One of the oldest pubs in Portsmouth, The Florist in Fratton Road, not only boasts one of the longest serving publicans in the city but it’s also the pub that has been run by members of the same family for the longest time.
Robin Wyatt, by trade a florist, was working in America as a film researcher but returned home and took over the reins of The Florist upon the death of his father, William, in 1974.
He has been there ever since. The Florist was originally a coach house built in 1869 but in 1928 a new facade was placed in front of the old building giving the impression we see today.
When Robin took over, the old stables were still in situ at the back of the building.
Robin’s parents, William and Phyllis, took over the pub in 1967 after being tenants of The Solent which stood just across Fratton Road from the Florist in Kilmiston Street.
They took over The Solent in 1938/39 from Phyllis’s mother, Angelina Harris, who had been the landlady there for many years.
To keep the family in the pub business, another daughter of Angelina’s had The Sportsman in Copnor Road and another had The Robin Hood out at Forestside.
In the middle to late 1960s, the whole area around the Lake Road/Fratton Road junction was being demolished and The Solent pub, along with so many other much-loved public houses and buildings, disappeared for ever.
For William and Phyllis however, a move was not too far as they literally moved their furniture across Fratton Road to The Florist and continued trading as if nothing had happened.
They continued trading until Robin’s father died in 1974 and his mother passed away in 1978.
A far bigger pub than The Solent, The Florist at one time boasted five bars: public, lounge, private, bottle and jug and snug. There were also two open fires blazing away in winter. Today there are just the public bar and lounge and an electric fire keeps drinkers warm.
Robin tells me that when he took over from his father a pint of bitter was 19p and unlike today, spirits were always dearer than ale.
Robin tells me that at that time the pub was so busy they ran five darts teams: three men’s and two women’s. Music was always provided by a pub pianist. The piano is still located there but there is no musician to play it sadly.
I asked Robin what made pubs so good in those days. He replied: ‘Families always seemed to go out together then. We often used to have grandparents, parents and their children, over-18s of course, all in the pub sat around a table enjoying themselves. We had five bar staff on the go all evening. Those days are long gone sadly.’
Another reason for the fall in trade is the smoking ban. Robin added: ‘Eighty per cent of my customers smoke and the government should have had a vote on whether a pub was to be smoking or not. It really has killed the pub trade.’
The loss of so many pubs in the area was another factor in falling trade. Robin told me that it was possible to have a pub-crawl without walking half a mile from Lake Road at one time. When he took over, other pubs literally within a shout of The Florist were the Museum Gardens, Tramway Arms, George, Kingston Tavern, Shaftesbury, White House, New Inn, Traveller’s Rest and St Mary’s Arms to name but a few. They have all disappeared over the last 30 years.
Happily Robin continues plying his trade after 37 years at The Florist.
‘I can’t move out,’ he told me. ‘It is my home as well as my place of work and I hope to be here for a few more years yet.’