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Pub turns post office
8:20am Monday 27th August 2012 in News
BILL Downes’ twice-weekly role as a postmaster is only the latest unusual chapter in an unusual life. In his time, he’s been a choral scholar, a sailor, a tester of pubs, an author and the proprietor of a Spanish fish and chip shop. Before he was invited by Arkells to take over the Rose and Crown last year, many locals feared for the future of the Elizabethan inn, but he’s set about making it viable, with a chef brought in from London and a Greek taverna due to open shortly. “Too many English pubs of this ilk are closing,” he said. “I can’t understand why.
“Queen Elizabeth the First ordered that there would be free house pubs on every major coaching route so people could feed themselves and get a place to stay. “This is one of them. It’s beautiful. “So I have taken it on. It’s been a year and a bit and we’ve just managed to get the place to break even. It’s been very tough. “The post office in the village closed down – the guy said he wasn’t doing enough business.
“The nearest post office is three miles away and there are a lot of older people living in this village, so we asked would the post office like to come here twice per week to open up. They come on Tuesdays and Fridays. We’re a sub-post office on those days. It’s really good for the village.” Bill was born in 1951 in Bristol, one of four brothers. His parents were Bill and Monica. “My father was a master butcher,” he said.
“He was the man who supplied all the Berni Inns stock when they first opened in Bristol. My mother owned the Model Kennels in Pill, just outside Bristol, the largest dog kennels and cattery in Europe.
“She was a Crufts judge and used to breed Dachshunds and Afghan hounds.” A talented singer even as an infant, Bill was a Wells Cathedral chorister at six, and remained until he was 15.
His experiences included making a Christmas record with the Vienna Boys’ Choir some time in the early 1960s as part of a television programme. These days he confines his singing to karaoke. At 15, Bill joined the Royal Navy, serving initially at the HMS Ganges onshore training establishment and later in hydrographical surveying.
He wrote about his service in a self-published fictionalised memoir called Mast of Fear (ISBN 9781453844663), which is available from Amazon’s American site. “I was 27 when I left,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about civvy street at all. They sent me on this resettlement course in London.
“In the classroom on the blackboard there were about 20 different professions. The idea was that you picked one and then went for three weeks with these people, and if you liked it you got a job. “I was there and the first thing I saw was ‘brewery representative with Youngs of Wandsworth’. I thought, ‘That will do me’.”
It turned out there were no jobs with Youngs at the time, but a mentor liked him enough to help him land a post with Whitbread in Stroud as a trade representative for Bath and Avon.
In 1978 he found himself being paid £12,000 a year, plus £100 a week in expenses, to tour pubs in a company Vauxhall Carlton. He eventually took on his own pub, the Roaring Forties in Weston, later moving to Marlborough to take on the Sun Inn and then The Bear. In 2000 he and Sandra moved to Spain, where they opened a thriving fish and chip shop in Puerto de la Duquesa on the Costa del Sol.
“I was chairman of the Royal Society of St George,” Bill said. “It was a society for expats in Spain.” The couple were awarded the freedom of their adopted town, Manilva, when they left last year.
Their move was prompted by the disastrous collapse of the Spanish financial sector, which cost them dearly.
Fortunately Bill’s success at The Bear had not been forgotten by Arkells and they offered him the Rose and Crown. “I average about 120 hours per week,” he said. ”The reality is that to be a good landlord, you have to be there all the time. “You have to understand all sections of society and know what you are doing. You have to be tolerant. “Show me a grumpy landlord and I’ll show you an empty pub.”