YE OLDE TAVERNE IN THE TOWNE was a large drinking establishment in Darlington’s Houndgate in the 1970s which seems to have been hugely memorable, although not always for positive reasons.

The Tav changed its name to the Old Coaching House – or “the Coachy” – in the early 1980s, and it could hold up to 800 people in its six bars and restaurants, as we established last week.

Cath Napier worked at the Coachy from 1979 until its closure in 1983. She still has one of the Taverne’s old inn signs in her garage, and she has some amazing tales to tell from her days as a barmaid, waitress and cellarwoman.

“I always felt that Elton John's Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting could have been written about the Regency Bar,” she says, “although the regulars were also keen on a bit of Friday night fisticuffs too.

“In those days, pubs all closed at 10.30pm. As the fighting used to kick off at around 10.20pm, our management decided that we'd start closing at 10pm on those two nights to try and prevent the carnage.

“It wasn’t terribly successful. Fight times were just rescheduled to 9.50pm, which gave folk time for a drink in another pub, post-scuffle.”

The Cellar Bar, she recalls, was closed after members of a “local motorcycle enthusiasts' club” took to riding their bikes up and down the stairs.

There was a labyrinth of rooms down there, one of which contained the jukebox, hidden away for safety.

“The jukebox records were refreshed every fortnight by a visiting lady, and I remember she broke the padlock on the machine, leaving it open to 'modification',” says Cathy. “I went down 'for some ice' and replaced Al Martino's Spanish Eyes with Ivor Biggun's The W*inker's Song.

“As you can imagine, once discovered, that became quite a popular choice for our weekend clientele. “I'd always change it back when the jukebox lady was due, and there must have been a play counter on the machine because I remember her expressing surprise at how popular Al's serenade had suddenly become.”

Upstairs was the Rafters Bar and the Attic restaurant for those customers wishing to escape from the mayhem downstairs.

“The restaurant served the standard steak house fare of the day,” she says. “Starters were prawn cocktail, pâté, soup, or melon. Mains included scampi, gammon, salads (not terribly popular), and rump, sirloin, or fillet steaks. Desserts could be cheesecake, gateau, or cheeseboard.

“I hated serving the cheeseboard, the cylindrical Austrian Smoked would always make a bid for freedom unless you jammed it in between the Danish Blue and Wensleydale, or stuck it down with a bit of melted Brie.

“And then there were the liqueur coffees, or floater coffees as we called them. Served in a wine goblet placed on a saucer, they were tricky to carry, and I spilled a few of those in my time. I'm fairly sure that I once served Mike Amos when he ate there for the Eating Owt column.”

But what was this large site originally?

Bill Smith has an idea. “In the mid-Sixties I was sent by James Paterson Ltd to start work on a former bonded warehouse, once owned by Cameron's brewery, in Houndgate,” he says.

“It had an office at the front and it went right back to Beaumont Street. It had a large cellar underneath, and a long courtyard with several buildings at the bottom of it, which could have been stables.

“I remember being told that when it opened as a pub, the price of beer would be half-a-crown a pint, that’s 12.5p in decimal money. Happy days!"