A tragic end to Shirley’s ‘full and active life’

Shirley Plumb in her acting days
Shirley Plumb in her acting days

Described by her GP as a “delightful lady”, Shirley Plumb certainly lived a very full and active life.

She and her late husband Harry were credited with transforming the fortunes of The Petwood Hotel in Woodhall Spa.

Shirley and her late husband Harry at The Petwood Hotel in Woodhall Spa

Shirley and her late husband Harry at The Petwood Hotel in Woodhall Spa

They ran it for about 10 years from the 1960s, turning it from a rundown property with a big rat problem and horse-hair mattresses, to a place of some standing and repute.

Rolls-Royce and Bentley conventions would be held there, and it was the venue for the 617 Dambusters Squadron’s first reunion.

Indeed, airmen would practise bomb sighting out of the window of room number five.

Infamously, Labour MP Tony Benn once felt the wrath of Mrs Plumb’s anger while a guest. The hotel only had one outgoing phone line and Mr Benn – then Postmaster General – was using it when Mrs Plumb needed to make a call from reception.

“Who is this using my line?” she angrily asked.

Another famous guest who enjoyed the comforts afforded by the Plumbs’ investment and fine staff was media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who arrived by helicopter.

However, in the couple’s eyes the hotel was too big (in that it had too much land, none of which they were permitted to sell off) and yet had too few rooms. It was to be the beginning of the end of their marriage.

Born in Sydney, Australia in 1925, Mrs Plumb – then Shirley Nichols - became an accomplished swimmer – almost to Olympic level, according to her only son, Simon, 54.

However, she made her name as an actress, entertaining troops returning from World War Two.

Mrs Plumb moved to England with her first husband, Robert Quentin, stage director of the famous Bristol Old Vic theatre and she appeared in 1940s’ films such as No Way Back, The Temptress, and The Story of Shirley Yorke.

Her later love of the hospitality trade clearly rubbed off on Simon, who went on to run The Woolpack pub in Louth with her only grandchild, Tom, 25.

Simon is now working on the launch of a 17th century bed and breakfast property and brewery at North Somercotes.