Life in the Big Smoke (London) was getting too much for John and Thelma. And with their first child on the way it was time to get out now or be stuck there for ever. It was at a dinner party, one of their popular Saturday Soirees, when they first heard about "The Pub". Friends had been out in the country and had come across the place by chance, they had taken a wrong turning and, at the end of a 5 mile long dead end, found the village and the pub. Small very ancient rural and for sale. Thelma had managed a busy London wine bar so a country pub would be easy to cope with. John only needed to be in the office once or twice a fortnight, a small home office would suffice and the country air would be far better for Samuel or Samantha. On a whim they decided to go and look at it. Arriving mid week early evening they found it busy, warm and inviting. The girl behind the bar explained that the licences, now in their 80’s wanted to retire. With no children to pass it onto they were selling.
Rather than trust to a single visit the John and Thelma decided to move the location of their next Saturday Soiree to the pub. The pub that they were now they certain they wanted to buy. John borrowed the company Minibus and took their 8 guests to the pub. The evening was most pleasant, plain and simple food but a very good cellar and well served beer. Friendly locals who engaged John and Thelma and their friends in conversation. At 10 to 11 the bell rang and the bar maid called for "Last orders Please" John bought another round of drinks and they were half way through them when the bell rang again. "One minute to drink up and leave" said the bar maid as she walked over to John and Thelma’s table. "I am so sorry but I should have advised you about the tradition of this house. On Saturday it is an un-broken tradition that everybody leaves the pub before 11 PM and that the car park is empty by quarter past eleven at the latest. Even I drive home before 10 past 11 even though it means coming back to wash out first thing in the morning. Please, take the glasses with you and bring them back next time." John, Thelma and their guests were a bit put out but agreed to keep tradition unbroken, especially as they were being trusted to return the glasses.
Within days John had placed an offer with the selling agents. A few days later Thelma opened the letter that offered them an interview with the sellers. In less than a month the deal was struck, the pub was to be heir's. Malcolm and Sarah Lewis the owners of the pub would move to a small cottage and John and Thelma would be able to live over the pub. There was one minor quirk, they would have to marry before they could hold the licence for the pub. "I was going to ask you anyway " joked John as they were given the news.
Sarah took Thelma to one side and said. "I never had a daughter so I have never been mother of the bride, John told me you have no close living relatives, could I be your mother for the wedding" "After a minute to catch her thoughts Thelma said "Yes of course" and gave her new found "mum" a hug.
John and Thelma were wed on a Friday, the reception was held in the Pub, they chose Friday so that the tradition of all out by 11 Pm on Saturday would not interfere with the festivities. And it was arranged for the papers for the transfer of the pub to be signed at the reception. The Chief Constable signed for the licence to sell intoxicating liquors. As he signed it he spoke quietly Sarah. "Have you explained to Thelma and John about PC33 ? "No, as long as they keep the tradition there should be no problem " "Well I think they should know" advised the Chief Constable. Sarah reluctantly agreed and called Thelma and John over.
Sarah said" Remember when we showed you the pub you asked why we used the smaller back bedroom. We told you then that it was easier to heat. Well that wasn’t the real reason, you see there is a ghost connected this pub" Thelma cut in "Is it connected with the Saturday tradition ?" "Yes "replied Sarah "Let me tell you all"
Over a hundred years ago James the vicar’s son had been walking Alice the bar maid home after the pub closed. James and Alice were to be married, sweethearts from the age of six. At a quarter past 11 Saturday night the squire galloping home from the pub on his Arab stallion ran them down. Alice died in James’s arms. The squire, drunk and incapable rode on, the law did nothing. James was heartbroken. As a kind of memorial to Alice the Pub has remained the way it was that fateful night. James told his father how he hated the God that could allow such horror, he told him that to be a priest was not enough. He would instead join the constabulary and enforce the law on earth and not forgive the law breaker’s as a priest would need to. Against his father’s wishes James applied to become the village policeman. He became PC 33. Every Saturday he would cycle up to the Pub and wait for the squire or any other drunk in charge of a horse to enter onto the public highway. One Saturday night he arrested the squire for being drunk in charge of an animal on the highway. The squire was locked in the cells for the night. The very next Saturday PC 33 was set upon by some of the squire’s friends as he arrived at the pub. James lay dying from his injuries in the horse yard of the Pub, unable to use his whistle he rang the bell on his bicycle in a vain to try and get help.
On the wall of the police office the helmet and epaulettes of James, PC 33 remain to this day. No officer has ever had that number since then and never will.
Every Saturday night since then in the car park of the Pub the bell of PC 33’s bicycle can be heard ringing at 21 minutes past 11. We moved into the back bedroom so as not to hear it.
Thelma shivered. "So that is why no one goes to the car park after eleven fifteen? But surely there is no danger" Then she added "Is there ?"
‘Well my dear" said Sarah" It may be coincidence but back in 1925 Old Seth left his horse in the yard on a Saturday night, come Sunday the horse was lame and was never able to carry a man again. And in the last war some Americans stayed in the bar till 1 AM. When they went to leave none of their vehicles would start. They had all to be towed away"
Well Thelma and John on the first Saturday in the pub, they did sit up and they did hear the bicycle bell and they did sleep in the back bedroom afterwards. And they never had vehicles in the car park after 11:15 on Saturday nights. And they never changed the inside of the Pub. Their friends missed the Saturday Soirees and one by one they lost contact. But the country life and the villagers made up for that loss. The trade in the pub fell off as the youngsters started going go into the town with its clubs and cinemas and theme pubs. Only the regular old people remained loyal. Old Seth, grandson of Old Seth whose horse had gone lame, sat every night in the ingle nook by the log fire with his pipe and baccy.
And so the years passed. Samantha, Thelma’s first child now had two brothers and a fourth child was on the way. The village was now no longer a sleepy back water with new houses being built.. The road had ceased to be a dead end and had been extended onto the nearby new town. But passing trade wasn’t enough, drink driving laws had cut down on that.
John said. "We have to bring in more trade, we have to move with the times, nostalgia and tradition are not bringing us money. We will have to modernise, enlarge and bring in tourists. Seth and the other locals were aghast and told Thelma and John not to meddle. Thelma was sympathetic but John was adamant about modernising the pub. By way of compromise he agreed, after a long lecture from Thelma, that the old ingle nook and snug bar would be kept as they were for the regulars, Seth’s old chair and pipe holder would remain and the hand pulled beer pumps too.There was only one major problem, the pub was the only one that most of the elderly locals could reach. It couldn’t close. It would have to be a one week conversion job. Expensive but well worth it as the village had been so good John and Thelma, adopting them as though they were lost orphans(which Thelma was in a way having been orphaned at the age of twelve but not lost since she met John)
And so it went, the pub closed at 11 pm sharp on Saturday, the builders moved in Sunday morning and by Friday the new bar was opened. The old bar was filled by the locals who accepted that it was just as good as before, better as the cold draughts round the badly fitting doors had been stopped. Saturday and the new bar had some new inquisitive faces. A large notice explained the tradition and required that all cars must be removed from the car park by a quarter past 11.
Tired out at the end of a long and arduous week John and Thelma retired early on Saturday to their bed looking in at their three sleeping children. They looked forward to a well earned sleep and a long lay in on Sunday. They had just fallen asleep when a police car was heard, sirens blaring and tyres screeching along the road. It stopped in the car park, turned round noisily blaring its sirens and sped of again.
There was no lie in either. First thing Sunday Thelma woke to a pounding on the pub door, in her dressing gown Thelma opened it Through bleary eyes she could see Old Seth shaking his walking stick at her. Other villagers were standing behind him. With anger in his voice he said "You heard that police car last night didn’t you, half the village were woken up by it. Didn’t we warn you not to modernise, not to meddle with tradition" Sleepily Thelma asked what he meant. Angrily Seth explained "You modernised the pub, PC 33 modernised his transport."