Over the past few months there has been a bit of a shake-up around the city’s pubs, with a number of landlords moving around. One of these moves has seen Martyn Penn move across the road from The Old Crown to The Dick Whittington.
This is an exciting move, which I am sure will result in great things happening at the Dick Whittington. In some respects it also brings things full circle for Martyn.
The Dick Whittington is a superb pub with a fascinating history.
Properly called St Nicholas House, it was built in the late fifteenth century for Richard Whittington, Lord of Staunton. This was not Dick Whittington of pantomime fame, but Dick Whittington was a real person, born in Pauntley in the Forest of Dean in around 1350.
Although the tale of Dick Whittington was written long after his death and was no doubt greatly embellished, some of the basic facts are true: Dick Whittington was apprenticed to John Fitzwarren, a London merchant banker, and he did become Lord Mayor of London.
The Richard Whittington associated with St Nicholas House was probably Dick Whittington’s nephew – his brother’s son.
Elizabeth I stayed at St Nicholas House in 1574, and there was once a grand carved fireplace bearing her royal coat of arms. Sadly this was sold to a Chicago collector in 1907 and is believed to have ended up in a brothel which has since been demolished.
To appreciate the medieval architecture you need to look down the side of the building, because at the front is a magnificent brick façade which was added in the early eighteenth century.
In the early nineteenth century St Nicholas House was converted to a shop and was home to Merrylees, Pugh & Co, who manufactured leather belting for machinery, prior to being renovated in the early 1980s.
It opened as the Dick Whittington in about 1982.
The Dick Whittington is Grade I listed and is apparently home to a good number of ghosts, including one of a young servant girl left in the cellar to die of the plague by one of the buildings more ‘colourful’ former owners, John Taylor, who became mayor in 1613 but was removed from office for embezzlement, receiving bribes, extortion and drunkenness.
The building is excellently suited to be a pub and the Dick Whittington was very popular. It was a regular entry in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide and was awarded Gloucester CAMRA Pub of the Year for four consecutive years from 2005-2008.
It was at about this time that Martyn came on the scene, taking up residence just down Westgate Street at the pub then known as The Pig Inn the City.
Martyn vowed to take the Pub of the Year title away from The Dick Whittington and in 2009 he achieved his ambition, holding onto the title until the Pig closed in 2011 (it re-opened in 2013, reverting to its original name of The Lower George).
Since then, Martyn has been wasted as landlord at the Old Crown. Although a very fine pub, the Old Crown is owned by Samuel Smiths, who will not provide their real ale this far south and will not allow any guest ales to be sold on their premises. They also do not allow live music. This has somewhat limited Martyn’s ability to put his stamp on the pub.
It is therefore very good to see him back behind a bar full of real ale, and I suspect he will be setting his mind to bringing the Pub of the Year Award back to the pub which was once his nemesis.
This won’t be easy because the current holder of the award, The Pelican, is going to take some beating, but I look forward to enjoying the benefits of the competition.