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Shoulder of Mutton at Old Bletchley & Rectory Cottages
The pub had no bar - the drinks were sold through a basement doorway....
Shoulder of Mutton, at Old Bletchley.
Rectory Cottages, Bletchley.

Throughout the years, many buildings which once held a local prominence have been demolished, and are now recalled, if only occasionally, by name. The Cleve, and Denbigh Hall Inn are just two examples, but also within this category lies the Shoulder of Mutton. Yet despite such a loss, albeit in perhaps a much altered form, several of the town's 'ancient' buildings may still be seen, and it seems fairly certain that none are as ancient as Rectory Cottages. Local historian John Taylor investigates

At Old Bletchley, the Shoulder of Mutton was for many years a picturesque feature of the original community, and stood near the village stocks.

In fact James Cook, who died in 1914, could recall that within these he, as a constable, had frequently during his younger years imprisoned various wrongdoers, as an embarrassing punishment for their misdeeds.

Then owned by the Ampthill Brewery Co, in 1921 the pub was taken over by Mr and Mrs Bowden.

Born in Torquay, Mr Bowden had later become a native of Wiltshire, and it would be whilst employed as a butler that he first met the girl destined to become his wife, when she was also working in domestic service.

Shortly after their marriage in 1907 the couple moved to Bletchley, and for 10 years were engaged in the service of Sir Herbert Leon, of Bletchley Park. In 1927 Greens Brewery then purchased the Shoulder of Mutton, and in 1942 the extended premises unexpectedly became the setting for one of the most important events of World War Two when, following an inspirational visit by Winston Churchill, some of the staff at Bletchley Park felt that, in place of the exisiting regime, a 'Bletchley council' could run the organisation better.

In consequence, four of the key cryptanalysts met at the pub and, having decided that a petition outlining their grievances should be sent directly to Churchill, wrote a letter on October 21 1941.

In this they voiced their concerns, not only at the lack of clerical staff, and the delays that this inevitaby caused, but also the impending call up of skilled male staff, engaged both in the British Tabulating Co. and in the huts at Bletchley Park.

Indeed, such a combined loss of talent would be irreplaceable, and by one of the signatories the letter was duly taken by train to Downing Street. The day after its receipt Churchill then issued his famous insructions to 'Make sure they have all they want on extreme priority and report to me that this had been done', although when news of this unauthorised action reached the intelligence hierarchy they were, of little surprise, far from pleased. Nevertheless all the desired requirements were swiftly met.

During World War Two, Mr Bowden's son served with the Army in Burma, and on his return he would be best man for the wedding, on December 15 1945, of his only sister, Nora. The marriage took place at St Mary's Church, and following a reception for 60 guests, held at the Yeomanry Hall, the bride and her husband, John Davies, of Birmingham, left for a honeymoon at Gosport. After the war, for many years a Mr and Mr Harvey ran a weekend cockles and whelks stall outside the pub, and this understabably proved to be very popular with the newly arriving Londoners!

In fact being a Londoner himself Mr Harvey, as a member of the heavy rescue service of the Civil Defence, had endured several narrow escapes during the Blitz, and it was perhaps with some relief that in 1942, Mrs Harvey had come to Bletchley, since for eight months the couple had been living in a London shelter, to escape the bombs.

In the post war years, with the increasing potential for house building Messrs Tranfield, a local building firm, had by 1950 acquired 38 acres of freehold land at Old Bletchley which, as part of Manor Farm, had since 1928 been farmed by Mr Mattinson.

He also ran a butcher's business, and prior to moving to Manor Farm had previously farmed Cow Farm at Water Eaton, having moved there on his marriage to Mabel Garrat, a member of the family from Caldecote Farm, Bow Brickhill.

On the proposed 'Manor Farm estate' the council planned to build 450 houses, although since Bletchley already had a Manor estate the theme for the road names became 'castles', as chosen in November 1952.

Thus came into being the Castles estate, and in keeping with the new development, Flowers Brewery, the contemporary owners of the Shoulder of Muton, were offered a site in 1961 opposite their existing premises, on which to build a new pub. The need had arisen due to a proposed road widening scheme, and would no doubt prove popular with both the landlord and his customers, since the existing pub had no bar, with beer sold through a basement doorway.

Destined for demolition, in March 1962 the old thatched Shoulder of Mutton duly closed, and on the following day an inn of the same name (now the Three Trees) opened across the road. Mostly it comprised the greatly rebuilt Manor Farm, yet despite the benefit of central heating the premises still retained the old fireplaces, to avoid the 'glass and brass modernistic effect.' However, as a concession to the modern age the provision was made of an automatic tape recorder, which played low volume background music.

The new pub also included a children's room which, by featuring a one way partition, enabled the staff to exercise an ongoing supervision.

Rectory Cottages

Apart from St Mary's Church, Rectory Cottages has claim to perhaps be the oldest building in Bletchley.

The hammer-beam roof of the 'hall' dates from around 1425, and, from being too ornate for a humble dwelling, may possibly have once been a part of Water Hall.

This was a manor house that stood in the riverside meadows at Water Eaton, but in 1562 Arthur Grey de Wilton, on succeeding to the manors of Bletchley and Whaddon, caused the manor house at Water Hall to be demolished, with the materials used to enlarge his preferred manorial home of Whaddon Hall.

Perhaps deemed as surplus to requirements, the hammer beam roof was employed at Rectory Cottages, a first definite mention of which occurs in 1619.

During the early years of the 19th century a school was held on the premises by a Miss Sears, of a long established local family, but in 1838 this became united to the National Society. Then in the wake of a National School being built in the early 20th century the premises became the home of Alice and William Clarke.

Married in 1892, in 1900 they were appointed as the caretakers at St Mary's Church, and in fact in appreciation of this service would be presented in 1928 with a comer cupboard, made of oak from the belfry.

In fact the couple would live at Rectory Cottages for over 30 years, and following the death in 1936 of her husband, Alice in 1938 went to live with her brother, William, at Noke Cottage, Church Green Road.

Aged 76, she died on Wednesday, June 11 1947.

After World War Two the premises fell into an unfortunate decline until, with an estimate of £10,000 being given as the sum necessary for restoration, the Bletchley Rectory Cottages Museum Trust Fund was set up in 1960.

With £7,000 being eventually raised, in 1964 the Bletchley Archaeological and Historical Society then began a determined effort to save the building, and in consequence an architect from the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings declared the structure to be fairly sound.

A scheme was accordingly prepared to convert the barn into a small lecture hall, with the rest of the cottages to accommodate an office, two exhibition rooms downstairs, and a caretaker's flat upstairs.

In July 1965 a grant of £500 was then made by the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, and with an appeal launched for £5,000, necessary to preserve the hammer beam roof, the council announced that they would also grant £500, as long as Bucks County Council and the Ministry of Works paid a similar sum.

However, matters were hardly helped by repeated vandalism and, allegedly started by school children, the effects of a small fire, which occurred one Saturday morning in the roof.

Yet thankfully no damage was caused, and this proved especially fortunate since the building had now been afforded the status of Grade Two.

Following further efforts for restoration, not least by Milton Keynes Development Corporation, Rectory Cottages was restored to a habitable condition, and is today in regular community use.