Pubs, Past and Present – A History of Drinking in Walsham le Willows (Part One)
The inn has long been at the heart of the English village. Walsham has many references, in court records and early newspapers, to people and premises that brewed and sold alcohol.
During the 15th century four couples in the village were charged 3d. each year for the privilege of brewing ale. In the 18th century there are records of auctions taking place in the Blue Boar, The Swan, and The Chequers. In 1803 the Bury Post reported that information against two publicans in Walsham for suffering tippling on the Lord’s Day was withdrawn on their consenting to pay 20s for the poor of the parish.
The ‘Beer House Act’ of 1830 probably led to the opening of three pubs in the village, The Four Ashes, The Cherry Tree, and The Six Bells. These were called public alehouses, later to be shortened to public house, and then to pub. In an attempt to reduce the high consumption of spirits and widespread drunkenness, this Act was introduced to allow any person of good character to have a license to sell beer only on their premises.
In the 1860’s the Church of England Temperance Society was formed and Walsham had a very active branch that held meetings in a hall in Nunn’s Yard. Villagers were encouraged to sign the ‘pledge book’ and thus refrain from the dreaded drink. The Society was successful in reducing opening hours and introducing stricter punishments for transgressors but during the time of its existence there were five pubs in Walsham.
During the First World War pubs were ordered to shut during the afternoon and stop trading at 9.30 at night. These laws were introduced, it was said, to ensure factory workers were fit to work for the war effort. More likely it was an attempt to keep soldiers, at home on leave or injured from the trenches, away from the drink. In the 1920’s the present age restrictions came into operation and the hours of opening set, as they were to remain for much of the century. Now of course many restrictions on opening have been lifted.
The Chequers Inn
In one of the earliest editions of the Bury Post, 9th October 1783, a notice was given that eleven fine poll’d cattle (without horns) were to be sold at auction at the Chequers Inn, the premises of Mr Thomas Bryant in Walsham le Willows. The inn was the thatched property, now residential, at the top of the hill that leads down to Badwell Ash.
Behind the building was pastureland called Chequers Field, on which it seems that a very early game of cricket was played. The Bury Post dated 12th August 1789 gave notice that the gentlemen of the Mellis and Finningham Club would play cricket against the gentlemen of the Woolpit and Thurston Club for one guinea a man. Dinner was to be provided by the innkeeper who was then William Wright. This was the time of the French Revolution and the storming of the Bastille had taken place a few weeks before. No doubt it was the topic of conversation at that dinner.
Some years later the Bury Post of the 26th March 1794 gave notice of an auction: ‘To be sold by auction on the fifth day of April – All that ancient and good accustomed Inn called the Chequers, in good repair, (some part thereof being newly erected), and being advantageously situated in Walsham le Willows. It has a brew house, liable buildings, and yards thereto belonging, and now in the occupation of, Mr William Wright who has for some years carried on an extensive trade in beer, wine, and spirituous liquers.’ The following week a notice appeared postponing the auction.
It is not known in which year the Chequers started trading, but perhaps it was now that it became a residential property again, as it had been for most of the time since it was built in 1581. It may have been an inn for only twenty or thirty years.
The Wright family probably remained in the village until 1812, when William’s wife Elizabeth (Keely) was buried in the churchyard. She was fifty-one years old and had had six children. There is no record of the family after this date.
The Cherry Tree
The census of 1841 shows that John Clarke had a license to sell beer at his premises on the Finningham Road. This was to become known as the ‘Cherry Tree’ public house. According to the county directories and census forms he remained in the trade for over fifty years. The census showed that John was thirty-five years old as was his wife Adney (Bowell). At this time they had seven children. The following census of 1851 shows two further children, Samuel and William, had been born. William became a blacksmith and lived at home until he died in September 1889. John Clarke himself died four months later aged eighty-seven and a year later Adney passed away at the age of eighty-eight.
County directories show that the new publican was George Miller who, according to the census of 1891, was fifty-one years old as was his wife Susanna.
A couple of years later James Smith and his wife Laura took over. During their time here they had two children baptised.
The directory of 1904 showed Henry Brewington to be in residence, and in 1908 Samuel Bird is registered as the innkeeper.
In 1912 James Moll took over and remained there during the First World War. A report in the Bury Free Press at the end of hostilities stated that about fifty demobilised men from the village, unhappy with the local peace celebrations, gathered in the yard of the Cherry Tree where they ‘enjoyed an excellent repast’. James Moll remained there for several years until his death in 1929 at the age of sixty-two.
The next landlord, according to the directory, was to be Percy Swann and following him in 1937 was John Clement Powell.
The following incumbent was Jack Seeley who spent some years here before Stan Woodruff took over. He was to be the last publican of the Cherry Tree. The brewers, Lacons, sold the property in 1954 and it became the residence of the Ray family after over 100 years as a public house.
The Four Ashes
When Thomas and Lucy Callow had a child baptised in 1832 it was recorded that Thomas was a beer seller. He died in 1841 aged fifty-nine, and the census taken later that year shows that Robert Callow, aged twenty-four and his wife Charlotte (Read) aged twenty-two were running the premises in Palmer Street, that was to become known as the Four Ashes. This probably showed that a son had taken over the business on the death of his father. According to the county directories they were still here in 1846.
Come the census of 1851 a new family had arrived, John Larter, aged forty and his wife Ann (Sones), aged thirty-five with baby Mary-Anna. John died three years later. Next to the record of his burial it states that the cause of death was drinking. Ann Larter carried on the trade as she is listed as the innkeeper in 1855.
In the1861 census new people are shown in residence, John Catchpole, aged forty and his wife Susan, forty-one, living with mother Hannah, sixty-eight, son John, one and stepdaughter Amy, seventeen. They were still listed here in an 1865 directory but by 1868 the Blizzard family had moved in.
The 1871 census shows that George Blizzard, forty-two and his wife Mary Ann, thirty-six lived here with children Sarah Jane, ten, Henry, eight, Alice Mary, seven, Elizabeth, three and Charles, two. As well as being a publican George was a butcher and after a couple of years at the Four Ashes he left and eventually opened a shop in the village. Mary Ann died in 1875. George remarried and lived on to the age of eighty.
The new residents in 1873 were Edmund Nice and his wife Eliza. They had previously run the Blue Boar in the village. They were still here when the 1881 census was taken which shows they had five children living with them. Edmund died in 1883 aged fifty-eight. A notice in the Bury Free Press stated that he passed away after only a short illness.
The county directory of 1888 gives the next publican as being William Bird. The census of 1891 shows William, aged sixty-three living with his wife Mary Ann (Fenn). After leaving the pub they lived on in the village, William dying in 1914 aged eighty-seven and Mary Ann in 1916 aged eighty-eight.
The directory entries show that in 1896 John Purr had become the license holder for a short period of time before Fred Sharpe and his wife Emma (Davey) took over. Fred carried on work as a carrier during his time at the Four Ashes. In December 1901 he attended Ixworth Petty Sessions. The village policeman Sgt. Harry Benstead said he found a man named John Fairweather drinking in the kitchen of the Four Ashes after 10 o’clock at night. George (Fred) Sharpe was fined £1 and his customer 4s 6d. He was also charged with selling gin under strength for which he was fined 10s. After leaving the pub in about 1907 the Sharpes lived on in the village. Fred died in 1946 aged eighty-one.
The next publican was Traver Charles Fishburne who lived with wife Sarah Ann. They lived there for several years, through the First World War. Traver died in 1919 aged sixty-five but Sarah Ann carried on as the licensee in 1926.
The county directories of 1933 and 1937, show that George and Hilda Davey were now resident at the Four Ashes Inn. They were there for the duration of the war and for some years after until Doug Wise took over, probably about 1950.
In 1954 Jock Dryden, his wife Sylvia and their children moved in to the premises. They were to be the last publicans as in 1963 it shut down after over 130 years of trading.
Jock Dryden bought the property from Lacon Brewery.
The present building was erected in 1523 and had various owners. At the beginning of the 19th century it belonged to John Clamp whose daughter Charlotte married widower William Day. After the death of the Clamps he became the first publican of the premises that was to become The Six Bells. The county directory of 1844 shows him to be a beer seller.
In the census of 1851, James Mitson is the new beer seller with his wife Penelope (Nunn), and in the 1855 directory a change is shown with the arrival of James Leech and his wife Caroline (Vincent).
The census of 1861 gives details of another beer seller George Catling who was still here 10 years later in the 1871 census with his wife Mary Ann (Buck). It was during this time that the name The Six Bells was first used, after the number of bells in the church tower.
The Catlings moved across the road to run the Blue Boar Inn and, according to the 1873 county directory, Joseph Balls became the publican. His wife Charlotte (Day) was the daughter of the first publican.
After a couple of years the Cash family had moved in, arriving from Lakenheath with five children. The census of 1881 shows that Jacob Cash was thirty-six and his wife Lucy thirty-four. They remained there for many years.
At this time the Six Bells was advertised in county directories as an old established Commercial Inn and Posting House with good stabling. Later it was also listed as having good accommodation for cyclists. Information was also given that Jacob Cash was clerk to the Parish Council.
Jacob died in 1913 aged sixty-nine after being publican for some thirty-seven years. His daughter Annie Cash took over and she is recorded as being the innkeeper in 1916 during the First World War.
Directories from 1922 to 1933 show that Frederick (Dick) Bellinger ran the Six Bells for this period of time, and then in 1937 A A (Algy) Watts became the publican He was there for some years before Les Tuck took over in about 1950. In 1956 Bob and Ella Austin moved in and stayed for 14 years. Bob died in 1970 and his son Robin took over with his wife Anne.
In 1977 John and Pat Wraight became the licensees for about four years and then Gordon and Pat Atkinson arrived from the Lake District. They remained at the ‘Bells’ for twelve years before retiring to London.
In October 1993 Gordon Blake with his partner Kathy moved in. They are still there and long may they be so.
- Suffolk County Directories, Census Returns, Bury Free Press, Bury Post, ‘Camra’ Magazine and local knowledge.
The history of the Blue Boar, The Swan and the Golden Lion will appear in future issues of the Review.
What the Papers Said
The New Church Clock (As reported in the Bury Free Press 24th November 1877)
‘On Tuesday 13th November 1877 the inhabitants of this pretty rural village inaugurated the new clock which has been placed in the fine old tower of the handsome church.
The clock is a munificent gift of Hooper Jn. Wilkinson Esq., the esteemed and venerable gentleman of this parish.
The clock replaces the old unsightly wood face and one hand that were hardly discernable. A very elaborate massive stonework moulding has been constructed for the new dial that is the gift of Thomas Golding Esq., churchwarden, and the miserable sounding bell on top of the tower will be disused and the fourth bell of the peal struck by the new clock.
The old ringing floor has been removed and will be thrown into the church and a new one some feet lower than the old clock room floor constructed.
The ceremony of starting the clock was performed by H. J. Wilkinson Esq. in the presence of the vicar, Arthur Lee, and Dr. Short, T. Golding, and several other gentlemen.
The clock movement is on the horizontal plan being the most modern design. The main wheels are cast iron and the rest brass. The time is shown on a 5 foot convex dial, with sheet copper hands that are gilded and stiffened by brass backs. There is a steel hand to adjust the exterior hands simultaneously. Winding is performed once a week.
The manufacturers are Messrs. Gillet and Bland of the Steam Clock Factory, Croydon. The design was by Mr. C. Price, one of the firm, and the woodwork was executed by Mr. W. Baker of Walsham. The stone moulding and interior stone work was by Mr. Kerrison of Walsham.’
100 Years Ago in Walsham le Willows – Autumn 1901
Bury Free Press 21st September 1901
Scarcity of Fruit – As evidence of the great lack of fruit we may mention the fact that at Rookery Farm there are only five apples in three orchards. This is nothing unusual in the locality where it can be said that there are less single apples than there were sacks last year.
Bury Free Press 21st September 1901
Cricket Club – The Walsham C.C. celebrated the end of the season with a dinner that was preceded by a match between the club and a Timworth team. Walsham was victorious 206 – 37. The dinner was provided, in excellent style, by Mr. J Kenny and took place in the pavilion. Walsham has won 7 out of 10 matches this season.
Bury Post 29th September 1901
Debating Society – A most interesting lecture took place in the Institute on the theme of ‘Evolution’. A discussion followed, and then a resolution was submitted by Mr. W. Oxborrow and seconded by Mr. H. Nunn being ‘ That it is in the opinion of the meeting that evolution theory on the origins of man is inconsistent with scripture, and should therefore be rejected.’ This was carried by 8 votes to 4 with 13 being neutral.
Bury Free Press 19th October 1901
Accident – Mrs. Denny, wife of Mr. Thomas Denny of the village, was up a ladder gathering walnuts when the ladder swung round with a result that she fell and broke her right arm and fractured a rib. Doctor Butler was in prompt attendance but as Mrs. Denny is about 70 years old the case is somewhat serious.
[It would seem that Mrs. Denny recovered, as she was not to die for eight more years]
This was the year that Queen Victoria died. The Boer War was still going on in South Africa and the American President McKinley had been assassinated.