THE King Willie wasn’t just any old street corner pub, it was our street corner pub, 100 yards from the ancestral home in Shildon.

Percy Allen the bookie’s was next door, Mrs Kitching’s little sweetie shop next to that, Mrs Gerard’s fish and chip shop frying nightly across the road.

The King Willie, truth to tell, wasn’t noticeably regal. Young men in the sinning 60s, we’d usually walk straight past and head for the Red Lion, that being considered (comparatively) more courtly.

Pint pulling since the 19th Century, as the image from Chris Lloyd’s compendious collection suggests, the King Willie had been boarded for a decade or so, seemingly just one more dried up, washed up, little boozer.

Now, however, it has been radically reborn as Lord Elliotts – “café, bar, rooms” – the possessive apostrophe not so much omitted as relocated to panini’s on the menu.

There’s even a website. When the King Willie was in its pomp, websites were for spiders.

WE went last week, six-ish, joined shortly afterwards by a couple of blokes of similar age. “Thutty year since I’ve been in here,” said one and ordered a pint and a packet of crisps, probably just as he had thutty year ago.

Kirsty, the barmaid, was friendly and welcoming, her arms pictured on the website. We recognised the tattoos.

The menu begins with “elevensies”, tea or coffee and cake for £4, served from 11am to 12.30pm. By half past 12, down the road in Albert Street, we’d not only had our dinners, but long since finished the washing up and were actively wondering what was for tea.

Lord Elliotts teas include Earl Grey and blue flower, strawberry and mint and payaya and ginger, doubtless all delicious, but unlikely to displace Rington’s in County Durham’s unchanging affections.

Cocktails are £9 for two, other prices indicated in that absurdly affected modern way – not £7.50 but 7.5 – the menu big on burgers, paninis (add relish and apostrophe to taste) and such like.

The grub was fine, though Mrs Gerard did better chips. Mrs Gerard, come to think, did scraps, too. Fish and chips, a shilling.

We drank American IPA, “craft” beer at £4.20 a pint, recalled the good old days when Ronnie and Derek sold Strongarm for five bob, stayed for a couple of hours. For the last hour, we were in the pub alone.

PETER ELLIOTT – someone bought him the “lordship”, he says – is a Tyneside businessman who in 2002 took over a former workmen’s club in Wallsend.

“We really turned it round,” he says. “Others followed suit. Within a few years Wallsend was like Jesmond, really trendy.” He envisages the same sort of thing on the junction of Albert Street and Cheapside, perhaps even a chain of Lord Elliotts.

Walter Willson’s first branch was in Shildon, after all, and they ended up with more than 100.

“Business is steadily improving,” says Peter. “All it takes is someone with a bit of vision, a bit of get-up-and-go. I travel all over the North-East and see these little run down towns. Places like this can really become the heart of the community.”

Right up our street, anyway.

THE first Lord Elliott – some might suppose the only one – was Bill of that ilk, Conservative MP for Newcastle North for 25 years and thereafter a life peer, Lord Elliott of Morpeth.

He’d been a farmer in the Morpeth area, married a lass called Jane Morpeth, held junior posts in government and was a party vice-chairman.

Lord Elliott, who died in 2011 aged 90, particularly liked to talk of one of his finest hours when at a Commons lunch he’d been seated next to the unmissable American actress Jayne Mansfield. He’d probably never been in the King Willie, though.

SO inevitably, me and our kidder – Shildon vernacular, that – fell to recalling some of the wonderful characters who had held court at the King Willie, none more memorable than Jenny Wren.

Jenny was 99 when she led a briefly successful fight to save the Timothy Hackworth care home in which she lived, 101 when she died in 2007.

That she always looked many years younger was down, she insisted, to regular visits from the Avon lady.

Jenny was also a singer, had to be with a name like that, once performed Jake the Peg on Tyne Tees Television. “I went into Doggarts in Bishop and cadged a leg off one of their dummies,” she recalled.

“The driver of the OK bus to Newcastle made a terrible fuss over why I had a leg under my arm.”

She’d also beaten me in a Laughing Policeman singing contest, wearing one of her son’s old uniforms. He almost lost his buttons for that.

Usually Jenny would be accompanied on piano by the incomparable Charlie Raine, a pre-war national railways boxing champion after winning four bouts in a day, the last of them in 14 seconds – “including the count,” he insisted. He died, aged 93, in 2000.

He’d survived a heart attack at 80 – “the only thing is they said no sex for a month” – and at 86 had a cataract job which spectacularly improved his outlook on life.

I found him at home, happily perusing the paper, observed that it must be nice to be able to read my stuff again.

“Bugger your stuff, I buy it for the racing,” said Charlie, and toddled off down to Percy Allen’s.

THEN there’s a remarkable coincidence. Weeks ago, the column invited itself to a do at Coundon workmen’s club last Saturday evening to mark the 70th birthday of the NHS.

Though non-political, he insisted, it was organised by Labour Party member Ken Houlahan – a man with three degrees, but who’d not only been landlord of the King Willie in 2005, but hosted Jenny Wren’s 100th.

“A bit of a difficult pub,” he said with perhaps a bit of an understatement.

Coundon’s near Bishop Auckland. For reasons doubtless medicinal, local MP Helen Goodman bore a bottle of House of Commons whisky for the raffle.

The banner “Hope for our country” and the large greetings cards “Happy birthday NHS: get well soon” must be presumed non-political, too.

After the final whistle against Sweden, the journey through Darlington had proved boisterous, pubs and their customers visibly overflowing. Coundon celebrated, too, though not greatly in the workmen’s.

A lounge that can accommodate 240 held about 200 fewer, a copy of Michael Foot’s biography of Nye Bevan, signed by the current leader – “the NHS is our greatest and most civilized achievement, Jeremy” – withdrawn from auction.

For the few and not the many, as they may never say in today’s Labour Party.

The disco wasn’t themed, perhaps the most appropriate number I’ll Be There by The Four Tops – opening lines about when you feel that you can’t go on, when all your hope is gone. Reach out….

Perhaps the least appropriate was something called Nine to Five, though goodness knows who sang that.

Other suggestions for a birthday song for the NHS much welcomed. “There were three in a bed and the little one said roll over” would probably be disqualified.

We left at 9.30pm, Coundon and country still singing about three lions. Whether or not on the NHS, there’d have been some bad heads on Sunday morning.