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‘Fun while it lasted’ - What’s it like to grow up in a pub?

PUBLISHED: 14:39 30 May 2020 | UPDATED: 14:39 30 May 2020

From left, Jemma Thake, and waitresses Melissa Jagger and Michelle Ashby, and the Ark Royal pub in Wells. The pub was famous for its discos and fancy dress parties. Picture: Supplied by Jemma Thake

From left, Jemma Thake, and waitresses Melissa Jagger and Michelle Ashby, and the Ark Royal pub in Wells. The pub was famous for its discos and fancy dress parties. Picture: Supplied by Jemma Thake

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Reporter STUART ANDERSON spoke to Jemma Thake, who was proud to call the Ark Royal pub in Wells-next-the-Sea her childhood home.

Jemma Thake, left, and her mum, Shirley, who ran the Ark Royal pub in Wells for decades. Picture: Supplied by Jemma ThakeJemma Thake, left, and her mum, Shirley, who ran the Ark Royal pub in Wells for decades. Picture: Supplied by Jemma Thake

The past decade has seen a steady decline in the number of pubs in the UK, a trend which sadly looks set to accelerate because of the coronavirus outbreak. And the once relatively common experience of growing up in a pub run by one’s parents is also dying out.

The past weeks have seen the demolition of the former Ark Royal, one of north Norfolk’s most popular venues of the 70s, 80s and 90s.

Miss Thake, 37, moved into the Freeman Street building when she was just five with parents Roger and Shirley Thake and older sisters, Lauren and Michelle.

She said it was a “massive change” from their previous life in Luton, where the family ran a newsagents.

Jemma Thake in the cellar of the Ark Royal pub in Wells, in the early 1990s. Picture: Supplied by Jemma ThakeJemma Thake in the cellar of the Ark Royal pub in Wells, in the early 1990s. Picture: Supplied by Jemma Thake

“We didn’t have a living room upstairs, and I used to sit at the bottom of the stairs where the staff and waitresses would pass by,” Miss Thake said.

“I remember asking them if I could have a packet of crisps and a Coke? They’d say ‘all right, but don’t tell your mum’.”

Miss Thake and her sisters quickly settled into pub life, and enjoyed growing up at what was very much the heart of their community.

She has fond memories of hundreds of people turning up to take part in outdoor karaoke sessions.

Jemma Thake, aged around 11 on Christmas Day at the Ark Royal pub in Wells, in 1993. Picture: Supplied by Jemma ThakeJemma Thake, aged around 11 on Christmas Day at the Ark Royal pub in Wells, in 1993. Picture: Supplied by Jemma Thake

She said: “I was 13 at the time and I used to sing the Shoop Shoop Song or It’s my party. I won a bottle of Buck’s fizz once, but I wasn’t allowed to have it. The karaoke came to an end because of the noise, but it was great fun while it lasted.”

The Ark Royal became famous for its discos, fancy dress parties, car boot sales, darts and pool contests and barbecues.

Miss Thake said: “Everyone wanted to come to Jemma’s house because she lived in a pub.”

“I had my 21st birthday there and we had a really good party for my mum when she celebrated her 50th. Christmas Day at the Ark Royal was fantastic - I used to sit there at the bar thinking I was one of the grown ups. It was a rare time we could spend time with our parents because they weren’t working.”

Roger Thake, who ran the Ark Royal pub in Wells for decades with wife, Shirley, and family. In his time at the pub Mr Thake raised thousands of pounds for charities through his marathon running. Picture: Supplied by Jemma ThakeRoger Thake, who ran the Ark Royal pub in Wells for decades with wife, Shirley, and family. In his time at the pub Mr Thake raised thousands of pounds for charities through his marathon running. Picture: Supplied by Jemma Thake

MORE: Demolition of once-iconic seaside pub begins

Miss Thake recalls creeping onto the roof to watch the parties below when she was too young to attend.

She and her sisters would also watch the annual Wells Carnival from the rooftop.

“You could see the whole parade coming down Glebe Road, and down to the fair on the quay,” she said. “It was fantastic - we were very lucky growing up.”

The former Ark Royal pub in Wells, now being demolished. Picture: Supplied by Jemma ThakeThe former Ark Royal pub in Wells, now being demolished. Picture: Supplied by Jemma Thake

There were also plenty of fundraisers including events Roger Thake organised to go alongside his marathon running.

Miss Thake said: “Dad would say ‘one day, you won’t be able to smoke in pubs and I can’t wait’.”

She said the pub’s staff became like a “second family” and she is still in touch with many of them. “We were all very close knit,” she said.

The Ark Royal had a main bar area and a restaurant area that could seat up to 100 and was often used for discos and parties. There was also a family room and kitchen, and a cellar, which Miss Thake said she used to think was haunted because of a prank involving a thrown apple core which one staff member played on another.

Jemma Thake, who grew up at the Ark Royal pub in Wells with her sisters. Picture: Supplied by Jemma ThakeJemma Thake, who grew up at the Ark Royal pub in Wells with her sisters. Picture: Supplied by Jemma Thake

The Ark Royal was built to replace an earlier public house on the site called The Ship, which closed in 1967. The venue closed in 2013. It later became the Captain’s Table pub and then Harley’s American diner. There are no immediate plans for the site but it is likely to be used temporarily as a car park before anything else is built there.

Miss Thake, who now lives in Fakenham, said it was sad that her own children would never know what growing up in a pub was like.

She said: “The memories are very close to our hearts. When mum and dad took it on it was in its prime and they absolutely made the most of it, but when it was time to leave, it was the right time.”

The people who made it

The Ark Royal pub in Wells, in 2009. Picture: Colin FinchThe Ark Royal pub in Wells, in 2009. Picture: Colin Finch

Miss Thake said she wanted to thank the many staff members and supporters who made the Ark Royal what it was over the years.

These included: Clare Spears, Claire Powley, Verna Beeching, Claire Raisbury, Sharon Favoury, Teresa Abe, Karen Davey, Ross Fulford, Andrew Teviatdale, Clare Nudds, Lisa Reed, Michelle Ashby , Melissa Walker, Rebecca Gough, Laura Pearce, Daisy Borthwick, Perrie Hewitt, Pam Smith, Marie Smith, Kim Dunne, Jenny Parr, Ann Marie Chilvers, Miranda and Glen, Jo Cawthorn, Lauren Mills, Rebecca Williamson, Rachael Williamson, Sarah Dack, Louise Hoddy, Kelly Cawston, Noel Anthony, Stro Parham, Darren Armiger, Nathan Hart, Aaron Wick, Steven Baker, James Platten, Katherine Smith, Richard Byrne, Holly Spiers, Lucy Spiers, Chris Esposito, Sara Wright, Steph Wright, Brenda Wick, Paul Wick, Christine (RIP), Di Coe, Diane Gibson, Gaynor Smith, Penfold, Leanne Williamson, Kevin and Sarah Wickers, Wendy Nice, Sheena and Billy Bunn, Nadine Lemon, Sally Ashworth, Kelly Baker, Viv Chestney, Gloria Butcher, Sharon Forster, Nobby, Marie and Becky Fowle, Valerie Roberts, Chris Nightingale, Phil Nightingale, Steven Ansell, Josh Vertigan.

Jemma Thake, left, and her mum, Shirley, at the Ark Royal pub in Wells, around 2005. Picture: Supplied by Jemma ThakeJemma Thake, left, and her mum, Shirley, at the Ark Royal pub in Wells, around 2005. Picture: Supplied by Jemma Thake

Flower baskets hanging from the windows of the Ark Royal pub in Wells, in times gone by. Picture: Supplied by Jemma ThakeFlower baskets hanging from the windows of the Ark Royal pub in Wells, in times gone by. Picture: Supplied by Jemma Thake

Jemma Thake, sitting on the bar of the Ark Royal pub in Wells, in around 1989. Picture: Supplied by Jemma ThakeJemma Thake, sitting on the bar of the Ark Royal pub in Wells, in around 1989. Picture: Supplied by Jemma Thake

The former Ark Royal pub in Wells, which is now being demolished. Picture: Supplied by Jemma ThakeThe former Ark Royal pub in Wells, which is now being demolished. Picture: Supplied by Jemma Thake

Jemma Thake, second from left, with best friends at her 21st birthday party at the Ark Royal pub in Wells in 2003. They are fron left, Nicola Ryder, Laura Woods and Sophie WIlliamson. Picture: Supplied by Jemma ThakeJemma Thake, second from left, with best friends at her 21st birthday party at the Ark Royal pub in Wells in 2003. They are fron left, Nicola Ryder, Laura Woods and Sophie WIlliamson. Picture: Supplied by Jemma Thake

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