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The Chequers High Street Bedford

The Chequers before 1887
The Chequers before 1887 [X373/49]

The Chequers Inn: 58 High Street, Bedford

The inn stood on the site of the old County Gaol, as a plaque in the pavement still attests and it is here that John Bunyan served his terms of imprisonment (1660 to 1672 and 1677). The gaol had stood here since at least 1603. Cardington prison reformer John Howard visited the prison in 1783 and described it as having the following accommodation: First floor: day room for debtors also used as a chapel and four lodging rooms. Ground floor: for felons, two day rooms, one for men, one for women, two cells for the condemned. The rooms were 8 feet 6 inches high. There were two dungeons down eleven steps, one of which was dark. He noted that twenty years earlier there had been an outbreak of gaol fever (typhus). In 1801 the County Gaol moved to the current site of Bedford Prison in Saint Loyes.

Three drinking houses, all called The Chequers, are recorded in the Borough Quarter Sessions Rolls for 1751. One (run by John Crouch) was recorded in Saint Mary's - he was still licensee in 1753. Another was in Saint John's (run by a Thomas Warkman in 1752). The location of the other is unspecified and was run by either James Howard or Frances Williamson in 1751. Clearly the prison still stood on the corner of Silver Street and the High Street at this date and whether the unspecified Chequers Inn stood adjoining is not known. The licensing records of 1822 to 1828 [CLP13] and the 1840s [PSBB1/1] are the only definite references to The Chequers in the High Street before the middle of the 19th century.

Hertfordshire Archives Service holds the archives of the Baldock Brewery and in 1853-1854 this was sold by Maurice Pryor to Joseph Simpson and the Chequers was one of the tied houses included in the sale [CRT110/102]. In 1887 Simpson enlarged the Chequers. Previous to this the L-shaped building had had a comparatively modest two storey face to the High Street with two windows, one up and one down [see above]. The alterations of 1887 saw the face of the building change out of all recognition to a three storey structure with quite a grand front [see below]. The adjoining butcher's shop next door at Number 60 was also transformed, the two sharing the same building.

 The Chequers after 1887
The Chequers after 1887 [X373/50]

This new Chequers did not last for long. Simpson and Company sold the public house in 1911 and it, along with Number 60 next door, was converted into the Picture Palace cinema. The cinema itself was short lived, being pulled down in 1936 and the present parade of shops built for Prices Tailors Limited whose subsidiary Colliers the tailors occupied the site until the latter part of the 20th century.

58 High Street May 2009
58 High Street in May 2009


  • QSR1751/42: alehouse recognizances at Borough Quarter Sessions: 1751;
  • CLP13: alehouse licences: 1822-1828;
  • PSBB1/1: licensee John Hudson on petty sessions ledger: 1840-1844;
  • CRT110/102: agreement for sale of Baldock Brewery and licensed premises from Morris Pryor to Joseph Simpson at Hertfordshire Record Office: 1853-1854;
  • CRT110/102: abstract of title of John Pryor deceased to Baldock Brewery and licensed houses at Hertfordshire Record Office: 1853;
  • X373/49: exterior photograph: c.1875;
  • BorBP1762/1-7: building plans: 1887;
  • X373/50: exterior photograph after rebuilding: c.1887;
  • Bedfordshire Magazine xiv p.256: photograph of public house: C19/20;
  • Z720/211/1: inventory of fixtures etc.: 1906;
  • Z720/211/2: correspondence between Simpson & Company's agent and purchaser's agent: 1910-1911;
  • RR15/44, Z720/211/3 and Z938/7/1/22: auction sale particulars noting public house was on site of C17th gaol: 1911;
  • WG2614 and Z720/211/4: plan and photograph of public house: 1911;
  • Z720/211/5: sale poster: 1911;
  • Z720/211/7: inventory of tenant's fixtures: 1911;
  • Z720/211/8: correspondence regarding an offer for the premises: 1911;
  • Z720/211/11: lease of Chequers and neighbouring shop: 1911;
  • Z938/7/1/22: Part of plan of site, showing High Street and Silver Street: 1911

List of Licensees: note that this is not a complete list; entries in italics refer to licensees where either beginning or end, or both, dates are not known:

1751: James Howard or Frances Williamson: 1751;
1822-1823: John Stennett;
1823: William Purvis;
1823-1847: John Hudson;
1850-1854: Walter Percival Shelley or Sherley;
1861-1862: Ann Shirley or Sherley;
1864: John Smith;
1869: Eliza Smith;
1876-77: Samuel Sculthorp;
1887-1900: Jesse Watts;
1900-1906: John Blurton Armstrong;
1906: Elizabeth Armstrong;
1906-1908: John James Auld;
1908-1911: Elizabeth Nursey Fowler [convicted of permitting drunkenness on   25 Jun 1910 and fined 32/- with 15/- costs; cautioned for allowing people   on the premises after closing time on 7 Feb 1911];
1911: Francis Edward Robert Brigham;

Public house closed 30th September 1911 and demolished to make way for PicturePalace