The Crown Hotel – Part Two

The Crown Hotel dining room in 1964
The Crown Hotel dining room in 1964
by  Philip Leason of the Stone Historical & Civic Society

Picking up from where we left off last month, the Crown had been sold to Carol and James Hall of Barlaston Hall. They vowed that they would restore the Crown to its former glory and true to their word, the Halls modernised the hotel, whilst retaining its character. The upgrade included a new reception, the restoration of the Oak Room and the refurbishment of the ballroom and dining room. In some respects I was sad to see the old dumb waiter in the centre disappear.

The restaurant became “Holland’s” after Henry Holland, the original architect. Part of the refurbishment of the ballroom involved the restoration of the murals that had been added in the 1940’s. They had been covered up with wallpaper and wall lights installed over the panels. Jackson Mooney, specialist fine art conservators were contracted and the wallpaper was removed meticulously, bit by bit, from each panel. No-one knew who actually painted the original murals, but on the first one to be restored they discovered the initials W.S. and then one that was signed William Stobbs. Local artist Rita Banks worked tirelessly to find out more about the artist. She researched the extensive archive in Staffordshire University’s libraries but it was through the internet that she finally traced the artist.

During the second war William Stobbs was working as a draughtsman for Alvis Car and Engineering Company in Coventry. Known for their racing cars, they also turned out aircraft engines, armoured cars and military vehicles. When the factory was bombed during the Coventry Blitz, the company moved to Lotus at Stafford, to part of the Glass Works in Mill Street, Stone and to the Joules Brewery Garages in Newcastle Street.

While William was living in Stone he started to paint the murals in the Crown . At the time when Rita discovered Stobbs in early 2000 he still was alive and well, aged 85 and living in Kent … and still working as an illustrator for children’s books. In 1958 he had become Principal of Maidstone Art College, a position he held for 21 years. He was invited to Stone to view the restored murals, but he sadly died on 6th April, 2000 – I’ve never been able to discover if he ever got back to see them. Perhaps a reader may know?

In March 2000, to commemorate the restoration of the ballroom, a champagne reception was held with a musical evening given by the Royal Northern College of Music in aid of the Town Mayor Cllr. Joyce Farnham’s charities. And in the September, the opening of the refurbished Jervis Bar was marked with the serving of Joules’s 2B bitter that had been especially brewed by the Bass Museum, made to the original Joules formula that had been served in the Crown in1974. The Halls continued to run the Crown for several years until it was sold to Mr Singh, before it was sold to the current owners.

No article on the Crown Hotel could possibly be complete without reference to the many managers. The Crown played such a pivotal role in the social life of Stone (all the major dinners and celebrations where held there) and the managers became highly respected members of the community.

One resident wrote in the 1920’s

“three people who everyone knew the name of in Stone were the Rector, the Police Inspector and the landlord of the Crown.”

The lounge in 1964
The lounge in 1964

From 1775 until when Bass sold the Crown there were 41 managers. Don’t worry – were’ not going back that far, but to help jog the memories of readers, I’ll list them from 1920. 1921 – Mr Bates; 1923 – Miss Williams; 1924 – Mrs Godbelere; 1927 – Mr M Naught; 1927 – Miss G Beck; 1937 – Miss Dawson; 1940 – Miss Day; 1941 – W. B. Adams; 1946 – A L Yates; 1948 – V F Aynsley; 1951 – L A Gavin; then Mr Faye; Mr Cyril Murdock; Mr Dieter Funk. (the dates for these managers are not recorded) Mr Albert Leslie Yates, manager in1946, left the hotel to enter the ministry. He had previously been Parochial Lay Reader at St. Michael’s Church and in 1948 went to St. Andrews Theological College, Cambridge to begin his studies. He was ordained in 1949 and returned to Stone as a curate at St. Michael’s where he remained until 1952 when he went to become senior curate of the parish of Stoke-on-Trent and priest in charge of All Saints, Boothen. In 1956 he became the Vicar of Palfrey, Walsall and left the area. Some readers will remember Mr Faye – always immaculately dressed and could often be seen wearing a morning suit standing on the steps of the Crown. Later, Mr Dieter Funk who trained students from a local catering college who he supervised while they ran the Crown for a weekend. Of course it wasn’t only the managers that will be remembered but many of the long serving staff too.

The bar maid in the front bar was Madge Cope whose regular customers included Ken Crick the Solicitor and Peter Poole. In 1957 there was a short article in the “Stone Guardian” regarding George Maddison, the recently retired licensee of the Royal Exchange, who was working in the Jervis Bar. Apparently the author thought that it was most appropriate that he was working there as he had formally been the butler at Meaford Hall and had served the Jervis family for many years. One of the real stalwarts of the Crown was a Mrs Tracey – one of her proudest moments was when she served coffee to the footballer Kevin Keegan.

In the Dining Room one head waiter was James (Jim) Pedder who later went on to run a hotel in Nottingham. And in the hotel’s heyday, the Chef was a Mr Wood who apparently would liaise with John Ferrie who supplied the Crown with fresh vegetables. He would ask John if any vegetables were selling slowly and if so he made sure they were put on the menu. Apparently the Crown had a key to John’s shop, and if they ran out of anything over the weekend they would nip across for extras and book it down. ED. Can you begin to imagine that happening today? I wonder, was the arrangement reciprocal … I’m sure John will let us all know when he reads this.

Stone High Street in 1970 - parking not a problem then!
Stone High Street in 1970 – parking not a problem then!

The Crown’s excellent reputation attracted many celebrities (many of whom were on at the Theatre Royal in Hanley). VIP’s too – in recent months the Gazette has covered the possible visit of Nikita Kruschchev to the Crown Hotel in the 1950’s – and thanks to readers we can now assert that it did indeed take place. During the football season, coaches full of footballers visited the Crown for lunch to be greeted by crowds of boys eager to get the players autographs.

One of the more recent sporting heroes to stop at the Crown was Ian Botham who stayed there over night on one of his charity walks. The following morning he was accompanied on part of the walk by members of Stone Lions Club. Over the years the Crown has been the crux in the social life of the town. All important dinners and celebrations were held there; many clubs and societies held their meetings there and like me I am sure that many readers will have held their wedding receptions there.

So it is not at all surprising that many readers were shocked when it closed last year. There were all sorts of rumours relating to its future but it has since opened again as a hotel. The building itself retains its iconic perch as the hub – sitting on top of Market Square and dominating the view when approaching the town via Mill Street. There are moves afoot to see if the hotel can be classified as an “asset of community value” – which could help secure its future should subsequent owners fail to keep the business running … but all of this is for the future, and as readers know, this column is always about the past.

I hope the above will back memories to some readers and will be of interest to others. Please help us to keep the heritage of Stone alive for generations to come. If you have any photographs relating to anything mentioned here please contact Staffordshire Past Track. All photographs will be treated with the utmost care and returned safely to their owner after they have made digital copies.