The Steamer, Aspley Guise

The information here comes from the excellent “Communities Archive” pages of the Bedfordshire Archives & Records Service (BARS) website, with the addition of reports from the online British Newspapers Archive and some other genealogical data.

No.18 West Hill, Aspley Guise was once a beerhouse, originally owned by the Hutton family. Beerhouses did not have a licence to sell wines or spirits, and were considered to be of lower-class than a standard public house. Many rural farms developed into pubs and inns, as a farmer brewed beer for his workers, and then sold some on. The 1841 census holds very little data on locations, and the Aspley Guise pages are terribly faded, meaning nothing can be found about this property, but a mention in a BARS document of 1843 describes the building as a farmhouse. This had changed by the time of the next census of 1851, which was examined in the 1980 study, The Story of Aspley Guise, which plotted known occupants against a map. They concluded that James Moss was living at the property in West Street, and he is listed as a Beer Seller, 28, originally from Little Coxwell in Berks. He lived there with his wife, three children and a servant.

The Steamer, from a postcard.

A Succession Account of 1st October 1860 (BARS: R6/2/8/19) shows as a beerhouse with two acres, in the occupation of Joseph Allen Piggott, the Bedford, brewer. Piggott would not have run the house himself; he would have let it out to a tenant landlord.

By the time of the 1861 census, James Moss of Coxwell was listed as an Agricultural Labourer living in Water Hall (Salford). The only Publican listed under West Street, Aspley Guise, and therefore almost certainly the Steamer, was Thomas Smith, 74, along with his wife, two daughters and two lodgers.

On 6th October 1865, there was a sale of furniture, butcher’s trade utensils and effects, under a bill of sale and distress for rent, held “…on the premises of George Everitt, ‘The Steamer’, Aspley Guise” (BARS: SF2/16) This was probably the result of the executors of Stephen Barwell of Husborne Crawley taking Everitt to Court in August, claiming money to settle a debt of £1 13s 5½d.

In 1863 the owner of the building, John Hutton, had died intestate and in 1866, his heirs sold the beerhouse to their brewer-tenant, Joseph Allen Piggott, for £400, where it was described as “lately a farmhouse but now a public house” and also came with 2-acres of pasture and another cottage. This was probably the same land that still goes with the house, which is the field behind, and the building to the right hand side. The licensee’s name was not noted at the time of that sale.

Piggott advertised for their tenancy in Croydon’s Weekly Standard in September 1870, attracting a new landlord, as the Beds Times of 8th November records that the Steamer beer-house changed licensees, from George Handscombe to Daniel Juffs. The Handscombe family also ran the local nurseries.

The 1871 census does not mention the Steamer by name, but the household appears under what was then known as West Street. Daniel Juffs is described as a “Beerseller”, and was 66 years old. Also present was his wife, Mary, 66, and their daughter, Sarah, 41. All the family were born in Houghton Conquest.

In December 1875, Piggott sold his brewery in Bedford, along with 35 pubs, to Charles Wells. The entry in the transfer deed reads: “The “Steamer”, Aspley Guise, containing Tap Room, Parlour, Kitchen and Washroom and three Bed Rooms, Beer Cellar, with loft over also a Cottage fronting the road, yard, Tiled lodge, meadow and a large orchard and Garden in the rear, the size together being estimated at 2½ acres, in the occupation of Daniel Juffs at an annual rental of £20. Freehold.” (BARS: WL73)

There are no further news stories about the Steamer until it changed landlord again in 1879, when the Beds Mercury reported the transfer from Daniel Juffs to David Rich, of Aspley Guise, on 11th October. Helpfully, this is just before the next census in 1881, which gives the Steamer by name this time, but David Rich (57) is only described as a “Coal Dealer”. His wife, Mary, 54, was born in Husborne Crawley.

The Leighton Buzzard Reporter states that at the Petty Sessions on Woburn on July 13th 1883, William Tompkins, butcher, of Aspley Guise, was summoned for having been drunk upon the licenced premises of the Steamer beerhouse, at Aspley Guise, on the 27th of June. On the application of the defendant the case was adjourned for the attendance of witnesses on his behalf. There isn’t a report of what exactly the witnesses later said, but it must have confirmed the drunken behaviour in the house as in mid-August, David Rich, beer-house keeper of Aspley Guise was summoned for having permitted drunkenness on the licenced premises of the Steamer beerhouse at Aspley Guise, on June 27th. He was ordered to pay 5s. costs.

Sometimes landlords lost their home and livelihood by these convictions, but it seems Rich survived, as he was still in charge in June 1884, when the Whit Tuesday club feast took place at the Steamer, “…enlivened by the Wing Brass Band”. The Leighton Buzzard Observer of 10th June has a full report:

“BENEFIT SOCIETY. – The 45th anniversary of the Aspley Benefit Society was held on Whit-Tuesday, when nearly one hundred of the members dined under their own spacious tent, erected in Mr David Rich’s orchard, in the rear of the Steamer Inn, kept by that gentleman, who catered for the club in his usual good old English style. Mr George Whitman, land agent, of Aspley in his position of secretary, as usual, presided. The club fund reached £722 9s. 6d. They have invested in consols £598 15s.; in the post-office bank, £58 8s. 7d. and in the treasurer’s hands £65 3s. 2d. During the past year neighbourly donations amounted to £10 18s. 6d. Payments to sick members reached £77 12s. 6d, surgeon’s, officer’s and other salaries, with two funerals and petty expenses, came to £36 14s. 6d. The Wing Brass Band, led by Mr Arthur Baker, was in attendance from an early hour, and gave great satisfaction to the villagers. There being no train from Woburn Sands after half-past eight, they had to spend the night at Aspley. The cheerfulness of the afternoon was greatly enhanced by the ringing of the new and musical church bells Aspley has lately been privileged to acquire.”

There was a similar event at the beerhouse the next year, 1885, but Rich had already left and James Meacham was now in charge, although the licence wasn’t officially transferred until October. The Beds Times reported that Mr Whitman, secretary, was leaving the Society, and a silver(?) Maltese Cross was presented to him, bearing the Aspley Benefit Society monogram and an inscription. It had been made by Mr Emms of Woburn. In a marquee erected behind the Steamer, “…There was a large number to dinner. It was well served by Mr and Mrs Meacham and their daughters. The meat was of the finest quality supplied by Mr Steers. A round of beer weighing some 50lbs, with legs of mutton and pork, ribs of beef &c., loaded the tables, with puddings, cheese, &c. The Woburn Sands Temperance Brass Band, led by their instructor, Mr Franklin, of Fenny Stratford, acquitted themselves thoroughly well.” This annual event took place in late May 1888, June 1889 and June 1890, when close to 100 members attended and the dinner was also sent to the homes of sick members.

The 1891 census gives us some more details about Meacham. Listed under West Street is James Meacham, 60, as a Publican. He was born in Great Brickhill, his wife Mary, 59, from Middlesex, and daughters Minnie, 21, and Georgina, 18, both born at Ampthill. There was also James’ grandson, Henry James Meacham, 4, born Stanmore in Middlesex. An elder daughter, Mary, 23, also born at Ampthill, is nearby at a house in Church Street, acting as a domestic servant and nurse. There were at least two more sisters, as one described as a “fifth daughter” was married at Aspley Church in 1887

The 1891 Benefit Society event was described as a Fete. The Club paraded the village with the Wing Brass Band. Although based at a beerhouse, the festivities were tied in with Temperance entertainments in the evening, with songs and music by local amateurs and displays of gymnastics by the children from the Band of Hope drill classes.

Meacham must have wanted to leave, as Charles Wells were advertising the house for let in the Beds Times of 2nd January 1892: “TO LET. – THE STEAMER BEERHOUSE, with Outbuildings and Orchard, about 2½ acres, Aspley Guise, near Woburn. For Particulars, apply Horne Lane Brewery, Bedford.” There was no mad rush to take on the business, and they were still running the same advert at the beginning of April. The eventual transfer of licence took place in June, to a William Turner, but transferred again the next month to John Johnstone, yet he only covered until October. Were these two relief managers from the Brewery?

A Charles Edge is recorded as running the house from October 1892 to January 1894, but his name does not appear in any articles about the Steamer, even when he had trouble in his house. From the Leighton Buzzard Observer, 14th March, 1893: “George Henman, bricklayer of Aspley Heath, charged with having been drunk and disorderly and refused, on request of the landlord, to leave the Steamer Inn, at Aspley Guise, on the 20th of February, was fined 10s. and 10s. costs.”

In 1894, William Lane appears. He is named as the landlord when he gave evidence in December against the landlord of the Maypole Inn at Woburn Sands, who had assaulted a young girl. Lane went on to stay at the Steamer for 32 years as landlord.

Edward Cook was charged in June 1895 with being disorderly and refusing to quit William Lane’s licenced premises (Steamer not mentioned by name) on May 19th, which cost Cook 5s. and 10s. costs or 14 days. Cook was having a bad day at Court. Immediately before this, he had been charged with being drunk on the day previously, also at Aspley Guise, on the highway, and fined 5s. and 7s. costs or 14 days. Whether he chose to pay or do the hard labour is not recorded.

The 1901 census lists the Steamer Inn, with William Lane, 49, as “Publican” He was born in Wavendon. Lizzie Lane, his sister, aged 9, from Salford was also present, as well as Maggie Seamarks, a general domestic servant, 17, from Great Linford. Also in the house was Louisa Hinley, described as a visitor, 49, a dressmaker from Woburn. On the night of the census, Lane’s wife, Johanna, was staying at 90 Marne Street, Paddington, London, with the family of Roland Salt, a cab-driver.

The Beds Times carried a small obituary for David Rich, who had run the inn 1879-1885, when he died in October 1910, aged 86. It described him as having been a genial landlord of the Steamer, having had a coal business and also that he served on the Aspley Guise School Board.

The last currently available census of 1911 has the Steamer Inn listed as in Station Road, Aspley Guise. William Lane was still there, now 58, a publican and jobmaster, along with his wife Joanna Lane, 59, born Salford, Beds.

After the First World War, there was a drive to close some of the drinking establishments that only had beer licences. There was a depression on, and out-of-work men were to be discouraged from spending what little money they had on drink. A postcard used in 1921 shows a signboard on the Steamer reading “William Lane. Licensed to retail Beer and Porter to be drunk on the premises. Good accommodation for Man & Horse. Also dealer in tobacco.” Charles Wells Ltd. sent a photographer out to capture all their pubs in about 1925, and the original glassplate negatives survive at BARS. (BARS: WL800/5)

The beerhouse was valued under the terms of the Rating Valuation Act in 1925. Every piece of land and property was inspected to determine what rates should be paid. The Steamer building consisted of a bar, tap room and kitchen downstairs, with a cellar beneath; upstairs were three bedrooms and outside were a stable, two coach-houses, a piggery and washhouse. The rent was £16 per annum; that same as it had been in 1914. The building was described by the inspector as a “Very old poor looking place”. Trade was clearly in decline, as it took three weeks to get through one nine gallon barrel of beer. It was noted that “This house will be sold shortly. Licence expires April 1928. Place for sale”…yet it carried on for a few more years. William Lane died in September 1926, aged 74, and his widow took over the running of the Steamer.

The Beds Times of 18th March 1927 confirms that moves were afoot to finally close the Steamer down. They reported that the renewal of licences of this beerhouse, along with the New Inn at Toddington, had been adjourned from the previous Sessions, and were now up for consideration by the Magistrates Licencing Committee. Mr Clough, acting on instructions from the Woburn Bench, had looked at the Aspley pubs; the Steamer, the Anchor, and the Duke’s Head, the evidence of which he presented to the committee members. Col. Talbot Jarvis was present, representing Charles Wells, who said they would not oppose any application to refer the licence. This meant referring the case to a panel who decided what compensation should be paid out to the owners and the tenant. The decision was passed to the Quarter Sessions, and so only a temporary licence was issued on the house.

The Quarter Sessions took place on 21st December at Shire Hall, Bedford. The Licencing Committee reported they had awarded compensation of £91 10s. 0d. to the landlord and £265 11s. 0d. to the brewers and thus The Steamer was closed. Only two of the pubs up for referral had actually been paid out and closed, as funds were insufficient for the other two. The compensation fees were paid out on December 24th and the licence cancelled on December 31st. The White Bear in Woburn was closed during the same year. There was still plenty of choice for the drinker, as this left 50 licenced premises in the Woburn Division (made up of 17 parishes) still open. Remarkably, the Annual Licencing Sessions in Woburn in February 1928 noted there had been NO persons proceeded against for offences under the Intoxicating Liquor Laws in the previous year.

This closure left a large picturesque cottage vacant in the middle of Aspley Guise. The brewers were (usually) happy to oblige in closing their small unprofitable beerhouses, as they not only took the compensation, they could then sell the building and reinvest in more profitable sites. Thus, Charles Wells put the ex-Steamer up for sale by auction at the Swan Hotel, Woburn Sands. The advert in a November 1928 Beds Times described it as:

“THATCHED Half-Timbered XVII CENTURY COTTAGE, formerly an Inn – “THE STEAMER,” ASPLEY GUISE, in the centre of the village: 3 Bedrooms, 3 Sitting Rooms, Cellars and Offices, Stabling, Coachhouses, Garages; Garden, Fruit Trees, Paddock 2 ½ acres in all.”

It reached £610, but this was below the reserve the Brewery had set. At the same time, the much larger and more modern Maypole Inn at Woburn Sands, another recently-closed Wells’ beerhouse, was sold for just £400. The report of the sale notes that the Steamer was sold privately afterwards.

On the same day, at the direction of Charles Wells, the auctioneer, Wallace Foll was also selling the “Stock in trade of a Jobmaster viz., 2 Carriage Horses, an excellent Landau in first-rate condition, Brougham, Victoria, Trolley, Spring Cart, 3 sets of Harness, Clipping Machine, and Sundries.” which I presume was another business carried on at the Steamer by Mrs Lane.

The new occupants must have tried to dissuade passing travellers from banging ion the door wanting a drink, as the name was soon changed to Easter Cottage. It was sold to a Mr W. P. Claxton in January 1938, when it was described as a “notable old-world cottage residence of the Tudor period, which was completely reconditioned and rethatched with Norfolk reeds in 1932…” A small obituary appeared in the Beds Times of 28th October the same year for widow Joanna Lane, the landlady for the last year of the Steamer. She was 87.

Mr Claxton allowed the Aspley Guise Rabbit Club to use his grounds for a show in 1942, with nearly 60 entries!

As a house, the building was listed by the former Ministry of Works in 1961 under the name of Easter Cottage, being given Grade II status (“of special interest, which warrants every effort being made to preserve them”). The listing reads: “The property is 16th century, reworked in the 20th century. It is timer-framed with colour-washed plaster infill and a thatched roof. It is built in an L plan, the left-hand block being a single storey with attics, the right-hand cross-wing two storeys. All windows are 20th century.”

In the 1990’s, the house returned to using the name “The Steamer”, but still only as a private residence.

List of known Licensees:
1851           James Moss
1861           Thomas Smith
1865           George Everitt
????-1870 George Handscombe
1870-1879 Daniel Juffs
1879-1885 David Rich
1885-1892 James Meacham
1892           William Turner
1892           John Johnstone
1892-1894 Charles Edge
1894-1926 William Lane
1926-1927 Johanna Lane
Dec. 1927 Closed