The Pub Review
The Prince of Wales is in the village of Shippon, 5 miles south of Oxford. Shippon is just off the A34 near Abingdon. The Prince of Wales offers all its customers a warm and welcoming greeting as you enter the Lounge or the Public Bar. The lounge has seating for 26, along with a lovely fireplace, oak beams, brass hangings with many themed plates and pictures on the walls. There is also a non smoking area and access to the garden. In the Public Bar there is a pool table, dart board, Juke box, 2 televisions and seating for a further 20 customers. Outside, the Prince of Wales has a large beer garden. Its an ideal place to enjoy the spring and summer months with its 6 benches and flower beds which over looks the pretty village church. To the side of the garden and to the rear of the pub is free car parking for approx 12 cars.
Mr. Henri Travers, of St. Peter Port, Guernsey, saw clearly what was happening to the catering trade after the Second World War and decided to call it a day. The restaurant at the Prince of Wales no longer exists and Mr. Travers has a much quieter and probably just as prosperous a life running the place as an ordinary pub. This is the story as he told it.
‘My great-grandfather came over here from Dorset to assist with the building of the harbour. He put his son, James J. Travers, to an apprenticeship with a printer, and this man, my grandfather, started the business here at the Prince of Wales in 1884. Here, in the present bar, is the original licence. It’s in French and it’s dated 3 September 1884, and signed “Greffier de la Reine”. At the top it says, “Acte d’Autorisation”, and it’s made out to “Monsieur James Travers”.
At the front of the stairs there’s a certificate from the Guernsey Licensed Victuallers Protection Association. It says: “This testimonial has been presented to James J. Travers, together with a gold watch-chain and a silver tea-pot for Mrs. Travers, by the above Association as a mark of esteem for valuable services rendered by him as Honorary Secretary and Treasurer”. And then there’s the names of the committee, the date, 1899, and a portrait of my grandfather.
His wife was French. The bar was downstairs. The dear old lady was rather good at cooking, so in the bar she started to cook for the customers and she did very well. Her kitchen in the basement was the place labelled “Genes”. It was a sort of coaching inn and the stables were next door. My grandfather took over the stables and gradually extended and eventually opened up the restaurant upstairs on the ground floor. You can still see “Restaurant” etched on the windows and we’ve got cups with grandfather’s initials on them. The kitchen for the new ground-floor restaurant was where the “Ladies Only” is now. And eventually we had a restaurant upstairs as well.
We only ran a lunch. It was a lunch place, with special meals in the evenings. The customers were business people in the town, accountants, lawyers, people like that. And we used to do quite a lot with the school, the college. Parents used to bring their youngsters to have a meal here. We charged two shillings before the War and 2s. 6d. just after it. It was a three course meal, with the meat carved off the joint.
When the motor-car came in after the 1914 War, the restaurant trade went down, because people could go home to lunch easily. The summer visitors didn’t make all that difference to us. We had an all-the-year-round trade. But there wasn’t a lot of competition. In the old days there were only two other restaurants in the town. None of them were big restaurants. We could seat about twenty people.
We gradually built the business up during the Twenties and Thirties and then the war changed everything. The States took over the restaurant and used it as a kind of canteen for their staff. They put someone in to run it. They used to bring their own stuff in, whatever they could get. Just like any other café or restaurant in town during the Occupation, I gae a bit of help. Of course, the bars had to close down. There was nothing to sell.
We carried on for about ten years after the war and then we closed the restaurant down. We use the upstairs restaurant and kitchen as part of our own accommodation now. Towards the end, the trade had slackened off a good deal. We were really running the restaurant more or less for the sake of tradition then. We weren’t making much profit out of it.
And there it is, a pleasant pub with a great deal of a museum about it. Apart from the innumerable pictures on the walls, there’s a nice collection of pistols and powder flasks, with the official German receipt when they were handed in for safe keeping in April 1941. Another relic of the Occupation is a ship’s bell. That came off a French tanker, the “Folcan”, that used to run in here with oil for the Germans. When the Normandy landings took place, we were cut off, of course. The French crew were very short of grub and they flogged the ship’s bell to someone in the country for food. Luckily enough, the farmer was a customer of mine, and after the War he was short of scotch. I had some, and we bartered the bell for that.
The people who are regularly at the Prince of Wales regarded themselves as a kind of club and they were in the habit of sending telegrams to the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) himself from time to time. The Prince’s Private Secretary always wired back and there are several of these replies, framed, on the walls. One, sent from Sandringham, says:
“Mr. Travers, Prince of Wales Hotel, Guernsey. The Prince of Wales thanks the diners at your hotel for your kind congratulations and in the unfortunate even of war is sure Guernsey will do it’s duty. Knollys.”
It is a little difficult to imagine a similar exchange of telegrams between Royalty and the people taking a light lunch at Voysey’s Café in Bournemouth or eating out at the Strand Palace, but the patrons of an old-style place like the Hursts’ Harp Dining Rooms might just conceivably have done so.
The on-site archaeology of eating becomes steadily rarer, and the Prince of Wales is a refreshing exception. How many other restaurants or ex-restaurants can boast, for example, a 1902 cash register? Mr. Travers still has one, with the original gaurantee still stuck to the bottom. ‘When decimialisation came in,’ he recalls, ‘we had it modified, but it’s a bit of a nuisance, really, because it only tells you up to 40p.’