A TALE OF TWO HUNDRED YARDS
From the off let me say I’m not intending to target any particular establishments in my quest to catalogue the public houses of Stoke-on-Trent. However comments on my previous post from the landlords of two near neighbour pubs have starkly illustrated the reasoning behind my starting this journey – success and failure. The former is not always due to good fortune, nor the latter to bad judgement.
So this and part two are devoted to two such pubs. One, the Victoria Lounge, is thriving while the second, The Smithfield is struggling in the market. Both inhabit a similar portion of Hanley, close to the new bus station and the hyped Smithfield 1 development. Between them is the A5008 Potteries Way. a strip of concrete that encloses the town. Always busy, it’s a barrier between the Smithfield and the City Centre, whereas the Victoria Lounge lies inside its boundary. Surrounding the Victoria is the Victoria Hall, bus station and museum, the Smithfield has a more residential neighbourhood, though peopled by a large Asian population and elderly residents.
Maybe I’m being oversimplistic in this, I make no claims to a knowledge of economics and there are locations in the town of Hanley that are supremely located, yet still derelict.
Time to move this to the first of the pubs, the Victoria Lounge. I want to hear the voice of the people for this project, those connected to the establishment, whether owner, landlord or regular. Thanks to Mandie contacting me, I got to speak to David Deakes, her father and the man who owns and built the Victoria Lounge.
The first thing to note is that the Lounge is a purpose built establishment rather than a longer standing building. The Lord Mayor Dougie Brown officially opened it on 11 November 1983. While the 80s were a time of greater affluence and growth, any investment of this scale came with a risk. The man that made this decision would have to be very brave indeed!
David is a very affable chap, a sparkle in his eyes when the subject falls to what is obviously his pride and joy. As you walk into the Victoria Lounge, you notice the warmly lit and well appointed interior, then the number of people enjoying a lunch with the conversation bubbling away. No jukebox, a single large screen TV and the mandatory slot machine hidden out of direct view. Nothing interferes with the ambience of the lounge.
David began his business interests in Hanley with the snooker hall, on Tontine Street, opposite the old Post Office. As the numbers using the amenities increased, a waiting list of members built up, it was time to move upwards and diversify. I wanted to know why someone would ignore the apparently easier route of taking on a tenancy and go for a complete demolish, build and promotion. With a smile, David told me he had no intention of working for someone else, it was going to be all from his own hard work with no-one else taking the glory and that is obviously where the pride comes in. For 3 decades, through growth and deflation, the Lounge remained strong and popular.
I got a sense of the strength of David’s conviction with his plans and the support from his wife and family in building the business. No fly by night hit and hope approach to get things running, a strong plan and determination to make things work, years of hard work to get established all make up the man. Where I pondered the risks involved, David mitigated these, ensured that they would minimise risk in going forward and truth be told, has established a wonderful environment that customers love to visit and his family love to be associated.
A strong, determined man, but also a very approachable man. At an age I’d seriously consider putting my feet up on some distant shore, he’s still involved in the Victoria Lounge and after the time and sweat put into it, I’m not surprised. His daughter Mandie handles the day to day running with a deft touch, unruffled by the stream of customers. I’d say the Victoria Lounge is in good hands for decades to come!
David Deakes and his daughter Mandie – warmly welcoming everyone to the Victoria Lounge.
While other pubs have a longer history, it’s rare to talk to someone whose history flows from the beginning of that history and still continues to this day!