Last orders at Queens Head

My first memory of the Queens Head was being invited by councillor Norman Baker to go for a drink after a Nailsea Town Council meeting.

For me at that time the pub represented a den of iniquity having read all the tabloid stories about wearing ‘red sweaters and putting your keys in the middle’!

Norman said: “I’ll buy the drinks.”

So I went.

From swingers to ghosts the town centre pub certainly has a history but sadly on Sunday, February 21, 2016, its last ‘queen’ Natalie Nicholls pulled her final pint at a private party for its regulars.

It was in the summer of 2013 the Queens Head freehold was advertised for sale by agents James A Baker at £325,000 plus VAT before being reduced to offers £275,000 plus.

I am not sure how long the Queens Head has been a pub but the first mention I can find in Margaret Thomas’ The Book of Nailsea is 1855.

This was when the newly appointed constable learned of an attempt to steal a slaughtered pig from the pub.

It gets a mention again 1866 when a nearby field hosted a ‘club day’ for up to 700 people ‘near the Queen’s Head’.

In 1895 its landlord Fred Williams was treasurer of the football club and team meetings were held at the pub.

In the past it has had prominent dart and skittle teams.

Nailsea & District Local History Society founder member Jack Hart was born at the Queens Head in 1907.

Much of his early life was spent there with his grandparents as his father died when he was only six weeks old.

On the death of his grandmother, his mother took over the license.

In later life he and his wife Zena became its licensees.

Here is a wonderful description of Edwardian pub life he wrote for N&DLHS publication Pennant 20.

He said: “Before World War 1 pubs were open all day with food always available on the counter.

“There were joints of meat, parts of a whole cheese, bread and pickles.

“Public houses were numerous in Nailsea and played a large part in the social life of the people.

“The Queens Head being centrally situated and was a very popular and well liked house.

“My grandparents had several helpers but life, by present day standards, was very hard as it was necessary to do everything by hand.

“There were several fireplaces and a large kitchen range to be cleaned out, black leaded, polished and re-laid.

“All floors and stairs were of bare boards which had to be scrubbed by hand.

“The bar shelves, counter and seats were washed down, windows cleaned and the bar floor sprinkled with sawdust.

“Spittoons, those very insanitary objects, were thoroughly cleaned and a quantity of sawdust put in each.

“Brass fittings were plentiful and had to be polished every morning.

"I thoroughly enjoyed getting a real shine on all the brass.

“Lighting was by acetylene gas supplied to the downstairs rooms, bar and skittle alley from a gas plant situated in a small shed, within a shed, at the bottom of the yard.

“The jets gave a fan shaped flame; much better than the oil lamps and candles that preceded them.

"Upstairs oil lamps and candles were still used.

“The 'decor' was very dark, heavy wall papers, usually dark red or green.

“Curtains were of a heavy material liberally hung with tassels; the same material and tassels decorated the mantelpieces and some of the furniture.

“Bathrooms were not very common so, like many others, we had to use a long galvanised bath, or, if one preferred it a hip bath.

“The hip bath was a round, shallow affair with a high back.

“Water was boiled on the kitchen range in large saucepans or crocks.

“The bath was taken where privacy could be assured, either in the scullery, the kitchen or bedroom.”

Since these early days it has gone from skittles to pool table, from village sing-songs to Sky Sports, from cross channel swimming attempts to Help for Heroes fundraising including fancy dress evenings and bikini car washes and more recently an attempt to make it a steakhouse.

It was once the meeting place of Nailsea Chamber of Trade & Commerce.

Outside with its old signpost the cottages next door have long since been demolished and the road layout has changed.

Once the pub stood on a triangle opposite the village green now its frontage is on the one-way (nearly pedestrianised) High Street.

It has had a succession of landladies and landlords - some famous, some not-so-famous.

The memorable ones include the late and great Ralph Milne who in his time played for Dundee United, Charlton Athletic, Bristol City and Manchester United.

But putting Ralph behind the bar was like carrying coal to Newcastle - an archetypal pointless activity.

Many former footballers go into management when they retire but perhaps pub management wasn’t one of Ralph’s best choices.

Working on the local newspaper my relationship with the Queens covered many a fundraising activity from Roger Sale’s sponsored channel swim on his 40th birthday – I don’t think that happened - to the babes bikini car wash but my favourite was the fancy dress Halloween night.

Kym Nicholls who did a stint behind the bar with Salli Plumber has memories of seeing the kindly ghost of customer Mark ‘Wurzel’ Rundle who died too young walking through a wall.

She also sensed an apparition of one of the first landladies Mary Carey - often heard but not seen - including the strange story of Ms Carey locking Kym in the loos and rearranging the pictures on the wall.

Then there was the awful time in 2011 when Alec Farley died after hitting his head on flagstones. Enough said.

Nailsea resident Lee Shepstone said: “It was one of the best pubs in Nailsea when Roger and Susie Sale kept it 20 years or so.”

And Lesley Westlake said: “The old Nailsea village as a lot of us knew it as is slowly going.”

Well it went really when the town centre was bulldozed after Somerset County Council sanctioned a ‘new town’ and hundreds of homes, new shopping precinct and road layout.

That’s when the Queen’s Head ended up on an almost hairpin bend.

Marie Tivney said: “Haven't been in there recently but I grew up in there and met all my fantastic friends.

“Loved all the landlords and customers.

“My life has evolved in the Queens and it's also where I met my lush boyfriend Simon Gasson.

“Goodbye to the heart of Nailsea.”

I wonder where the regulars will go next?

No Friendship and although Wetherspoons is there it isn't the old Glasshouse.  

But take heart Nailsea people because what is coming next could be the best...Coates House neighbourhood cafe bar opens soon.

New owner James Yorke Murray who has establishments at Thornbury and Tewkesbury takes over on Wednesday, February 24.

He said: “It will be all change, we will be demolishing the skittle alley at the back to make way for a lovely garden room and kitchen.

“Big plans and can't wait to get stuck in.”

Carol Deacon

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