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The Three Tuns Public House Biddenham

The Three Tuns in 1962 [Z53/15/14]
The Three Tuns in 1962 [Z53/15/14]

The Three Tuns Public House: 57 Main Road, Biddenham

Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has no certain evidence of the early history of this public house before 1822 when it is mentioned in the first surviving list of countywide alehouse registrations [CLP13]. However, we may infer a history back to the early 18th century, though without concrete evidence.

In 1822 the licensee was Thomas Wells. A Thomas Wells is shown occupying land around the Three Tuns on a pre-inclosure map of Biddenham of 1794 [X1/51]. We also have the following entries in the parish registers:

  • 29th September 1717: Thomas, son of William and Agnes Jeffreys, aleman baptised;
  • 15th March 1718: Sarah, daughter of William and Ann Jeffreys, aleman baptised;
  • 23rd October 1726: Ann, daughter of William and Ann Jeffreys, aleman baptised;
  • 7th November 1737: Thomas, son of Samuel and Rose Wells, aleman, baptised;
  • 21st March 1739: Sarah, daughter of Samuel and Rose Wells, aleman, baptised;
  • 11th February 1741: Sarah, daughter of Samuel and Rose Wells, aleman, buried;
  • 12th October 1742: Ann, daughter of Samuel and Rose Wells, aleman, baptised;
  • 25th January 1776: Ann, wife of William Jeffrey, aleman, buried;
  • 6th June 1779: Rose, wife of Samuel Wells, aleman, buried;
  • 13th August 1791: Samuel Wells, aleman, buried.

Of course the entries for the Wells family do not prove they are the same family as Thomas Wells or that they kept the Three Tuns, but the evidence is certainly suggestive. It seems highly unlikely that the Thomas Wells baptized in 1737 was the same Thomas Wells who was licensee in 1829, though it is possible. If they were all one family the Thomas of 1829 may have been the son of the Thomas of 1737. The Jeffreys family seems to have kept a separate licensed premises, but it did not survive until 1822 when only the Three Tuns is given as a licensed premises in Biddenham. It is possible that the Jeffreys and Wells families were related and both ran the same business. Can any genealogist contribute to our picture of the early history of licensed premises in Biddenham?

The Three Tuns is certainly an old building. It was listed by English Heritage in August 1987 and was described as having 17th or 18th century origins, though modernised and extended. It is built of coursed limestone rubble and thatched. It is built in an L-plan and comprises two storeys. A 19th century brick and tiled extension stands to the west. Licensing registers tell us that the Three Tuns, unusually, was the only licensed premises in the village throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, not even a beerhouse otherwise challenging the public houses’ monopoly on trade. This may, at least in the 19th century, have been due to the fact that most of the village, including the Three Tuns, was owned by the Wingfield family, Lords of the Manor of Biddenham and they considered one watering hole sufficient. The countywide licensing register of 1903 describes the Three Tuns as: “good, clean, apparently sanitary”. It was a free house.

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every building and piece of land in the country was to be assessed to determine its rateable value. The valuer visiting the Three Tuns found it was now owned by brewers Newland and Nash Limited of Bedford. The licensing register which runs from 1903 to 1935 [PSB9/1] gives the owner as the Wingfield family and does not annotate this with later ownership by Newland and Nash. However, it looks as if the valuer is probably right because the pub was conveyd as a freehold (rather than demised as a leasehold) premises by Newland and Nash in 1938 [GK297/2].

The tenant, Denis Green, paid rent of £30 per annum, which included a field of eight acres of grass. The valuer noted that the pub was “Very artistic and very well kept”. Downstairs were a bar with three beer pulls (“two used”), a “good” cellar, a tap room, a smoke room, a private living room and a scullery. Four bedrooms were upstairs. The valuer wrote “?Bathroom, he said No”. Outside stood a wood and thatched range comprising a washhouse, an open ended shed with a pump and a “Large room used as store”. There was also a stone and slated earth closet. The valuer commented: “Well kept lawn and garden with shelters”.

Trade was, on average, 2½ barrels of beer peer week, about a dozen bottles of beer and half a gallon of spirits in the same time. The valuer commented: “Fair tied rent”. “He also stated: “No competition. Quite a number of houses around. Attractive place. Electric light. Water laid on. Good draw up”.

In fact Newland and Nash had been taken over by Biggleswade brewers Wells and Winch in 1924 although it seems as if the brands may have been kept separate, having had quite distinct geographical areas of custom. The firm was not formerly conveyed to Wells and Winch until 1938 [GK297/2]. In 1961 Wells and Winch was taken over by Suffolk brewer Greene King and the Wells and Winch brand name ended two years later.

The Biddenham Women's Institute scrapbook of 1956 [X535/6] devotes a page to landlord Dennis "Bert" Green: "He turned his hand to innkeeping having been a regular soldier in the Royal Artillery and fought in France and Salonika in the 1914-18 war. He returned in 1931 and succeeded his father as landlord of the Three Tuns remaining there to make a tenancy of father and son of 50 years. This rivals the record of his grandfather Sam Green who was parish clerk for fifty years. He was a keen sportsman, playing soccer and cricket with some distinction, and gained two county caps for hockey. He and his wife raised £200 by flower shows and tournaments during the World War 1939-45. He remembered the time when beer was 2d. per pint, and gravel diggers of the village consumed 10 gallons between them every day. He received his early education at the village school, opposite the Three Tuns and recalled that the number of children was then nearer seventy than the small number of children now attending. he left school at the age of eleven like many of his contemporaries, his first job being that of a farm worler for 2/6 per week. He died in March 1953.

Bert Green about 1950 from the Biddenham WI scrapbook [X535/6]
Bert Green about 1950 from the Biddenham WI scrapbook [X535/6]

The Three Tuns remains the only public house in Biddenham [2012]. However, it is now a free house with a restaurant.

References:

  • X1/51: Thomas Wells shown as tenant of the buildings and adjoining land: 1794;
  • CLP13: Register of Alehouse Recognizances: 1822-1828;
  • X254/88/60: watercolour: late 19th century;
  • PSB9/1: Register of Alehouse Licences - Bedford Petty Sessional Division: 1903-1935;
  • Z1306/15/18: postcard: about 1910;
  • HF40/6/2/1: right of way noted: 1929;
  • Z1306/15/1/6: postcard: 1930s;
  • GK297/2: conveyed by Newland and Nash Limited to Wells and Winch Limited: 1938;
  • Z1306/15/7-8: postcards: 1940s-1960s;
  • Z1306/15/12: postcard of Main Road including the Three Tuns: 1940s-1960s;
  • Z1169/8/12/24-25 and RDBP3/383: plans of proposed conversion of three earth closets to W. C.s: 1944;
  • PSB9/2: register of licenses: c.1955-1995;
  • Z53/15/14: photograph: 1962;
  • PSBW8/3: Register of Alehouse Licences - Biggleswade and North Bedfordshire Petty Sessional Divisions: 1976-1980;
  • BP63/1/95: photograph of Main Road including the Three Tuns: 1980s.

Licencees: note that this is not a complete list and that dates in italics are not necessarily beginning or end dates, merely the first/last date which can be confirmed from sources such as directories and deeds:

1737-1791: Samuel Wells;
1794-1829 : Thomas Wells;
1830-1836: Sarah Wells;
1837-1847: Thomas Wells;
1853: Rebecca Wells;
1854: John Smith;
1861-1864: William Davis;
1869-1871: Mrs Jane Davis;
1877-1881: James Felts;
1885-1908: Frank Harrison;
1908-1931: Dennis Green;
1931: Hester Green;
1931-1953: Herbert Green;
1956: C. S. Folkes;
1963-1971: Michael Arthur Tew;
1971-1975: Herbert Francis Glass;
1975-1981: Stuart McLean;
1981-1985: Terence Richard Rudge;
1985-1995: Alan Wilkins