The Duke’s Head, Aspley Guise
This beerhouse once occupied the house on the corner of West Hill and Duke Street, and had one of the shortest lives of local licensed premises. There were just four licensees during the time it was open, and two of those were a husband followed by his widow. The information here mainly comes from the Bedfordshire Archives & Records Service Communities Archives page and collections, as well as the online British Newspapers Archives.
Duke Street was originally laid out in 1869, and 30 freehold building plots “commanding varied and extensive views of the surrounding picturesque country and the fine plantations of fir and evergreens” were then offered by auction at the Bell Inn, Aspley Guise, on April 29th that year.
Usefully, this is just before the census of 1871. That shows Benjamin Mummery, 42, a publican, was already in occupation in Duke Street. He is there with his wife Sarah (35), and four daughters and two sons, ranging from eight years old down to two months. He was born in Dover, but the family had recently been living in Stondon, Bedfordshire, where three of the younger children had been born, apart from Ellen Charlotte Rebecca, the very youngest, who was born at Aspley Guise. The name of the beerhouse is not given.
The Duke Street plots did not sell out immediately, as the last few plots were still being offered for sale in May 1872, at the Swan in Woburn Sands. The next month, the following advert appeared in the Leighton Buzzard Observer:
“Brick-built and Slated Freehold Public House and Premises, Situate at Aspley Guise, Beds., and known by the sign of the Duke’s Head, having a frontage to the Woburn Sands Road of 108 feet, and a side frontage to Duke Street of 207 feet, containing front grocer’s shop, tap room, bar parlour, kitchen, four good bedrooms, beer cellar in basement, well of water, and usual out-offices at the rear; now in the occupation of Mr. Mummery.”
Sadly, there is no report of the sale when it happened in July, or who the new owners were, if indeed it successfully sold. However, it was definitely in the ownership of John Thomas Green, the Woburn Solicitor, when it was up for sale again three years later. The Bedfordshire Mercury, 8th May 1875:
“Aspley Guise, Bedfordshire. Substantially-built Free BEERHOUSE and premises known as THE DUKE’S HEAD, situate at Aspley Guise aforesaid, to be sold by auction, by H. R. J. Swaffield, at the Bedford Arms Hotel, Woburn, on Friday the 21st May 1875.”
The sale description runs: “The Dukes Head, Aspley Guise – beer house and premises containing grocer’s shop, tap room, bar parlour, kitchen, 4 bedrooms, beer cellar in basement, stabling for 6 horses, barn, large garden and usual out offices. Now held by Messrs Wells & Co Brewers of Biggleswade – tenancy expires at Michaelmas. Sale by direction of Mr Green, held at the Bedford Arms Hotel, Woburn.” (BARS: SF2/37A)
Perhaps it didn’t sell at that attempt, as a year later, on 30th September 1876, it was sold to William Pritzler Newland, the Bedford brewer, then in partnership with F. T. Young until 1878.
Newland used the Duke’s Head, along with all his other public houses, to secure a mortgage on 28th May 1877 (BARS: GK160/4) where it was described as “… the ‘Dukes Head’, Aspley Guise with stable barn and outbuilding and premises. Frontage to Woburn Sands Road 108 feet. Side frontage to Duke Street 207 feet.”
Despite all these changes of ownership, the tenant behind the bar had remained landlord Benjamin Mummery. He tried to extend the range of what he was able to offer at the beerhouse by applying for a licence for spirits and wines in July 1877, when the following public notice appeared in the Leighton Buzzard Observer:
“To William Goodman, one of the Overseers of the Poor of the Parish of Aspley Guise, in the County of Bedford, and to the Superintendent of police of the Division of Woburn, in the said County. I, Benjamin Mummery, now residing in the Parish of Aspley Guise, in the County of Bedford, and the keeper of a retail beer-house there situate, called the Duke’s Head, HEREBY GIVE YOU NOTICE that it is my intention to apply at the GENERAL ANNUAL LICENCING MEETING for the Division of Woburn, in the said county, to be holden at the town hall, Woburn, in the said county, on the Thirty-first day of August now next ensuing, for a LICENCE for the sale of Spirits, Wine, Beer, Porter, Cider, Perry, and other intoxicating Liquors, to be drunk and consumed in a certain house, and in the premises thereto belonging, situate in the Parish of Aspley Guise aforesaid, in the division and county aforesaid, at the corner of a new street there called Duke Street, and which house and premises I now occupy, and am tenant of William Putzler [sic] Newland, of the Town of Bedford, Brewer, which I intend to keep as an inn alehouse, or victualing house, the said house not having been heretofore used as an inn. Given under my hand this seventh day of July, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Seventy-seven. Benjamin Mummery.”
…but his application was turned down. He would have to make do with just selling beer! The next census in 1881 does not identify the beerhouse by name, but Mummery is still there, described as a “Publican and Grocer”. Five of the Mummery children are still at home.
Nothing notable by the local press happened at the premises for nearly 10 years, until the passing of Mummery in February 1886, at the age of about 57 (going by the age he used on the census or 62 if you go by his obituary notice in the Leighton Buzzard Observer). The licence was then taken on by his widow, Sarah, in May, but she only stayed for another 18 months before it was transferred to John Everitt / Everett, ending the involvement of the Mummery family after at least 16 years. Everitt then seems to have enjoyed a fairly quiet time in charge of the business, apart from being thrown from a cart belonging to John Collins when the horse took fright in September 1889! He was very much shaken, but otherwise unhurt.
In 1890, brewer Newland went into partnership with Susan Nash, the widow of another Bedford brewer, W. J. Nash, to form Newland & Nash.
Everitt let rooms to lodgers at the beerhouse, and one, a labourer, Frederick Ferrowby, was lodging there at the time that he had an accident at work and fell from 40 feet, breaking three ribs and his arm whilst he was engaged in building a new house in Aspley Hill in April 1891.
That year, the Duke’s Head name finally appears in the census. Everitt (38), who was originally from Eversholt, is described as a “Beerhouse Keeper”. He is there with his wife, Elizabeth (38) a son George (11) and a nephew Edward (14) as well as one lodger, Alfred Brown, a bookbinder.
The death of a customer took place in the beerhouse in 1892. From the Bedfordshire Times, 15th October: “Sudden Death. – George Brewer, a labourer, of Woburn, aged between 40 and 50 years, on Thursday week entered the Duke’s Head Inn, to have his dinner, when, on stooping to pick up a piece of bread he had dropped, he suddenly complained of cramp in one hand and arm. The arm was rubbed, but the pain rapidly ran down his side, and Dr Grant was sent for, but before his arrival the poor man had died. At an inquest held on Friday medical and other evidence was given which went to show that death had resulted from haemorrhage of the brain, and a verdict of ‘Natural Causes’ was returned.”
The next event reported was another sad one. In January 1893, the Duke’s Head was used for an inquest into the death of local builder Frederick Hutton, 75, who had hanged himself. The jury returned ‘Suicide whilst in a state of temporary insanity.”
Apart from these reports, there is little else about the beerhouse which warranted a mention in the newspapers. The 1901 census came, recording the Duke’s Head with “Inn Keeper” Everett still in charge, with his wife, their son and one lodger. Everett stayed another five years until 1906, and then left after 19 years in charge. The landlord changed, for the last time, to George Kilpin, who was just 27.
The last currently available census of 1911 gives George William Kilpin at the Dukes Head with his family. He was born in Stoke Goldington, and was 32, his wife Elizabeth Jane, 31 from Denton, Lancashire, as well as their 1-month old daughter, Alice Elizabeth. There was also a monthly nurse in the household, Mary Ann Garner 29, from Ridgmont. Kilpin’s brother Stanley, 17, was also staying with them.
There is then another long silence in the press until reports of skittle games beginning to appear in 1912. The First World War soon overshadowed such jovial pastimes, and the next report of the Duke’s Head is a conviction. From the Luton Reporter, 23rd August 1915:
“For Services Rendered. Another licensee makes a mistake with a soldier. Another prosecution for contravention of the military order with regard to serving of soldiers with intoxicating liquor in Bedfordshire has come before the Woburn Division Petty Sessions. The defendant was George Kilpin, the licensee of the “Duke’s head,” at Aspley Guise, where a private of the Duke of Bedford’s Regiment named White was found by P.c. Stonebridge sitting in the tap room with a pint of beer in front of him at 9.30p.m. on July 8th. When told be ought not to be there, the soldier said the landlord had given him a pint of beer because he had worked for him, and the landlord said he was sorry if he had made a mistake, but he thought here was no harm in giving a pint of beer to a man who had helped him. The landlord’s explanation was that he was short-handed because of his brother having gone to Northampton on munition work, and he got White who was on leave, to give him a helping hand. They did not get home until twenty minutes past nine, and when the soldier had shut the pony up, he gave him a pint of beer. The magistrates accepted his story that he had made a mistake, and fined him 10s. but Dr. Waugh, who presided, said that publicans must learn that soldiers must not be allowed on premises during prohibited hours.”
The Luton Times added details that the policeman had walked in before White had even had a mouthful, and that Kilpin had always been careful not to serve soldiers in uniform during prohibited hours. In June 1917, George Kilpin was granted a Condition Exemption from call-up, as he managed a 30-acre farm by himself and should be considered a full-time land worker, as his wife and her sister managed the pub. (Luton News)
The brewing firm Newland & Nash merged with the Biggleswade brewers Wells & Winch in 1922. Wells of Biggleswade had run the pub back in 1876.
In 1927 this part of Bedfordshire was valued under the terms of the Rating Valuation Act 1925; every piece of land and property was inspected to determine the rates to be paid on it. At that time, the Duke’s Head consisted of a small tap room, small kitchen, small smoke room and a lounge downstairs, with a cellar beneath containing three thirty-six gallon barrels of beer; upstairs were four bedrooms. Outside were a washhouse, WC, coachhouse and stable. Rent was £15 per annum, unchanged from 1914. On average the pub got through a barrel of beer per week with two or three dozen bottles of beer and stout. The premises had mains water and drains and gas laid on.
The farm that Kilpin also ran was almost the death of him in July 1928, when he slipped and fell under the wheels of a farm cart, which passed over his body. Fortunately, it was unladen at the time; otherwise more serious injury would have occurred. He was taken to Woburn Hospital.
A local outbreak of Foot-and-Mouth Disease was traced to Kilpin’s farm in 1931, and necessitated declaring an Infected Area Order of a fifteen-mile radius. The Ministry of Agriculture set up a headquarters at the Swan in Woburn Sands to manage the situation. Four of his cattle which had been grazing on Aspley Guise Common were destroyed, but others were vaccinated with a new serum that had recently become available.
In 1938, the remaining business of brewers Newland and Nash, now in voluntary liquidation, was transferred to Wells & Winch Ltd. of The Brewery, Biggleswade. (BARS: GK297/2)
The remaining mentions of the Duke’s Head in the newspapers currently available online revolve around the Kilpin family rather than the pub itself. His daughter Lillian was married at Aspley Guise on Boxing Day, 1937. Another daughter, Alice, passed away in September, 1938 at the age of 27. Charles, George’s second son, broke his leg in a motorcycle accident in Woburn Sands High Street in May 1939. Horace, George’s youngest son, was married in January 1941, and another son, George Kilpin junr., was married in Wavendon in April 1943.
The close of the pub is not referred to in the papers currently available online, but this occurred in February 1953, (BARS: PSW3/37) after 46 years in the control of George Kilpin. After ‘Time’ had been called for the last session, the building was sold and used as a private house. A Mrs. Jones once operated a small greengrocery and sweetshop business from it. A local remembers being a child in the 1960’s, knocking on the side door, and she would come to the door with an usherette’s tray, on which were various sweets for sale. Even in the 1980’s, sweets and soft drinks were sold from one of the sheds at the rear.
List of Licensees:
1871-1886 Benjamin Mummery
1886-1887 Sarah Mummery
1887-1906 John Everitt
1906-1952 George Kilpin
Feb. 1953 Closed
Last updated September 2019.