The 230-year-old pub run by a local who grew up nearby and wins praise for its quality food
As pubs continue to battle the cost of living crisis, the Shropshire Star continues its new series, Love Your Local, which celebrates our local inns.
Shropshire has a rich history of being home to pubs dating back centuries, each with a story to be told and a unique character.
This traditional Bridgnorth pub, The Shakespeare Inn is a hub in the community and dates back to 1792.
Fast forward more than 200 years and today the hostelry is run by husband and wife, Dave and Marie Whelan.
Marie, born and brought up in Bridgnorth, says it is special to be running a pub in her hometown, especially one that was on her doorstep as she grew up.
Located in West Castle Street, the Shakespeare Inn is not just a place to sit and drink. According to Marie the pub is well known for its top-quality food, for which it receives many compliments.
Speaking about running the pub, she says: “I have always been in hospitality, catering, hotels and also owned a pub in Pembrokeshire but myself and my husband sold up and moved to Bridgnorth.
“I was born and brought up here but moved away later in life, but it was great to be back here with my husband who is from Cardiff.
“It is lovely working in this industry but especially in a town that I grew up in where I know the community.
“Bridgnorth is the kind of town where everyone knows each other and it is a tight-knit community, so we have that special connection with our locals and regulars.
“We concentrate a lot on the food we serve and there is a fantastic team of staff working in the kitchen, and we try to source local ingredients which we feel is very important as it helps the economy all around.
“And by sourcing ingredients like our meat from a butcher that opened here just a year ago, we have got a lot of compliments on the food.
“We are specially proud of the food we serve, and to keep things fresh we change the menu every so often but keep the classics too.”
According to the history on the pub’s website, it was originally called the Punch Bowl in 1792.
It also states that Bridgnorth was the rallying point of King Henry IV’s troops before the battle of Shrewsbury nearly 300 years earlier in 1403, and it is believed the pub changed its name from the Punch Bowl to the Shakespeare due to the playwright and bard's play, The First Part of King Henry IV.
"On Wednesday next, Harry, thou shalt set forward; On Thursday, we ourselves will march: Our meeting is Bridgnorth; and, Harry, you shall march through Gloucestershire; by which account our business valued, some twelve days hence our general forces at Bridgnorth shall meet," Shakespeare wrote.
Keeping with its history and its theme of being a traditional British pub is something that Marie and Dave continue to do. They believe pubs play an important role in British culture, especially from social aspect and being somewhere away from home where people can meet friends and have conversations, something Marie feels was really affected by the Covid pandemic, as well as the pub industry itself.
She added: “Covid was tough for us but we came through it but one of the biggest things during that time where pubs were closed was not just about the drinks people couldn’t go out for, but a pub is somewhere you can go after work or in your free time to unwind, have conversations with people, meet people and even if you don’t talk to anyone in the pub, you’re around different people and away from the normal four-walls of your home.
“This is what really affected people during Covid, and so we’re glad we got through it and we can get that community feel back again.
“The social aspect of running a pub is fantastic, you meet all kinds of people from all walks of life, and no day is the same.
“Yes it really is all or nothing when running a pub, and sometimes at the end of a day you sit back and feel oh what a day, but you dust yourself, and get back up and do it again the next day.
“That’s what running pub is all about, and this is a cracking pub, we are passionate about what we do and we are here for the community.”
The hospitality industry faced a desperately tough time during the pandemic but following the relaxation of restrictions, businesses are only just about recovering but now face arguably an even bigger problem in the energy crisis, and the Shakespeare Inn is no different.
Marie added: “Covid was tough of course, but this energy crisis will be the real test. Our trade has been good but of course the price of things has made people wary about going out, domestic bills have gone up along with business bills.
“We love serving our community of course but we are a business. I had to apologise to a customer for increasing our prices a bit but they actually said I would rather you increase the price and stay open rather than keep the prices the same and end up closing.
“So people are understanding - a business cannot run at a loss of course.
“Serving food and we have a function room for private bookings which all help.”
Pubs continue to be a hub in communities all over Shropshire and across the country, and The Shakespeare Inn is especially one of those, and Marie said: “Pubs are such a rich part of our tradition, and we consider ourself as a British classic."