David Smith’s Post-Discussion Father and Son Thoughts

David Smith emailed me the following Father and Son post-discussion contribution:


My father left Cunard in 1962 the year I left for America. He had been threatening to leave the sea for years but the impact of jet travel finally forced the decision. He applied to become a pub owner but there were only a limited number of premises available and the licenses were very restricted so there was no expansion going on. My father must have made an impression on Watney’s management and he was awarded the franchise of the Sun Hotel close to the Royal Pier near the docks in Southampton. It was nothing like a hotel as the structure was a pre fabricated structure built on the site of the original hotel that was bombed during the war. The living quarters were very cramped and my mother was unhappy that she had to leave our well appointed detached house in the suburb of Bittern that they purchased in 1948. So many changes all round- my father now in his fifties living for the first time with his wife and in Britain for any length of time. There was a tiny garden but it abutted a railway line used occasionally for goods traffic from the docks. Just across the road was a section of the medieval walls and a working archaeological site –the leaders of the team from Southampton University spent more time in the pub than on the site and I got to know them and like them very much. My parents, joint effort, made enormous effort to make this very modest place a warm and welcoming pub. New furniture, carpets and accessories appeared that I now feel sentimental about as this effort demonstrated how much they wanted “to make a go of it”. Small tables appeared the garden and my mother made sandwiches and later burgers for the families waiting for the Isle of Wight ferry or for the many members of the QE and QM that wanted to patronize and support my dad’s new business. It was not easy to be pioneers in the world of publicans in Southampton. Competition was harsh and my father was a double outsider – a seaman and from Liverpool. I stayed there only for a few weeks at a time just before I left and on summer trips while studying in St Louis. I remember quite a few friends would turn up and we put them up in a b and b on the High Street –my parents were always hospitable in the extreme. Gus and Elma my close friends from Canada dropped by on what was meant to be a trip through Europe. They staggered out of the Sun some two weeks later with my father’s refrain “What are you having?’” ringing in their ears. Some sadness now as I did not share this part of my parent’s lives and distanced myself in Missouri. Several of my English friends posted in the area became regulars at the pub and my parents almost adopted them and would convey to me news of these surrogate children. Rather unfairly I was jealous of these friends close to my parents while I had chosen not to be sitting at the bar on Friday evenings.

My dad’s last pub in Southampton, The Malvern, was a Watney’s franchise although he was the owner not the manager. A larger for ever being extended Victorian mansion with a huge addition that served as the restaurant. He spent time and money making it a very profitable venture at first and was serving 100 meals a day and selling drinks in the three bars. The whole thing with a garden for the families with kids –the latter only allowed in if parents were eating but not when they were just drinking. Licensing laws were still pretty archaic – open at 10.30 to 2 and then from 6 to 10.30 and 11 on Saturdays. All this was left over from the regulations set in the First World War….the King announced that he would become a teetotaler in support of the war effort…Bertrand Russell a staunch pacifist said that he would start drinking in response. My parents lived in “accommodations” upstairs which was in fact a pretty large flat but always the hum of the patrons downstairs was audible. The establishment was guarded by a huge Doberman called Billy and a Sheppard called Judy –quite the publican scene. In order to moderate this rather aggressive set up my mother owned her own poodle called Rags and terrier called Pickels . I have memories of my father loading the dogs for a walk on the Common nearby into one of his large estate cars (station wagons) my mother dazed and worried about everything. Maisy (sp) at the bar and Don the gay barman who stole as much as was taken in on some days. They exhibited a strange deference to my father which perhaps if the truth be known was a mixture of envy and contempt but that might not be fair. I always felt uncomfortable coming down from London …a graduate student in history …eating and drinking after being served as the son of the boss so kept away more than I should have or needed to. I remember that one weekend Frances casually put 20p in one of the slot machines and won the jack pot of 50 pounds much to the disgust of the patrons that had been feeding the machine over the years. This mini empire all came tumbling down with the inflation of the mid 70’s and my father’s lack of understanding of the culture…he had spent his life at sea and so trying to understand local Southampton mores and preferences was beyond him. For one reason he was in the least class conscious and that was a fatal mistake in front of customers in either the saloon or public bars (the three bars designated the social classes-public, saloon and private).I remember my father decorating the saloon and private bars at Christmas and patting a single balloon into the public bar with the words “enjoy” .I guess he was more class conscious than I thought. My father’s lawyer called me in Tacoma to see if I wanted to purchase the wonderful 18thc (modernized) thatched cottage that had unfortunately been mortgaged against the business. At that time I was an assistant professor earning $13,000 a year with two children so there was no possible way I could acquire the property. The cottage was in a village that was surrounded by the New Forest (Crown Property) and had wonderful garden with benches that gave shade on those still and clear days that are not uncommon in southern England in September. The bailiffs took all my parents property with the exception of the three oil paintings that are in my living room here in Tacoma. My aunt Ada, who had run a profitable sub post office in Liverpool, bought a house in Shirley and generously allowed my parents to live there for the rest of their lives. This was after my parents had moved into the smallest of flats that I am sure depressed them and reminded them of the bankruptcy. My father with some help from his Masonic brothers found a job delivering cleaning materials from a wholesale warehouse owned by one of his Masonic friends. He seemed to like this but was a hazard driving around the overcrowded roads of Hampshire and Sussex never having developed a decent sense of direction. My father also served beer at the County Cricket grounds but I sensed this was the ultimate come down from a person who had run the Mermaid Bar for first class passengers on the Queen Mary. Ironically I think my parents were happiest together than they had ever been. My father became less dominant and realized how much he depended on my mother as he was forced into domesticity for the first time in his life and retreated from being a public (publican) figure. This became even more apparent after he had his lynx removed as the result of cancer. He was always the great talker and now he was silenced. He met me at Gatwick after the operation and passed me a printed note that said “better dumb than dead” a reminder of the humor, fatalism and sheer toughness of the true Liverpuddlian.

Malvern Pub in Southhampten


About Ron Boothe

I am a Professor Emeritus at Emory University, currently living in Tacoma Washington USA.
This entry was posted in 2013 Selections, Father and Son and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to David Smith’s Post-Discussion Father and Son Thoughts

  1. powersron says:

    After reading your generous tribute to your father and mother–what a story!–to see the picture of the Malvern Pub adds such a colorful link to your previous descriptions. Ah, the memories you must have of that pub, especially the sounds of conversation and laughter. Thank you for sharing this part of your family history with us, David. The bitter-sweet ending is so moving

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