land. My customers started campaigning straight away. They wouldn't let it go, even when a compulsory purchase order was put on it. We had our regulars and the local students all fighting for us; they said they'd tie themselves to the building if they had to. They got politicians and all sorts involved. It worked. We've got another three years now.