Farewell to Margaret, a one-off never to be forgotten

A “one off” – Margaret Vincent, former landlady at the Pilot Boat

LYME Regis bid farewell this week to charismatic former Pilot Boat landlady Margaret Vincent, described as a “one-off”, writes Philip Evans

It was the first funeral I have attended conducted under the strict COVID-19 regulations. Numbers were restricted to maximum of 15 but I have no doubt had this been in normal times the parish church would have been full to capacity, such was her popularity when she ran the Pilot Boat with husband Jack Vincent for many years.

The service was conducted with great dignity by the Reverend Chris Martin, the new Rector of the Golden Cap Benefice, and I was invited to deliver the eulogy, having been a close friend of Margaret and Jack. I have been privileged to have written and presented the eulogy for a number of people over the years but never in such circumstances.

Margaret was brought into church to a recording of one of her favourite pieces of music, “When a Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square, played by one of Margaret’s favourite local organisations, Lyme Regis Town Band.

No singing was allowed but there was recordings of two of her favourite hymns – “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and “Abide With Me”. Margaret’s nephew Chris read psalm 23, “The Lord Is My Shepherd”, and the Rev Martin delivered a very touching address.

My contribution was a little less reverential as I recalled some of the many happy and riotous times my generation enjoyed at the Pilot Boat. The service finished with a recording of Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World”.

Margaret would have testified to enjoying a “wonderful life” until Jack, the love of her life, passed away. And this is certainly not a “wonderful” time to live – but it was comforting to see that, despite the stringent restrictions the church has to follow, we were able to say our farewells to a wonderful character who loved Lyme and it’s people. Top marks also go to local undertakers A.J. Wakely & Sons for organising the service in such an efficient and sympathetic manner. A retiring collection will be divided between Weldmar Hospice Care and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

The eulogy at Margaret Vincent’s funeral, delivered by Philip0 Evans BE

THESE are distressing times for all but I have no doubt that had it not been for this terrible pandemic that the world is fighting, this church would have been full of local people wishing to celebrate the life of one of Lyme’s special ladies – Margaret Vincent.

And whilst our hearts go out to Anna and Chris and all those close to Margaret, celebrate is what we should do for Margaret has left an indelible impression on the townsfolk of Lyme and will be remembered for her kindness and insatiable sense of fun.

Back in the day when Margaret and John ran the Pilot Boat, those that frequented the pubs of Lyme had their favourites. This was in the halcyon days of Lyme pubs when there were 13 in the town. Mine was definitely the Pilot Boat where I have so many memories of happy times. I would like to share some of those with you.

These were the days of iconic landlords – Alf Lamb at the Royal Standard, Jack Cawston at The Cobb Arms, Joe O’Donnell at The Ship, John Broderick at The Volunteer, Albert Raffo at the Three Cups and Stuart Buckland at the Talbot Arms. But Jack Vincent was the definite guvnor. In those days the publicans would often visit each other’s pubs – but not Jack. He was a very astute businessman and he saw no sense in spending money in his competitors pubs. But they often visited him and what started as a quick drink turned into a day-long session. Jack knew what he was doing.

Margaret met Jack whilst on holiday in Lyme and once they got together hardly a day passed without them being in each other’s company. Margaret soon became a huge asset to the Pilot and together they built it into one of Lyme’s most popular hostelries.

Pubs in Lyme in those days were very different to those of today. They were essential drinking houses that served a few snacks  – sandwiches and a salad perhaps – as opposed to the trendy bars of today, restaurants serving all manner of liquid concoctions. I’m not sure how Jack would have reacted had someone asked for an Expresso Martini?

But the Pilot was a bit different from your average local pub. Whilst the 12-month-a-year local trade made up most of their business, visitors to Lyme were welcomed at the Pilot and many came back year after year. And that difference was Margaret. She was the antithesis of your average pub landlady. The evening was her domain and the back bar of the Pilot was her stage.

She would make an entrance, always dressed to the nines, perfect make-up, cigarette not far from her lips. The visitors just loved it.

Jack was the jovial landlord, with a huge sense of humour and a great practical joker. Who can forget his usual greeting of “Ho! Ho! Ho!”. But Margaret was definitely the star of the show.

Margaret referred to a number of young men who frequented the Pilot most days of the week as “her boys”. She always had time to listen to our woes, especially affairs of the heart, and was not adverse to a little bit of match-making, especially when the visitors were in town. She would often say: “I’ve got just the girl for you”. There are a number of couples in Lyme, married with children and grandchildren, who Margaret brought together. She could well have written an Agony Aunt column in the Lyme Regis News. She was definitely our very own Margery Proops!

Saturday night was when Margaret’s sense of fun really came to the fore. That was when the front gates were locked and the notorious lock-ins in the back bar would begin. Anyone who wasn’t off the premises after drinking-up time would not escape until Jack unlocked the front door at 2 am, sometimes later.  As soon as the stragglers had gone, the music went on and Margaret “The Entertainer” came into her own.

Jack couldn’t stand rock music so it was the dulcet tones of Perry Como, Andy Williams and Val Doonican that featured prominently on Margaret’s play-list and her all-time favourite “Y Viva Espana”, recreating memories of her regular holiday trips to Spain. She would dance with all the young lads in the bar and encouraged all and sundry to get on the dance floor.

At this time I was secretary of the Regatta & Carnival and Jack and Margaret were our biggest supporters. One of the most popular events was the Decorated Pub competition. Margaret loved dressing up and she was in her element as she chose a theme and decorated the whole premise. Most years I think the Pilot won first prize which was presented to Margaret late on the last Saturday of regatta week by Miss Lyme Regis.

Both Margaret and Jack were very patriotic and another event I remember well was at the end of the Falklands War when the Fleet were returning to Portsmouth up the English Channel. Wearing Red White and Blue carnival hats, Margaret led all the regulars on to the top of the Marine Parade to sing God Save The Queen with great gusto as one of the battle ships could be seen on the horizon. The interior of the Pilot was bedecked in the Union Jack as Margaret orchestrated another unforgettable night! Navy man Eric Nute, Lyme’s traffic warden, dusted off his old Royal Navy uniform and regaled us with his favourite nautical song – “My Friend Silvest  – He’s Got A Row of Silver Medals on His Chest”.

There was another regular occurrence when one of the frequent patrons at the Pilot, local farmer Martin  Bright, was often persuaded to perform his party piece. Suddenly the song “The Streak” by American comedian/singer Ray Stevens would blare out and Martin dispensed with of all his clothes and with just a couple of plates to protect his modesty would streak out of the Pilot front door and run over to Cobb Gate and back again. Don’t ask me why?

But it wasn’t all fun and games. Many important town decisions were made in the back bar of the Pilot. I was a town councillor at the time when meetings would always finish by 9 pm and then all councillors would adjourn to the Pilot where the discussions would continue with the debate a good deal rowdier after a few gins!

I can’t finish without mentioning two other characters at the Pilot – John’s man-servant Fred who lived in a caravan at the back of the garage and who often drove John to frustration at times (I remember him chasing Fred through the lounge bar with a carving knife in his hand) – and of course their trusty dog Axal who became a big star himself.

After a long summer there was nothing John and Margaret looked forward to more than getting away from it with a holiday in the sun. Neither were great beach fanatics but Margaret soon sussed out the most fun bars to wind down.

I was privileged (I think that’s the right word) to be among a party of Pilot locals who spent a long weekend in Majorca where, as always, Margaret was chief organiser. She frightened us to death on one occasion when she attempted to take a gun out of a Spanish policeman’s holster, all in fun you understand. Jack just covered his eyes in horror – and when he opened them Margaret was dancing in the street with the policeman!

After retirement, Jacks’ passing devastated Margaret but she retained her sense of fun whenever in public, often attending local events with her good friend Jean Williams and latterly Gilly and John. Gilly described Margaret as a “one-off”. She certainly was.

As I said earlier, she left an indelible impression on our town, the like of which we will never see again. By my generation and others, she will never be forgotten. She was definitely the last of the great landladies of Lyme Regis.

I have no doubt that as she passed through the Pearly Gates, Margaret would have made a bee-line for St Peter asking: “When does the fun start.”

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About Philip Evans 833 Articles
Veteran journalist and newspaper manager Philip Evans has worked in the publishing industry for more than half a century. He started out as a reporter for Pulman’s Weekly News as a young man and went on to work for an international publishing company in the UK, South Africa and Australia before returning to Lyme Regis where he is still reporting on local events as he has done for more than 53 years.

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