We were extremely saddened to hear the news that Mike Mercer of The Albion Inn and Chester’s longest serving landlord has sadly passed away.
At the helm of The Albion for an impressive 50 years, Mike was something of a legend in the Chester pub trade, well known for his no-nonsense approach and his passionate commitment to ensuring that the sacrifices of The Great War are never forgotten.
We Are Chester writer and Albion regular Paul Crofts pays his own personal and heartfelt tribute to Mike. From everyone at We Are Chester, we send our condolences to Mike’s family, many friends and loyal regulars.
As I write this, I’m still trying to process the passing of Mike Mercer, landlord of the Albion Inn for 50 years and an absolute legend in Chester. Thanks to him, his wife Christina, his daughter Clare and all their staff, past and present, the Albion has remained the unique gem of Chester’s pub scene.
Mike’s dedication and no-nonsense approach to keeping the pub just as he wanted it, is appreciated and understood by all who frequent the Albion, no intrusive “music”, no slot machines, no kids running around, just a proper, decent old fashioned traditional pub where folk could enjoy a well-kept pint and excellent food in a convivial, cozy atmosphere. As Mike himself put it on one of his legendary chalk board signs, “a grown-up pub for grown up people”.
Never ever ask for chips in the Albion! Mike’s commitment to maintaining the pub’s traditional atmosphere also extended to the food on offer, no chips, no UHT, no “plastic food”, just good, hearty fare, from cottage pie to bangers and mash, warming casseroles, liver and onions, haggis, neeps and tatties, Clare’s famous curries and of course their Staffordshire Oatcakes filled with bacon, black pudding, or haggis and an absolute must with melted cheese! I could go on.
Under Mike’s tenure, The Albion has become as well known for its good food thanks to Clare’s culinary skills as it has for its real ales and quirky, old-fashioned charm.
Never one to suffer fools gladly, behind that gruff exterior, which Mike seemed to revel in cultivating, and indeed which he had gained a bit of a reputation for, there was a caring, compassionate family man who was always concerned for his regulars’ welfare, always ready with a wise word, a perfectly placed quip, the perfect host who took no nonsense from anyone and was respected all the more for it.
Mike was absolutely passionate that the sacrifices of the First World War generation should never be forgotten and his dedication in hosting countless commemorations including with the some of the Veterans themselves over many years, raising thousands of pounds along the way for the Veterans Association and latterly the War Memorials Trust remains absolutely at the heart of The Albion.
A highlight for Mike was being invited to an event at Clarence House, the London home of The Prince Of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. At the drinks reception, Mike along with Christina had the honour of meeting The Duchess of Cornwall who thanked him for all his efforts in raising awareness of the vital work of the Trust and also raising much needed funds to help them to continue their vital work in safeguarding and restoring war memorials across the Country, ensuring that the sacrifices of the young men named on them are never forgotten.
From Christmas in the Trenches to commemorating the Battle of the Somme, with the songs of the era performed by Matt Baker at the piano and the sublime voices of soprano Lynda O’Connor and London-based singer Patricia Hammond, these unique events are treasured by those who attended them over the years and we were absolutely privileged to be a part of something very special.
The pub also hosted jazz nights over many years with a trio or jazz quartet often playing the music of the 20s, 30s and 40s in the wonderful atmosphere of the Albion’s unique interior, all thanks to Mike’s natural entrepreneurship and keen eye for spotting an opportunity.
Who else would celebrate St George’s Day with such style? Morris Dancers in the street! The famous Christmas Eve singsong, Matt leading everyone in the singing of Christmas Carols, the 12 days of Christmas and even Bohemian Rhapsody (yes really, you had to be there).
It’s true to say that Mike was a bit wary of me when we first met, me being ‘a young un’ and me just a little bit intimidated by him but we soon got to know and understand each other and Mike and Christina have become good friends over the years, always concerned for our family, particularly when my Mum was ill and always ready to offer help and support where they could. True diamonds both of them. I have so many happy memories of Mike, not many landlords would close their pub on a Sunday just so I could have my 40th birthday party there!
We will miss him greatly. Chester has lost a legend, The Albion is without its skipper but I know that Christina, Clare and the team will continue to ensure that it remains true to Mike’s vision of what a proper pub should be.
My heart goes out to Christina, Clare, Lorna, Faith and all the family at this very sad time and also to the Albion “family” of staff past and present including Eddie, Zoë and Gaz.
God bless you Mike, until we meet again.
Word and pictures: Paul Crofts, October 2021