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All aboard for the history of the Nautical William

By Black Country Bugle User  |  Posted: February 16, 2006

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Although the Nautical William in Alveley is strictly speaking off the Black Country map, its appearance in the Hinksford Old Bush article in Bugle 701 has prompted Keith Beddoes of Randlay, Telford, to remember the pub in the days when it was a top draw for the people of our region seeking a little more sophistication than an evening drink round at the local. Keith writes:

"I was most interested in your article in Bugle 701 concerning the Old Bush at Hinksford and the link with the Nautical William near Alveley. As a former Kidderminster person, I knew the Nautical William quite well and the adjacent Fenn Green open air swimming pool with its unique Round House.

"I'm sure there must be people who can remember that far back, coming to the Nautical for the weekly dances and cabarets in the 50s, 60s and 70s, in particular the many fights that took place during (and after) the Teddy Boy era. This is when the nickname Naughty Will was coined, although that also referred to some of the clandestine romances that blossomed there.

"Fenn Green pool was also a popular place before it closed in the mid 1950s and quite a few Black Country folk came across to Shropshire to swim there, sometimes in preference to the nearer pool at the Stewponey, on the Kidderminster - Wolverhampton road. It is perhaps not widely known that both the pool and the Nautical William were built for the TBC, a car distribution business whose headquarters were in Kidderminster.

"From research into the Nautical William, I am told there was also another similar building between Salisbury and Marlborough, called High House, but cannot confirm that fact. Margaret Ball mentions the architects Webb & Gray and her father's involvement with the drawings of both the Old Bush and the Nautical. I have a signed Webb & Gray copy of the indoor floor plan of the Nautical but unfortunately without the architect's initials on it, so I cannot confirm whether her father prepared the inside plans also. Other Webb & Gray designs that I know of include the Central Cinema in Stourbridge and a new Town Centre complex built in Kidderminster in the 1930s which included the Central Cinema, shops and new car showrooms for the TBC, whose Managing Director was the man behind the Fenn Green & Nautical William complex. Incidentally Fitz Webb, of Webb & Gray, became a Director of the Nautical William.

"The Nautical William was built by Thomas Vale & Son, Stourport on Severn, at a cost of £25,000 and was opened in 1937, several "launchings" taking place before it was officially opened to the public. As Mr Dutton stated, the designs were modelled on the theme of a ship's bridge, after the launch of the Queen Mary in 1934.

"There is a little story behind the name. The Nautical William was named after William IV, known as the sailor King, who after Navy service became Admiral of the Fleet in 1811. It is understood the Nautical was to have been called Queen Mary, the wife of the then King George V, but he died in 1936, and as plans for the pub were well in advance and as a mark of respect for the Queen in mourning, it is said a change of name was acted upon. Although not corroborated, there does seem some truth behind the story because the first menus carried a logo depicting the liner Queen Mary but were changed to just Nautical William.

"The Nautical actually opened as a Road House, forerunner of today's Motels, with luxurious accommodation on a par with the best hotels. The ship's bridge theme, in the case of the Nautical at least, was taken one step further, the inside of the building being fitted out as a luxurious liner, the rooms being adorned with features on a nautical theme, even down to the brass portholes in the servery doors. One particular room, Davey Jones' Bar, (sometimes referred to as the Buccaneer bar) was a reproduction of a Spanish Galleon and featured a real live parrot by the bar; shades of Long John Silver. All the staff, male and female, were dressed in blue & white striped old-time sailor suits, and if you arrived by car you would be greeted by the car park attendant similarly dressed, but wearing a false pigtail. This was also the dress for the doormen. No expense had been spared in fitting out the Nautical, the aim being to attract a certain class of clientelle, the dress code being strictly evening suits and ball gowns.

Another feature on the same theme were indoor toilets for the patrons, but those for the taproom and the small bar were situated some way away in the car park.

In the kitchen there were stainless steel electric cookers and grills, and giant refrigerators to keep the produce fresh. Browsing through a few menus that have survived from those times, the fayre was on a par with the best London hotels, with a wine cellar having the finest wines. The ballroom was claimed to be the finest outside London with a rubber mounted maple wood floor giving dancers the impression they were at sea, further enhanced by the stained glass windows depicting old sailing ships passing by as you danced. In the ceiling there were coloured lights and an acoustics system to enhance the sounds of the resident band, fittingly known as the "Nauticals". If this was not enough, there were regular tea dances on the flat roof, which at night was floodlit and could be seen from miles around.

"Revellers came from far and wide, and a little handbook published at the time contained a map giving directions on how to get there from such places as Bromsgrove, Redditch, Tipton, Dudley, West Bromwich etc., with the Black Country towns directed via Stourbridge.

"Within a couple of years of opening the dark clouds of war began to gather. With this threat priorities inevitably changed leading to a dramatic downturn in receipts and the Alveley night spot ran into financial difficulties, so much so, it was put into the hands of the receiver in 1940, who continued to run it, but on a smaller scale with only a taproom remaining open. Not long after, following heavy bombing in Birmingham, several vital draughtsmen and engineering staff from carriage and wagon maker Metro Cammell were billeted there for a time after part of the Saltley factory had been destroyed. In 1941 it was commandeered by the Ministry of Works for vital food storage, although the Taproom remained open, still under the control of the receiver. In 1944 Banks's Brewery bought the Nautical at auction for a fraction of the cost it took to build, and then after the war extensive repairs were necessary, particularly to the beautiful ballroom floor, which had been badly damaged by the weight of tins of food that had been stored there. Strangely, the Ministry of Works still reserved it as a storage facility, hampering refurbishment, and it took some time to re-establish itself.

"As previously mentioned it became infamous for the fights and the Teddy Boys until around the mid 1950s when a local family from the village moved in. Bill Scriven Snr. was appointed manager and wouldn't stand any nonsense, personally vetting some of the coaches that arrived and refusing admission to anyone he thought would cause trouble. Under the Sciven family the Nautical was the place to rediscover and regular dances again proved popular. Many romances blossomed, some even leading to marriage, with quite a few to RAF men from Stanmore camp, Bridgnorth.

"Bill Scriven Junior took over following his dad's retirement in 1965 and still kept a good house, but following the introduction of the breathalyser in 1969, there was a downturn in business as passing trade, a big financial contribution, gradually fell away. Consequently, in 1972 Banks's sold the Nautical and this ensured that it was kept open. In the meantime, Bill Scriven became Manager of another pub. The new owner had ideas about reviving the upmarket theme and changed the name to the Fenn Green Hotel, but it never really caught on.

"Following the sudden death of the proprietor in 1985, his daughter carried on the business until 1987 when it was sold. The first course of action of the new owner was to change the name to the Naughty Will, and whether this had an adverse effect on trade is not clear but nevertheless it closed in 1989. New owners bought the building with the intention of converting it into a residential home for the elderly. During the conversion they drastically changed its appearance, adding a second storey to the roof for extra accommodation and the Bugle photograph recently published shows these alterations. During these alterations, and others carried out at an earlier date, many of the beautiful fittings that used to adorn the pre-war Nautical William were either thrown into the skip or burned without their significance being realised and are now lost forever. The new owners, ironically, named the "new ship" Mary Rose in honour of the then raising of Henry VIII war ship off Portsmouth.

"After another change of hands it is still a residential home for the elderly and hopefully will be standing for another 70 years, along with the nearby Roundhouse, as a monument to the many folk who derived much pleasure from them all those years ago. As a postscript, if anyone has any memories and or photographs of the Nautical, the pool, and indeed the Old Bush in the 30s, that I could borrow, I would be extremely grateful."

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