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The Chequers Public House Eaton Bray

 The Chequers on a map of 1880
The Chequers on a map of 1880

The Chequers Public House: Moor End, Eaton Bray

John Fountain was a wealthy cordwainer (shoemaker) in Eaton Bray in whose house was to be found “my large oval table, one chest with drawers” besides beds and bedding and at least one pewter dish in 1780. He must have been a man of standing in the village, for he held the office of overseer of the poor in 1757 [CRT130EatonBray6].

It was probably his son, another John Fountain who combined the job of cordwainer with being the innkeeper at The Chequers and apparently very profitably. Most of his property was left to his son, another John, in his will of January 1815 [X796/19]. This will is the first document to mention The Chequers and states that his son John was to let the testator's widow Mary live with him in the "dwelling house called The Chequer" for two months after the testator's death without paying rent. John Fountain senior's will was proved on 26th August 1816.

By 1840 The Chequers appears to have belonged to a family named Mawley. An abstract of a mortgage [BH407] tells us that in April that year Henry Mawley, esquire and Anna Maria Mawley, spinster joined Mary Burr and James Horseman in conveying a cottage at Moor End, Eaton Bray called The Chequers, amongst many other licensed properties, to Edward Burr and his trustee William Senhouse Gaitskell. Edward Burr was a Dunstable brewer and mortgaged all these premises in 1841 [BH407].

In 1843 Dunstable Brewery was put up for sale by auction and The Chequers was Lot 40 [BH409]. It comprised a tap room, a parlour, a washhouse, a small cellar, three bedrooms and an apple room. Outside were: "A good Yard and Barn (used as a Cow-house and Stable), Garden, Well of Water and small orchard containing together about Half an Acre". The owner also had two common rights for one cow each or one horse together. The annual rent was £12.

Sadly the sale particulars are not annotated with the names of the buyers. We know that in 1849 the licensee was Jabez Thorne as his wife Caroline gave evidence against someone passing forged currency [QSR1850/1/5/30-33/a]. Apparently Joseph Janes came to her and told her a man named Rollins had been passed a bad half crown, and that if the same men were to offer her money, she should take it. John Deeley came in soon after and asked her for gin, of which she had none. He then asked for ale and paid with half a crown. Janes duly came in and examined the half crown and detained Deeley until Constable Thorogood arrived.

The countywide licensing register of 1876 states that Jabez Thorne was still the owner of The Chequers, but he now lived at Albury [Hertfordshire]. By the time of the countywide register of 1891 the owner was William Mead of Luton and he leased the house to the Dunstable Brewery run by the executors of Benjamin Bennett. The countywide register of 1903 gives Dunstable Brewery as the owners and states that The Chequers was in fairly good repair but was “rather untidy”. It was 154 yards from nearest licensed house (The Victoria Arms) and had one front, one side and one back door.

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. Eaton Bray, like much of the county, was assessed in 1927 and the valuer visiting The Chequers [DV1/C235/38] found it still owned by Dunstable Brewery, who had charged a rent of £20 per annum since 1920.

The premises comprised a bar, a tap room, a parlour, a cellar, a kitchen and four bedrooms. Outside stood a brick and tiled store; a slaughterhouse measuring 16 feet 6 inches by 11 feet, a brick and tiled copper house (for boiling water), a loose box, a workshop and a garage. Jabez Thorne had been a butcher as well as a publican; it was not unusual for a licensee to have another source of income besides their licensed trade.

The valuer commented: “Dirty place but Buses stop here”. Another hand has written: “Not a bad looking house outside but filthy inside. Better tenant could evidently do a greater trade. Lack of personality here. Dunstable buses pass”. The tenant, William Tompkins, said takings were £10 per week. Trade was six barrels of beer per month, six dozen “bottled stuff” per fortnight and ten gallons of spirits per year. The valuer observed: “[Takings] Probably more as tenant said at first one barrel a week and takings £5 only”. Obviously the tenant did not want to be thought to be doing too good a business as that would affect his rates.

A number of farm buildings lay nearby including a brick, weather-boarded and tiled four stall stable, two weather-boarded and corrugated iron piggeries and a store shed and a weather-boarded and slated pig sty in an orchard along with two weather-boarded and corrugated iron hovels. The orchard itself measured just under a third of an acre and had a “few old trees”. Most likely these were plums for making prunes, seemingly common crop in Eaton Bray.

Mann, Crossman and Paulin Limited of Whitechapel [Middlesex] took over Dunstable Brewery in 1938. The public house closed in 1989 and was later demolished, modern housing now occupying the site. At least, however, one of Eaton Bray’s earliest known pubs is remembered in the new development’s name: “The Chequers”.

Sources:

  • X796/19: mentioned in the will of John Fountain, victualler: 1815;
  • CLP13: Register of alehouse licences: 1822-1828;
  • BH407: conveyed to Edward Burr: 1840;
  • BH409: sale catalogue: 1843;
  • Z1362/1/1: Eaton Bray Common meetings held at The Chequers: 1844-1864;
  • QSR1850/1/5/30-33/a: evidence of the licensee in a case of counterfeiting by a customer: 1849;
  • QSR1853/1/5/24/a: thief apprehended outside The Chequers: 1852;
  • PSLB4/1: Register of Alehouse Licences - Leighton Buzzard Petty Sessional Division: c.1860s-1949;
  • PSLB4/3: Register of Alehouse Licences - Leighton Buzzard Petty Sessional Division: c.1860s-1956;
  • PSLB4/2: Lists of Licensed Premises - Leighton Buzzard Petty Sessional Division: 1922-1948;
  • PSLB4/4: Register of Licensed Premises - Leighton Buzzard Petty Sessional Division: 1967-1992;
  • PCEatonBray30/1: changes of licensee: 1983-1987;
  • PCEatonBray13/1: installation of telephone duct: 1986;
  • PCEatonBray30/3: change of licensee: 1989.

Licensees: 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:

1815-1816 John Fountaine senior;
1816-1825: John Fountain junior;
1825-1828: Richard Fountain;
1843: Thomas Oliver
1847-1864: Jabez Thorn;
1869: Mrs Sarah Burchmore;
1876-1887: William Sharratt;
1887: William Mead;
1887-1888: John Skelton;
1888: James Aslett;
1890-1905: David Andrews;
1905-1907: George West;
1907-1910: Marsden Rayner;
1910-1916: Leonard C.Durrant;
1916-1920: Walter Long;
1920-1931: William Tompkins;
1931-1943: William Bodsworth;
1943-1951: Alfred Chambers;
1951-1952: Sidney Charles Mead;
1952-1956: Thomas Edward James;
1974: John Leslie Sullivan;
1983: James Stewart Seaton-Reid and Gary Richard Buchmann;
1983: James Stewart Seaton-Reid;
1983: Philip Charles Hetherington;
1987: John Richard William Cardell and Michael Walter Felton;
1989: Keith Tapper
Public house closed 1989.