Photograph of the Kings Arms about 1885 by C. H. Litchfield [X746/1]
The King's Arms Public House: 27 London Road, Girtford
The King’s Arms was listed by the former Department of Environment in December 1979 as Grade II, of special interest. The department dated the property to the 17th century. It is a timber-framed building with colour washed roughcast render and an old clay tile roof. Two canted ground floor bays belong to the 19th century and a right hand single storey extension is modern.
The first mention of the King’s Arms is in 1812 when an auction sale was held there, suggesting that the public house was quite well established. This, and its position on the Great North Road mean it would not be surprising if the King's Arms was in business in the 18th century. In 1818 the house, along with others owned by Samuel Ongley of Sandy, was insured by Norwich Union [HF17/10/4]. The King’s Arms was insured for £200, nearby stables and barns being insured for a further £100.
The countywide alehouse licensing register of 1822 includes the King’s Arms, although under the name King’s Head, obviously a clerical error. The register for 1823 and those until the series in 1828 all use the name of the King’s Arms.
The countywide licensing register of 1876 noted that the King’s Arms was owned by Biggleswade brewers Wells & Company, clearly Ongley or his successors in title must have sold it. A year later there were problems at the pub during the Girtford Feast [HF147/10/1628 i-vi]. Labourer Frederick Warner of Biggleswade gave evidence that he was in the King's Arms when there was a disturbance and the police were called. Warner was one of those turned out by the police and began to walk home, stopping at some rails at Girtford Bridge when he noticed stones were being thrown at the police. One of the police officers was P. C. James Watts. He and two colleagues turned out not only Warner but John Wells, James Jackson and some others. Once outside the men again created a disturbance and P. C. Watts told them to go home. Jackson then spat in the policeman’s face and Watts pushed him to the ground. Later the police made their way towards Girtford Bridge only to walk into an ambush. As they passed the lights from Frederick Ball’s cottage they were hit by stones from all directions at the instigation of Wells and Jackson. The former was sentenced to four months imprisonment and the latter three.
The countywide register of alehouse licences of 1903 reveals that the nearest licensed house was 70 yards away, that the state of repair of the King’s Arms was good and that it had one front and one back door. Landlord for twenty two years Alfred Usher died on 2nd January 1907. An obituary appeared in a newspaper [X746/20] and reads as follows: “An old and well known inhabitant in the person of Mr. Alfred Usher, for many years proprietor of the King’s Arms Inn, Girtford, but latterly residing with his daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Dennis, in the St. Neots Road, passed away on the 2nd inst. Mr. usher had been ailing some four weeks, but on the day of his death he came down stairs in the morning, retied to bed after dinner, and died during the night from bronchitis and syncope, at the age of 72 years. The funeral took place on Saturday. The mourners were Mr. Henry Usher (only son), Mrs. Bywaters, west Croydon, and Mr. Dennis (son-in-law). At the church gate the mourners were met by representatives of the Odd Fellows Benefit Club, the deceased having been a member for 52 years, the Rev. J. Laurie Cooper officiating. By request there were no flowers”.
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 King’s Arms [DV1/C28/61] found it owned by Wells and Winch and occupied by John Lovelace who paid rent of £21 per annum. Wells & Company had been sold at auction in 1898, being bought by Kent businessman George Winch for his son Edward Bluett Winch and the following year the company name changed to Wells and Winch.
The brick, lath, plaster and tiled detached building comprised a small billiard room (“not full size”), a bar, a club room, a living room, a kitchen and a washhouse with three bedrooms above. Outside stood a public w. c. and urinal and a private w. c. The valuer commented: “Rotten place”. Farm buildings comprised a timber and tiled open cart shed with a loft over, an old wood and tiled wood shed, two old wooden pig sties (“not used”), two old wood sheds and a three manger cow shed
The meagre trade was about eighteen gallons of beer a week and a bottle of spirits a month. Takings were about £1 a week. The valuer opined: “Trade bad – not in good position”. Somehow the public house survived and is still open at the time of writing . In 1961 Wells and Winch was taken over by Suffolk brewers Greene King which remains the public house’s owner.
The King's Arms March 2010
- Z858/35/3-4: auction held at the King’s Arms: 1812;
- HF17/10/4: insurance policy: 1818;
- Z858/36/1-2: auction sale held at the King’s Arms: 1822;
- CLP13: register of alehouse licences: 1822-1828;
- GK287/2a-b: sale notice for the White Swan, Girtford, held at the King’s Arms: 1852;
- HF143/1: Register of Alehouse Licences - Biggleswade Petty Sessional Division: 1872-1873;
- HF143/2: Register of Alehouse Licences - Biggleswade Petty Sessional Division: 1874-1877;
- HF147/10/1628 i-vi: assault on a policeman outside the King’s Arms: 1877;
- HF143/3: Register of Alehouse Licences - Biggleswade Petty Sessional Division: 1878-1881;
- HF143/4: Register of Alehouse Licences - Biggleswade Petty Sessional Division: 1882-1890;
- X746/1: photograph: c. 1885;
- HF143/5: Register of Alehouse Licences - Biggleswade Petty Sessional Division: 1891-1900;
- GK1/36: sale catalogue of Wells & Company: 1898;
- HF143/6: Register of Alehouse Licences - Biggleswade Petty Sessional Division: 1900-1914;
- PSBW8/1: Register of Alehouse Licences - Biggleswade Petty Sessional Division: 1903-1915;
- X746/20: newspaper obituary of Alfred Usher: 1907;
- GK287/16: will of George Emery: 1926;
- GK287/16: conveyance of the White Swan to the licensee of the King’s Arms, Louisa Ann Harling: 1946;
- PSBW8/2: Register of Alehouse Licences - Biggleswade Petty Sessional Division: 1956-1972;
- PSBW8/3: Register of Alehouse Licences - Biggleswade and North Bedfordshire Petty Sessional Divisions: 1976-1980.
List of Licensees: note that this is not a complete list. Italics indicate licensees whose beginning and/or end dates are not known:
1818-1825: William Skilleter;
1826-1827: James Skilleter
1828: Ann Skilleter;
1847: Henry Adams, gardener;
1862-1880: Mrs. Margaret Adams;
1880-1902: Alfred Usher;
1902-1905: James Dennis;
1905-1906: Frederick Rogers;
1906-1927: John Lovelace;
1928: John Fraser;
1931: Fred Taylor;
1936-1940: Samuel Harling;
1949-1954: Eric and Grace Ashby;
1956-1958: William Jarvis;
1958-1967: Thomas Alfred Yearsley;
1967-1970: John William George Bennett;
1970-1995: Edward James Gill;
1995: Kenneth George Parry.