The Fir Tree Inn, Woburn Sands – Part 2 – 1850 to 1899
In 1850, Francis was able to purchase the freehold of his site from the owner, James Young, junior, for £250. It was described as: “…Yard and garden… adjoining brewhouse, stable and other outbuildings in occupation of Francis Lee and used as a public house called “The Fir Tree” and also premises adjoining garden and ground, barn, and barn late in the occupation of Jonathon Putman.” He took a full mortgage from John Green of Woburn for the money, but it would appear he handed over the inn to his son, another Francis, to run, although the licence stayed with Francis senior.
In the Bucks Herald of 2nd November 1850, a report under the Newport Pagnell Petty Sessions, before the Rev. Geo. Phillimore, the Rev. D. B. Langley, and W. G. Duncan, Esq. of Wednesday Oct 30, reads that:
“Edward Emmerton, of Wavendon, innkeeper, was charged with assaulting Thomas Odams, of the same place, farmer. The complainant said he went into the Fir Tree public-house, at Wavendon, on the 14th instant, when the defendant came in and made use of very abusive language towards him, afterwards threw part of a pint of beer in his face. The defendant admitted the assault, and was convicted in the penalty of £1 and costs £1.”
This is the first news report that I have found mentioning the inn, apart from the auction sale in 1840. With literacy rates rising, local newspapers were springing up, and the local petty court sessions were a good source of news to keep their readers informed of local affairs. It does mean that the only news that was recorded tended to be bad news, when fights or arguments became so serious that the village constable was called. We will see that over the next fifty years, depending on who the landlord was, the Fir Tree either came up quite often in these reports, or is absent completely, a good reflection of the landlords’ control, perhaps?
It is also interesting to see the inn ‘move around’ between Woburn Sands, Wavendon, Aspley Heath or Aspley Guise, depending on the view point of the Reporter!
It is useful that the next census came along in 1851. This snapshot shows that Francis (who gave his age as 71) and his wife (63) were looking after one of their grandchildren, Francis Harodine, (age 9) at least for that particular night, (30th March) at an address separate to the inn, while their son, now the third licensee called Francis in this story, was at the inn with his wife Eliza, who is noted as being either blind, deaf or dumb, and their three children; George (5) Edwin (2) and William (3 months). Although clearly listed at “The Fir Tree”, Francis had his occupation listed as a timber haulier, a sideline he must have been using some of the yard space for. Eliza is listed as a dressmaker.
1852 to 1860 – Mary Lee
History seems to have repeated itself, as Francis senior did not get long to enjoy his new acquisition. He died in March, 1852, and was buried at Wavendon. His grave stone is just inside the gate, on the left. It reads: “Sacred to the memory of Francis Lee who died 7th March 1852, aged 68 years, also 7 daughters of the above who departed life.” The infant mortality rate at this time was shockingly high, with epidemics of fearful diseases frequently sweeping the country. We know Francis had been christened in 1784, but this may not have been the year of his birth. Perhaps he had used his real age for the census, and someone had calculated an inaccurate one from the registers for the stone. Again, the licence reverts to a widow, and again it is a Mary, but their son was already running the inn.
The third Francis Lee was now 40 years of age. His marriage to Eliza, the daughter of the James Young, had produced three children; George Francis, born 1849, who became a lathrender in Norwich; William, born 1851, who became a policeman in Bradford, and Elizabeth, born 1853.
As well as local arguments or even fights to contend with, there were (and still are!) strict licencing laws to abide by, preventing landlords from serving someone who was, or appeared to be, drunk. Not always an easy task. From the Bucks Herald of 27th October, 1855:
“Newport Pagnell Petty Sessions, Oct 24th (Before M. Knapp, Esq., G. Lucas, Esq., W. G. Duncan, Esq., and Rev. Dr. Langley) Mary Lee, of the Fir Tree public-house, at Wavendon, was convicted, on the information of Mr [Superintendant] Whadcoat, for suffering drunkenness and other disorderly conduct in her house, on the 19th of September last. Penalty and costs, £1. Paid.”
…but a far more serious incident occurred just over a year later. From the Bucks Herald, 25th October, 1856:
“Newport Pagnell Petty Sessions Oct 22nd (Before Mathew Knapp Esq, Rev. A. Chester and Rev. Dr. Langley)
The Landlady and The Sweep – Frederick Whitlock, chimney sweeper of Wavendon, was charged with assaulting Mary Lee, who keeps the Fir Tree public-house, in the same parish, on the 3rd of October. The case having been adjourned from the last Petty Sessions in consequence of the complainant being too ill to attend. Complainant now stated that the defendant drove up to her door about ten o’clock on the night of the 3rd inst., just as she was in the act of closing the door. He called for a quart of beer; she saw he was intoxicated and refused to admit him or draw any beer. He forced himself into the house, and, with very abusive language, said he would not go until he had some beer. The old lady, who is sixty five years of age, said that she thought she would show a little spirit, so she took the poker and ordered him out; he instantly snatched it from her and knocked her down with it. Francis Lee, her son, stated that he was in bed, but hearing the disturbance, he came down. His mother was lying on the floor, bleeding very much, and the defendant had the poker in his hand, and threatened to serve witness in the same way, but witness succeeded in getting the poker from him and turning him out. A neighbour was sent for, who came and put Mrs Lee to bed. She had a severe wound on the head, the ear being cut through; she has been under surgical treatment ever since. Mr Jones appeared for the defence, and called the defendants lad, who was sitting in the cart at the door, and who stated that Mrs Lee struck defendant with the poker first. Mr Jones stated in mitigation, that the defendant had offered to make any compensation to Mrs Lee that she might require, immediately after the assault. The defendant was convicted in a penalty and costs of £4, or one months imprisonment.”
Francis’ first wife Eliza had died soon after 1853, and Francis re-married, to Ann Savage, who was the daughter of a Potton butcher, in November 1857 at Bedford St. Mary. She was the same age as him. It is strange that he chose to describe himself and his father in the register as ‘Timber Dealers’. Perhaps it was a more reputable trade than that of innkeeper? She also bore him a daughter, Mary Ann, born in 1860.
1860 to 1868 – Francis Lee
As well as another baby to look after, 1860 brought him more responsibility, as his mother Mary died, and as the eldest son, he inherited ownership and licence of the Fir Tree. Marys’ other son, Thomas, was bequeathed one of the family cottages in Leighton Hollow. Maybe Francis was feeling the pressure, as a Beds Times report in July 1860 states:
“Assault – Francis Lee, Woburn Sands, was charged by William Daniel, bricklayer, Aspley, with assaulting him at Aspley in the 15th ult. It appeared that Daniel met the defendant and asked him for his little bill, whereupon Lee said, “I’ll pay you now,” and forthwith administered a punch to the head, which knocked him down and blacked his eye. Fined 5s and costs. Paid.”
In 1861, the next census occurred. Listed as just “a Public House”, Francis and Ann Lee are there, with their four children, along with two sawyers staying at the property as well, Henry Clapman, aged 35 and William Sharpe, 31.
After just seven years in charge of the pub, it is sad to relate that Francis had got into severe debt, and had to mortgage his property. He transferred the mortgage on more than one occasion, desperately trying to raise capital. Firstly, he transferred it from John Green of Woburn, to James Fowler at 4% a year, and borrowed another £90 from Fowler, then there are further documents relating to a transfer from William Goodman of Toddington and Frederick Fowler to the Fowler brothers of Woburn, who ran a brewery there. He borrowed £83 from Bull, the Newport Pagnell solicitor in 1867, and could not repay it. Bull took the small cottage which adjoined the inn in part payment, but the sale of it did not cover the outstanding debt.
Francis had to pay Succession Duty on the property that he sold, and on the tax form, the property is described as:
“A freehold messuage or tenement used as a public house called the Fir Tree with brewhouse, stableyard and garden ….. about 30 poles…. Cottage and garden adjoining to the said public house in the occupation of a labourer at an annual rent of £4.”
The annual fire insurance is listed as being 8s 5d. After a complicated formula, Francis was left to pay 9s 10d in tax on his sale.
In early 1867, with all other avenues exhausted, Francis was forced to sell the family inn.
The Beds Times ran this advert four times in March:
“Wavendon, Bucks. On the road from Woburn Sands Railway Station to Woburn. Freehold. An old-established Free Licensed PUBLIC HOUSE, known as “THE FIR TREE,” with Brewhouse, Stabling for five horses, Piggeries, large Yard and Garden, for many years in the occupation of the proprietor, Mr. Francis Lee, FOR SALE BY AUCTION BY H. PULLEY on Wednesday, 13th March, 1867, at three to four o’clock, on the premises, subject to conditions to be produced at the time of sale. An excellent trade has been conducted on these premises for many years. The property consists of – Lot 1. A DWELLING HOUSE, with large front room, tap-room, good cellar, kitchen, and five bedrooms, good brick-built stabling for five horses, brewhouse, and range of newly built piggeries, large yard and garden; also a COTTAGE, with garden adjoining, lot at £4 per annum. The property presents a frontage to the Woburn road of 100ft, and a frontage to Aspley road of 66ft 6in. Possession (except of cottage) will be given at Lady-day. Lot 2. THREE FREEHOLD COTTAGES at Leighton Hollow, in the occupation of labourer, at rentals amounting to £12 per annum, with a barn and garden to each; the whole containing upwards of two roods. Further particulars may be obtained of J T Green, Esq, solicitor, Woburn; of the Auctioneer, St Pauls square, Bedford and on the premises.”
.It appears it sold for £600, with Alfred Smith, the horse dealer of Woburn Sands, becoming the new owner. £340 went to the Fowlers to pay off the mortgage. The £260 left was not enough to keep the business going, and in 1868 he was made bankrupt and left Woburn Sands for ever. “The Solicitors Journal and Reporter” of February 1st, listed him under ‘Bancrupts’:
“Lee, Fras. Woburn Sands, Bucks. Lic Vit, pet. Jan 21st, Parrott, Newport Pagnell, Feb 16th at 4. Conquest & Stimson, Bedford.”
This ended the connection of the Lee family to The Fir Tree in Woburn Sands that had lasted at least 115 years.
How it all failed so quickly after so many years of successful business is very sad. There were only a few other Lee family members left locally, so perhaps there was no-one left to rely on for help and support. Perhaps the inn that his father had built on the corner was overshadowed by the larger Swan Hotel and the Maypole Inn just across the road. His granddaughter believed that he had stood surety for a man and been let down, but perhaps he was just a bad businessman!
However, he was discharged from bankruptcy within six months. Northampton Mercury, 16th May 1868:
“The Bankruptcy Act 1861. In the County Court of Buckinghamshire, holden at Newport Pagnell. In the matter of Francis Lee of Woburn Sands, in the parish of Wavendon, in the county of Buckingham, Licensed Victualler, adjudged Bankrupt on the 21st day of January 1868. An Order of Discharge will be delivered to the Bankrupt after the expiration of thirty days from this date, unless an appeal be duly entered against the judgement of the Court, and notice thereof be given to the Court. Dated this 8th day of May, 1868. Wm. Rogers Bull, Deputy Registrar.”
He went to Bedford with his wife, and his last daughter, Mary Ann. Historian Arthur Parker discovered she “ran a wild life” and died during the birth of her second child, Ernest Charles Burdett, in 1885. Her first child was Lottie Maria, born 1882. Parker appealed for information about the Lee family locally, and managed to track Lottie down to a nursing home in Bedford a year before she died in 1973. He gained some invaluable information from her recollections of her grandfather.
One of her letters to Parker reads:
“My Grandfather, Francis Lee’s life at “The Fir Tree” must at one time have been prosperous, I can remember my grandmother telling me they kept nine cows and she managed the dairy, she also told me the cause of the downfall. My grandfather stood surety for a man, which failed and they were sold up and had to leave the Hotel. After this, they lodged at a public house in Pilcroft Street, Manton was the landlord, my grand father after this never worked again, so my grandmother went out to work for 1/6 a day for 12 hours, we were very poor. Later, kind friends fixed them up in a small house in Howard Street which I remember so well. My mother died there at the age of 24, I was three years old and later both of my grand parents before I was 20.
My grandfather never spoke of his former life and always silenced my grandmother if she attempted doing this, saying “Don’t bring up my old grievances.” George Lee was a besom maker, a large shed was attached to his house [in Leighton Hollow] when he lived with his sister, Lydia Lee. The other cottages were pulled down, but George retained his, having sold it when a sanatorium was built on the Heath and a well was sunk in his garden to supply the water. I never knew what relationship existed between him and Francis Lee, he lived alone for years and was a very silent man, I can remember he occasionally called on my grandfather when we lived in Howard Street, I was then very young. After this, during the War, my life long friend of 53 years plus happened to find him when on holiday at Woburn Sands, we used to visit him, which in his way, was much appreciated by him and kept in touch with him until his death in 1926, he was in the Ampthill Infirmary for 19 weeks where I regularly visited him. All the besoms used on the Duke of Bedford’s estate were made by the Lees, they also travelled around in horse and cart. My grandmother has told me there was no church at Woburn Sands when they lived there at the Fir Tree, she used to walk across the Heath to Bow Brickhill. My grandfather saw the first steam train ever from Bletchley to Bedford, the woman screamed and ran away, he also brought to Woburn Sands the first box of matches from Bedford market, unfortunately on the way home it rained and, in a open cart, the matches got damp and would not strike, how disappointing.”
In the 1871 census, they were living at 8 Hands Court, St Cuthberts, Bedford, but had moved to Pilcroft Street by 1881. They were at no. 52, and appear to have rented it from Thomas Manton, who owned the beerhouse next door. Perhaps he knew Francis through the trade. The 1881 census shows him as a labourer, and his daughter Mary Ann as a laundress. The move to 9 Howard Street had occurred by 1887, and they were still there for the 1891 census, when Francis was 72. He is recorded as a General Labourer, and his wife Ann, 71, a char woman.
They were there when Francis died in March 1898, and was buried in Bedford Cemetery. Ann joined him there in August 1902. This was a sad end for a family who were so involved in the early history of Woburn Sands for so long.
The reference to the first trains coming through Woburn Sands is very interesting. The Bedford to Bletchley line was officially opened on 17th November 1846, which is only about 25 years after the first lines were opened in this country. Bletchley was then still the smaller neighbour of Fenny Stratford, which had become the important local point as it had the Grand Union Canal. There was some talk of the line starting at Wolverton, but this was discounted as the line would have had to have been two miles longer. The project was started by the Bedford Railway Company, formed in 1844, who approached the London and Birmingham Railway. (They, by merger, became the London and North Western Railway just a few months before the eventual opening of the branch line.) The 7th Duke of Bedford reacted uncommonly compared to some of the other aristocracy of the time, and welcomed the line across his lands. He was astute enough to see the benefits to his agricultural endeavours, being able to import the materials he needed and export his resultant crops easily and cheaply. The Duke was not the only landholder, and the railway passed through the land of four owners in Wavendon parish, and seven in Aspley Guise. To avoid there having to be two crossings so close together in Woburn Sands, the original Cranfield Road was turned sharply to meet Station Road. It had previously carried on its course and came out where the present entrance to the recreation ground now is.
The Duke had been due to cut the first soil at a ceremony at Ridgmont, but as the event was delayed a few days, he was unable to attend, and the Duchess performed the ceremony instead. The spade and barrow used are still on display at the Abbey. When the opening day in 1846 came, a train of 33 carriages containing 600 people, (which allegedly only filled 27 of them) travelled from Bedford to Bletchley. The trip took one and a half hours, and ended on a disappointing note when 3 carriages became derailed just as it entered Bletchley. Once this was sorted, the train returned to Bedford, and 200 people attended a banquet at the Bedford Assembly Rooms.
It is interesting to note, that upon opening, our local station was known as simply ‘Woburn’. It only officially became ‘Woburn Sands’ in 1851, although some timetables persisted with ‘Woburn’ for several more years. This was probably in deference to the Duke, who had supported the project so much, and allowed him to have his ‘own’ station. Quite what visitors thought when they arrived and discovered they still had further to travel, mostly up hill, to reach Woburn proper is not recorded, but they probably thought Woburn was a prettier name than Hogstye End, which was still being used alongside Woburn Sands. The first Stationmaster here was R. Snape, who earned £110 per year, £30 more than his Fenny Stratford counterpart.
The pretty half timbered station houses which can be found at most of the stations on the line are said to have been styled so at the insistence of the Duke. The area around the station quickly became a hub of business, with brickworks sidings, timber depot, cattle dock and a coal depot based there, as well as a manure sidings, and later a gasworks, which also had its own sidings beside a large gas holder.
Passengers were able to reach London in half the time of the stage coach from Bedford and for half the price. It is not surprising that the Bedford Times coach ran for the last time less than a week after the line opened. Four passenger trains a day ran to start with, but this had increased to seven by 1890.
The line was extended further westwards to Oxford by 1851, and eastwards to Cambridge in 1862. This connection of the university towns lasted over a hundred years, but both ends were closed in the Beeching cuts of 1967, so the line reverted to just Bedford to Bletchley, which survives still, mainly due to the number of children going to Bedford schools.
1868 to 1870 – John Litchfield
Back to the Fir Tree story. There is an Ordnance Survey map from 1869, which has “The Fir Tree” detailed on it, but it looks like it refers to the old site. Perhaps they had just copied information across from earlier versions. It is interesting to note that the village is still detailed as “Hogsty End or Woburn Sands”, an instance of both names in common usage. There is an in-depth analysis of the change of name of the village elsewhere on this website.
It would seem that the new owner Alfred Smith had immediately leased the Inn to Rogers & Co. of Newport Pagnell. By December 1868, John Litchfield was installed as landlord, as The Northampton Mercury reported on the Newport Pagnell Petty Sessions in their 19th December, edition:
“John Litchfield, of the Fir Tree public-house, Woburn Sands, was charged with wilfully permitting disorderly conduct in his house on Saturday, November 14th, at 20 minutes to 12 o’clock. Mr Stimson appeared for the defendant. The charge was sustained by Police-constable 19. For the defence George Rose and Thomas Giles were called, but they appeared to know nothing of the matter, as they were at the house prior to the time of the alleged offence. Fined £1 and 7s costs.”
…but this was just the start of Litchfield’s problems… From the 3rd March, 1869, Northampton Mercury:
“Petty Sessions – Wavendon – Charles Clark was charged by Inspector Hall with being drunk and disorderedly in the house of John Litchfield, “The Fir Tree,” Wavendon, and refusing to quit the house when requested to do so by the landlord, on 19th of June. Fined 20s., and 10s costs or 14 days in default.”
…then 3rd July 1869, Northampton Mercury again:
“Newport Pagnell Petty Sessions – Wavendon. Charles Clark was charged by Inspector Hall with being drunk and disorderly in the house of John Litchfield, “The Fir Tree,” Wavendon, and refusing to quit the house when requested to do so by the landlord, on the 19th of June. Fined 20s and 16s costs or 14 days in default.”
At the end of October, Litchfield was tricked into buying two hundred weight of lead from William Farr, a local carter. The lead turned out to be the guttering which had been removed from the stables near Froxfield gate on the Duke of Bedfords estate! Before Litchfield learned it was stolen, he had already sold it on to a scrap dealer in Derby. Litchfield was called as a witness and described himself as a publican and dealer, although the inn was not named in the report which appeared in the Beds Times. Farr tried to argue that he had passed the money he received on to a stranger, and therefore had not profited from the crime, although Litchfield had done so, as he received more from the scrap dealer than he had paid Farr! The court would not accept this, and Farr was sentance to four months.
The following three items all come from The Northampton Mercury, 13th November, 1869:
“George Goodall was charged with committing a common assault upon Police constable Emerton outside the Fir Tree Inn, Wavendon on Saturday, 16th October. Mr Stimson jun. appeared for the defendant. Case dismissed.
John Knightley was charged with being drunk and disorderly, and refusing to leave the Fir Tree Inn, Wavendon, the house of John Litchfield on 30th October. Mrs Litchfield deposed that the defendant was very drunk when he entered, and called her bad names. Refused to draw any beer, and requested him to leave. Defendant said he should stay as long as he liked. She sent for the parish constable, but still the defendant refused to leave. Fined 14s and 10s costs, or 21 days in default. Money paid.
George Knightley was charged with unlawfully assaulting John Litchfield, at the Fir Tree Inn, Wavendon on 30th October. John Litchfield deposed that defendant assaulted him in the passage of the house, and a witness was called who confirmed his statement. Fined 10s and 15s costs. Fortnight allowed for payment.”
It does not seem that the convictions were any kind of deterrent for doing the same thing again. Northants Mercury, 18th December, 1869:
“George Kitely was charged by Inspector Hall with refusing to leave The Fir Tree, at Wavendon, when requested to do so, on 10th of December. Defendant has been recently convicted of assaulting the landlord of the same house. Fined 20s. and 18s. or 21 days in default with hard labour.”
The New Year was no better for Litchfield. 29th January, 1870, Northampton Mercury:
“Newport Pagnell Petty Sessions – Wavendon. William Griffin was charged with being drunk and riotous and refusing to leave the house of John Litchfield, The Fir Tree, Wavendon, when requested to do so, on 12th January. Mr W R Bull appeared for the complainant, and Mr Stimson Jr. of Bedford for the defence. The case was sustained by Mrs Ann Litchfield, wife of the landlord, whose evidence was confirmed by the landlord himself, and his son. Mr Stimson contended that the charge of drunkenness and riotous behaviour was not proved, and therefore defendant had done nothing to be compelled to leave the house. The case was dismissed on these grounds.”
Then Northampton Mercury,12th February, 1870:
“Newport Pagnell Petty Sessions – Assault. George Goodall, of Wavendon, was charged with four separate offences, all arising out of a series of transactions, occurring at the same time and place, viz., assaulting John Litchfield, the landlord of the Fir Tree public house, at Wavendon, on the 12th of January, and assaulting Ann Litchfield, the landlords wife, and breaking the windows of the same house, and also with being drunk and disorderly, and refusing to quit the house when requested. The cases were called on at the last Petty Sessions, but were adjourned in consequence of an application on the part of the defendant, who, it is alleged, could not attend in consequence of his leg having been broken by being forcibly ejected from the house by Litchfield and his son.
Mr W R Bull appeared for the prosecution, and Mr Stimson, jun., for the defence. It was decided to take the cases separately.
The evidences for the prosecution on the whole consisted of the following statements;- The defendant went to the house of the complainant on the evening of the 12th January, apparently the worse for drink, and used bad language to Mrs Litchfield. He was served with a glass of brandy and water, at the request of a friend, drank part of it, and threw the remainder at Mrs Litchfield, and was about to throw the glass at her when he was prevented by the landlord. After some more abusive language, the defendant struck the landlord, and, refusing to leave the house when requested, he was put out. He was then seen by another witness to lick at the door, and got a person to take his boot off to throw it a Litchfield’s window, but it fell short, and then he got over a low wall and broke the window. He went into the house in about an hour’s time and was again disorderly and assaulted the landlord, who, with his son, put him out.
It was alleged for the defence that the defendant was assaulted and ill-used by the complainant, and was forcibly ejected from the house on the first occasions and thrown down and his leg broken.
Witnesses were called for the defence to prove that the defendant was sober. One witness stated that Litchfield kicked the complainant on the leg when he was putting him out; and that when he went in the second time his face was swollen and his clothes bloody.
Mr Stimson complained that the cases had been conducted very unfairly on the part of the prosecution, and pointed out the discrepancies in the evidence; he said defendant was at a disadvantage in not having an opportunity of denying the statements of the witnesses, which he might have done, by taking out a cross-summons, but he had instead chosen to take his remedy in a civil court.
The Bench retired to consider their conclusion, and on their return said they must convict the defendant in each of the four cases, the penalties and costs in which amounted to £5 which was paid.”
It wasn’t even just his inn that got Litchfield into trouble, 2nd July, 1870, Northampton Mercury:
“Northampton Petty Sessions – Furious Driving. John Litchfield, of Woburn Sands, near Woburn, Bedfordshire, was summoned for having driven a horse and spring cart furiously down Bridge Street, about seven o’clock on the evening of Sunday, 25th June. Police constable Hadt proved the case. The defendant said he had come to Boughton Fair, and ought to have returned home on Monday night, but was obliged to stay in the town till this (Wednesday) morning on account of this case. Dismissed on payment of costs.”
Racing to get back to the inn before another fight broke out? He was too late… The Northampton Mercury, 23rd July, 1870:
“Charles Clark was charged with assaulting Samuel Bottoms, parish constable of Wavendon on 9th July – defendant did not appear – Complainant was sent for on the night in question in consequence of a row at the Fir Tree Inn. When he got there several persons were outside, having been turned out of the house. Defendant was amongst them, and on complainant going up to them defendant struck him. A previous conviction was recorded against the defendant. Fined £2 and cost 12s 6d or as months imprisonment with hard labour.”
By September 1870, the local Magistrates had heard the name “Litchfield” and “Fir Tree” at least nine times, and this was too often for them, so at the Newport Pagnell Petty Sessions, the Northampton Mercury reported:
“The licences the consideration of which was adjourned for a month, to John Litchfield, of the “Fir Tree Inn”, Wavendon, and to Catherine Goodman, of the “Beehive”, Newport Pagnell, were refused. Mr W. R. Bull applied for the licence of each of the above houses to be granted to Messrs Rogers and Co., the leasees, on condition that they give the present tenants notice to quit, and find new tenants subject to the approval of the magistrates. Granted.”
…yet it wasn’t enough to stop the spate of trouble. From the Croydon’s Weekly Standard of 22th October:
“Newport Pagnell Petty Sessions, October 19th. Present: R. Walpole. Esq . W B. Tyringham, Esq. W. Levi Esq. and Rev. J. Tarver.
John Goodall was charged that on the 8th of October he assaulted and beat William Hurst at Wavendon. Mr. Stimson appeared for defence. Plaintive said he was coming out of the Fir Tree public house on the night in question, when defendant assaulted him, and knocked him down twice: he had a black eye in consequence. He did not think the defendant was drunk. By Mr Stimson: he had had some beer; he saw a man named Henman and also Devereaux present on the occasion. He was going home, with a man named Jackson and his wife; he said nothing to the defendant. Jane Jackson said on the night in question she went for her husband at the Fir Tree, and when they came away Hurst accompanied them; she saw defendant in the road and made some remarks to her husband about paying his way; she then saw defendant knock Hurst down on the ground. Plaintiff said he would have no words. By Mr Stimson; I stuck up for my husband but I did not say I would fight him (defendant) if he liked, Mr Stimson called the two men alluded to. William Devereaux said he resided at Woburn Sands and on the night in question saw Hurst come out of the Fir Tree about the time in question. He spoke to Goodall and heard Hurst call Goodall to come and fight out an old score. They all stripped and the woman pulled off her shawl and said she would fight him. He was close to them; after Hurst was hit he kept away; he could not say whether he was knocked down, Hurst was squaring round at Goodall to hit him. After this evidence the bench resolved to dismiss the case.”
1871 to 1877 – Jesse Cooper
So after two turbulent years, Litchfield was sent on his way, and things seemed to calm down considerably! By November 2nd, Rogers & Co. were back at the Petty Sessions, and had the licence transferred to Jesse Cooper.
The 1871 census shows Jesse Cooper, aged 49, listed as a glove maker and innkeeper. Eliza, his wife (38) and William his son (13) were with him, as were another family: Thomas Jackson (24), Elizabeth (24) Caroline (5), Charlotte (2) and Thomas, a baby. James Young, now 72 and widowed, was also still on site, probably in the little cottage adjoining the inn, but he too had his share of trouble, although nothing like as much as Litchfield… From the Leighton Buzzard Observer 6th June 1871:
“DRUNK AND RIOTOUS. – At the Magistrates’ Clerk’s Office, Newport Pagnell, on Monday the 22nd May, before John Compton Maul, Esq., Edwin Turland, a butcher, was brought up in the custody of Inspector Hall, charged with being drunk and riotous and refusing to quit the Fir Tree public-house, Woburn Sands, on the previous Saturday night; and also with assaulting Jesse Cooper, the landlord, at the same time. The facts of the case were proved by the landlord, and also by Thomas Bottoms, the parish constable, who was called in to assist. The prisoner had nothing to say in defence. The magistrates considered it a bad case. Turland was fined 10s. and £1 1s. 10d. costs, and in default was committed to prison for fourteen days. The charge of assault was withdrawn.”
Most licensees seemed to have had a second trade. With all the outbuildings, there was scope for other work to provide a second income. With the inn, a brick yard, timber dealers and now glove making, the site has seen a wide variety of uses over the years.
More details can be gleaned from a licensing report conducted in 1871. In it, the local pubs are identified and listed with occupier, owner and leaseholder. This shows Alfred Smith still leasing to the brewers Rogers and Bull, of Newport Pagnell, who in turn employed Jesse Cooper. The Brewery was founded in the late 18th century by the Meacher family; it had transferred several times, and was now owned by George Osborn Rogers and his brother in law, William Bateman Bull.
It would have made good business sense for Smith to lease out the inn to another firm who could provide a locally recognised product, and a licensee, rather than having to worry about brewing beer on site, and finding good staff to manage it. Other details recorded on the report show that there were 976 people in Wavendon at the time of the 1871 census, occupying 203 houses. It also records that there were no convictions between the five pubs listed viz. The Fir Tree, The Leathern Bottle, The Wheatsheaf, The Red House and The Swan, so it seems Cooper was running a respectable house.
The name “Fir Tree” still came up at the Petty Sessions, but at least it wasn’t the main focus of attention. From the Northampton Mercury, 12th December, 1874:
“Rebecca Keech was charged with stealing a silver watch value £5, and some money, the property of William Evans of Moulsoe, at Wavendon on December 2. Mr W. B. Bull for the prisoner – The parties drank together at the Fir Tree, Woburn Sands, and he afterwards gave her a lift to the Leather Bottle Wavendon, where she had some rum. He put his hand in his pocket to pay for the rum, and found some of the money was gone. He charged her with stealing it and drove to the Police station, then discovering, that besides the money, he had also lost his watch. When the prisoner got up, the watch dropped between her feet. Drove the prisoner and the constable to the police station, Fenny Stratford. On the way, the prisoner threw away some money. The constable picked up 1s 6d and found the like sum on Keech. Samuel Bottoms, called for the defence deposed: I am a baker at Woburn Sands. I was at the Fir Tree on the 3rd of December. Prisoner came in. There were several persons and he treated them all. He made an appointment to meet Mrs Keech past the station. He was not sober. The prisoner was committed for trial, bail being taken.”
In February, 1875, Rogers and Bull sold their brewery, their tied pubs and all their leaseholds at auction in The Mart, Tokenhouse Yard, London. They sold the Brewery itself and residence, which stood beside The Dolphin in Newport Pagnell High Street, 25 freehold pubs and 8 leaseholds in one lot. The Swan in Aspley Guise was part of the sale, as was The Old George and The Leather Bottle in Cranfield. Among the freeholds were pubs in Newport Pagnell itself, Sherrington, Roade, Bradwell, Stony Stratford, Deanshanger, Buckingham and Cranfield. The second lot consisted of just the North Western Hotel, Wolverton.
The catalogue entry for the Fir Tree reads:
“The ‘Fir Tree,’ Public House, at Woburn Sands, together with wood barn, stabling for five horses, piggeries and small garden. In occupation of Jesse Cooper, at the annual rent of £20; also a tenement adjoining, let to Mrs. Cox at 1s 6d per week, equal to £3.18 per annum. Leasehold. Held for 7 years from Ladyday [March 25th] 1874 at a rent of £52 10s per annum.” …so this must have been a second lease Rogers and Bull had taken, as we know they had already leased it by 1870.
The brewery and all its’ holdings were bought by Messrs. Allfrey and Lovell of Bedford for £20,100. Both gentlemen moved to Newport Pagnell to help run the brewery themselves. A Bedfordshire Times report tells that the North Western Hotel was sold for £2350, and The Cuba Hotel at New Bradwell (not mentioned in the catalogue) sold for £1850, although no purchaser is given for either.
Cooper didn’t get off to the best start with his new employers. Just two months later, he was involved in a court case. At least the inn wasn’t named! This piece appeared in the Bucks Herald, 3rd April 1875:
“Assault Cases. George Goodhall, of Aspley Guise, timber dealer, was summoned by George Claridge, publican, of Wavendon, for an assault committed there on the 12th March. Mr. W. R. Bull defended. Defendant pleaded guilty, and was fined 11s., and 9s. costs. The same defendant was further fined 11s., and 9s. costs, for assaulting Jesse Cooper, publican, at Wavendon, on the same day.”
Perhaps Allfrey and Lovell saw the annual lease of The Fir Tree as too high an expense, or were interested in consolidating their holdings, but by July the next year, they had bought the freehold of the inn from Alfred Smith. There exists at BLARS a scrap of paper in a bundle of deeds which reads:
“Biggleswade, 27th July 1876. Received from Allfrey and Lovell, payment of them Conquest and Clare, the sum of nineteen pounds nine shillings, the agreed amount for rent and insurance of the ‘Fir Tree’ Woburn Sands the purchase of which has this day been completed [Signed] Alfred Smith”
There is a sum on the reverse of the paper, which adds £19 4s 3d to £630, making a total of £649 4s 3d. I believe this to be the total purchase price paid to Smith by Allfrey and Lovell. Thus this local inn passed out of the hands of local Woburn Sands control, and into the world of breweries and business.
1878 to 1879 – Francis Farr
Perhaps the brewery used this change to install their own man, as the next landlord was Francis Farr. After a few quiet years with Cooper in charge, the fights and arguements were back. Northampton Mercury, 25th May, 1878:
“Newport Pagnell Petty Sessions – Drunkenness. James Butterfield was charged by Francis Farr, landlord of “The Fir Tree,” Wavendon, of being drunk and refusing to quit that house, when requested to do so on the 4th May. Fined 5s and 9s 6d costs. In default seven days imprisonment.”
Bucks Herald, 14th September, 1878:
“Breach of the Peace. Edward Turland. William Griffin, James Going, and James Tansley were charged by Inspector Hall with making an affray by fighting at the Fir Tree, Woburn Sands, on the 30th of August – Edward Turland did not appear – Francis Farr, the landlord, and Joseph Griffin (brother to William Griffin) sustained the charge. The bench considered it was a general row, not amounting to an affray, and dismissed the case. Edward Turland and James Going were then charged with assaulting Joseph Griffin at the same time and place. Neither of the defendants appeared. The complainant withdrew the charge against James Going. The complainant seeing that his brother was ill-treated, interfered in the above named disturbance, when the defendants knocked him about. Turland was charged 40s. and 11s costs or 21 days in default.”
Just as Mrs Lee had been, Farr was to be a victim of a drunken assault. From the 10th May, 1879 Bucks Herald:
“A disorderly – Albert Smith pleaded guilty to two charges brought against him by Francis Farr, landlord of the Fir Tree Inn, Woburn Sands; the first of being disorderly and refusing to quit that house when requested to do so, and the second of assaulting Francis Farr at the same place on the 10th of April. For the first he was fined 10s. and 9s. 6d. costs or fourteen days, for the second £1 and 6s 6d costs or twenty one days.”
Northampton Mercury,13th December, 1879:
“George Jackson was summoned by Francis Farr, landlord of the Fir Tree public house, Wavendon, for being disorderly on his premises and refusing to leave on 12th November. Defendant pleaded Guilty. Fined 7s 6d 37s costs or 14 days. Bucks Herald – Joseph Rise and Henry Kitely were also charged with being quarrelsome at the Fir Tree – Discharged.”
1881 to 1884 – David Giltrow
By 1881, Farr had left, and had been replaced by David Giltrow. Giltrow had moved down from Stanbridge with his wife in 1874, where he had been a butchers boy. He first took over The Anchor in Aspley Guise, then transferred to The Fir Tree, where he lasted just 3 years, before moving to the Royal Oak in Woburn in 1884, where he stayed until 1889. Then it was on to The Fox and Hounds at Potsgrove until 1914, making him a local landlord for 33 years, quite an achievement!
Census time came around again in 1881, whilst he was at The Fir Tree. Giltrow was 32, and his wife Ruth, 24. They had 3 children, George, 4; Lydia, 3; and Walter, 3 months. Giltrow described himself as a Beerseller and Dealer. He had a nasty accident in November that year, when he was thrown from his pony and trap when it collided with one of the iron bollards on the pavement in Woburn. He wasn’t seriously hurt, but the trap was totally smashed, this incident was recorded by The Fenny Stratford Times. Also this year, Henry Fowler, late of The Brewery, Woburn, who had once held the mortgage to The Fir Tree in the 1860’s, was committed to the lunatic asylum, and a distress warrant issued for non-payment of rates.
In August the next year, Giltrow got himself into some trouble, and was summoned on a charge of assault on James King, but the case was dismissed. A more curious story was reported in March that year, when The Fenny Stratford Times and Woburn and Woburn Sands Chronicle wrote:
Nuisance – For a long time past an intolerable nuisance has existed on the main road, nearly opposite the Post Office in this place. It would seem that The Fir Tree Inn is without any drainage accommodation, for from that building is constantly running into the highway slops of a very unpleasant kind, and occasionally may be seen oozing from the same premises a quantity of blood. This all runs into the highway where it remains, and the stench arising from it is of a most dangerous kind. This nuisance has now existed for nearly three months, and although the nuisance inspectors of the Woburn and Newport Union have visited the premises, still it continues, and unless it is stopped there will, undoubtedly be a fearful breakout of fever by and bye, and the question will then arise – what is the cause of it? It is strange that this nuisance cannot be abated, some one must be very much to blame that it is allowed to continue. Surely the owner of The Fir Tree can be compelled to provide proper drainage accommodation for his tenant, and thus obviate the necessity of causing to run down a thickly populated street the very stuff which is calculated to produce a fearful epidemic. We hope the matter will not be allowed to slumber any longer, but that steps will be taken to stop the nuisance.
What was going on? Was Giltrow operating some kind of Sweeney Todd-type business? I believe it was more likely in connection with the piggeries on the Fir Tree site, and the slaughtering he may have been doing. Certainly, in June 1883, Giltrow brought a court case against a Cranfield dealer, Titmus, for recovery of the cost of some pigs he had provided. Soon after delivery, and before payment, one of the pigs died of swine fever, and the other two were ordered to be destroyed to control the spread of infection. So Giltrow had dealings in pigs, and we know from the description of the site that it contained piggeries. The Post Office had once operated out of a building at the bottom of Aspley Hill.
In the Northampton Mercury,19th May, 1883, Giltrow was charged with serving liquors after closing hours. Mr Walter B Bull appeared for the defendant, and the case was dismissed with a caution.
Even after Giltrow had left this pub, and was landlord of the Fox and Hounds, he was still involved in pig dealing, as he was brought up on a charge of removing pigs from Bedfordshire into Buckinghamshire without a licence. Giltrow claimed he did not know that Salford was in Beds, which was hotly disputed by the policeman appearing. He was fined 40s and 18s 6d costs, quite a considerable amount. He asked for time to pay, but the policeman thought he could pay immediately, as he said he had seen him at the bank that morning. Giltrow replied to the Court that there were plenty of people who had bank accounts but no money in them!
1885 to 1887 – William George Cooper
One event that the pub seemed to be regularly used for was inquests. The landlord changed again in 1885, and William George Cooper, who was also a hairdresser, moved in. The next year he was called to give evidence at such an inquest held in his own pub when a local resident died. The evidence and newspaper report paints a colourful picture of the deceased:
Wm. Thomas Tompkins is dead and buried. He was well known in the neighbourhood. There may have been no harm in him, but he was a troublesome customer and he so won upon those a shade more illiterate than himself that he was several times elected a member of the Aspley Guise School Board, until at last defeated to the gratification of his colleagues, having for a considerable period retarded the business and so disgusted some that they objected to sit with him. He was of a respectable family, but became a turbulent fellow – sometimes getting his living as an itinerant butcher or as a market drover. After fulfilling the latter occupation on Wednesday, the 8th inst., he went home to die. On Friday last an inquest was held on the body at The Fir Tree Inn, in the parish of Aspley Heath, before F. Tanqueray, Esq., coroner, and a jury of which Mr. Charles Featherstonehaugh was the foreman.
Wm. George Cooper said on oath: I am landlord of The Fir Tree and know the deceased well. He came into my house on Wednesday evening last at about seven o’clock to fetch his landlady half a pint of porter. I said are you not coming in for a few minutes he said yes, when I have taken this porter back. He returned in five minutes and sat down in the tap room, and talked as usual, particularly of the Newport Pagnell market where he had been. He had a pint of beer and porter and related to me a row over at The Swan with the barmaid and Dick Farmer, and said old as he was, he felt he must interfere, for he had never heard such disgraceful language in his life. He named several who were there. Tompkins and I were quite alone, we had a pint more each. About a quarter to ten Arthur Giles came in, then Tompkins prepared to go, finishing his beer. I said goodnight and he said all right. I said I am going to have a drop of whisky, and he answered what’s good for me is good for you. I gave him a drop, he went out and I bolted the door.
Afterwards, I opened the door to look out and saw him by the drain opposite on his knees – went to him and helped him up and walked to his lodgings close by with me. I said to him, Why, you are drunk; he said no I ain’t, and he stood talking at the gate of a brother he had in London, and wanted me to lend him money to go and see him. He was not perfectly sober nor very drunk. He spoke of passing Joe Everitt a drover, and said how sorry he was for him. He spoke of the quantity of beer he had had during the day. I gave him the whisky to do him good, and consider I have been one of his best friends. He went in and I left him.”
Tomkins was later found dead by his landlord, Farr, who summoned Cooper, the local constable and the local Doctor, Dr. King. The doctor reported that the deceased’s body was “ …well preserved. He was a man of drinking habits.” I can’t help thinking he was inferring that the deceased was well pickled! The jury decided on ‘Death from natural causes perhaps apoplexy’.
1887 to 1888 – Charles Turnock
Perhaps it was the death of a valued customer, probably from over indulgence over the years which hurried Cooper on his way, but by March 1887, he had left the inn. The next landlord was Charles Turnock. The transfer of the licence to him cost 1s 6d to the police and 8s 6d to the court. Northampton Mercury, 12th March, 1887:
“The Fir Tree, one of the oldest roadside inns at the foot of the sandhills, which were for many years past with difficulty traversed by coaches, waggons, or the lightest vehicles, has lately become tenanted by Mr C Turnock, who hails with high testimonials from Chipping Norton. The house was transferred to him on Friday last, at the Woburn Petty Sessions. Messrs Allfrey and Lovell of Newport Pagnell, are leasees.”
Turnock may have came from Chipping Norton, but he was born in Shiplake, Oxon. He was 38 on taking the Fir Tree, his wife Elizabeth was 33, born at Easton, Northants. They had two sons, both of whom had been born in Chipping Norton: Harry, 10, and George, 8, and a daughter Gertrude Elizabeth, who was baptised at St. Michaels the first month they moved here. Six years before, at the time of the 1881 census, he was recorded as an ironmongers shopman in Chipping Norton.
As previously mentioned, as well as the innkepper, Cooper had been a hairdresser, and his leaving had left this local service to be filled as well. In the North Bucks Times of 18th March, 1887, a small advert appeared:
“W. Gayton – Hairdresser &c (of Fenny Stratford) Begs to inform the Public of WOBURN SANDS and District, that he has taken the premises near the “Fir Tree”, where formerly the business of a hairdresser, &c., was carried on, and that he will attend there every Friday from 9a.m. by strict attenttion to business he trusts to merit and received a share of public patronage. Umbrellas – Neatly repaired and Re-covered at moderate charges”
Whether Cooper had been an umbrella-fixer too is not recorded, but like landlords before him, Turnock found that not all his customers could handle their drink… Beds Times 1st September 1888:
“DISORDERLY AND REFUSING TO QUIT – William Farmer , labourer, Aspley Heath, said to be 23 years of age, but a mere boy in appearance, was charged with having been disorderly on the licensed premises of the Fir Tree Inn, at Aspley Heath, and refusing to quit when requested, on the 17th August. Defendant pleaded guilty. Charles Turnock, keeper of th einn, stated that defendant entered the house between seven and nine o’clock in the evening of Sunday, Aug. 12th, in company of some other young men. At first he was quiet, but after a time a dispute arose, and defendant used filthy language, whereupon he was requested to leave, but stubbonly refused, and had to be put out. He was not drunk. Fined 5s. and 10s. 6d. costs.”
A couple of months earlier, in July 1888, had come the first indication, via the Beds Times, that major building work was under way:
“The following tenders have been received for additional works at the Fir Tree Inn, Woburn Sands, Beds., for Messrs. Allfrey & Lovell: Henry Young, Architect, Bedford:- E. Mitchell, Newport Pagnell, £415; J. White, £409; G. Harrison, £398; F. Knight. £379 17s.; W. Haynes, £364; T. Laughton, £354 : Melcombe Bros., £350 ; and J. Smith, Bedford, £337 8s.”
There is no detail about what had already happened to make these works additional, but this marks the beginning of the end of the old thatched cottage-type Inn that had been in use since Francis Lee moved to the site in the late 1830’s, and the move towards a purpose-built brick Hotel.
Turnock had another daughter, Beatrice, born in February 1888, but it seems he ran a fairly quiet house as there are no local news reports about trouble at the inn, until September 1888, when William Farmer was charged with being disorderly and refusing to quit the Fir Tree. He was fined 5s with 10s 6d costs. Then Turnock made a serious error, and in October was found guilty of being drunk on his own premises. I’m sure the brewery owners would have taken a very dim view of this, and it is unsurprising that another landlord was quickly installed by mid December, Walter Bailey taking the helm.
1888 to 1889 – Walter Bailey
The minutes of the Highways Board for Woburn recount that Messrs. Allfrey and Lovell have:
“.. put out an area window and built a new portion on garden ground with eaves which encroach on the road at the Fir Tree Inn, and have also formed a footpath by raising the road round the house with rubbish etc.”
It was resolved that the necessary steps be taken to remove the encroachment. Building work was underway, and at the transfer of the licence to Bailey, it was recorded that the bench felt it was an underhand way of getting a licence for a new inn, as the old one had almost entirely been pulled down, and the inn that had held the sign ‘Fir Tree’ could be said to have ceased to exist. Eventually, they decided to issue the licence, and see what the annual licensing panel would say, but they warned Bailey that if he chose to serve beer in the new part of the inn, it was at his own risk, as the licence was for the old part only. This conjures up a marvellous image of all the old seasoned drinkers desperately crammed into the remaining derelict thatched part of the inn, while the gleaming newly built part stood empty. I doubt very much if that was the case, but it always makes me smile! The Bailey family had already been involved in running the Weathercock for many decades, and would later take charge of The Station Hotel for a couple of years.
In January 1889, Allfrey and Lovell were finally summoned for their building encroachment and obstructing the highway at the Fir Tree. After some legal arguments about what constituted obstruction, and how the improvements were a benefit to the road, Allfrey and Lovell were fined 5s. They appealed against this relatively small fine, and agreed to meet with the Highways Board to view the problems.
January 5th – Petty Sessions, Friday Dec. 28. Before Mr. J. C. Cleghorn (chairman), Col. Unwin, and F. Bassett – Encroaching upon the Highway.
Messrs. Francis Allfrey and George William Lovell, trading as “Allfrey and Lovell” brewers, of Newport Pagnell, were charged, at the instance of the Woburn Highways Board with encroaching upon and obstructing the highway at Aspley Guise. Mr. J. T. Green, solicitor and clerk to the Highways Board, prosecuted; and Mr. J. C. Conquest, solicitor, of Bedford, defended.
Mr. Green, in opening the case, pointed out that; under the Act upon which the proceedings had been instituted any persons causing obstruction upon the highway, within fifteen foot of the centre, unless for the purpose of improving the road or by direction of the Highway Board, was liable to a penalty of forty shillings. He called Henry Platt, surveyor of highways for the Woburn district to prove the case.
Mr. Conquest, on behalf of the defendants contended that in order to support a case for conviction it must be proved that the alleged encroachment was within fifteen foot of the centre of the highway – it must be a substantial encroachment on that part of the road used by the public as a carriage way. In this case the raising of the path had improved the road, and the surveyor had admitted that the overhanging eaves had caused no obstruction; and, as the defendants were the owners of the soil, even supposing there was an encroachment, it was upon their own freehold. If not, and the eaves were held to be a projection over the road, then the case ought to be dealt with under the Town Improvement Act of 1849, which was incorporated with the Highway Act, and notice given to the defendants to remove such projection. He maintained however that at a height of nearly twenty feet the eaves could be no more an obstruction than a triangular signboard on a house on the opposite side of the road, which came out a distance of between two and three feet, or even most of the buildings in the town of Woburn, which had overhanging eaves.
Henry Young, architect, said that there had been no obstruction caused. He had had considerable experience in London and Bedford, and had never known such a demand made as that now put forth by the Woburn Highway Board in this case. As great improvement had been made to the road, it seemed monstrous to bring the defendants there. The Magistrates, after consultation, concluded that there had been an obstruction created by the area grating the eaves, and, putting the matter of the raising of the road aside, imposed the small fine of 5s. and costs.
Mr. Conquest gave notice of appeal.
The Board agreed to remove their objections if the Brewery put down a proper curb and channel round from Woburn Road to Aspley Hill, and also a drain to take the surface water. This was agreed to by the brewery, yet nothing was done. Continual complaints in the local papers and in the Highways Board minutes drag out until June 1889, when a special meeting of the Highway Board heard that an inspection had discovered that the 9 inch drains had all been connected up with 6 inch pipes, and “..that the whole thing was a muddle from beginning to end.” More complaints followed, and it was reported in the Beds Mercury that the drain outlet was stopped up, and that the drain had been put in so badly that it was below the sewer. The area still floods badly today, and now we know why! The Woburn Highways Board minutes tell their own story:
22 Nov. 1888 Aspley Heath Messrs. Allfrey and Lovell have put out an area window and built a new portion on garden ground with eaves which encroach on the road at the Fir Tree Inn, and have also formed a footpath by raising the road round the house with rubbish etc. Proposed by Mr. Claridge, seconded by Mr. Tacchi that the necessary steps be taken for the removal of the encroachment
17 Jan. 1889 Encroachment at Fir Tree Inn The clerk reported that the Surveyor summoned the owner (Messrs. Allfrey and Lovell) before the Woburn Bench for Encroachment upon the Road, caused by the eaves overhanging an area window and by raising the road and that he attended on behalf of the board. The justices convicted the defendants for the eaves and windows, but considered the raising a pathway was not placing rubbish on the highway. Mr. Conquest, solicitor for Messrs. Allfrey and Lovell, had given notice of appeal against the decision but he, the clerk, had seen him and the owners were quite willing to meet the Board in anyway possible and save further litigations, and that Mr. Conquest was then waiting to attend before the Board. Mr. Conquest and Mr. Young, architect, on behalf of the owners came before the board – explain position of building and produce plans and co, and state that the owners are willing to meet the requirements of the Board if possible; they then withdraw. After some discussion it was proposed by Mr. Claridge, seconded by Mr. F. Brown that Messrs. Trethewy, Sturges, Elmer, George, Cook, Claridge and Ellis be appointed a committee to meet Messrs. Allfrey and Lovells surveyor, view the house and report to the next meeting – Carried. Mr. Conquest was informed of the decision of the Board.
28 Feb. 1889 Aspley Heath – Encroachment at the Fir Tree Inn. Mr. Claridge states that the committee met and viewed this place – he reads their report recommending that the Board do not apply for enforcement of the Magistrates Order as to the overhanging Eves – Providing the owners of the Fir Tree Inn put down Curb and Channel from Collins on the Aspley Road to Elmores on the Woburn Road and make good the footpath – also put in a Grating 2 feet square with drain to carry off surface water and make good the road and co. The whole of the works to be done to the satisfaction of the surveyor. This report is unanimously adopted and agreed to and the clerk is instructed to send copy of same to the Architect (Mr. Young).
28 March 1889 Aspley Heath, Fir Tree Inn Nothing has yet been done to the road or footpath round this house. Surveyor states that he has seen the Architect and he did not understand that the road was to be raised. Resolved that the report of the committee be fully carried out by the owners or the Board would proceed as to the overhanging eaves. [“and removal of the footpath” erased.]
9 May 1889 Aspley Heath – Fir Tree Inn. The stone curb and channel are put in but the channel is too high and is only 8 inches wide, which is insufficient. Also that the drain has not been put in and that the work is not being done to his satisfaction. The clerk is instructed to write to the owners and request that the works may be completed to the satisfaction of the surveyors without delay.
15 Aug. 1889 Fir Tree Inn
The drain put in by Messrs. Allfrey and Lovell is still blocked at the outlet. Deferred.
When the above news made the Northants Mercury, the inn was referred to as “The Fir Tree New Inn”, the only time I have ever seen that name used.
Another local tragedy had its inquest at The Fir Tree in September, after Miss Emily Summerly, daughter of Henry Summerly, the cooper of Aspley Heath, was thrown from a pony and trap near The White Horse at Husborne Crawley and killed.
Any court case involving a landlord is not good publicity for the pub concerned, and in October, Bailey was called as a witness at the case of two men charged with being drunk and refusing to quit The Fir Tree. Henry Clark was described as being from Woburn and was deaf, while Daniel Webb was from Aspley Guise. Bailey had been out, and returned to his pub to find the two defendants drunk. They started an argument about subscriptions paid into a shoe club that Bailey ran. Clark said that he had paid in a shilling more than Bailey had entered in the receipt book. Bailey took exception to being called a thief, and removed Clark from the inn. This is where accounts differ; Bailey saying he asked Clark to leave, who refused, and had to be thrown out. Webb then came into the inn and asked for Clark’s basket, and starting another argument about what Clark had been thrown out for. After asking the landlord outside for a fight, he too was ejected. Bailey said Clark had been nothing but trouble since he moved in.
All of this had to be patiently explained to Clark and his wife, who was also deaf. According to the accused, an entry had been clearly rubbed out from the receipt book, and Bailey didn’t stop to ask them to leave, he just rushed around the counter, struck Clark and pushed him out. Webb received similar treatment when he asked for Clark’s basket. Witnesses backed up the two customers, and the Magistrate did not consider the case strong enough to pursue, and dismissed the charges, a decision which the paper reported appeared to be immediately understood by Clark, deaf as he had previously seemed to be!
1889 to 1913 – Benjamin Garrett
At the December 1889 Petty Sessions, the licence for the inn was transferred to Benjamin Garrett, who was born locally in the tiny village of Milton Keynes. After 22 years of landlords who hardly seemed to have settled in before moving on again, (some against their will…) it was about time someone invested some serious effort into running the newly rebuilt inn, and transform it into a profitable business. Garrett was to be that man.
According to ‘The Liberal News and North Bucks Flying Post’, he started by hosting a supper at the inn as a “house warming” and invited a number of working men and neighbours. He was 42, and at the time of the most recent census (1881) was living in Great Harwood, Lancashire, working as a coal agent. His wife, Catherine, was also born in Milton Keynes, and was the same age. There were several Garrett families around at that time, and tracing the families has proved difficult, but it would seem that Ben was the son of Samuel and Elizabeth, of Bow Brickhill, and Catherine was the daughter of another Garrett family, George and Marianne, both sets of Garretts were labouring families. Possibly they were cousins.
His new venture almost never got off the ground, as Garrett was knocked from his cart. Speeding is nothing new! The Northampton Mercury 18th January, 1890:
“Running-In Case on the Highway. B. Garratt v. George Pike. The plaintiff is innkeeper of the Fir Tree, Woburn Sands, and defendant is a farmer living at Newport Pagnell. In November last, about a mile from the latter town, they met on the London-road. It was broad day light. The road was 21ft. wide between the grass edge. A cart belonging to William Potts was standing close to one side. The plaintiff and defendant passed each other just opposite the standing cart. Garratt alleged that he pulled in and got close to the standing cart, leaving plenty of room for Pike to pass, who was driving at a rapid rate, and ran into his trap, the crash throwing him out and causing injury to himself and trap, for which claimed 30s. Petts gave evidence, and said there was plenty of room for Pike to pass. The Judge made an order for the amount claimed.”
Perhaps it gives the wrong impression to be recounting court case after court case, and I’m sure that far more was happening than drunkenness and bar room fights, but these are the stories which made the local papers and can be traced today. Alfred Hirdle, of Ridgmount, and William Munn of Aspley Guise, were summoned for being drunk and disorderly at The Fir Tree in April 1890. Arguments were made for both side over “a little row” and the magistrate found the testimony so confusing that he threw the case out.
However, the local constabulary came back with fresh evidence and recalled the men in May, much to the defendants’ disgust. William Smith gave evidence that they had been threatening and asked to leave by the landlady, to which Hirdle replied “You were as gay and fresh corned as any of us!” Ralph Collins, Andrew Smith and Thomas Cox gave similar accounts. P.C. Hewitt was asked by the landlord to remove the men from the inn. After the last summons, Hirdle had said that it was the first time he had ‘got off’, and now told the court:
“.. and I have not got off now. I call it scandalous to be dismissed and then brought up again, it is humbugging a man, the charge made against a man should be the first and last. I am shoved about, brought up here, the clever policeman spins a yarn, gets one or two others to spin a yarn, and you do what you like to me.”
Although William Farmer spoke in their defence, the duo were found guilty. Hirdle was fined 10s and £1 4s 6d costs or 14 days hard labour, and Munn 5s and £1 4s 6d costs or 7 days. Hirdle elected to serve his time, but Munn’s friends paid off his fine, so he avoided incarceration. The Chairman of the magistrates entreated Munn to have no dealings with the incorrigible Hirdle, and to “avoid him like the plague or he would be ruined, body and soul.”
Now comes the strange part. Having just confirmed that the men were indeed drunk, Garrett was brought up by the same court for permitting drunkenness at his inn, and was found not guilty! The same witnesses were called, who all stated that Garrett endeavoured to conduct the house well. His lawyer argued that it was un-English to get the Garrett to give evidence against the men, then to be charged himself. The very next case before the Court was Hirdle again, charged with being drunk at Ridgmount on a separate occasion. He received another 7 days.
[Alfred Hirdle eventually passed away, whilst serving a sentence in Bedford Prison in 1900, aged 49. The doctors said cause of death was ‘Profound Disturbance of the Brain and Apoplexy’. Hirdle was infamous in the area, as his total of 59 convictions, mostly for being ‘Drunk and Disorderly’ bear testimony. Every landlord for miles around must have breathed a quiet sigh of relief!]
There were certainly more normal activities occurring at the pub. In December ‘The North Bucks Times’ featured a piece on a bagatelle match between two home teams, and there was a excellent supper the next night, at which Alfred Smith, late owner of the inn, and William Pettifer of Aspley Heath presided. Songs were sung and toasts submitted. In the days before radio or jukeboxes, people made their own entertainment.
Starting in June 1891, Garrett placed a large box advert on the front page of the ‘North Bucks Times’, reading:
‘The Fir Tree Hotel, (improved and renovated) Woburn Sands, is famous for its requirements as a refreshment halt for visitors to the woods and plantations of Aspley Guise, at the foot of the hill approaching which this favourite roadside resting place stands, commanding a broad view of the lovely woodland scenery, near Woburn, the Park, and its Abbey. The Fir Tree Hotel is the last house on the left hand side from Woburn Sands Station to Woburn, and the first on the right-hand side from Woburn. The pull-up is safe from road traffic; the stabling and yard accommodation is first rate. The wines, spirits, malt liquors and refreshments generally are excellent. Dinners, Teas & co. provided for. Parties by special arrangements. Benjamin Garrett, Proprietor.’
It would seem Garrett was committed to building the new inn into a modern, vibrant business. This is the first reference to the inn as a ‘Hotel’, and the first official advert I can find. He seems to have covered all the possible clients, both locals and visiting tourists. The advert ran for six months.
It may seem strange to be promoting the pub as a rest stop for visitors to the woods, but this wasn’t the dog walkers, mountain bikers and ramblers who mostly use them today. In 1858 Dr. James Williams had published “The Topography and Climate of Aspley Guise, in reference to their influence upon Health and Disease, as compared with celebrated English and foreign localities with remarks on the hygiene treatment of consumption and other affectors for which the locality is most suited”. This set out with comparison graphs, the rainfall and temperature for Aspley Guise, Torquay, Hastings, Nice, Madeira and Pau among others.
Dr. Williams had moved to Aspley from Herefordshire, on grounds of ill health, and was so impressed with the effect on his illness, he wrote:
“The air of Aspley is generally admitted to be very pure, buoyant, and exhilarating. Its freshness, particularly in elevated situations, has been compared to a sea-breeze. The next fact of interest in the sanitory condition of Aspley is its exemption from epidemic or localised diseases. As far as I can learn, typhus fever and other kindred affections have never arisen here spontaneously. The comparative absence of Neuralgic and Rheumatic complaints, and the benefit derived by those who (coming from other places) have suffered from such affections, furnishes evidence of the dryness of the air. And from this I infer that our general dryness of soil, pure air and good water, are the greatest safeguards against such melancholy visitations.”
This was just the push that the health-conscious Victorians needed to come flocking to the district every weekend and bank holiday, to wander around the woods, taking in the (alleged) health-giving airs. Woburn Sands built a reputation of almost spa-like proportions. I have seen reports that upwards of a thousand people had been counted coming off the trains at Woburn Sands on a hot weekend. All these visitors needed services. Some wanted to stay overnight, and sought out boarding rooms. Others just wanted souvenirs to show their friends, meaning several china shops flourished, and nearly everyone wanted to send picture postcards to their friends, showing them where they had been. The postcard craze took off after the turn of the century, and the penny post and speed of service made it the easiest way to communicate with family and friends. Several local photographers were operating, and many of the High Street shops sold their own range of local views, including Pikesleys at the Post Office, Gregory the stationers, W. H. Smith stationers, Bathurst, the chemist, and of course the local photographer Robert Cheetham.
Another Licensing Report was compiled in 1891, and compared the Fir Tree to The Weathercock, The Duck (on Aspley Heath), The Royal Oak and The Maypole on Aspley Hill. The rateable value of the pub was 22s, nearly double that of the others, except the Weathercock which was set at 15s. These two had full licences while the other three only had ‘on and off without wine’ licences. The Maypole had had a conviction during the year for permitting drunkenness.
The census occurred again in 1901, but Garrett and his wife were the only occupiers that night. In September, Garrett had a application for an hours extension for the occasion of the statute fair turned down after the police objected, and also this month the Woburn Sands Band were due to turn up and play but failed to materialise. However, he got an extension through successfully in January 1892, for the occasion of a supper. The only other noteworthy event this year saw William Shaw, a local labourer, summoned for disorderly conduct and refusing to leave the pub. There was confusion as to whether the premises mentioned were licensed, as they were open to the road, so William must have been asked to leave what is now the car park! The case was dismissed.
With such competition around him, and a growing temperance movement asking all to sign the pledge not to drink and holding marches and rallies, Garrett needed some good marketing and business acumen to keep bringing in the customers. Events for all sorts of groups and societies were arranged at The Fir Tree. In January 1893, he advertised again, with a small paragraph in ‘The North Bucks Times’:
“The Fir Tree Hotel, Woburn Sands. Mr. Benjamin Garrett begs to announce that he will be glad to cater for large or small parties, at short notice. Tea parties liberally treated, and comfort of all studied. Good stabling. N.B. Close to the Duke of Bedford’s far-famed woods.”
In the same edition, there is a report of the Woburn Sands Band having their annual supper at the hotel. The 17 band members were joined by eight friends, and enjoyed a “sumptuous spread” with meats provided by Dentons, and then Mr. Hampden Luttman played the pianoforte to accompany singing by Messrs. Seabrook, Randell, Christmas, Collins, Denton and Emms. Seabrook was now the bandmaster, and it was noted that the band had reorganised under new rules, and was in as prosperous condition as ever before.
Garrett ran an advertisement again in the North Bucks Times for a whole year, but there are several errors in the first occurrence. Some words are missed out, and other misspelled, I can imagine he was fairly displeased with the first insertion! As well as the usual appeals to local visitors to the Duke’s woods, it is also advertises “Beanfeasts” and is convenient for “Bicyclists, Cricketers, and Footballers”. He offered to drive guests to the Woburn Estate, and offers pony and traps for hire. The outbuildings which served as stables are still visible today.In August, a young man called Jenkins was run over just after leaving the hotel. He was trying to avoid a vehicle in the other carriageway in a rain storm, but fell under the Woburn Omnibus, which ran over his shoulder, arm and side. He was seen to by Doctor Grant, and it was reported that he was progressing favourably.
In 1894, the Fir Tree was again the centre of a nuisance case, but this time it revolved around a neighbouring property, that of George Elmer, who ran a horse-slaughtering business. The complaint was that the smell from decaying horse flesh, and the boiling of the meat, was terrible. Garrett was called as a witness, and said that the smell problem had been occurring for four or five years, and that men entering his hotel after visiting the yard were tainted with it. Elmer was found guilty and prohibited from allowing it to re-occur. In November, Garrett and a Frank Elmer found themselves in court over an assault. Elmer had quarrelled with a man called Richard Seal, (who was described as a Beerhouse keeper of Aspley Heath) over some rabbits. Elmer and Seal were thrown out of the Fir Tree, with Joseph Griffen being given a black-eye in the process and Seal offered to fight Elmer for £5, but Elmer refused. Both men were convicted, with Seal receiving a larger fine as he was a beerhouse keeper who should have known better!
It was reported that B. Garrett, innkeeper, had joined Aspley Heath Parish Council in March 1896. The next year was the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, and as well as other local events, there was an ox-roast in Swan Field, the open ground where Downham Road was later built.
One of those pictured at the 1897 Diamond Jubilee ox roast is Alfred Smith, who had owned the pub between the Lee family leaving, and Allfrey and Lovell taking over. Garrett was embarrassed in front of the licensing committee when he asked for a late licence in April 1898, but could not say what it was for! The policeman attending said he thought it was for the local Slate Club, so the Justice granted it. I don’t know if it was the same event, but it was reported in the Luton Times and Advertiser of 29th April that “A “smoker” took place at the Fir Tree Hotel, on Thursday (yesterday), and a convivial time was spent. It was preceded by a dinner to celebrate the opening of a new club room.”
A contract was signed in December 1897, to build an open-fronted ground floor, with hall above, across from the main inn. Whether this was on vacant ground created when the new inn was built in 1889, or if the remaining original outbuildings had now been pulled down, I do not know. The building provided 3 spaces for carts or carriages, with one large hall above, with enclosed stairs at the side.
This room is now used as bedrooms for the hotel, but was originally could have seated about 200 people.
With a large number of clubs and societies operating in the village, Garrett must have had a steady stream of users for the hall when the Institute and social club were busy.However, it did somewhat block the view of the inn when approaching on the Woburn Road.
By the next summer, people were coming from far and wide to take advantage of the new room. From The Luton Advertiser, 10th June 1898:
“Luton Early Closing Association – The first outing of the season took place on Wednesday afternoon, when a party of 60 visited Woburn Sands. About 30 travelled in brakes, and the remainder cycled to the destination. On arriving at 5 o’clock, a tea was provided at The Fir Tree Hotel, Mr Garrett affording splendid accommodation. After tea, the beautiful wood were visited until dusk, and from 8 till 9, the members enjoyed dancing in the dining room of the Hotel. Home was reacehed at about 11.30, after a very successful outing.” The same paper reported that the Luton Wellington Street Tract Society and Sunday School Teachers had combined their annual outing, and come to Woburn Sands and had their tea at The Fir Tree in July 1899, and later in the same month, even other pubs were having their outings to The Fir Tree. Luton Advertiser, 21st June 1899: “An outing in connection with the patrons of that well known establishment “The Windsor Castle” Albert Road, so ably conducted by Mr E. Kenney, for many years, took place on Monday last. The party, numbering some 25, left shortly before 10 o’clock, proceeding to Woburn Sands in a spledidly equipped 3 horse brake supplied by Mr G. Powdrill. Shortly after arrival, the party sat down to a well appointed cold luncheon at The Fir Tree Hotel, afterwards dispersing to take a quiet stroll to admire the natural beauties associated with the district…”
.. and the Spread Eagle in Dunstable sent 35 members of their Slate Club for Sunday tea a week later. The summer months were popular for tourists to come to Woburn Sands!
The smell from the horse-butchery business next door to the Hotel was still causing concern in January 1899. It was brought up as part of the Surveyors report to Woburn District Council. An ‘Order for Abatement’ was issued, and it was noted that if not acted upon, proceedings would follow….
The 19th century ended on a sad note for Woburn Sands, with a shocking murder and suicide, which was described as “..the most awful tragedy that has ever occurred in Woburn Sands.”. In January 1899, a man called George Jeffrey had been lodging with James and Eliza Burt for about six years, in one of the cottages on Woburn Road, just past The Fir Tree. Jeffery had been a drayman for the Northants brewers, Phipps and Co., but had recently been sacked. He had then worked for Benskins Brewery, who had a depot in Woburn Sands, as a bottler, but had also been sacked from that job, about six weeks prior. Since then, he had found employment as an Ostler (a stableman and odd job man) at The Fir Tree.
On January 12th, James had left for work at about 7am. Charles Burt, his eldest son, worked as a telegraph messenger at Woburn Sands Post Office, and usually took his mother a cup of tea in bed, as she was still nursing her year-old twins. He went up to see her again before leaving for work. When he opened the door, a dreadful sight met his eyes. George Jeffery had entered the room and cut Eliza Burts throat, from ear to ear with a razor. He had then committed suicide the same way, and lay by the foot of the bed, the razor still in his hand. Young Charles ran to Phipps stables, where his father was working, and called out, “Oh do come father, George has murdered mother and himself!”
An Inquest was held at the Fir Tree that same evening, before Mr. F. T. Tanquerary, with a jury foremaned by Mr Mallom of the Dene, Aspley Hill. A letter had been found on Jeffery’s body, addressed to his brother, which included the following lines:-“…I hope and prey God will forgive me for what I have done…..I have made up my mind to take both our lives….Give my watch to little F. Burt…….Tell Harry to keep from all girls. They are a bad lot. This is what they have done to me. Goodbye.”
He also made references to being involved in an illicit affair with Mrs. Burt, but these were not fully reported in the newspapers. Garrett was interviewed for the papers, and said that Jeffery had been strong as a young bullock, a willing worker and popular with his customers. The papers reported that Jeffery was buried with no ceremony, in the clothes he had killed himself wearing, along with the razor he used, and buried facing westwards under a laurel in St. Michaels churchyard.
Another strand of Garretts business was renting out bicycles. There was phenomenal interest in cycling at this time, and large numbers of visitors would have wanted a bike to tour the local area and get to the Abbey etc. One evening in July, George Munn of Aspley Heath rented a bike from the Fir Tree to go to Bedford. For his 2s 6d, he had to have the bike back by 9am the next day, with its lamp still attached. Munn later telegraphed Garrett that he had been offered 35s for the bike, and asked if he should take it? Garrett replied that £2 was the minimum he would accept, but heard no more. Four days later, Garrett went to Bedford to find his bike. He found Munn had sold it to John Savage, a customer at The Nelson Inn, but the lamp was missing. Munn had pawned the lamp for 1s 6d, and sold the bike for £1 7s 6d.
Although Munn claimed that he was going to come home and pay for the bike in full, he could not provide any witnesses to back this story up, and was committed for trial at the Bedford Quarter Sessions.
The last fact to record from the 19th century is that the brewers who owned the pub, Allfrey and Lovell, changed their trading name to “The Newport Pagnell Brewery Company”. And so The Fir Tree moved into the 20th century…
Page last updated Dec. 2018.