Bar room romance reaches 40-year milestone in historic Hull pub

Paul and Stephanie Cotson image

A couple who courted as customers of one of Hull’s historic pubs are now celebrating 40 years since they first shared a romantic lunch there.

But in the meantime Stephanie and Paul Cotson have made the move from the cosy corner of the Old English Gentleman, where they planned their lives together, to behind the bar, having bought the pub in 2006.

“We can’t believe we’ve had the pub for nearly seven years, never mind the 40 years since we started coming here as a couple,” said Stephanie.

“We’ve been through two floods, had a building site next door while Hull History Centre was going up, replaced every bit of equipment, scrubbed and painted every nook and cranny, lost sleep over it.

“It’s been hard but the best part about it is the people, without whom it would just be a much-loved old building.” Stephanie was working for Zurich Insurance at Tivoli House in Paragon Street and Paul was at Weeks Trailers in Bankside when they began their Friday lunchtime liaisons in 1973.

“The pub was the halfway point between our offices,” said Paul.

“We met at Scamps nightclub and on a Friday lunchtime we would come here, or sit in the garden outside the theatre if it was nice,” recalled Stephanie.

The couple married two years later and work took them out of the city centre. Paul remained in the caravan industry but when, in his job of forecasting turnover, he found the business heading for tough times they decided to look for a pub.

They’d heard the Old English Gentleman was up for sale so they bought it. Legendary entertainers Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy – who visited the pub when they performed at Hull New Theatre in 1947 – came to mind when Stephanie and Paul feared they had landed in “another fine mess”, but perseverance paid off.

“It was a struggle at first but we were determined and we made it work,” said Paul.

A big asset was the pub’s popularity with theatre-goers and its remarkable collection of photographs of celebrities throughout the ages who have performed at the New Theatre.

They include stars of modern TV soaps, sitcoms from the seventies and even the sixties and other household-name entertainers including Laurel and Hardy, the heroes of the silent movies.

Many of the performers stayed at the pub, which still has five guest rooms. Others would call in for a drink, a meal, or a chat with the locals. The recent death of Hi-de-Hi! star Paul Shane brought back memories of the comedian propping up the bar a few years ago with a cigarette in one hand and his script for the New Theatre pantomime in the other.

“The pub dates back to 1805 and my earliest memories are as a child, when my grandfather used to drink here,” said Stephanie.

“We’re a traditional local pub in the city centre, so we do great beer and food and we have entertainment including a quiz and an open mic night. I think we’re the only pub in the city centre that still has a piano, and we have a lot of fun with that. “And according to some of our customers – and a psychic who once visited – we’ve even got a ghost or two!”

HullBID City Centre Manager Kathryn Shillito said: “We’ve helped Stephanie and Paul with some cleaning work in the beer garden outside the pub and we’re talking to them about possible events in the future.

“Hull has real variety when it comes to our social scene end evening economy – that’s one of the reasons why we were awarded a Purple Flag – and the Old English Gentleman is a big part of that as a traditional pub serving the local residential and business communities as well as visitors to Hull New Theatre.”

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Bar room romance reaches 40-year milestone in historic Hull pub

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