It is good to see that after a turbulent period the former Westgate pub re-opened earlier this month, and it re-opened under its original name, The Lamprey.
This return of the Lamprey pub also coincided with reports of its namesake returning to English waters, and with the return of the ancient tradition of presenting a lamprey pie to the monarch, all of which sounds like a very good omen.
On the one hand I was sorry to see the Westgate close. It was Gloucester’s only LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) pub and, although I don’t personally fit into any of those categories, I think it provided a certain cosmopolitan, bohemian air to the city which will be missed.
On the other hand, I am always delighted when a pub reverts to its original name.
In fact, the Lamprey wasn’t the pubs original name: early in its history it was the Commercial Hotel and Restaurant, becoming the Gresham Hotel and Restaurant in 1927. There was an earlier hotel of that name on the opposite side of the road, on the corner of Westgate and Berkeley Street, but it was demolished some years earlier to make way for the Shire Hall extension. The name was changed to the Lamprey Hotel by 1941, by which time it was owned by the Cheltenham Original Brewery.
The Lamprey is unusual pub name, but has genuine local connections. A lamprey is an ugly eel-like fish once favoured as a delicacy by the royals. King John instituted lamprey-keeping in Gloucester, where they were fished on the Severn. Until 1836 it was customary for the city to send a lamprey pie to the monarch for Christmas.
Gloucester still presents the Queen with a lamprey pie on special occasions. The latest of these was earlier this month, to celebrate her record as our longest reigning monarch. The pie was made by Dr Fosters in Gloucester Docks, but as lampreys are now an endangered species in Europe they had to be imported from Canada.
This sad state of affairs may not have to continue for much longer however, as pollution levels in English rivers are decreasing and earlier this month it was reported that these prehistoric monsters are returning to our waters for the first time since the 1800s.
The pub continued to be known as The Lamprey until 2002 when, with total disregard for history or local connections, the name was changed to Therapy to fit the corporate image of its new owners. From there it went through a quick succession of meaningless corporate names – Haus, then Grill – before becoming the Westgate in 2008.
Reverting to The Lamprey is therefore a welcome return to tradition. The Citizen article reporting its return says it will be going back to its “traditional roots” as a cross between an “old fashioned boozer and a gastro-pub”.
Unfortunately there is probably little that can be done to turn back the alterations and ‘improvements’ inflicted on the building in recent years, the most heinous being the new glass frontage installed by Whitbread in 1998, which means it no longer resembles anything like an old-fashioned boozer.
I’m also not sure that the word gastro-pub would have been used in a description of its traditional ethos, nor does it sound particularly appropriate to the plans for its latest incarnation where it will apparently be screening live sport and hosting live music.
Nonetheless, these quibbles aside, I hope that the new Lamprey does well and will nicely complement the burgeoning Westgate Street pub culture provided by the Fountain, Dick Whittington and Lower George.