I can’t imagine anyone in Goostrey who was not stunned and saddened by the sudden death of Gerry Bridgwood. So soon after he and his wife, Cynthia, said their farewells at the Crown, Gerry died of a heart attack. Their sudden decision to call last orders and shut the pub and restaurant left villagers shell-shocked.
And to a band of loyal regulars its closure was unthinkable, if not entirely unexpected. Like so many country inns, the Crown has suffered from soaring costs, competition from home drinking fuelled by cheap alcohol sold in supermarkets, plus the recession. It became just too much for the couple to continue.
Their final night at the pub was like Christmas and New Year rolled into one. The pumps ran dry, bottles of beer flew off the shelves and by midnight there was barely a drop of wine or even champagne to be had in the house. But few of us in this convivial party atmosphere could have foretold in reality it had been Gerry’s wake.
The high regard in which they are held was marked when an impromptu whip-round in the pub produced £1,000 as a parting gift.
Then only 48 hours or so later Gerry went downstairs to fetch the paper and suffered the fatal heart attack, said the vicar, the Rev Ian Godfrey, at the funeral service in St Luke’s church – so packed with mourners that upwards of 100 more had to stand outside.
The former footballer with Stoke City in the era of the great Stanley Matthews, was already a celebrity (his good looks once earned him the title of the best looking player in the first division) when he and Cynthia took over the pub. His humour and sense of fun behind the bar was legendry. “He was fantastic fun,” said one of his old pals. “If you were going to see Gerry, you knew you were going to have a good time.”
Another said: “Gerry was a genuine man who loved a laugh. He could go anywhere and make anybody laugh, whatever the company he was in.”
The Crown, as much as the Red Lion a short distance away, has lived in the hearts of the Goostrey community for generations. Many newcomers to the village confess that its very existence was the factor that drew them here in the first place. Youngsters who cut their social teeth at the bar have been known to return from across the world for a pint at this most hospitable of inns as their first port of call.
Gerry and Cynthia ran the Crown for 20 years in the finest traditions of an English village pub, and they earned recognition for their work in the licensed trade from CAMRA, the campaign for real ale.
When Cheshire became fashionable in the fifties for dining out, the Goostrey pubs were among those to lead the way. Thus the Crown still remained under Cynthia’s stewardship of the kitchen, but in recent years not without I suspect some cost to the couple themselves,
Marston’s, the brewers, say it will re-open soon. At least three independent pub-restaurant owners are in the bidding to take over. We can only plea that any changes will not be too drastic as to destroy that special place, the Crown at Goostrey.