The Denbigh Hall Inn, Fenny Stratford
To the northwest of the main built-up area of Fenny Stratford once stood Denbigh Hall. This was not a well-to-do manor house, but just a farm, along with a few others also sited nearby, e.g. Wood Farm, Cold Harbour farm and Bleak Hall farm. Denbigh Hall actually stood a little way off Watling Street, approximately where Spenlows Road now meets Melrose Avenue.
A track joined that farm to Watling Street and just where the turning for the farm off Watling Street, an inn sprang up. As it is called the “Denbigh Hall Inn” in almost all records and press reports, it seems fair to say it was started by that farm. Many farms made their own beer for their workers and then sold any spare to passing travellers. Gradually the beer sales increased and thus a beerhouse would be started. Watling Street was a busy thoroughfare, originally laid out by the Romans. We do not have an exact date that the inn opened, as few records survive from that time. It does not appear on the Buckinghamshire Ale House Register unless it’s under another name. When Denbeigh (sic) Hall farm was up for sale in January 1806, with an advert in the Northampton Mercury, there is no mention of an accompanying beerhouse.
The very first references discussed below call it the “Marquess (or Marquis) of Granby”, a name that then mostly disappeared until it was used 30 years later. The name refers to a philanthropic 18th-century soldier. He had been the Commander in Chief of the British army and was appalled at the lack of financial help for wounded servicemen with disabilities, so he started a scheme of buying pubs for them to provide a living, which eventually ruined the Marquis financially. He died in 1770 with debts equivalent today to £4m. The pubs began to appear bearing his name after that time.
An often-repeated story about the adoption of the name “Denbigh” for the house was brought up in the Northampton Chronicle in March 1927. (A “bill” is an old-fashioned name for a small axe):
“THE INNOCENCE OF MOLL. Mr. Christopher Markham used to relate an anecdote regarding the public house near the railway bridge at Wolverton. An old woman, Moll Norris, lived on this spot, and one night the Earl of Denbigh, who was travelling along the Watling-street, sheltered at her house, where he stayed for same time, as the road was blocked snow-drifts. On his departure his lordship demanded a bill and old Moll, who had no intention of making any charge, and not knowing what a bill meant, brought him a hatchet, which was the nearest article to a bill she had in her possession. The Earl, having a sense of humour, kept the hatchet, paid his hostess handsomely and went his way. The house was afterwards called the Denbigh Hall.”
The earliest record of this public house in the newspapers currently available online is from the Northampton Mercury of 14th December 1816. That was an advance notice that the Newport Pagnell-based brewery of Messrs. Baseley & Stapleton would be sold by their assignees, unless a private buyer was found in the meantime. They had been trying to sell the business and associated estate of public houses as a job-lot since April 1815, but no-one was buying. Baseley & Stapleton had gone bankrupt by January 1816, and the administrators were now putting the brewery up for auction with all the pubs (ten freehold and eight leasehold) as separate lots. Sadly, no landlord was named at that time. Lot 10 in the sale was described as:
“The MARQUESS of GRANBY, called Denbigh Hall, in the parish of FENNY STRATFORD, on the West Chester Road, with large Garden, out buildings etc.”.
The other public houses for sale were freeholds of the George at Emberton, the Rose & Crown and the Kings Head at Sherington, the Brewers at Castlethorpe, the Rose & Crown and the Dolphin at Newport Pagnell, the Bell at Bradwell, the Crown at Shenley, and the Chequers at Fenny Stratford. There were also the leases for the Red Lion, the Three Tuns and the Kings Arms at Newport Pagnell, the Dolphin at Stoke Hammond, the Bull at Fenny Stratford, the Crooked Billet at Stony Stratford and the Nags Head at Great Linford.
This sale too found no buyers – possibly the reserves were set too high. There was much legal wrangling, but then the Northampton Mercury reported on 3rd January 1818, that pursuant to a High Court of Chancery Order in the action of Chibnall v. Baseley and Chibnall v. Marks, 11 lots were to be sold on 26th March 1818 at the Swan Inn, Newport Pagnell. By now, three years into the process, there were only eight pubs still listed for sale, including the Marquis of Granby (note the change of gender!) at Denbigh Hall. The others must have already been sold off separately. This time, it appears the sale was successful but the buyers are not known.
1821-1841 Thomas Holdom
A couple of years later, we find the first occurrence of the name of a landlord, although he is obviously not the owner. In September 1821, the Northampton Mercury ran an advance notice for the sale of the “Denbeigh Hall” public house & premises which would be sold in October. The full advert duly appeared:
“FREEHOLD ESTATE Bucks. SOLD by AUCTION, By Mr. DURHAM, At the Swan Inn, in Fenny Stratford, Bucks, on Monday the 15th Day of October, 1821 at Three o’Clock in the Afternoon, ALL that well-known old-established PUBLIC HOUSE and PREMISES, called DENBEIGH HALL, in the Hamlet, and within one Mile of Fenny Stratford aforesaid, adjoining the Chester Turnpike Road; comprising a brick-built, slash-fronted and slated House, with a large tap Room, commodious Bar, large Parlour, Brewhouse and Pantry, beer and liquor Cellars, and five comfortable sleeping Rooms. The offices consist of a coal House and Pigsty, brick and tiled, Stable tor four Horses, brick and timber and thatched; a stable for seven Horses, timber and thatched, together with two good Gardens and Conveniences. The Whole is in the most perfect Repair, having been lately entirely new built with the best Materials.
May be viewed by applying to Mr. HOLDOM, the Tenant, who has Notice to quit at Lady Day next. Particulars may be had on the Premises; at the principal Inns in the Neighbourhood, and of Mr. DURHAM, Land and Timber Surveyor, Auctioneer, &c. Dunstable, Beds.”
Later that December, an advert was placed in the Northants Mercury for the sale of a freehold 30-acre estate in Bletchley at Rickley Wood Corner. Six of those acres were currently rented out by a Thomas Holdam, at Denbigh Hall Inn, who could also be approached for a view of the estate. His name crops up in several land deeds around the area at the time, where he is always referred to as a ‘Victualler’. Usually, an inn was owned by a wealthy local landowner and only rented out to the person who ran it. However, it is likely that Holdam was of the family of Holdom’s, who later had many licensed premises and their own brewery in Fenny Stratford. Thomas and his wife, Sarah, baptised a daughter (also Sarah) in January 1822, with Thomas being described as a ‘Victualler of Denbigh Hall’.
Having enjoyed many years of serving refreshments to the thirsty passing trade, fate was about to drop onto the Denbigh Hall Inn in an unprecedented way. The idea to connect London and Birmingham by rail had been planned since 1830 and the proposed route brought the track to within a few dozen feet of the inn, where it had to cross Watling Street on a bridge. A meeting of the Hockliffe and Stratford turnpike road trustees was held in February 1832. They were not happy at all with a railway coming, thinking it would greatly reduce the number of tolls paid to use their road! The Board members, which included P. D. P Duncombe of Bletchley, William Selby-Lowndes and Rev. John Fisher of Wavendon and Richard Thomas Gilpin of Hockliffe, resolved to petition their M.P. to complain in the House of Commons. Of course, this did no good and the railway came through anyway.
The track-laying up from London as far as Bletchley was a fairly simple affair, but then came some difficult terrain to cross, necessitating viaducts, cuttings and banking etc., to go further north, so it was decided that when the track from London reached Denbigh Hall, it would be opened temporarily for travellers up to that point. The middle section going further north could then be concentrated on, to meet the existing part that had being opened from Rugby to Birmingham. Denbigh Hall was therefore to become the terminus on the line until the missing central part was completed. This thrust the name of Denbigh Hall into the limelight of the railway age and onto the lips of people nationwide. Between 1820-1829, there are 14 occurrences of the words “Denbigh Hall” identified in the scanned and indexed newspapers currently online in the British Newspaper Archives. Between 1830-1839, there are 1,371…
By the summer of 1837, thousands of men were hard at work preparing the way. One had his leg broken at Denbigh Hall by a falling barrow of dirt in June. By that autumn, the London & Birmingham Railway’s board had had an assurance from Mr. Stephenson that he was confident the line would be open from London to Denbigh Hall by December. For their passengers, the two ‘ends’ of railway would be connected by a 35-mile trip by horse-drawn stagecoach on the turnpiked Watling Street. It was thought the remaining middle section would be completed and opened by autumn 1838. (Northants Mercury, 2nd Sept. 1837).
Mr. Roscoe’s “The London and Birmingham Railway”, published c.1840, gave a good description of the building works:
“Arriving at about the forty-eighth mile from London, the railway crosses, at an angle of twenty-five degrees, the London and Holyhead turnpike road by an iron bridge or gallery, of considerable extent which is in one part founded on a Roman ford, in the line of the ancient Watling Street. This was discovered during the progress of the work about six feet below the present surface of the roadway, composed of a layer of thickets or brushwood with a covering of gravel, in which was inserted a very close pavement. The road here reaches what was formerly called the Denbigh Hall Station.
Denbigh Hall Bridge has a very massive appearance from the road underneath, and is ingeniously contrived to supersede the necessity of erecting a very oblique arch, which, as the level of the Railway was required to be kept low at this point, would have been a work of considerable difficulty and much expense – the trustees not allowing the angle of the road to be altered in the slightest degree. It was obviated by building a long gallery, composed of side walls, upon which were laid very flat segmental iron ribs, and was extended far enough to allow the Railway to pass over very obliquely, whilst each end of the bridge is square with the road, and only thirty four feet span, which (had a skew bridge been built instead) would otherwise have been increased to eighty feet. The total length of the bridge is about two hundred feet; the height, from ground to the soffit of the arch, is twenty feet; the weight of iron consumed in its erection is one hundred and sixty tons; and the quantity of brickwork 2,660 cubic yards. The elevation at each end towards the road consists of two massive stone piers surmounted by a blocking and cornice; and over the arch is a neat iron railing, which gives the bridge an appearance of extreme lightness and grace. The side arch, seen in the engraving, leads under the Railway to some farm buildings, and is so admirably arranged, that it keeps up the character of the design without injuring its effort.
In the immediate neighbourhood of the work we have described, stands an insignificant-looking inn, which bears the imposing title of Denbigh Hall…”
Whoever the owner of the inn was at that time, they must have seen this as a fortuitous opportunity to quickly cash in and sell up. On the 11th November 1837, an advert for the sale of the inn appeared in the Northants Mercury:
“Important VALUABLE FREEHOLD PUBLIC HOUSE, On the line of the London and Birmingham Railway TO BE SOLD BY AUCTION, By Mr. J. DURHAM, Jun. At the Swan Inn, Fenny Stratford, Bucks, on Thursday, Nov 16th, 1837, at one o’clock in the afternoon, subject to such conditions as will be then produced, ALL that old-established and well-accustomed PUBLIC HOUSE, called the Denbigh Hall Inn, in the Parish of FENNY STRATFORD, in the County of Buckingham, adjoining the Holyhead Turnpike Road, at the point where the same is intersected by the London and Birmingham Railway, and which in the course of two or three months will be the station for the starting and arrival of trains to and from London, until the line of Railway is completed over the Wolverton valley, a part of the undertaking which is not expected to be finished for a considerable time. This renders it a most desirable property for Coach Proprietors, Postmasters, Innkeepers, and other persons engaged in the same line of Business. The Estate comprises a good substantial brick-built Public House, containing large tap room, with bar adjoining; parlour, five sleeping rooms, brewhouse, cellar, and pantry, Stabling for Ten Horses, piggery, good garden, newly enclosed with a good oak fence, and another garden adjoining the Railway, with a plentiful pool of water, good open yard, and pump and well of excellent water. The whole is in good repair, and the Tenant is under notice to quit at Lady Day next. The Poor Rates are very low. Particulars may be had at the several Inns in the Neighbourhood, of Mr. E. A. Worley, Solicitor, Stony Stratford; and of Messrs. Durham Son, Land Agents, &c. Old Stratford and Stony Stratford.”
But Holdom did not leave on Lady Day (25th March) after the sale. Indeed, I have a feeling he may have become the owner himself. However, the rail line opening did not come in December as planned, as the work over-ran into 1838. The company blamed the severe winter and frost in the ground. The Northants Mercury 24th March 1838:
“The time the Opening of the Railway from the Euston Station to Denbigh Hall, and from Rugby to Birmingham is now certain. An advertisement will be found in the Mercury of this day, announcing, that on the 9th April, the communication will be opened between Birmingham and London, arrangements having been made to connect the termini at Denbigh Hall and Rugby by coaches, under the direction of the Company. The fares by the first-class coaches (which answer to the inside places ordinary conveyances but are fitted up a style of inconceivable luxury) – are 30s. The fares by the second-class are 20s. The second-class coaches are roofed, but are open at the sides and have uncovered wooden seats. In roominess, safety, and general convenience and comfort, the outside places of the best ordered stage coach will not bear a moment’s comparison with them. We believe the present stage coach fares between London and Birmingham are Insides £2 4s., Outsides, £1 8s. So that to the advantages of superior comfort and expedition, railway travelling adds that of a considerable saving of expense. We learn by the last report of the directors, which we give at length in our Journal today, that further opening of the line to Roade, will take place in May next; and that this will continue to be the terminus from London until the completion of the whole line. For some time, therefore, subsequent to May, the Northampton station will be Roade – a distance about five miles. A Meeting of Coach Proprietors took place yesterday, at the George Hotel, with a view to further arrangements. On Monday week an experimental trip was made along the line to Denbigh Hall, the engine bringing sixteen carriages in its train. It returned to town the same evening, with, we believe, two carriages only, and performed the journey (48 miles), one hour and 55 minutes. On Wednesday last, another experimental trip was made to Denbigh Hall with twenty carriages. The engine returned to Leighton (eight miles), with a small party, in 14½ minutes.”
The same edition carried a report from the Company with an update from Robert Stephenson himself:
“Bletchley Contract – completed, except 350 yards of permanent road. This contract terminates at Denbigh Hall, where a station is now being formed for the temporary terminus of the London division of the line. The shed for the engines and coaches is erected – the necessary turnplates fixed – the sidings stopped from the frost, but in a state to be finished in a fortnight – the huts for the enginemen are ready to be inhabited – the stables for Chaplin & Co. in a forward state – a small office erected on the bridge over the turnpike road, and an approach to the level of the railway from the turnpike road nearly completed. From the above statements relative to the work remaining to be done between Tring and Denbigh Hall, is evident that the time of opening through this district depends on and must be regulated by the completion of that portion of the permanent road remaining unfinished at the south end of the Tring excavation.”
Northants Mercury again, 31st March:
“Additional particulars relative to the opening of the Railway to Denbigh Hall on Monday week, will be found in an advertisement in our Paper of to-day. It appears that there will be two journeys daily to and from London and Birmingham. From Denbigh Hall to London four journeys daily will be made, at the hours of seven and ten in the morning, and three and seven in the afternoon. From London for Denbigh Hall there will be two departures daily, at ten in the morning and five in the afternoon; but persons wishing to come to Denbigh Hall may of course also travel by the Birmingham train, which leaves London at half-past seven in the morning and one p.m. After the 7th of May there will be another train from London to Denbigh Hall, at half-past eight at night, and from Denbigh Hall at four in the morning. These arrangements, we take for granted, refer to the transmission of the mail bags. Even by the present arrangement, necessarily imperfect, part of the journey having to be performed by coach, a journey from London to Liverpool, a distance of 206 miles, may be conveniently made in a single day, with ample time for refreshments at Birmingham.”
The official company advert:
“LONDON and BIRMINGHAM RAILWAY. The Public are informed that from and after Monday, the 9th of April, the RAILWAY will OPEN for the Conveyance of Passengers and Parcels between London and Birmingham and the intermediate Places. The Fares for the whole distance will be as follows.
By First Class Coaches, or Inside Places… 30s.
By Second Class Coaches, or Outside Places… 20s.
and in proportion for the intermediate distances. Porters, Guards, and Coachmen, are prohibited from receiving any Gratuity. The following until further notice, will be the times for the departure of the trains (except on Sundays):
From London 7½a.m. to Birmingham.
From London 10a.m. to Denbigh Hall
From London 1p.m. to Birmingham
From London 5p.m. to Denbigh Hall
From Birmingham 9a.m. to London
From Birmingham 1p.m. to London
From Denbigh Hall 7a.m. to London
From Denbigh Hall 10a.m. to London
From Denbigh Hall 3p.m. to London
From Denbigh Hall 7p.m. to London
and from and after the 7th of May, from London at 8½p.m. to Denbigh Hall, and from Denbigh Hall at four a.m. to London.
Sundays, from and after the 15th of April, from London, 7½a.m. to Birmingham. From Birmingham, 1½p.m. to London.
By this arrangement passengers will have the opportunity of making the journey, between London and Liverpool, or Manchester, conveniently in one day, with ample time for refreshment at Birmingham. The Company cannot undertake to convey passengers the whole distance between London and Birmingham, unless where places by the trains have been previously booked. By Order, R. CREED, C. R. MOORSOM, Secretaries. March 28, 1838.”
When it finally opened, at a stroke, many of the old stage-coach routes went out of business. As well as the public being desperate to try the ‘new’ way of travelling, they were just too slow, too uncomfortable and too expensive compared to the new trains. The coach service needed to transfer passengers to and from Rugby to Denbigh was organised by the railway company with a firm called Horne & Chaplin, so independent coach operators were left to scramble to get new routes connecting to the station at Denbigh for people to get to London. They even gave them Railway-connected names and these notices appeared in the Northants Mercury of 7th and 14th April respectively:
“LONDON and BIRMINGHAM RAILWAY. THOMAS BROWN, SWAN HOTEL, NEWPORT PAGNELL, respectfully informs the Public that he has provided first-rate CONVEYANCES that will leave Newport Pagnell one Hour previous to each Train leaving the Station at Denbigh Hall. To commence on Monday, APRIL 9th 1838.”
“The new Banbury Coach, the Union Railway, commenced running from the Red Lion Hotel, Banbury, via Brackley, Buckingham, and Stony Stratford, to the railway station at Denbigh Hall on Monday last. It leaves Banbury at half-past ten, and arrives at the station in time for the half-past two train to London and returns to Banbury after the arrival of the half-past three o’clock train.”
The ability to travel such distances so quickly was mind-boggling to our ancestors, for whom a trip to London would have been a major expedition and almost certainly mean an overnight stay from this district. The Northants Mercury, April 14th:
“…let us remind our readers that on Monday the Railway will be opened to Denbigh Hall, & direct their attention to the notices of New Coaches which will then commence running to the Station through and from this town [Northampton]. A new coach, with the appropriate title of “The Railway,” will run direct from this town at seven in the morning, and the traveller will thus be enabled to reach London before mid-day. The journey will be accomplished within the five hours. By starting by the earliest coach, “The Commercial,” at four in the morning, he may breakfast in London at nine, and having spent eight hours in the metropolis, reach Northampton again at ten the same night. With such appliances and means, it may be expected that those will now go to London –
‘Who never went before. And those who always went, will go the more.’
The Company have engaged no fewer than 20 coaches employing 700 horses, to run between Denbigh Hall and the Rugby Station.”
As can be imagined, the opening day was a scene of wild celebration and spectacle, especially in the little roadside inn which was now front-of-stage for the event. It was even mentioned by name in another glowing piece in the Northants Mercury of the same date, although not really in the best of terms:
“OPENING OF THE RAILWAY AT DENBIGH HALL. The further opening of the London and Birmingham Railway to Denbigh Hall – and the opening of the entire portion of the line from Rugby to Birmingham, took place on Monday last…
The scene at Denbigh Hall was very lively and striking. Vast numbers of persons, many from places 20 and 30 miles distant, arrived in time to see the half-past nine o’clock train shooting across the tasteful bridge over the turnpike road. We saw many disappointed faces in the crowd – many who had promised themselves a trip on the very train of which they had caught but a glance, -” Brief as the lightning in the collied night.” Railways are evidently destined to be great moral teachers, and not the least important of the lessons they will enforce is punctuality. The inexorable door of the Station is closed precisely at the appointed time, and the traveller who was but a second behind, has no remedy but patience. There is no running after the departing vehicle, with hat in one hand and portmanteau in the other, shouting to the coachman to “pull UP!”…
Denbigh Hall, which has thus suddenly become a place of such bustle and importance, lies on the Holyhead Road between Fenny and Stony Stratfords. From the former it is about a mile and a half, and from the latter four miles and half. Notwithstanding the dignity of its appellation, it was almost as completely unknown to its neighbours as to those who now visit it from regions more remote. For what is generally understood by a “Hall,” the traveller looks in vain. A small road-side public house (it scarcely aspires to the rank of an inn) is the sole claimant to this aristocratical description. It never, “within the memory of man” was a coaching house; nor are there, so far as we can learn, any proofs that the beauty of its barmaid, or the soundness of its ale ever induced any particular coachman to pull up there. Seven or eight years ago, a heavy, broad-wheeled wagon or two might be seen occasionally standing before it; and it had a sort of minor fame among drovers. At this day it bears its honours meekly. The railway has thrust greatness upon it, and, with becoming gratitude, to railway labourers it seems to devote itself. There was a merry crew of them on Monday last “up stairs, down stairs, and in my lady’s chamber,” smoking, apparently, against time. Visitors sought accommodation for man and horse, chiefly at Fenny Stratford, when every shed, which by the utmost stretch of courtesy, could be called a stable, was put into use and the landladies toiled all day long at carrying up dinners. Mr. Brown, of the Swan, Newport Pagnell, had erected a temporary stable near the station but it was speedily filled. Fortunately the day was exceedingly fine and pleasant, and numerous equipages drew up by the road side till the curiosity of their owners was satisfied. The elevation of the railroad at Denbigh Hall above the turnpike road appears to be about fifty feet, and admirable bird’s eye view of the bustling multitude below is obtained from the bridge. The embankment towards London rapidly diminishes, and within very short walk there is a slight cutting. From the embankment may be gained a pretty distant view of the pretty church at Bow Brickhill. A very short trip indeed will be sufficient to satisfy the traveller of the fallacy of the notion that railways are unpicturesque, and that the rapidity of the transit is fatal to the enjoyment of scenery.”
The name “Hall” certainly belied its somewhat common appearance and you can imagine somewhat sniffy travelling Londoners being a bit shocked that there wasn’t a comfy country mansion waiting to welcome them at the end of their trip! But it still put the area on the map. Within the month, houses selling as far away as Great Brickhill had advertised how far they were from the new station as an extra enticement to buyers. A grand sale was held of unrequired building materials belonging to Mr. Burge, one of the railway contractors, including 4000 sleepers, 20 wheelbarrows, brick making equipment and materials for a 16-horse stable “standing in a field at Denbigh Hall – to be removed.”
The coachmen who were taken on by Horne & Chaplin for the route to Rugby found their situation very much improved, as they were now actually paid wages! A court case was held in April where an ex-employee of the Northampton Rocket stagecoach sued for the wage he believed he was owed. The companies defence was that their guards and drivers were merely given food and accommodation on the road, but no actual pay and “half a loaf is better than no Bread”! They also got tips from passengers. This meagre offering was on account of the coach trade going into steady decline because of the railways, whereas a coachman on Horne & Chaplin’s route was being paid 12s. a week. Independent coaches were still trying to earn off the new railway. Another new route from Grantham, “The Greyhound”, started in May, stopping at several major towns on the way to Denbigh Hall to meet the London train.
Guidebooks and timetables for the line soon began to appear. This is from Mansell’s “The London and Birmingham Railway Guide” (c.1838):
“Denbigh Hall Station (48 miles)
From London to Denbigh 1st class 11s. 6d. 2nd class 7s. 6d.
And is the present terminus from London, two miles beyond Fenny Stratford, where the Railway Company provide a sufficient number of coaches to conduct the passengers on to Rugby, which commences the Birmingham end. Coaches are also provided to convey passengers to Nottingham, Newport Pagnell, Loughborough, Lichfield, Tamworth, Stamford, Kettering, Boston, Market Deeping, Derby, Sheffield, Mansfield, Chesterfield.
The following Mails and Coaches are conveyed by the railroad on vehicles attached to the trains, as far as Denbigh Hall, where they are taken off the line, and horses being attached, they proceed direct to their destinations. Carlisle, Liverpool, Manchester, Holyhead and Litchfield.
The following are the Fares to Denbigh Hall, and from thence by Coach:
To Stony Stratford, first class 13s. 6d. second class 9s.
Towcester, first class 16s. 6d. second class 11s.
Weedon, first class 19s. second class 12s. 6d
Daventry, first class 13s. 6d. second class 9s.
Dunchurch, first class 23s. second class 16s.”
The new railway service went very smoothly and additional services were added to the railway timetable in June. They had expected the line to be open as far as Roade by late June, but recent heavy rains had caused an embankment to slip near Wolverton, so this was delayed. It wasn’t only human passengers using the new route. A train of 55 waggons brought 1,500 sheep into London from Denbigh Hall. It had to be pulled by two locomotives and took three hours. Imagine the scene at Denbigh trying to get them all onboard, it must have been chaos! At that time, the steam terminus in London was Camden, from where coaches were winched into Euston to avoid the noise and soot of engines any closer to the city.
The new section of line connecting Denbigh to Rugby and so completing the line was ready by mid-August. The Northampton Mercury again:
“London and Birmingham Railway. On Monday last a large party of directors and proprietors breakfasted at the Birmingham station, and at half-past six they left, with one of Mr. Bury engines, to make the first excursion along the entire line to London, where they arrived at the station at one o clock, without any kind of accident or circumstance to interfere with the pleasure of the journey. The time occupied traveling was exactly five hours, the other hour and a half bring devoted to the examination of the stupendous and interesting works on the new part the line, much of which is yet incomplete.
The distance to Coventry (18¼-miles) was performed in 36 minutes; from Coventry to Rugby (11 miles) in 22 minutes; from Rugby to Denbigh Hall (55 miles) in 2 hours and 10 minutes; and from Denbigh Hall to London (48 miles) in 1 hour and 54 minutes. The Kilsby Tunnel has been constructed in defiance of immense physical difficulties, and is a work which has excited the greatest interest and admiration. When the party arrived the central shaft, which has a diameter of sixty feet, they were saluted with hearty cheers from a number of workmen who had stationed themselves at its summit far above the subterranean travellers, who responded to the welcome.
The rocky excavations at Blisworth; extending through a considerable extent of country, astonished the visitors perhaps as much as any other part of the line, and must be seen to enable any person to form an adequate idea of its character. The Wolverton viaduct excited great admiration, and many of the proprietors walked down the embankment to enjoy a view the beautiful structure from the meadows below. At the great station, or central depot for the engines, the workshops, and arrangements were inspected, and refreshments were liberally provided. The remainder of the journey, although entitled to notice, presented fewer features of novelty. The jaunt gave much satisfaction.”
Cornish’s “Guide and Companion to the London and Birmingham Railway”, published in 1839, gave this description:
“Leaving the town of Fenny Stratford on the east, and the village of Bletchley on the west, we pass over the London and Holyhead coach road as a place called Denbigh Hall, where was erected a temporary station, during the period when the line was between here and Rugby, being unfinished, the passengers were carried forward to the latter town in omnibuses and coaches, by the high road. From the name of the place, people are led to expect the sight of a large building; there is however nothing of the kind in the place; indeed, the only house in the neighbourhood is a shabby beershop, which used to be frequented by the labourers employed on the line during the progress of the works…”
Roscoe’s “The London and Birmingham railway”, c.1840, gave another good description:
…For a few months previous to the entire opening of the Railway, in September 1838, travellers were conveyed from London to Denbigh Hall, and from Rugby to Birmingham, by locomotive engines – the intermediate distance being performed by coaches, under the direction of the Company. The trains from London brought passenger to Denbigh Hall Bridge, where a temporary station had been erected, and where the coaches and omnibuses stood in readiness to receive them. Such a scene of bustle and confusion have seldom been witnessed as on the arrival of a train. Tickets had to be shewn which were given in London on booking; these were a passport to the coaches &c. It frequently happened, however, that parties had, during the journey, lost their tickets, so that the fare had to be paid again, or they were left behind.
(On the partial opening of the Railway there were unfortunate not sufficient coaches contracted for, to traverse the intervening space from Rugby to Denbigh Hall, so that many persons could not obtain a passage, which occasioned great inconvenience. As far as the Railway was concerned, any number of passengers could be conveyed; but on this middle ground there was a limit, beyond which no person could be booked. For several days before the coronation of Victoria I. every seat from Birmingham to London was secured; and hundreds of persons, who travelled to Birmingham in expectation of proceeding by the Railway were disappointed. At this time from £10 to £20 were offered for a seat. After all the chaises in the town had been engaged, donkey chaises, hackney carriages, carts, and wagons, were put in requisition at enormous prices.)
Then luggage was another source of anxiety; and, lastly, it frequently happened that extra passengers were stowed into a coach or omnibus – more having been booked than could conveniently be accommodated. Bad as all this appears to have been, the public soon felt the value of even shortening the time of a journey from London to Birmingham by a few hours; and they did not seem to mind the inconvenience, as they well supported the Railway during the time this mode of conveyance lasted. It was quite amusing to hear the complaints of slowness of the coaches on the road, which, indeed, travelled about eleven miles an hour, and the perpetual contrasts made between the speed and comfort of the old and the present rate of travelling, which this mingled mode of conveyance most opportunely offered.
As might naturally be expected, a Station so placed as at Denbigh Hall – being, for the time, like a terminus to a railway – had the effect of drawing to the spot an immense number of people, in all sorts of vehicles. There was a great demand in consequence for post-horses, to convey private carriage to their destinations on arriving from London; so much so; indeed, that there was frequently not half the supply. Since the Railway has been completed, this station has been removed to Wolverton; the trains now pass by this spot with the swiftness of an eagle, scarcely affording time to see that there is even such a place in existence.
…In forming the Denbigh Hall Excavation, the workmen discovered a great number of human bones, and those of animals, apparently deposited in a kind of trench, which are supposed to have been buried there at the time of the plague.”
This description comes from Charles G. Harpur’s “The Holyhead Road, the mail coach road to Dublin”, published in 1902:
“Denbigh” Hall no longer figures in the timetables, for the idea of a “secondary station” once proposed to be established here was abandoned. But while the break in the line continued, this was a busy place. It is best described in the words of one who saw it then: Denbigh hall, alias hovel, bears much the appearance of a race-course, where tents are in the place of horses – lots of horses, but not much stabling; coachmen, postboys, post horses and a grand stand! Here the trains must stop, for the very excellent reason that they can’t go any further. On my arrival I was rather surprised to find all the buildings belonged to the Railway Company of such a temporary description; but this station will become only a secondary one when the line is opened to Wolverton. There is but one solitary public house, once rejoicing in the name of the “Pig and Whistle”, but now dignified by the title of “Denbigh Hall Inn” newly named by Mr. Calcraft, the Brewer, who has lately bought the house. Brewers are very fond of buying up inns to prevent, I suppose, other people supplying the public with bad beer, wishing to have the privilege themselves. The unexpected demands for accommodation at this now famed place obliged the industrious landlord to immediately convert his parlour into a coffee room, the bar into a parlour, the kitchen into a bar, the stable into a kitchen, the pigsty into a stable and the tents into straw bedrooms by night and dining rooms by day…”
Yet Mr. Calcraft’s name and the title of “Pig & Whistle” are unknown to me and don’t figure in the records of Fenny Stratford or Bletchley at all?
Five busy months had passed but by September, the newspaper railway timetable adverts had a small additional line inserted to it. “N.B. The booking of Passengers will be discontinued at Denbigh Hall on and after the 17th September, as it will then cease to be a Station”. As the Mercury pointed out on 22nd:
“…In this town and neighbourhood the event excited the greatest interest, and the new portion of the line was thronged by thousands. Everything in the nature of a conveyance which the town could afford was in requisition at an early hour. Denbigh Hall, which so recently enjoyed the distinction of a “Terminus” is now completely deserted, not being even a “station”. The wooden offices are closed; the wattled stabling, and greensward stable-yard, lately so crowded, are empty; and the tarpaulin-roofed “Hotel” * no longer offers to the night traveller the attraction of a cheerful bonfire, and a boiling kettle within. All is tenantless, and the train shoots are unheeded. The glory of Denbigh Hall is departed…”
[*The “tarpaulin-roofed “Hotel” wasn’t the Denbigh Hall Inn, it refers to the marquees erected for sheltering passengers until the coach they required arrived for the onward journey, which may have been the next day.]
In the same edition was an advert for the sale of 20 horses at the George Inn at Kettering on 28th September and then another 20 on 2nd October at the George in Market Harborough, which had been used by the London & Birmingham Railway between Denbigh Hall and Rugby. They obviously didn’t want to flood the market in one place and at one time and drive the prices down.
And thus the heady high-days of crowds and noise abruptly ended and the Denbigh Hall Inn returned to being a roadside refreshment stop for the passing trade on Watling Street. But what a rollercoaster ride they had had! For that brief time they probably had far more business than they could cope with. By December, Mr. W. Ratcliffe of Little Brickhill and Mr. J. Clare of Stony Stratford were selling up their the 14-horse stable, of board, stud and slate, newly-erected at Denbigh Hall. There was obviously no call for it anymore. (Northants Mercury – 1st December 1838)
But the halt had had an impact on the minds of guide-writers for several years to come. Freeling’s “The London and Birmingham Railway Companion” (c.1840?):
“Before the railway was entirely opened, a station used to be here; it was called Denbigh Hall, and often disappointed the expectation of the traveller, who naturally supposed that on arriving here he would be met with a respectable hotel – with one of those ancient English houses which are such picturesque objects of the country; instead of which he found a miserable hostelrie, of the lowest order. Tradition states, however, that a tenement of a superior order did formerly occupy the site of the present house; that it bore the sign of the Marquis of Granby…”
…Osborne’s London Birmingham railway guide (1840):
“The high road from London passes through Fenny Stratford under the line up the hill to the left towards Stony Stratford, at a place called Denbigh Hall, which name leads most people to expect an elegant mansion, park, &c.; this expectation ends in disappointment; for the traveller, on enquiring where is Denbigh Hall, has pointed out to him a mean looking beer shop, situated by the side of the bridge by which the line crosses the road. This beer shop had its custom so much increased during the progress of the works, from the number of ever thirsty men that were working in the neighbourhood, that the owner found it to his advantage to open up nearly all the rooms in his house for the use of his customers, who consisted principally of that class of man called navies or navigators and in some places banksmen or bankers, from being generally employed in making canals and the banks and drains in the fen counties…”
…and Brooks’ “The London and Birmingham Railway Pocket Rail Book” (1841):
“…Denbiegh Hall,” which is no more than a miserable roadside public house, was dragged into notoriety by a temporary station and terminus of the railway being established there, before the whole line was completed. A journal of that time says “It never, within memory of man, was a coaching house, nor are there any proofs that the beauty of the barmaid, or the soundness of the ale, ever induced any particular coachman to pull up there. Occasionally a heavy broad-wheeled waggon or two might be seen standing before it, and it had a sort of minor fame among drovers.”
Soon after, in 1841, came England’s first census with individual names on. Listed under the “Denbigh Hall Inn” in Fenny Stratford were:
Thomas Holdom, 45, Victualler
Sarah Holdom, 45, wife
John Holdom, 20, son
Sarah Holdom, 15, daughter
Sarah Teagle, 20, servant
Richard Fields, 30, agricultural labourer
This census gave no precise details of birthplaces, just whether the person was born in the same County, and all the Holdom’s were born in Buckinghamshire. If this was the same Thomas Holdom as mentioned in the 1821 advert, he would then have only been 25 – quite young to be an innkeeper and landholder, so it could have been his father with the same name. Whether he was landlord and owner is still not known, but a year later, the inn was up for sale, although regretfully it doesn’t say who was selling it. From the Northampton Mercury, 23rd April 1842:
“FREEHOLD PUBLIC HOUSE, to be sold by auction, BY MR. JOHN DURHAM, At the COCK HOTEL, STONY STRATFORD, Bucks, on FRIDAY, MAY 13th, 1842, at three o’clock in the Afternoon, subject to such conditions as will then be produced,
ALL THAT OLD ESTABLISHED AND WELL ACCUSTOMED PUBLIC-HOUSE, CALLED THE DENBIGH HALL INN, IN THE PARISH OF BLETCHLEY, in the county of Buckingham, adjoining the Main Turnpike Road and the London and Birmingham Railway, and within a short distance of the Bletchley Station.
The ESTATE Comprises a Good Substantial Brick-built PUBLIC-HOUSE, containing Kitchen, large Tap Room, with Bar adjoining, Parlour, Five Sleeping Rooms, Cellar and Pantry; Stabling for ten Horses; Piggery; Garden, enclosed with a good Oak Fence, spacious Yard and Pump, and Well excellent Water.
The house is well situated for Business, and there is no other Inn for a considerable Distance. The Parochial Rates are very low. The Fixtures and Stock to taken at a valuation, to be made in the usual way. Particulars may be had at the Swan, Fenny Stratford; Cock Hotel, Stony Stratford, Swan. Leighton; Swan, Newport Pagnell; Messrs. Vandercom, Cree, Law and Comyn, Solicitors, Bush Lane, London; and of John Durham, Land Agent Land Surveyor, Stony Stratford.”
If Holdom had become the owner before the railway arrived and capitalised on the business during the boom, this may have been where the Holdom family originally obtained their fortune to deal in other pubs and later fund their brewery in Fenny Stratford.
1842-1843 John Athawe/Hathaway
As usual, there was no report afterwards of who the purchaser was, but in July a new landlord was name-checked in the Northants Mercury when the inn was robbed. At 1am on 6th July 1842, three men with their faces blackened had gained entry to the house through the pantry and confronted “Mr. Athawe” and his wife in bed. The raiders took all the cash they could find in the house and fled, leaving two weapons behind. It’s easy to imagine the news of the robbery being breathlessly told to a reporter and his scribbling the details down, as best he could, verbatim, as when that landlord passed away in May 1843, we find out that his name was actually John Hathaway, who was aged 52.
1851-1855 Joseph Rhodes/Rhoades
There are no more mentions of the inn in the press before the 1851 census came around. Now installed at the Denbigh Hall Inn, Fenny Stratford were:
Joseph Rhoades, 50, Victualler & Chelsea pensioner, born at Wooton, Bucks
Margaret Rhoades, wife, 35, lace maker, born Rippon, Yorkshire
Mary Ann Rhoades, daughter, 14, born Limerick, Ireland
Thomas William Rhoades, son, 5, born Limerick, Ireland
Emma Rhoades, daughter, 5, born Woolwich, Kent
Matilda Rhoades, daughter, 1, born Woolwich, Kent
Elizabeth Rhoades, daughter, 1-day-old, born at Denbigh Hall (obviously!)
Mary Rhoades, mother, widow, 89, lace maker, born Ashington, Bucks
James Rhoades, son, unmarried,18, labourer, born Grindon, Bucks
Emma Rhoades, servant, 14, born Grindon, Bucks
…quite a large family to house in a 5-bedroom inn, especially if you were letting out some rooms to travellers too.
His military record (TNA: WO 97/1258/39) shows he joined up aged 20 and spent 21 years and 104 days as a Gunner with the Royal Artillery before leaving in 1845 as he was no longer ‘fit for service’. Rather unsurprisingly, he had deafness in both ears and chronic rheumatism! He left the army with three badges for good conduct and had no blemishes on his record.
Some extra revenue for his pub would have come from the auctions of various land or crops that were organised at the inn. 50 acres of grass keeping on Denbigh Hall Farm were auctioned there in April 1853 and 50 acres of crops and rights for shooting on 170 acres were up for grabs in August 1853. (Bucks Herald) However, the extra trade brought in by these sales on his premises and his army pension does not seem to have been enough to sustain Rhodes and his family, as by March 1855 he was already described in the Northants Mercury as a Rag Dealer and broke:
“WHEREAS a Petition of JOSEPH RHODES, formerly of Denbigh Hall, in the parish of Fenny Stratford, in the county of Buckingham, Licensed Victualler, afterwards of Fenny Stratford aforesaid, Licensed Victualler and Brewer, and now of Denbigh Hall, in the parish Fenny Stratford, in the county aforesaid, Rag Dealer, an Insolvent Debtor, having been filed in the County Court of Buckinghamshire, holden at Newport Pagnell, in the said county, and an Interim Order for Protection from Process having been given the said Joseph Rhodes, under the provisions of the Statutes in that case made and provided, the said Joseph Rhodes is hereby required to appear in the said Court, holden at Newport Pagnell aforesaid, before the Judge of the said Court, on the 19th day of March 1855, at 12 o’clock at noon precisely, for his First Examination touching his Debts. Estate, and Effects, and to be further dealt with according to the provisions of the said Statutes. And notice is hereby given, that the choice of Assignees is to take place at the time so appointed. All persons Indebted to the said Joseph Rhodes, or who have any of his effects, are not to pay or deliver the same but to John Parrott, Esq., the Clerk of the said Court, the County Court Office, Newport Pagnell, in the said County. JOHN PARROTT. “
Next was a very confusing report. Bucks Herald, 2nd September 1854:
“An application was made by Mr. John Maffey, of Fenny Stratford, to transfer the license from the Marquis of Granby, at Denbigh Hall, of which he is the owner, to the house kept by him in the town of Fenny Stratford. – License granted accordingly.”
Apart from stories about the history of the Inn, this is the only other use of the “Marquis of Granby” name other than at the sale in 1816. John Maffey ran the Maltsters Arms in Fenny during the 1850’s. There are no other mentions of him in connection to the Denbigh Hall Inn and its license certainly continued. Did the court reporter have the right inn name written down?
1856-1861 Ann / Emma / Mary Amos
At the Newport Pagnell Petty Sessions in August 1856, one Ann Amos made an application to change her Fenny Stratford beerhouse into a full public house, which was turned down. No sign-name was given, but as female licensees were few at the time and the surname matches later reports, I believe this was for the Denbigh Hall Inn. The local crop sales continued at the inn, occurring in June 1856, April 1857 and April and July 1858. Sometimes, prospective buyers were asked to meet at the inn before walking to the actual site of the auction.
The next time Mrs. Amos was at the Petty Sessions at Newport, it was on the wrong side of the law. Described as a beerhouse keeper, with again no sign given, she was convicted of having two unjust measures in her house. Penalty and costs were 17s. 6d. (Bucks Herald, 23rd April 1859) Just as now, the authorities could appear and inspect the measures and jugs of any pub or shop to ensure customers were getting the full amount of what they had ordered. Fortunately, her next brush with the law was avoided. From the Bucks Chronicle of 5th December 1860:
“Emma Amos, of the Denbigh public-house, in the parish of Fenny Stratford. was charged with selling beer before half-past twelve o’clock in the afternoon of Sunday, the 11th of Nov., otherwise than as refreshment for travellers; but the magistrates were of opinion that the evidence was not sufficient to warrant a conviction, and therefore the summons was dismissed.”
The 1861 census does not list the inn by name, but there were the two people at the inn that night:
Mary Amos, married, 45, Publican, born Silverstone, Northants
Charlotte Amos, Daughter, 17, born Silverstone, Northants
Ten years before, in the census of 1851, a Mary Amos, widow, was living in West End, Silverstone as a shopkeeper with four children, including a daughter named Charlotte whose age was recorded as 5. Is that the same family?
1862-1868 George Greenfield (Becomes a full Public House)
Within eighteen months, the only female licensee the house would have had gone, replaced with George Greenfield. He might have been there by December 1861, as he was being sued at Newport Pagnell Crown Court for £20 by Coling & Hipwell, brewers of Olney, but no house name is given, so he may have been at another beerhouse before coming to the Denbigh Hall. (Croydon’s Weekly Standard) He was certainly in place by August 1862, when he was convicted of keeping his house open for the sale of beer after 10 o’clock at night on July 29th. He was fined, with costs, £1 4s. (Bucks Herald) The piece is headed ‘Beerhouse Offence’, indicating the house did not yet have a full licence. The conviction could not have come at a worse time as he was back in front of the Court a month later trying to obtain his full license, perhaps this is why his application was refused. He would have to be content with selling beer, without wines and spirits.
If it were Maffey who still owned the inn, he had over-stretched himself and the mortgagee took over the inn and decided to sell it to recoup their money. An advert duly appeared in the Bucks Herald, 7th November 1863:
“TO BREWERS AND OTHERS. VALUABLE FREEHOLD PROPERTY, AT DENBIGH HALL, FENNY STRATFORD, BUCKS., BE SOLD BY AUCTION, BY JOSEPH REDDEN, (By Order of the Mortgagee under his Power of Sale,) at the MALTSTERS’ ARMS, Fenny Stratford, On WEDNESDAY, the 18th of NOVEMBER 1863, At Three o’Clock in the Afternoon, (Subject to such Conditions will then be read),
ALL THAT FREEHOLD BEERHOUSE AND PREMISES, situate in the township of Fenny Stratford, and called “DENBIGH HALL,” in the occupation of Mr. George Greenfield, comprising parlour, taproom, bar, pantry, back kitchen, cellar, bowling alley, capital bedrooms, large yard, stable, garden, and appurtenances, at the low rent of £8 per annum.
Also, all those FOUR COTTAGES or TENEMENTS adjoining the above, with Gardens, pump, and well of water, in the several occupations of Richard Battams, John Holton, George Webb, and Benjamin Ward, let at Rents amounting together to £17 6s. 8d. per Annum. For further Particulars apply to Messrs. Powell, Newman, and Powell, Solicitors, or of the Auctioneer, all of Newport Pagnell.”
Mrs. Eliza Greenfield had a pair of her boots stolen by two travelling musicians in April 1864. Having spent the afternoon in the inn, Frederick George Menzies and Thomas Dow had left the Denbigh Hall Inn before the boots were missed. They were traced to St. Albans, where they had just begun their street act as minstrels when apprehended. The policeman accompanied them back to their lodgings where he found they had offered the boots to their new landlady for 5s.! They were committed for trial at the Quarter Sessions. (Bucks Herald)
A curious Court case took place in September 1864. It was brought against Rev. Charles James for obtaining goods under false pretences. He had written to Norman & Shepherd, the Northampton drapers, requesting 20 yards of fine silk and then two dresses, giving his address as “Denbigh Hall”. The draper made the same mistake as the London travellers all those years ago and thought this must be a Clerk in Holy Orders living at a fine residence, so he forwarded the goods as requested. However, someone who worked for the draper told him it was a common public house, so the draper called the police.
The Reverends room was searched and some of the goods were found but also some pawn tickets. There was also evidence he had similarly ordered a gun, a harmonium, a piano and an organ. Rev. James protested his innocence and stated that debt was a civil matter and he could not be dealt with by that Court. He was remanded for a week while further evidence came to light. He had also ordered a pocket watch, but the watchmaker wrote to Denbigh Hall asking about him. Mrs. Greenfield had replied that he was staying with them for the hunting season and she thought he would pay for any goods ordered… except the Court heard that Mrs. Greenfield could not read other than writing in print, and had not written the letter back to the watchmaker. The Rev. James had forged it, although she went on to say that she agreed with the contents anyway as he had always paid her on time. He was remanded for another week.
The silk in question was then found – with another lodging house keeper in Tring to whom he had left it to secure a £2 10s. loan he said he needed. Another witness was found who corroborated that he was indeed a Reverend. As the Court thought he had no means or intention of paying for the goods ordered, he was committed to the Quarter Sessions with bail of two sureties required of £100 each. When that case was heard, he was convicted and given five years penal servitude, having previously served four months for having stabbed a butcher who asked for a debt to be settled. There is no mention of whether he paid for his lodgings at the Denbigh Hall!
The court case prompted someone at the Northants Mercury (either with a long memory or access to their archives…) to dig out a poetical piece they had first published in 1838 as relevant again to these events, albeit slightly adapted:
“DENBIGH HALL. The very humble road-side public-house known as “Denbigh Hall,” is one of those places which have greatness thrust upon them. Its godfathers and godmothers gave it a pompous name, in singular ill-accord with its real character. What’s in a name? “Denbigh Hall” was obscure road-side pot-house, notwithstanding, till it became suddenly known to the world as the terminus of the then London and Birmingham Railway. On the 9th of April, 1838, the southern portion of the line, which originally extended northward no farther than Boxmoor, was opened to “Denbigh Hall,” which thus described in the Northampton Mercury of that date: – “Denbigh Hall”, which has thus suddenly become a place of such bustle and importance, lies on the Holyhead-road, between Fenny and Stony Stratfords. From the former it is about a mile and a half, and from the latter four miles and a half. Notwithstanding the dignity of its appellation, was almost as completely unknown to its neighbours as to those who now visit from regions remote. For what is generally understood by a ‘hall’ the traveller looks in vain. A small road-side public-house (it scarcely aspires to the rank of an inn) is the sole claimant of this aristocratical description. It never, within the memory of man, was a coaching house, nor is there, so far as we can learn, any evidence that the beauty of its barmaid, or the soundness of its ale, ever induced any particular coachman to pull there. Seven or eight years ago, a heavy broad-wheeled waggon or two might be seen occasionally standing before it, and it had a sort of minor fame among drovers. At this day it bears its honours meekly. The railway has thrust greatness upon it, and, with becoming gratitude, to railway labourers it seems to devote itself. There was a merry crew of them on Monday last, “upstairs, downstairs, and in my lady’s chamber,” smoking, apparently against time.
During the long delay occasioned by the Roade Cutting, and the construction of the Kilsby Tunnel, Denbigh Hall was a busy place. The communication with the northern end of the railway at Rugby was maintained by omnibus, stage-coach, van, vehicles of all descriptions, and in every variety of condition, and the company was of course various as the vehicles. But Denbigh Hall never suffered itself to be startled from its primitive rusticity. The old third-class accommodation remained, to which first-class passengers had to adapt themselves as well as they might,’ for the accommodation never attempted to adapt itself to them. Booths and stalls sprang up, with refreshments having that peculiar unsavoury and dusty look which characterises the viands of village fair. A good deal of beer, bottled and draught, was no doubt drunk on and off the premises, and the probability is that some money was picked up there. But the prosperity was short-lived. The difficulties of the Cutting and the Tunnel yielded to the patience and mother-wit of the engineers, and the railway at length was finished. Denbigh Hall forthwith sank into its original obscurity; the omnibuses, the stage-coaches, the vans, and the long et cetera vanished from the road; the stalls were struck; the motley multitude was seen no more; and Denbigh Hall slept again its deep sleep of obscurity. The Rev. C. James was the Fairy Prince who was fated to awaken it into life again. His genius it was that appreciated the happy combination for a Chevalier d’Industrie, of a great name and small lodging. Nor would a lesser wit have reckoned on the complete forgetfulness, even in the commercial world, of the real character of the “Hall.” Messrs. Norman and Shepherd may be supposed to know as well as most people what mansions lie within our roundabouts; but even they were bewildered with the magniloquent title of Denbigh Hall, and had forgotten that it was mere pothouse. Poor Mr. James has a long penalty to pay for his escroqueries, and Denbigh Hall will now in all probability relapse again into its Sleepy Hollow kind of existence – “the world forgetting, by the world forgot.” But sooner or later its discordant fate we may be sure will pursue it, and its name will start again into spasmodic celebrity when we least expect it.” (Northampton Mercury – 29th October 1864)
Greenfield tried again for a full license for his house at the Newport Pagnell Petty Sessions in August 1865 and was this time successful, so the Denbigh Hall beerhouse became a full Public House. That November, a travelling hairdresser had just started his evening meal in the house when he was taken ill. John Swann staggered as far as the passage before collapsing and dying. An inquest under coroner J. Worley and jury returned a verdict of “Disease of the Heart”. (Buckingham Advertiser)
Henry Wickham was charged with stealing a coat from another traveller staying at the inn. People shared rooms in those days and someone else in his room missed their coat the next day. Wickham was pursued to Foster’s Booth, Northamptonshire, which is halfway between Towcester and Weedon Bec. The owner must have been very keen to get his coat back! He was committed to prison for 21 days. (Bucks Herald, 8th June 1867)
Two men were found in the Denbigh Hall Inn spending the money they had just stolen from a sleeping traveller at Great Brickhill on 11th July 1867. John Clark and Hugh Mulloy fleeced the pockets of John Sip of Leighton Buzzard when he stopped by the side of the road for a nap. They were sent for trial. (Bucks Herald)
Greenfield was still in charge in September 1868, as “George Greenfield, Denbigh Hall, Fenny Stratford, publican” was listed as someone whom a local bankrupt owed £1 to, in a Bucks Herald report, but by March 1869, he had moved on to run the King’s Arms at Little Brickhill.
1871-1872 Henry Henley
By the time of the next census in 1871, with Greenfields moved on to pastures new, the “Denbigh Hall Inn, Fenny Stratford” was in new hands:
Henry Henley, 26, bootmaker and publican, born in Bletchley
Martha Henley, wife, 27, born in Woughton
Florence Mary Henley, daughter, 3-months, born Denbigh Hall
…yet he was only destined to be in charge for a short period. In January 1872, this advert appeared in the Leighton Buzzard Observer: “TO BE LET, with IMMEDIATE POSSESSION, that Old-established Public-house known as the Denbigh Hall Inn, with convenient buildings attached, in the parish of Fenny Stratford. For particulars, apply to the occupier, Henry Henley.”
1872-1876 Edmund Warr
Helpfully, a register of all licenced premises was produced in 1872. The entry for “Denbeigh Hall” says it was opened in 1830 (untrue) and was now being run by Edmund Warr, but it was owned by Messrs. Wroughton and Co., of Aylesbury, a firm I have not been able to trace.
In January 1874 the Croydon’s Weekly Standard reported that one Andrew Skeyne Robinson “…a stranger who said he came from Edinburgh, and who had the appearance of having seen better days…” stole a knife and one boot(!) from Edmund Warr, licensee of the Denbigh Hall public house. Ann, his wife, said she had served him a glass of beer, which he had paid for, but missed the items after he had left. When the police found him in Little Brickhill, he was also in possession of a pair of scissors he had purloined from the Saracen’s Head. Robinson received three weeks’ hard labour for each charge.
The Warr’s, too, weren’t in place long, as in September 1876 a small advert appeared in the Leighton Buzzard Observer: “To be Let, With Possession at Michaelmas next, the DENBIGH HALL PUBLIC-HOUSE, situate at FENNY STRATFORD, Bucks. For particulars, &c., apply to Ashdown Brothers, The Brewery, Leighton Buzzard.” but within a month, the brewery had decided not to rent it out, but to sell it. The Leighton Buzzard Observer, 17th October 1876:
“DENBIGH HALL, near FENNY STRATFORD Valuable Freehold Fully-licensed Roadside Inn, with Garden, Enclosed Yard, &c. Messrs. READER & SON Are instructed TO SELL BY AUCTION, On THURSDAY, 26th of OCTOBER, 1876, AT FOUR FOR FIVE O’CLOCK, At the Bletchley Park Hotel, Bletchley, The above well-known Fully-licensed INN and PREMISES, SITUATE on the London and main road from Fenny Stratford to Stony Stratford. The house is substantially-built and well arranged, and contains seven rooms on the ground floor and seven rooms over. The Premises comprise large and enclosed Garden at the rear, enclosed Yard, with Stable, &c., thereon, with frontage to the road. Full particulars will shortly be published, and in the meantime may be obtained of Messrs. Watson & Son, Solicitors, Aylesbury, or of the Auctioneers, Temple Street, Aylesbury.”
1876-1877 Samuel Baldwin / Baldom
At the Petty Sessions later that month, the Bicester Herald said the license was transferred from Edmund Warr to Samuel L. Baldwin. (but ‘Baldom’ according to Croydon’s Weekly Standard) This new landlord only held it six months till April 1877, when the Bucks Herald says it was transferred from a Mr. S. B. Baldwin to a George E. King.
1877-1881 George / John / Frederick King
The new owners didn’t hold it long either, as it was back up for sale in March 1878, this time with the nearby set of cottages as well. Croydon’s Weekly Standard, 9th March 1878:
“FENNY STRATFORD. THE Free and Fully-Licensed INN, known as “DENBIGH HALL,” Doing a very large trade, substantially brick-built and slated, with capital and convenient Premises; also FOUR Brick and Slated COTTAGES, with good Gardens and Wood Barns, the whole situate close to the extension works of the L. & N. W. Railway; To be Sold by Auction, BY MR. GEORGE WIGLEY. On TUESDAY, the 19th day of March, 1878, at the Swan lnn, FENNY STRATFORD, at Five for Six o’clock in the afternoon, in Two Lots, by direction of the proprietor.
Lot 1 comprises the DENBIGH HALL INN, free and fully licensed, and freehold, brick-built and slated, containing bar, parlour with bay windows, large taproom with ditto, kitchen, large cellar, and 7 bedrooms, large and convenient courtyard enclosed with brick wall, a brick and tiled cart hovel, brick and tiled stable and brick and thatched ditto, gold well of water, and kitchen garden. This Inn is well situate close to the London road, and is in the very heart of the extension works of the London and North-Western Railway, and is doing a particularly large and profitable trade, and now in the occupation of Mr. George King.
Lot 2. Four neat well-built brick and slated Freehold COTTAGES, adjoining Lot 1, with gardens front and back, and piece of very valuable Garden or Building Ground at side, in the occupation of Henry Batchelor, – White, – Leadbeater, and – Battams, at rents amounting to £22 per annum. The whole is Freehold.
For a view apply on the premises, and for further particulars to Messrs. Powell, Newman & Powell, Solicitors, Newport Pagnell, or of the Auctioneer, Winslow, Bucks.”
For a change, the results of this auction and the one before were published in the Northampton Mercury. It said the public house bought a short time ago for £320 was now sold for £760 and the cottages for £170. It also specified that the pub belonged to Mr. J. King, but he was still there in charge in 1879, so what happened at the sale?
Bucks. Archives holds the papers of George Wigley & Sons, auctioneers of Winslow. One of the items (D-WIG/2/7/1878/14) is the auction sale poster for Denbigh Hall Public House, with 4 cottages adjoining, in Fenny Stratford, with other correspondence from this sale. They had requests for the particulars from Fowlers Brewery of Woburn, Watford Brewery and Phipps of Towcester and Northampton, even though the requester admits that their Governor had already refused to buy the inn under private treaty from Mr King, as “he thought the property too wide”(?)
Another inquest was held at the inn during December 1878, on the body of David Wells, a 55-year-old flagman for the contactors engaged on the new rail line construction. He had signalled to the workmen that a freight train was coming through the thick fog and then stepped onto the other line, not realising an express train was coming that way. He was killed instantly and his body taken to the inn. The verdict was “Accidental Death”. (Bucks Advertiser)
King found he could organise events outside the inn that were popular and might encourage trade to come back inside. A pigeon shoot was organised in April 1879, with the advertised prize of a Fat Pig. Eleven contended for it, eventually agreeing to split the prize, as the scores were tied between six of them. Dinner was served afterwards in the inn. (Leighton Buzzard Observer). He tried it again in December on Boxing Day, with adverts for the event appearing in the North Bucks Times. King had arranged for plenty of pigeons to be present but alas! according to the Bucks Advertiser in January 1880, he was lacking in sportsmen to shoot them! So the pigeons (and pig) were safe.
A sad accident befell George Morris, 50, while working at the Denbigh Hall farm nearby in September 1880. He was coming down a ladder from the top of a hayrick when he fell to the ground, breaking his neck. The local surgeon said death was instantaneous. It was discovered a rung was missing from the ladder, which was well-known to all the workmen in Mr. Farmbrough’s employ. While the jury returned a verdict of “Accidental Death”, they added “they considered Mr. Farmbrough was to blame for allowing the ladder to be used with a round out”.
John and Mary Elizabeth King baptised their son Frederick Charles in August 1880, obviously not the same Frederick King that the license transferred to in October 1880, I don’t know if they were related (Northampton Mercury). John had taken the Rose & Crown at Fenny instead and Bedfordshire Archives has a “Notebook containing valuation of Rose & Crown public house and premises etc. at Fenny Stratford and public house at Denbigh Hall with 4 cottages and premises adjoining, 26 April 1880.” Sadly, it gives only valuation figures, with no description of the actual properties. (BMB4/1/6/17)
Frederick King got as far as January 1881 before being in trouble. He was charged with having his premises open during prohibited hours at 10.30am on a Sunday, on December 12th the previous year. P.c. Churchill has seen people in the parlour of the pub. He went inside and found Francis Parmeter, Thomas Somerset and Charles Bowler sat with a variety of empty and full bottles. King’s lawyer said the men were “travellers” and therefore allowed to be in the inn at that time. There was a minimum distance that you had to have travelled before being eligible for service at an inn outside of licensed hours. This was to allow service of refreshments to those truly travelling long distances without locals being allowed in at all hours. Somerset said he had visited Parmeter’s farm and had walked more than 3 miles in an hour from his home in Bletchley. The Court did not agree with this interpretation of the law! King was fined (with costs) 23s. 6d. or 14 days. The three customers were then fined (with costs) 12s. 4d. each or 7 days. (Northampton Mercury & Croydon’s Weekly Standard)
King was still there for the next census in spring 1881 and turns out to have been very young. Under “Denbigh Hall Public House” listed under Fenny Stratford are:
Frederick King, 22, Publican, born at Bletchley, Bucks.
Robert Ambridge, Servant, 17, Domestic general (inn servant), born at Marston, Beds.
(In the same census, Henry Henley, the landlord from 1871-1972, had by now given up all licensed trade to concentrate on boot-making in Aylesbury Street.)
1881-1883 A./Joseph Janes
In August, the Northants Mercury reported that the magistrates of Newport Pagnell Petty Sessions Licensing Committee had cautioned many local landlords about their conduct, amongst whom was the licensee of Denbigh Hall, but he wasn’t named. By November, there had been another change as an advert appeared in the North Bucks Times:
“Strayed. A sow to the yard of the Denbigh Hall Inn, Fenny Stratford. The Owner can have the same by applying to A. Janes, Denbigh Hall, on payment of expenses.”
One claim to fame the inn had was that the newly-cast Great Bell for St. Paul’s Cathedral in London stopped for the night outside. It was travelling from Loughborough in May 1882. Crowds came from villages from miles around to see the huge bell being transported. The next day it continued and was carefully manoeuvred across the bridge at Fenny Stratford where even the tarpaulin cloaking it was removed to lessen the weight, affording the crowds a good view of the bell. It was later bogged down in Little Brickhill when it slipped off the road.
While Janes was the licensee running the inn, it appears the King family were still the owners. In another Wigley’s General Sale & Valuation Book held by Bucks. Archives (D-WIG/2/1/12) is a valuation of the late Mr. John King’s property and goods for his executors from 14th May 1884. It lists the contents of the Rose & Crown room by room, but only has a list of stock held at Denbigh Hall, which included 755 gallons of beer and dozens of gallons of spirits.
The 1883 Kellys trade directory lists a Joseph Janes as landlord, but they can sometimes be out of date by the time of publication.
1885-1890 James Eames
The next newspaper report, for yet another law infraction, was against a James Eames. Eames had been away from the inn on Sunday October 4th 1885, when his mother and daughter served alcohol to someone that they had thought was a traveller, but turned out to be a local. The Court still found Eames to blame and fined him 5s. with 13s. 6d. costs. (North Bucks Times) At the annual licensing sessions in July the next year, notices were served to say any landlords prosecuted during the previous year had to attend, as the Police would object. (Bucks Herald) Indeed, Superintendent Hall objected to the renewal of Eames’ license on the grounds of the conviction, but Eames had come prepared with the legal assistance of Mr. Reader and Mr. Gulliver of Aylesbury, who represented the present owner of the house, who explained that “…in future the house would be conducted in a quiet and orderly manner, and that the tenant would be very particular in future who he supplied drink to on Sundays.” Magistrates eventually granted the license but cautioned the landlord on his future behaviour. (Northampton Mercury / Bucks Advertiser).
Pigeon shooting was tried again in January 1888, described as an annual event and arranged by J. Eames “…in one of his fields at the rear of Denbigh Hall Inn”. Mr. Parmeter competed among others. Again, there were too few entries to afford the “£9 Fat Pig” that had been promised as a prize. (Leighton Buzzard Observer)
Eames wasn’t happy with the lighting under the nearby bridge, to the point where he was (almost) prepared to withhold his rates over the matter. The North Bucks Times 13th October 1888:
“MORE LIGHT WANTED. The case of Thomas Best v. James Eames, which was a summons taken out by Mr. Best, assistant overseer of Fenny Stratford, against Mr. James Eames, farmer, of Denbigh Hall, for the recovery of rates, was called, when it was stated that the case was settled; but Mr. Eames appeared and said he wished to make a statement to the Bench. Major Levi said that on the previous day, Mr. Eames called upon him and stated he had refused to pay the lighting rate for the Parish of Fenny Stratford in consequence of the Denbigh bridge, which was a very dangerous place, not being lighted. He at once informed Mr. Eames that he had acted very wrongly in refusing to pay the rate, as the lighting of the bridge was nothing to do with the Lighting Inspectors. He, however, thoroughly realised the necessity of this bridge being lighted on dark nights, and he thought that the road surveyors and overseers of Fenny Stratford and Simpson, as the bridge was situated in both parishes, should properly represent the question to the London and North Western Railway Company, with a view to getting the matter remedied. This was his opinion, and he recommended Mr. Eames to pay the rate and then attend the Court that day and make his complaint, which, if the Press would notice, the matter would, undoubtedly, be taken up by the Parochial Officials. The Denbigh Hall bridge was a dark and dangerous place and the complaint now made should not be allowed to passed unheeded. Mr. Eames said that he declined to pay the rate on public grounds. He was a mile-and-half away from any street lighting and the bridge, which was situated close to his licenced premises, was exceedingly dangerous, and there had been several narrow escapes of serious accidents. A petition had been signed and sent to the Company in respect to the matter and two gentlemen came down to see the bridge. They admitted that it was a dangerous place and ought to be lighted, and they said if the Company lighted that they would have so many others to light. The Bench expressed a wish that the Press would notice the matter and that the Parochial Officials should take steps to get it properly represented to the Railway Company and the dangerous condition of the bridge pointed out, and that the Company be asked to provide the necessary light.”
Why would Eames have gone to Levi first? Because he was supporting him in his political aspirations as a candidate for the division. Eames even chaired political meetings, according to the North Bucks Times, (12th January 1889) in support of him but tragically Levi was killed in 1889 when thrown from his trap in an accident. Eames’ next appearance before the authorities in December 1889 was less public-minded…
“ADULTERATED BRANDY. James Eames, of Fenny Stratford, was summoned for selling adulterated brandy on Nov. 12th. Mr. D. T. Willis appeared for the defendant and pleaded guilty. Mr. Superintendent Hall said as an inspector under the Food & Drugs Act he purchased a pint of brandy at Denbigh Hall Inn, a house kept by defendant. The analyst’s certificate showed 15 per cent below the specific allowed under the Act.
Mr. Wallis said that Mr. Eames had usually bought his brandy at proof and had consequently added a quantity of water to reduce it to the strength required by law. By some mistake on this occasion the distillers sent in the brandy ten under proof and the permits not being in the hands of Miss Eames, who had management of the house, the usual quantity of water was added, and hence the adulteration, which arose, entirely from a mistake. Fined £5 and £1 costs, or 14 days in default of distress. Mr Eames: You had better have a distress I should think. He however paid the fine.”
No doubt the brandy affair contributed somewhat to the next change of landlord soon after the New Year. Yet not only was Eames running the beerhouse, it appears he was also the farmer of Denbigh Hall Farm. He is referred to as Farmer in several news reports. Then local auctioneers, Cumberland & Hopkins, ran a sale of Denbigh Hall Farm in August 1891 of the whole of the crops of Home Field, Hill Field, Ploughed Field and Lower Field, Denbigh Hall Farm for Mr Eames who was leaving the farm. Catalogues could be had at the usual outlets plus the Rose and Crown Hotel, at Fenny which Eames could be found later running in 1893 (North Bucks Times) but he had already given up the public house by this point.
1890-1891 William Throssil/Throssell
Mr. William Throssil / Thrassell (depending on sources) was applying for a holdover license at the Fenny Petty Sessions in February 1890. However, the police attended court and stated he had been selling “for some time” without a license at all! He was cautioned but a license then granted. There can’t be many landlords who are admonished by the Bench before they even get their premises licensed! Therefore he was covered until the next proper licensing meeting in March, when the license was transferred to him fully. (North Bucks Times)
Throssell had come from running the Queen’s Head Inn at Wing. Once at Denbigh Hall, in October 1890, he sued a Mr. Wrather who had taken over the Queen’s Head from him, for £3 3s. 6d., the price of a cracked spirit jar, a dog, a goat and a debt of 10s. money lent. Mr. Wrather said the case had only been brought because he had had to previously sue Throssell to recover £10 he had lent him! I doubt the judge at Leighton County Court looked very kindly on the whole debacle. Wrather promised to return the jar, dog and goat and an order was made for the return of the 10s. (North Bucks Times)
1891 was census year again. Under “Denbigh Hall Inn, Bletchley Road, Fenny Stratford” were:
William Throssell, 33, Publican, born at Bourne, Cambs.
Mary Ann Throssell, wife, 34, born Wolverhampton
George Rowley, servant, single, 53, Labourer, born Little Howard [?]
That summer, more animals were getting Throssill into trouble. From a June North Bucks Times:
“Highway Offence. Wm Throssil, of Denbigh Hall, was charged with allowing a horse to stray on the highway. P.c. Cliffe proved the offences. He said he had previously cautioned the defendant for allowing his horse to stray. Defendant promised to keep them up, but did not do so. Fined 2s. 6d. and 6s. costs.”
1892-1892 John Sparks
1892-1894 James Costin/Coster
Although appearing in the Register of Electors for 1892, by the autumn of the year, Throssell had already gone and his replacement was now leaving. Bucks Advertiser, 15th October 1892 – “Denbigh Hall Inn transferred from John Sparks to James Coston”. There are no stories about Sparks or Costen, (if Costen was even his name), as Bucks Advertiser, 7th April 1894 – “Denbigh Hall Inn transferred from James Coster to Francis Corner.”
1894 Francis Corner
The revolving roundabout of landlords wasn’t the only problem for ABC, the brewery of Aylesbury, who ran the pub. The liquid supplies to the house were the start of an issue that would become a major part of the Denbigh Hall Inn story and it wasn’t even about their beer, it was the water. This from the North Bucks Times, 15th January 1898:
“DENBIGH HALL INN. The Surveyor said the Council had received complaints about the water taken from the well at the Denbigh Public House. It had been wrong for a long time, and he had taken a sample of it, and found the water far from right. The well was dug in the clay, and whatever expense the owners or occupiers put to would do no good.
Mr. Holdom – The houses have been built some hundreds of years, but there have been no complaints till recently. The old inhabitants must have got used to drinking the water.
Mr. Sipthorpe said the well wanted properly cleaning out, and then the water would be good. The well had been cleaned out before, but they never went to the bottom. A man came, but never finished it.
Mr. Wootton:- Will it be good water if the well is cleaned out?
The Surveyor – Yes, if there is a spring; but I very much doubt it.
On the motion of Mr. Kirby, it was resolved to call upon the owners to clean out the well, to the satisfaction of the Surveyor.”
The Mr Holdom here on the Council committee was quite probably a descendant of the owner in the early 1800’s! I wonder if he knew…
On 12th May 1898, George Wigley & Sons sold four of the cottages at Denbigh Hall in Fenny Stratford, on behalf of the Aylesbury Brewery Company. (Bucks. Archives: D-WIG/2/7/1898/3) Did they sell them rather than fix the problem?
The Brewery must have made some efforts in cleaning the well out, but to no avail. The mains water system had come to the central part of Fenny, but was still some way off from supplying Denbigh Hall and the cottages near it, so they wrote to Fenny Stratford Urban District Council to complain about water service arrangements to their inn:
“Walton Brewery, Aylesbury, September 13th 1898. Dear Sir. We hear from our tenant at the Denbigh Hall Inn that the well has given out. We should be glad to know how near the water supply now is to the Inn and on what terms your company would be prepared to continue and lay it on thereto. Awaiting your reply, we are, yours faithfully, T. E. Walker, Managing Director.
The Clerk was requested to reply to the foregoing letter as follows, on the motion of Mr. Holdom, seconded by Mr. Bramley:
September 17th Dear Sirs, Your letter dated the 13th inst., was considered by my Council at a meeting held yesterday and I am directed to reply that the Authority will be willing to extend the water main to Denbigh Hall if the property owners will give an undertaking to bear two-thirds of the cost. I have communicated this to Mr. H. S. Leon, of Bletchley Park, who is the owner of the property adjoining yours, and if you decide to entertain the offer perhaps it will be as well if you put yourselves into communication with him. I am unable at the present moment to give you an estimate of the cost as our Surveyor is from home sick, but should you desire it on his return, I will forward it to you. Yours truly, Toms. Best, clerk
P.S. We propose early next week as a temporary arrangement to put a temporary stand-pipe at the extreme end of the present main, and shall be willing for you to have a key to enable your tenants to obtain water for domestic purposes, if you will give us an undertaking to pay the usual water rate, viz. five per cent. on the rateable value.” (North Bucks Times)
An editorial piece in the Leighton Buzzard Observer added that the well at the Denbigh Hall Inn had actually been condemned and closed by the Council as “impure”. It would necessitate a great deal of water mains to be laid, at a cost no-one wanted to bear, to supply just a few houses and the inn. How the inn was functioning in a hygienic state with no running water is hard to imagine… By October, the council surveyor and Mr. Leon had looked into the matter and found that 900 extra yards of water main would be needed. As they hadn’t had a reply from ABC that they would accept 2/3 of the cost as suggested, the matter was deferred. In February 1899, the well had been cleaned out and a sample of water sent off for analysis, but found to be “as bad as ever”.
1899-1900 George Forbes
The landlord who was dealing with fetching all his water from the stand-pipe was now George Forbes, as he is listed in the 1899 Kellys trade directory and was charged with allowing a sow and pigs to stray onto the highway from Denbigh Hall on April 5th 1900. Fined 3s. and 5s. costs. (Bicester Herald) He is mentioned in August when a party from the North Bucks Cycling Corp went to Swanbourne for the day. About 70 intrepid cyclists set off, with more joining on route. Members included local Conservative agent Gerard Fiennes. A stop was made on the return trip at the Denbigh Hall Inn:
“On arriving at Denbigh Hall, an up-to-date little hostelry, the journey was broken and a call made upon the very popular host, Mr. George Forbes, himself a staunch and true Conservative, and also a member of the cycling Corp. Refreshments were taken, after which an hour was pleasantly spent in song and chat….” (Croydon’s Weekly Standard)
How “up-to-date” was it with no running water?! Forbes was also advertising in Hertfordshire papers in April and September for help: “Wanted a Good Girl as GENERAL SERVANT, only two in family. No washing. Apply, Forbes, Denbigh Hall Inn, Bletchley Bucks.” Certainly, it was difficult to do any washing without water! All through this year, complaints from the Council Surveyor as to the quality of the Denbigh Hall well continued. In December 1899, the brewery wrote to the Council again, asking to be connected to the main. The Council replied, reminding them of their offer to pay 1/3 of the costs, which the Brewery had declined. Their offer was still the same.
The argument continued into the new century. In late March, ABC tried again. Their letter was reprinted in the North Bucks Times:
“WATER SUPPLY TO DENBEIGH HALL. The following letter was read on the above matter – “Walton Brewery Aylesbury, March 13, 1900. Dear Sir, – We have gone into the matter very carefully, and find it will cost a sum of £125 to extend the main to Denbeigh. This is with a 2in. cast iron main. We must point out that it will be an extension for nearly 900 yards to the water main, and bearing in mind the fact that your Council have the right to tap it at any point, we consider that in common equity they should bear half the coat of the outlay, and we cannot see our way to proceed further in the matter until a definite settlement is arrived at. Yours faithfully, The AYLESBURY BREWERY Co., J. Chadwick, Esq.
The Vice-chairman proposed that the Council pay £42 towards the cost, subject to the work being executed to the satisfaction of the Surveyor. Mr. Brown seconded, and it was agreed to.”
1900-1902 James Shaw
Leighton Buzzard Observer 24th July 1900 – “Denbigh Hall Inn transferred from George Forbes to A. Shaw.” This was just in time for the next census in 1901:
James Shaw, 44, Innkeeper, born Chesterfield, Derbyshire
Caroline Shaw, wife, 38, born Ireland
1902-1904 Frank Shargool
Shaw lasted less than two years before transferring to the Red Lion Inn by the canal lock at Fenny/Simpson. The next licensee was quick to advertise the house in the North Bucks Times, of August 1902, saying it had changed proprietorship and had good accommodation for Cyclists, (a very popular hobby at that time with Watling Street being used extensively) with dinners and teas at reasonable prices. The North Bucks Times said the Magistrates had granted a Mr. Frank Shargool, proprietor of the Denbigh Hall Inn, a license for the sale of intoxicating liquors in September 1902.
It wasn’t long before he fell victim to the same temptation that had ensnared many a landlord before him. A few extra pence selling beer when he wasn’t supposed to. Northampton Mercury 19th June 1903 – Frank Shargool was summoned for having his house open during prohibited hours on Whit Sunday. The police had found Thomas & Frank Fountain drinking in the house and Shargool pleaded guilty to “having offered for sale” but not “kept open”. It appears he tried to rely on the dispensation for “Travellers”, but as the Fountain’s only lived a mile away, it didn’t work. He was fined 20s. and 6s. 6d. costs. Bizarrely, no conviction was then recorded against the Fountain’s, as long as they paid the 4s. costs of their summons!
Superintendent Lait attended the Licensing Sessions in February 1904 and submitted a report saying there were 41 alehouses, 5 beerhouses (on license), 3 beerhouses (off license) and 3 grocers licenses in the area. This meant there was one license to every 169 inhabitants, a statistic that was monitored closely. Of these, Frank Shargool was the only landlord brought up and mentioned by name for his conviction in June 1903 but the police said that since then he had conducted his house satisfactorily. All the licenses were therefore renewed. (Leighton Buzzard Observer)
1904 H.W. Tennant
1904 J. H. Campbell
1904 Mr. Payne
1904-1907 Frank Butt
Shargool moved on in April 1904, transferring the license to Mr H. W. Tennant. (Northampton Mercury) He set about immediately recruiting new staff: “WORKING HOUSEKEEPER, or trustworthy general servant, wanted for roadside Inn – Apply, Tennant, Denbigh Hall Inn, Fenny Stratford.” (North Bucks Times)
Here, there is some confusion. The Bucks Advertiser of 24th September 1904 says a Holdover License was granted to a Mr. Campbell from Mr. Tennant. The Leighton Buzzard Observer of 25th October says the license was transferred to Mr. J. H. Campbell. Then it says in November that a Temporary Hold over license was granted from a Mr. Campbell to Mr. Payne, and “…the Bench referred to the continual transfer of the license.” It confuses me, let alone them! The Bucks Advertiser of 12th December says there was a transfer of license from Mr. Campbell to Mr. Butt which seems to be correct, as Frank Butt is the landlord listed in the 1907 Kellys trade directory. He seems to have been one of the few landlords who kept his head down and stuck by the law, as there isn’t a single newspaper report mentioning his time there.
Some of the attached cottages were sold in 1905. It appears several of the small residences had been knocked into larger ones.
1908 Mr. J. H. Rowe
1908-1911 Elijah George Steers/Stairs
There is no note of Butt leaving, but the Bucks Advertiser reported on 27th June 1908 that a Temporary hold over had been granted for the Denbigh Hall Inn from Mr. J. H. Rowe to E. J. Steers. Therefore, Steers was in charge when an inquest was held at the inn on the body of Joseph Morby in July 1908 who appears to have collapsed at the bottom of the steps up to the railway. Even though there was no evidence he had fallen, the Jury asked LNWR to add handrails to their steps. (Northampton Mercury) The following letter appeared in the Rugby Advertiser of January 3rd, 1909:
“DENBIGH HALL: HOW IT RECEIVED ITS NAME. To the Editor of the Advertiser. Sir – I have read with interest your account of the early days of the L. & N.-W. Railway, when the line did not go further than Denbigh Hall, on the Watling Street Road, two miles north of Bletchley. Denbigh Hall is a roadside inn standing close to the main line, and was so called after Basil, 11th Earl of Denbigh, my great-great-grandfather, who put up there one night when the wheel had come off his coach as he was driving up to London. It was then known as the Marquis of Granby, and they made old Lord Denbigh so comfortable there that he always used it as his half-way house to London, with the result that they changed the name of the inn. One day he and his wife arrived there, and the landlord asked if his nephew, a boy of 13, who was staying in the house, might be allowed to do a portrait of Lady Denbigh, and the youngster proceeded forthwith to do a very clever picture in pastels. This boy grew up to be the great Sir Thomas Lawrence, and the accounts of his life record show at that age he used to earn quite an income by doing portraits of travellers at the various inns on the posting routes – principally on the Bath Road. The above-mentioned picture was afterwards presented to my grandfather, and it hangs in the hall here as an interesting souvenir of Denbigh Hall. Faithfully yours, DENBIGH. Newnham Paddox.”
Although it appeared unchallenged at the time, nearly 20 years later the facts above were to be disputed.
The nearby farmhouse of Denbigh Hall suffered a fire in the chimney in January 1909. The Fenny Stratford Fire Brigade was called, who hastened to attach horses to their cart and attend as the fire had spread to the flooring. Readers of the Bucks Advertiser were reminded that Denbigh Hall was in Fenny parish and entitled to the services of the fire brigade, although it was some way off. Prompt action had saved the building. This was followed on the 30th of January by the Captain of Fire Brigade, Mr. Garner, submitted a report saying the cost of attending the fire was £1 7s. 10d. Steers of the inn then wrote in to the Bucks Advertiser to say that the ‘prompt action’ mentioned were the actions of Roland Gibbs and himself and that the fire brigade services had not been required as it was out by the time they attended!
The same paper reported on the February Licensing meeting which heard a report from Superintendent Lait. Fenny Stratford had 41 alehouses, 5 beer houses (on license), 2 beerhouses (off license) and 3 Grocers (one beerhouse less than 1904) totalling 51 for the population of 8798, so one for every 172 people. All the houses had been well conducted with no proceedings at all in the last year. The Chairman congratulated them. All licenses were renewed, bar one… The Denbigh Hall Inn was put back for a month, but there was no reason why given. In March, it was renewed and it appears it had been at the objection of the Bench themselves, questioning whether it was still necessary. From the Buckingham Express 13th March:
“THE DENBIGH HALL. The licence of the Denbigh Hall Inn having been put back at the general annual Licensing Sessions for enquiries to be made now came up for consideration.
Mr. Frank Higgens, of the Aylesbury Brewery Co., appeared to support the licence. Superintendent Lait said he had examined the inn by order of the Bench. Witness gave the dimensions of the rooms and passages. Upstairs there were five bedrooms, one a large one which might be used as a club room. There was stabling for five horses and a coachhouse. The premises were very cleanly. There were nine dwelling houses within a radius of half-a-mile, and the nearest licensed house was a mile and a quarter away, namely, in the town. There had been five transfers in five years.
Mr. Stairs, the present tenant since last June, gave evidence. He sold groceries, food, oil, etc. as well as drink. He calculated that there were fourteen dwelling houses within a radius of just over half-a-mile, these including three farms. The occupants of all dealt with him from time to time. He put in a petition in favour of the licence, signed by eighty-four people.
J. Burgess, manager of the Aylesbury Brewery Co’s stores in Fenny Stratford, put in a statement of the trade done at the house for two periods of three years each 1903-4-5 and 1906-7-8.
Finch-Hill, farmer, Denbigh Hall, said the house was practically in one of his fields. It was not a nuisance and he strongly objected to the licence being done away with. It was a great convenience to his workmen. George King. farmer, Denbigh, also spoke in favour of the continuance of the licence. Edward Dolden, farmer and dairyman, Bleak Hall, also said that the licence was necessary.
Mr. Higgens addressed the Bench briefly. Traffic on the main road had greatly altered during the last ten years. Manufacturers were sending their goods by heavy motor instead of by rail. A house like this on the main road was now a necessity and would become more and more so. There might be a redundancy of licenced houses in the town, but this was a mile and a quarter outside on one side, and two or three miles from the next house on the other. The Bench said that the matter would be referred to the Aylesbury Committee, and pending their decision the licence would be renewed.”
…but this was not the end of the matter. Despite the local renewal of the license, the Bucks County Licensing Committee already had it in their sights and started proceedings to have the inn closed. A large number of influential people thought there were far too many pubs and far too much drinking going on. A fund had been collected to compensate landlords and brewers for every public house that was shut down. A long report in the Buckingham Advertiser on 22nd May gave the proceedings against local public houses that the authorities wanted to close. Mr Higgens of ABC (who was also vice-chairman of the Bucks Brewers Association) was again present and objected at every turn, demanding to be heard. He questioned if they had enough money to close every pub they wanted to, or if they would have to borrow money to do so? The case for the Denbigh Hall was heard last:
“DENBIGH HALL, FENNY STRATFORD. The Magistrates were not represented by counsel in this case. Mr. Fortescue, solicitor, of Banbury, appeared for the owners of the house, and applied for the renewal of the licence. Supt. Lait said the population of Fenny Stratford at the last census was 3,578, and there were 14 licences in the town, which worked out one licence to every 255 persons. The house in question was situated on the Watling Street Road. There were nine or ten other houses close by.
The Chairman said the Committee thought the licence ought to be renewed, as 255 per licence did not show sufficient redundancy.
Mr. Fortescue said it was unfortunate that the Clerk to the Magistrates was not there to represent the Magistrates. It was unfortunate that in the report sent in the Renewal Authority to mention, whatever was made of the fact that witnesses were called on behalf of the owners and the licensee, and a petition put in signed a large number of persons in favour of the house being retained. If this had been before the preliminary meeting of the Committee, he ventured to think they would not have been put to the expense of appearing on that occasion. He, therefore, asked whether the Committee could allow them some costs. The Chairman said did not think it would fair to the other subscribers to the Compensation fund. Mr. Fortescue said that his clients were also subscribers to the fund. The Chairman said he was afraid they could not consider the application. The licence was renewed.”
At the same hearing, it was decided to close and compensate for the Rose and Crown, Winslow; the Plough Winslow; the Wrestlers, Mursley; the Castle, Long Crendon; the Dog and Gun, Long Crendon and the Red Lion at Gawcott. Yet the Denbigh Hall Inn had survived… just.
An early motoring offence was committed outside the inn in December 1910. George Creed of Plaistow left a running motor car outside while he went in for a tea. A police constable saw him and reported it as he had left his car in the road, facing the wrong way, causing an unnecessary obstruction. Horses were shying away from the noise of it! Steers appeared on behalf of the driver and said Creed had been on the road for 18 hours in the car. (No wonder he needed a tea…) Creed was fined 15s. with 7s. 6d. costs. (North Bucks Times)
In January 1911, the landlord of the Denbigh Hall Inn (not named) contacted the Council and informed them the General Post Office was placing a letter box opposite his pub and as the bridge wasn’t lit, could the Urban Council supply a lamp post and oil lamp so that he could then light for them? His offer was declined.
Only one occupant was present on the night of the census in 1911. Under “Denbigh Hall Inn, Denbigh Road Bletchley” is listed:
Elijah George Steers, Head, married, 52, Licensed Victualler, born Mitcham, Surrey
Yet Steers was gone shortly afterwards and another round of musical chairs followed.
1911-1912 George Cooper
1912 Mr. Gibbs
1912-1913 James Bridgett
The Beds Times, 26th May 1911 – Licence transferred from Mr. Steers to Mr. Cooper. In February 1912 the North Bucks Times reported Mr. George Cooper would shortly be removing to the Plough Inn at Simpson. A Temporary hold-over was granted in April to Mr. Gibbs. North Bucks Times, 27th April 1912 – Transferred to James Bridgett. Then Bucks Express, 4th May 1912 back to a Mr. Gibbs, but perhaps that was a misunderstanding, as it was certainly Mr. J. Bridgett listed as licensee of Denbigh Hall Inn who attended a North Bucks Licensed Victuallers Association meeting at Wolverton where Sir Harry Verney spoke, according to a June 1912 North Bucks Times. Gibbs was possibly one of the cottage residents nearby, who might have been asked to hold the license temporarily until the new landlord arrived.
Bridgett seems to have had a quiet tenancy, apart from appearing at Bletchley Police Court in September 1913 to give evidence against a James Beveridge for begging in the district. (Northampton Chronicle) Just a few days later, he was moving on, as the only business before Fenny Stratford Divisional Magistrates was a Hold Over license of Denbigh Hall but no personal names were given. In October the North Bucks Times said the transfer was from James Bridgett to William Frederick Villars who had been running the Old Sportsman at Steeple Claydon. Bridgett went on to a public house in Drayton Parslow.
1913-1914 William Frederick Villars
Villars really wanted a pig-sty. What had happened to the one previously listed as being present at various sales of the inn, I do not know. Perhaps it had been converted to an outhouse or stable. ABC wrote to the Council to formally request permission to erect one in November 1913.
Although the Council were aware there was no bye-law dealing with how far a pig-sty had to be from a residence, they thought it should be at least 60 feet away from a house. As the pub still obtained their water from a well onsite, there were fears the water source could easily be contaminated. They answered that they would consider it a nuisance if one was erected and that the brewers did so at their own risk. ABC replied that their tenant would leave if no pig-sty could be erected, so they would be erecting one! The council Surveyor thought they intended to “stick them up and then we must deal with it as a nuisance”. (North Bucks Times)
Whether it was in consequence of the pig-sty debate or the clouds of war, Villars decided to leave in August 1914. An advert for a sale of his goods appeared in the North Bucks Times on 8th August, which gives some idea of his other pursuits:
“DENBIGH HALL INN, FENNY STRATFORD. Messrs. GEO. WIGLEY & SONS Are instructed by Mr. W. F. VILLARS, who is leaving, TO SELL BY AUCTION, ON WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 12th, 1914, At 2 o’clock precisely, the capital surplus Household FURNITURE And Effects, INCLUDING 7-octave cottage Pianoforte, Dining Room Suite in American Cloth, extending Dining Table, brass Fender and Brasses, Overmantel, Oriental and other Carpets, Treadle Sewing Machine, Bedroom Suite in Satin Walnut, Bedsteads, Bedding, Kitchen Utensils; also a Lady’s “Hercules” 3-speed Bicycle, Tamlin’s 60-egg Incubator, and a Tamlin’s “Sunbeam” Foster Mother, Ladder, Dog Kennel, Garden and Carpenter’s Tools, &c. 22 head of Poultry, 2 in-farrow Yelts. No Catalogues. On view morning of sale. Auction Offices: Winslow and Fenny Stratford.”
Villars and his wife Minnie Louisa moved to Bedford Street, Fenny Stratford, where they lived into the 1920’s.
1914-1928 George Cooper
North Bucks Times, 15th August 1914 – Fenny Petty Sessions. Transfer from William Frederick Villars to George Cooper of Wavendon. Cooper and his wife Frances were there all through the First World War and well into the 1920’s. He was charged with having unregistered persons staying in his inn during December 1917. He admitted that two men had been staying one night a week for over three years, they were engaged by the Government in driving munitions waggons. Police said they had asked more than once for them to be registered. Cooper was fined 5s. (North Bucks Times)
The residents of Bletchley Park, Sir Herbert and Lady Leon, had a tablet affixed to the railway bridge in August 1920, detailing how Denbigh Hall had once been the end of the line from London. It read “Prior to September 1838 the southern part of this railway terminated at this bridge whence passengers were conveyed by coach to Rugby where they rejoined the railway for Birmingham. Inscribed by Sir Herbert Leon, Bart, and Lady Leon of Bletchley Park Bucks by permission of the L&NW Railway Company Aug 1920“, and is still in place today. In March 1925, the Bucks Herald had a long article on the book “Drake’s Road Book of the London and Birmingham Railway”, originally published in 1840.
“A little way beyond Bletchley Station is a spot upon which our author becomes almost humorous; this is at the site of “what was formerly known as Denbigh Hall Station. Here, for several months after the first opening of the railway, the trains were accustomed to stop, and the traveller had to adopt the ancient methods of conveyance, for the performance of the next thirty-eight miles of his journey. Luggage lost, tickets missing, coaches over-filled, and a thousand other disastrous occurrences, altogether formed a spectacle which defy the most sorrowful disciple of Heraditus to view without a smile… The building called Denbigh Hall, respecting which it is very probable our reader may have formed the same conception as ourselves, and imagined it to be the august mansion of some illustrious grandee, is nothing but a paltry publichouse, or “Tom and Jerry* shop,” as we heard an indignant fellow traveller contemptuously style it, which has taken the liberty of assuming this magnificent appellation. Tradition ascribes the origin of the name to the circumstances of Lord Denbigh having been compelled to tarry here for the night through an accident happening to his carriage; and also informs us that his lordship left some property to his host in return for the kindness with which he had been entertained: but whether this story is deserving of credit pretend not to say.” Is it possible that TAU can throw any further light upon this romantic hostelry?”
[* A “Tom and Jerry” is a hot drink made of rum, brandy or whiskey, beaten eggs, sugar, water or milk and nutmeg, a very low-class of alcoholic drink, which later became a popular Christmas-time cocktail in America.]
TAU was a correspondent for the same newspaper who wrote a column called “Topical Notes: General and Local” and seemed to be interested in history. After a few months of research, he wrote a long piece on the history of the inn in July:
“In the “Rugby Advertiser of 3rd January 1909, Lord Denbigh wrote the following: – “Denbigh Hall is a roadside Inn standing close to the main line and is so called after Basil, 6th Earl of Denbigh who put up there one night when a wheel had come off his coach as he was going to London. It was then known as the Marquis of Granby, and Lord Denbigh was made so comfortable that he always used it as his halfway house with the result that his name was given to the inn. One day the landlord asked if his nephew, a boy of 13, might be allowed to do a portrait of Lady Denbigh, and the boy did a clever picture in pastels. The boy became the great painter, Sir Thomas Lawrence, who, in the accounts of his life, is said to have earned quite an income by drawing portraits of travellers at various inns on the posting routes, principally on the Bath road.
The 6th Earl of Denbigh was born in 1719 and Bletchley Register mentions Denbigh Hall in 1715. Lady Denbigh died in October, 1782, and her portrait by the youthful Lawrence hangs in the hall and Newnham Paddox. Sir Thos. Lawrence was both in 1769. Another version says as insignificant inn called Denbigh Hall on a site formerly occupied by a small dwelling inhabited by an old woman named Moll Norris. One winter’s night the Earl of Denbigh’s carriage was stopped by snow drifts and he sheltered at Moll’s. When about to leave he asked for his bill, and the old woman brought him a hatchet! The Earl kept the hatchet in memory of the incident and paid Moll so well that the place took his name.
Though it may have once have possessed some natural beauty its social reputation was blemished. Cole writes, in 1644 the constables houses of Bletchley were Denbigh and Willow Hall, two cottages on the Watling Street road. Willow hall was pulled down in 18706, Denbigh Hall, alas, still stands (written about 1757) Mr. Willis endeavoured to pull it down as it was reported to be a bawdy house, it stands just by his grounds on the road at the foot of Rickley hill, and exactly where the brook from Woughton makes a sort of river in floody weather, but he was cast at his trial about it. What with overflowing brook, steep hill, and situation, it was just the place for snow drifts to trouble and wheels to come off.
It is improbable that the Inn was ever known as the “Marques of Granby,” as that general hardly became a sign-board celebrity until after the battle at Minden which took place 1st August, 1759. The Marquis was born in 1721, so achieved fame as a rather early age, he died in 1770. There is no public shrine to his memory now in this county.
The truth is mixed up between the two foregoing accounts and entangled in several incidents, for the Earls of Denbigh have used Watling-street between Newnham Paddox and London for centuries. Possibly it was the fourth or fifth Earl who experienced the snow drift and was hospitality received by Moll. This does not negative the possible co-incidence of the sixth Earl’s breakdown at the same place, though it was certain that Denbigh Hall was thus known before he was born. The widow Norris was buried 6th March 1698, this may have been Moll. That the house was then an inn may be inferred from the fact that an unknown man died at William Norris, his house, 30th April 1700. It is first called Denby Hall in the register when a daughter of William Norris is buried in 1715. Cole mentions William Norris as an “ale-draper” and occupying a house on the waste called Denbigh Hall.
During the construction of this part of the L & NWR in the 1830’s and 40’s, a large number of men were employed, the banks and cutting between Fenny Stratford and Loughton requiring much labour. Denbigh Hall Inn profited largely – or rather the owner did – by the thirst engendered by hot weather and honest manual industry in navvies, bricklayers and others. The Inn was also a brew house, and was quite unable to brew beer fast enough to supply this demand.
One sporting reminiscence adheres to Denbigh. When the Bedford branch line was completed, festivities celebrated the event. Among those was a three days’ cricket match at Denbigh, an All England Eleven appearing! This was about 1846, is there any record available?”
I certainly couldn’t find one! He continued a week later:
“Having been started on the subject by “Denbigh Hall”, it will, the writer hopes, be interesting to continue. In 1654 one Bunce or Bunch murdered a man just beyond Denbigh Hall in Rickley Wood. He was hanged for his crime on the opposite side of the high road at the upper end of the wood. The stump of the gibbet was taken up in 1699 and a house built on the place and elm tree planted, both the latter have long since disappeared. There is no mention of this crime in any register of the adjacent parishes, but Bletchley records a similar event; 1617. Sept 8, a stranger slayne and found in wryckley wood.”
All this prompted a letter to the Bucks Herald from a reader, published 18th July 1925:
“DENBIGH HALL. TO THE EDITOR OF THE BUCKS HERALD.
Sir – I notice that in your “Topical Notes” for this week “Tau” quotes from the “Rugby Advertiser” Lord Denbigh’s statement that Sir Thomas Lawrence’s uncle was landlord of The Marquis Granby afterwards known as the Denbigh Hall and that as a boy of 13 he made a pastel drawing of Lady Denbigh when she visited the inn. According to Williams who wrote the official “Life of Lawrence” and to Sir Walter Armstrong more recently Lawrence’s father was a supervisor of excise at Bristol and later became landlord of the White Lion in Broad-street Bristol. Thomas was born the White Lion in 1769, but his father, getting into financial difficulties, moved in 1772 to the Black Bear at Devizes. It was at Devizes when he was five years old, that Thomas attracted attention drawing a striking portrait of Mrs., afterwards Lady Kenyon, who was a guest the inn. By the time he was twelve his parents had migrated to Bath and the boy was supporting the family by drawing portraits of the fashionable visitors and had already achieved considerable fame. It would interesting to know whether there any confirmatory evidence of Lawrence having visited Bucks or his uncle having been landlord of the inn afterwards known as Denbigh Hall.
I am, etc. CECIL WALL, Whitchurch, Bucks.”
George Cooper is still listed in the Kellys trade directory for 1928, but the new decade saw a new name at the inn for the first time in 16 years.
1930-1938 Albert Chambers
Albert Chambers was in charge by July 1930, as his wife Daisy had to appear as a witness in a burglary case as she had seen the accused at the time of the incidents. (Northampton Chronicle) Darts was a staple game in many British pubs and in May 1931, Mr. W. Castle, representing the Denbigh Hall Inn, won the North Buck Darts League Championship at the Victoria Hotel in Wolverton. He was presented with a silver medal. (Bucks Advertiser) The Register of Electors for 1931 gives Albert, Albert Janes and Daisy Annie Chambers as adult occupants of the house.
It appears Chambers was running a 40-acre farm whilst his wife did most of the inn business. The junior Albert Chambers, known as “Tich” and Albert Rose were summoned to Stony Stratford Sessions for riding bicycles without lights at Loughton in August 1931. They were going home for the day, following behind Albert Chambers snr., who did have lights on his bike. Rose informed the policeman who stopped them that it did not matter during hay-making season, as they were exempt from having lights. Chambers junr. rode away without giving his name, but the police tracked him down. He then threw his summons down in the street! The Court said the exemption was only for farm wagons, not bicycles. Albert junr. had had a previous conviction at another Court “…and had given the police a fair amount of trouble…”, so was fined £1, while Rose only had to pay 5s.! (Bucks Advertiser)
Fortesque Bros., of Aylesbury Street, Bletchley sued Albert Chambers for £1 3s. 9d. in December 1933, the balance owed for a lady’s bicycle. Chambers said he didn’t know it had even been ordered! He arranged to pay in 14 days. (Beds Times)
Something was stolen from a lorry parked at the inn on 28th October 1933, so Albert told the driver to report it to the police. When they came to investigate the crime and asked who had been staying the night at the inn, Chambers told them seven drivers had stayed that night but he didn’t have their names. This meant they had not signed a Register as the law states for inns and hotels, so he was taken before the Court himself! The case was dismissed on his paying 4s. costs. (Beds Times)
A funeral of Mr J. A. Chambers of Denbigh Hall Inn was conducted by Rev. R. H. Roberts in May 1934. He was 29. (Beds Times – Yet strangely I cannot find this death elsewhere?)
In March 1935, it was Albert’s turn to sue someone else. Bletchley County Court heard his case against Reginald F. L. Keep of Brackley for £2 11s. for board and lodgings. Keep had left without paying his bill, having agreed to 24s. a week whilst employed at the brickworks. An Order was made for him to pay 8s. a month. Then Chambers got into trouble himself. Northants Mercury, December 1936:
“YOU ARE A SPORT” Albert Chambers, licensed victualler, of Denbigh Hall Inn, Bletchley, was fined £2 for being drunk in charge of a pedal cycle, at Bletchley, on November 26. He pleaded not guilty. P.C. Smethers said defendant was staggering about on Stag Bridge, pushing a cycle. Traffic was heavy at the time. He formed the opinion that defendant was drunk. His breath smelt, his eyes were glazed and he was only kept up by his cycle. Defendant said: “You are a sport, I have only been up to the cattle market.” Sergeant Jones told witness to take defendant home, and defendant said, “You can have the best in the house.” Defendant, when told he would be reported, adopted a threatening attitude. P.S. Jones said defendant would have fallen down on one occasion had not P.C. Smethers held him up. Defendant’s speech was slurred. Chambers: Why wasn’t I charged at once with being drunk? – l said you were drunk. You thought I couldn’t go home by myself? – l was afraid you could not, I would not accept the responsibility. Defendant told the Court that he had had drink or two, having met some friends he had not seen for 12 years. If they had charged his straight away it would have given him a chance to get a doctor. He could of got home safely by himself. Defendant was charged £2.”
1938-1939 C. E. Scott
I haven’t found a notice of Chambers’ leaving, but a drunk conviction would probably have hastened it. They retired to Bletchley Road. In October 1938, an Amelia Scott of the Denbigh Hall Inn was fined 10s. for not sending a child to school, so the Scott’s must have taken over by then. The child was 6½ and could not read or write. It appears Amelia was the grandmother of the child. She said Bletchley School was too far and the road to Simpson School too lonely and that her granddaughter had bad feet! She had only attended 12 times out of 86 possible, so they must have taken the inn some months before this. (Northants Mercury)
1939-1942 Eric Cowley
The only other mention of the Scott’s tenure is when they left in September 1939. Mr. C. E. Scott transferred the license to Mr. Eric Robert Cowley, who had just left the Maltsters Arms. (Leighton Buzzard Observer) The Cowley’s had an interesting time at the inn…
A nationwide register of the population was taken in 1939 in order to issue ID cards. Recorded at the inn are:
Eric R. Cowley, 52, Publican, married
Ada Cowley, 55, Unpaid Domestic Duties, married
Eric R. Cowley, 19, Motor Driver – Timber Haulier, single
Robert A. Gibbs, 56, Builders Labourer, single
Alfred G. Cann, 53, General Labourer, single
By October, both the Eric Cowley’s were summoned for using an unlicensed motor tractor and fraudulently using a Road Fund licence. Eric Jnr. took the rap and pleaded Guilty and was fined 10s. on each charge, while his father pleaded Not Guilty but was still fined 10s. for the first charge and dismissed on the second. (Northants Mercury) In December the same year, a dog followed Eric (which one?) home so he locked it up and hoped to find the owner. He was fined 5s. at the Police Court for not taking the dog to the police. It turned out to belong to the landlord of the Bull Hotel. One of the Eric’s was also fined £1 by Leighton Buzzard Sessions for “allowing a car to stand on the Highway with an unauthorised rear light” a week before Christmas 1940.
These petty infractions were nothing compared to their next escapade. A lorry stopped at the Denbigh Hall Inn on the night of May 17th 1941, on its way from a port to London, for the driver to stay the night. It containing a shipment beef. By the time it arrived in London, it was 225lbs. short, the weight of two hind quarters, which was noticed. The same night, a Newport Pagnell police man had stopped a car to check ID papers and suspicious of the story the two occupants told, he found two hind quarters of beef weighing 225lbs. in the car. In Court, the charges were stealing 225 lbs. of beef; receiving the same; and acquiring the beef without the authority of the Ministry of Food. The accused were Charles Clarkson, of Manor Farm, Great Woolstone, who was charged with all three offences; Eric Robert Cowley, licensee of the Denbigh Hall Inn, charged on similar counts and also with aiding and abetting Clarkson in acquiring the beef; and John Williams, the lorry driver, 43, of Mile End, charged on the three counts and in addition with receiving, disposing of and aiding and abetting in acquiring the beef. After a great deal of evidence and statements, the lorry driver was acquitted, but Clarkson and Cowley were found guilty and sentenced to two months imprisonment – a harsh sentence but the beef equated to 220 adult portions at a time when rationing was helping the war effort.
1942? Archibald Paxton
1944 Thomas Henry Sullivan
I can’t imagine this pleased the owners of the inn very much, so the Cowley’s were soon gone, to be replaced temporarily by Archibald Paxton, according to an undated online news report. The next landlord was Thomas Henry Sullivan, who also had trouble with dogs, but at least these were his own. He was fined 17s. costs for allowing them to worry sheep in February 1944 after a case was brought by the National Farmers Union. Sullivan said he had had both of his dogs destroyed. (Beds Times)
Cowley wasn’t the only landlord to be charged in connection with rationing and food. Deep into the War in April 1944, the Beds Times ran this:
“Fines totalling £30 were imposed at last week’s Sessions on Thomas Henry Sullivan, of “Denbigh Hall” inn, Bletchley, for contravening the Food Rationing Order. It was stated that over a period of twelve weeks there was a deficiency. of 11,222 points which represented over 6cwt. of confectionery. Mr. Ray, prosecuting, said there was no suggestion that Sullivan had obtained this excess amount but he could have applied to his wholesalers for it. Sullivan said his son. aged eight, counted the coupons, and he signed the envelopes that the amounts were correct – he did not check them. He was on war work all day and looked after his business night.”
During the war a soldier had been killed under the railway bridge when a lorry ploughed into a column of troops. With many accidents having occurred here, a few years after the war (and after another triple crash which caused a nose-to-tail traffic jam in both directions for 1½ miles) a proposal was made for roundabouts to be constructed on either side of the bridge. However, in view of proposed new developments, the Bletchley Road Safety Association postponed the idea.
In 1956, it was again temporarily reprieved from closure when, having been given reasons why a water supply had not been laid on, the Bletchley magistrates renewed the licence. This was dependent on attempts being continued to provide a proper supply. The lack of running water finally brought the Denbigh Hall to an end. On April 4th 1957 it was closed by the Aylesbury Brewery Company and then demolished at the end of the year.
If not before, the nearby cottages were also demolished too. The area has returned to nature and is just roadside verge by the side of the bridge on Watling Street. No sign of the Denbigh Hall inn remains. When the new town of Milton Keynes was laid out, a bypass was laid through the middle of it, re-routing the old A5 so it no longer passes through Fenny Stratford and Stony Stratford. This would have removed much of the passing trade the inn had once enjoyed. Sadly the online newspaper’s coverage of this area is very thin for the post-war period. Hopefully more papers will become available at some point.
Thanks are due to John Taylor for his existing research on the house, Milton Keynes Library Service for their assistance, Bucks Archives and the British Newspapers Archive.
[N.B. The various spellings of Denbigh, Denbeigh and Denby come from the original records, as do the variety in some landlord’s names.]
Landlords (Dates refer to dates known running the pub, not necessarily start and end dates)
1816 First recorded open
1821-1841 Thomas Holdom
1842-1843 John Hathaway / Athaway
1851-1855 Joseph Rhoades / Rhodes
1856-1861 Ann / Emma / Mary Amos
1862-1868 George Greenfield
1871-1872 Henry Henley
1872-1876 Edmund Warr
1876 Samuel Baldwin / Baldom
1877 George E. King
1878-1880 John King
1880 Frederick King
1881-1883 A. / Joseph Janes
1885-1890 James Eames
1890-1891 William Throssil / Throssell
1892 John Sparks
1892-1894 James Coston / Coster
1894 Francis Corner
1899-1900 George Forbes
1900-1902 James Shaw
1902-1904 Frank Shergool
1904-1904 H. W. Tennant
1904-1904 J. H. Campbell
1904 Mr. Payne
1904-1907 Frank Butt
-1908 Mr. J. H. Rowe
1908-1911 Elijah George Steers
1911-1912 George Cooper
1912 Mr. Gibbs
1912-1913 James Bridgett
1913-1914 William Frederick Villars
1914-1928 George Cooper
1930-1938 Albert Chambers
1938-1939 C. E. Scott
1939-1941 Eric Robert Cowley
1941 Archibald Paxton
1944 Thomas Henry Sullivan
Page last updated July 2021.