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Meet the Norwich pub owner celebrating 30 years behind the bar

PUBLISHED: 09:11 26 August 2014 | UPDATED: 09:11 26 August 2014

The Murderers on Timberhill.

The Murderers on Timberhill.

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2011

Norwich publican Ivan Brown never thought he would one day run a pub, let alone stay for 30 years. But the Murderers’ joint-partner has just racked up three decades, although he admits he probably spends more time on the golf course nowadays than behind the bar at the popular Timberhill pub. Reporter DAVID BALE met him.

Ivan Brown of the Murderers/Gardeners Arms, Timberhill, Norwich. Photo: Steve AdamsIvan Brown of the Murderers/Gardeners Arms, Timberhill, Norwich. Photo: Steve Adams

Ivan Brown spent six years on the other side of the bar watching publicans work every hour under the sun before he took on one of Norwich’s most historic pubs, where he has just celebrated his 30th anniversary. He had been working for Ind Coope, part of the Allied Breweries group, one of the largest drink companies in the world, before he found himself behind the bar on July 16, 1984, as the proprietor of The Gardeners Arms/The Murderers.

Prior to that he had worked as a salesman for about 12 years.

He bought the pub from the then landlord, Douro Potter, and last month celebrated his 30 years with a party.

He said: “I had always said that I preferred it on the other side of the bar, and would never run a pub because of the long hours.”

The pub is now managed by Phil Cutter, who is a partner at the business with Mr Brown and wife Jackie, but Mr Brown still comes in to serve a few pints during the week.

Born in Costessey, the family moved to Lenwade when he was 11, and he went to Reepham Secondary Modern School.

He left at 15 to work as a trainee concrete inspector for Taylor Woodrow in Lenwade.

After a few years he moved to EG Reeve in Norwich, where he was a trainee draughtsman, and then, aged 21, he joined Trebor Sharps as a salesman. “I was 21 and thought it would be good to have a company car. I was there five years selling to the grocery trade. I then moved to Smith and Nephew selling toiletries for a couple of years. And then I got into the licensed trade as a sales rep.

“Douro Potter was the most entrepreneurial person of his time in the city centre, and I bought The Gardeners Arms from him. In the early days I was in partnership with Doug Brownwood. We then bought the Jubilee pub in Norwich, which had we had for about 10 years.”

Mr Brown lived at the pub for about five years and he met his wife Jackie about six months later.

His children Danielle and Natalie were born at the pub, and he added: “We lived at the pub with two parrots and a Great Dane.”

Phil Cutter and his twin brother Pat joined the pub as potboys and later Mr Brown owned The Bull at Hellesdon, and sold the lease to Pat. Mr Brown also bought the lease to the Eagle pub in Newmarket Road, Norwich, with Nigel Booty, but he’s no longer involved with that.

About 10 years ago, Phil Cutter became a partner at The Gardeners Arms, and Mr Brown said Mr Cutter was now the de facto manager there.

He added: “The future of The Gardeners Arms is very much in Phil’s hands.

“He has been so supportive of me and Jackie, and so passionate in the last 28 years, since he started as a 15 year old – it’s well deserved. All I do now is serve a few pints of beer and come in a couple of times a week. The rest of the time I’m playing golf, cycling or tennis and travelling.”

The Murderers remains one of Norwich’s most popular pubs, but he said he’s still nostalgic about what he calls the good old days in the industry in the 60s, 70s and 80s.

He said: “Those days are irreplaceable. For six years as a brewery rep for Ind Coope, I cannot remember any pubs closing in this area. All pubs in Norwich had customers and the best ones had even more customers.”

The Murderers faced some of its toughest times about 20 years ago when the Castle Mall development was being built.

The huge cattle market car park was no more and customers deserted the city centre, he said.

When the first Wetherspoon, The Bell opened in the city centre, Mr Brown said they were even more worried.

But the Bell proved to be a godsend, as it brought people back into the city centre, he said.

The Gardeners Arms became more of a food outlet, with Mr Brown’s wife responsible for the home cooking on offer.

“Over the 30 years we have been the most cosmopolitan pub in Norwich,” he added.

“We have had all the Theatre Royal performers coming in, and Mick Channon and David Bennett from Norwich City football were very supportive. In the past we had a football team here, netball, basketball.

“My daughter Danielle lived at the pub and worked here and Phil’s children have been involved in the pub. It’s been the continuation of a very strong family-run pub. My mum and dad worked here as well.”

The pub is currently undergoing a bit of a makeover with the top bar being turned into a professional area.

Mr Brown added: “We are all aware that you need more than one reason to come into a pub, so we are making the top bar the place for food/music/sport. We have had music at the pub before, but we are now doing it properly.

“It’s quite exciting, although we will still be a traditional ale pub, where people can stand at the bar enjoying a drink, even on entertainment evenings, but we will have more varied music.”

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