Owners of 'Shrewsbury's oldest pub' prepare to hand over to the next custodians

A couple who have owned Shrewsbury’s Golden Cross Hotel for the last 20 years says they have an enormous sense of their responsibility to the town as custodians of one of a town’s most historic buildings – as they prepare to sell it on.

Gareth and Theresa Reece are retiring from the Golden Cross
Gareth and Theresa Reece are retiring from the Golden Cross

Its use as an inn is recorded as far back as 1428 although owners Gareth and Theresa Reece suspect that the Princess Street business has had a role in quenching thirsts since monks were brewing in town in the 1100s.

“The Golden Cross has rolled on through plagues, the Black Death and a couple of world wars,” said Mr Reece, 58. “It has just kept going. It is the right size and in the right place to just keep on going.”

That sense of rolling on whatever included during the height of the 2020 lockdown, when he and wife Theresa, 59, were only allowed to sell takeaway food from a marble slab to passers-by.

After their first day on November 28, 2003 they soon became aware of the history of the place. A Grade 2 Listed building, the Golden Cross is believed to be the oldest licensed public house in Shrewsbury.

Gareth and Theresa Reece's first day at the Golden Cross was in November 2003

“We are just the custodians, taking the baton from previous owners and passing it on to the next people,” said Mr Reece.

As a pub the Golden Cross was once owned by former National Hunt jockey Michael O’Dwyer and his wife, Audrey. It also courted controversy in the 1970s with its men-only bar rule.

The medieval building literally creaks with history, which includes an 11-inch difference in its residents’ lounge and function room on the first floor.

“It would never pass building regulations now!” said Mrs Reece.

LAST COPYRIGHT TIM STURGESS SHROPSHIRE STAR...... 11/04/2021 Gareth and Theresa Reece are retiring from the Golden Cross pub at 14, Princess Street, Shrewsbury, after 20 years. Pictured, the dining area..

A lot has changed since the couple bought the property. It is now on the market with agents Halls for offers in the region of £900,000 and they have plenty of viewings lined up. “Whoever comes in won’t be coming in from scratch, it can make them a nice living and give them time to get their feet under the table before they start to make their own changes,” said Mrs Reece.

Plenty of famous names have used the four letting rooms and 60-cover restaurant over the years, including author Michael Morpurgo, journalist Kate Adie, musician Steve Winwood and actor Robert Hardy.

Mr Reece said: “Robert Hardy would flounce up to the bar, order a large port, and gargle it before swishing his white scarf in the air and heading out, while other customers would nudge each other and say that it is Siegfried from All Creatures Great and Small.”

The inn has also seen its fair share of local characters, not least one Norman Rushworth, who reached his 100th birthday and used to pop in on Tuesdays and Fridays. “He was pin sharp even at 100,” said Mr Reece.

Norman Rushworth celebrated his 100th birthday in 2013 with a pint of his favourite in the Golden Cross with landlord Gareth Reece

But Mr Rushworth and the pub received worldwide publicity after a Shropshire Star reporter asked him what the secret was to his long life. He died after reaching the grand old age of 103. “The answer ‘good beer, dancing and women’ went viral around the world, into the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal,” said Mr Reece.

“There were paparazzi outside his house which he hated and told them to go away,” he added.

Mr and Mrs Reece had been planning to sell a couple of years ago but they put their plans on hold until after the pandemic. They wanted to see the financial figures return to more like normal before putting up the “for sale” signs.

They want to move to support their 19-year-old daughter Roisin, who dreams of setting up a cider farm and holiday retreat in Herefordshire. They hail from Herefordshire and are planning to buy property there.

Previous owner from the 1960s-70s, Micky O'Dwyer

Mrs Reece said: “It is the next stage of our lives and the right time, and it is what Roisin wants to do, so we are going to back her plans and do something as a family.”

There is plenty of scope for the new owners of the Golden Cross to put their own personality into the building, as Mr and Mrs Reece have done in their time.

But one thing is for sure, they won’t be going back in time to the days when smoking was allowed in pubs.

Gareth and Theresa Reece are retiring from the Golden Cross

“When we took it on, we couldn’t even open the windows,” said Mr Reece. “About 40 years’ worth of smoky smell went out of the building.”

Packed away in the darker corners of the old inn, is a shove ha’penny board on one of the walls.

“Depending on what the new owners want to do, they could always bring that back,” he added.

Asked whether the pub has ghosts, Mr Reece said: “Yes. There are plenty behind the bar ... and lots of creaks from the floorboards and doors!”

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