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The Red Cow Beerhouse Potsgrove

17 Sheep Lane January 2007
17 Sheep Lane January 2007

The Red Cow Beerhouse, 17 Sheep Lane, Potsgrove 

The earliest mention of the Red Cow beerhouse in records held by Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service is in 1834. There had been a fracas and theft at the house and a number of offenders were brought before the Quarter Sessions in Bedford [QSR1834/325]. William Tame, the licensee, gave evidence first as follows:

"I am a retailer of beer at Sheep Lane in the parish of Postgrove and in the evening of the 12th day of this month James Giltrow, John Handscombe & Ezra Cox all of Sheep Lane, labourers, came to my house, they had beer 2 pints which they did not pay for. At about half past 9 o clock James Giltrow knock’d out the candles and as fast as my house keeper Elenor Paxton lighted them he knocked them out again. He then made water in the fire and threw the tables and chairs about. I went to call somebody to my assistance and as I was going out of the door Ezra Cox tried to prevent me and I hop’d him and went out. He then lock’d and bolted the door. I went to John Becket for assistance but he would not come. I went back and found my housekeeper lock’d out. William Handscombe, who was in the house, opened the door and let us in. Mrs Paxton lighted a candle and Giltrow knock’d it out again. I went upstairs and call’d murder, Mrs Paxton with me. When I came down I went to the place where the beer was, the staircase leading into it, and I tried to pass into the house by one of these doors but found it held by some persons. I at length got out and went upstairs and then they held the door so I could not get down. Mrs Paxton called out that they were robbing the house. I had 8 or 10 shillings worth of penny and half penny pieces. The door was held so that I could not get downstairs. They then went away and Mrs Paxton then brought me a bowl from the cupboard in which the money was kept and there was only about a shilling's worth left. The only persons in the house when we went up stairs were James Giltrow, John Handscomb and Ezra Cox".

Eleanor Paxton of Potsgrove in the County of Beds, widow, was then sworn: "I am housekeeper to the last witness. I recollect the evening of the 12th March. James Giltrow, John Handscombe and Ezra Cox were in our house and so was William Handscombe. At half past 9 or thereabouts I refused to draw them any more beer. Giltrow knocked down the candles and put them out and they all made a great disturbance in the house. My master went out for assistance and then Cox locked the door. Giltrow made water in the fire and acted violently towards me – I got away by going through the back door of the house – I went to get assistance – I met my master in the yard. I could not get assistance, when I got back my master was in the yard, we tried both the doors of the house but they were fastened inside. We heard the men talking and making a noise in the house. In about 10 minutes the back door was opened by William Handscombe. We both went in and William Handscomb went away. I got a light as quick as I could but Giltrow knocked it out again. I went upstairs where master was calling for assistance. The stairs door was fastened by some of them and we were kept upstairs. I heard a sound of drawing beer and I afterwards found they had drawn some in a basin. I also heard the rattling of halfpence – I heard the rattle of them in a wooden cup in which we keep the half pence. This was while we were upstairs. Very soon I heard them go out and I called out to John Handscombe “You thief you have taken all the money”. He did not speak but ran away. We then came downstairs and I went directly to the cupboard where the money was kept, all the money was taken except one sixpence and one shilling worth of half pence and one farthing. I had seen the cup and the money in it after the men came into the house. There were two half crowns, two shillings or more and two sixpences or more and eight or 10 shillings worth of penny and halfpenny pieces. When we were first locked out Stephen Gilks was also in the house. I saw him go out of the back door before I went upstairs and before I heard the money rattle.

Eleanor Paxton gave additional evidence [QSR1834/327]: "When I returned to my master's house after the door had been opened Wiliam Handscombe, James Giltrow, John Handscombe and Ezra Cox and also Stephen Gilks were in the house but Stephen Gilks went away before the money was taken". Eleanor had a chequered history herself, she was the widow of Thomas Paxton of Milton Bryan, who had kept the Red Lion and died in 1823. She was an Irishwoman, much younger than he and was having an affair with a man named Philpot at the time of her husband's death.

The defence made by Ezra Cox was: "I never saw the money nor saw anyone else meddle with it and I am certain that no person went into the room where the money was whilst I was in the house".

The Gaol Register [QGV10/1] reveals that Ezra Cox, James Giltrow and John Hanscomb were all transported seven years for stealing William Tame's money. Ezra Cox is described as being 19 years old and a labourer from Potsgrove. He was 5 feet 10 inches tall, with brown hair and a fresh complexion. James Giltrow, also a 19 year old labourer from Potsgrove, was 5 feet 4 inches, with light brown hair and a fresh complexion. John Hanscomb was 28 and from Leighton Buzzard; he had dark hair and complexion and was 5 feet 7 inches tall. All three were delivered to the Leviathan at Portsmouth for transportation. Leviathan had been launched as a third rate ship of the line with 74 guns in 1790. She fought at Trafalgar and became a prison ship in 1816, before being sold and broken up in 1848. Remarkably her log book is held by Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service [X170/1/1-2].

Gaile Wells has produced a booklet on one of the trio - The Story of Ezra Cox - which is available in the Searchroom Library. He was transported to Tasmania and, in 1853, married an Irishwoman, three years his junior, who had been transported for theft - Mary Ann Ellis. Theirs was a stormy marriage and Cox, finding her in the house of a man who lived next door, named Isaac Moles and he attacked him with a pick-axe. Moles died of his wounds nearly six weeks later and Cox was hanged for murder outside Hobart prison on 27th June 1854, aged 39.

Censuses reveal that by 1861 Thomas Tame was living alone in Saint Pancras, London. He had been born in 1793. The same census reveals that a James Giltrow was living in Leighton Buzzard and working as a butcher, of course they may not be the same man, there were many Giltrows in the area at the time. He had been born in Hockliffe and was the same age as the man who was transported. The Giltrow on the 1861 census had an eleven year old son, David who, by the time of the 1881 census was proprietor of the Fir Tree Beerhouse in Aspley Heath. He was later at the Fox & Hounds, just down the road from the Red Cow on Watling Street!

In 1845 counsel gave opinions on a number of houses, including the Red Cow, owned by Leighton Buzzard Brewery, which was in the process of being sold to Joseph Procter. The countywide licensing register of 1903 states that the Red Cow was clean but not in very good repair, it was 390 yards from the nearest licensed premises (the Fox and Hounds) and had doors at the front, side and back.

In 1917 a valuer assessed the Red Cow which the licensing magistrates were considering closing because it was redundant [CLP15]. At that date the rent paid by the licensee was £8 per annum. The rooms were measured as follows: a taproom measuring 12 feet 5 inches by 8 feet 9 inches; a parlour measuring 10 feet by 9 feet 2 inches; a club room measuring 11 feet 6 inches by 10 feet; a small pantry; a washhouse fitted with a copper and sink with a loft above; three communicating bedrooms above and a cellar. Outside were: a timber and thatched stable for two horses, "now used as pigsties" and a timber and thatch earth closet "for private and public use 16 yards from front door". The structural condition was "very fair", the decoration "fair" and the cleanliness "good". The average trade for the three preceding years was 36½ barrels of beer per annum set against 50¼ for the Fox and Hounds.

The Rating Valuation Act 1925 stated that every piece of land and building in the country had to be assessed to determine its rateable value. Potsgrove, like most of the county, was assessed in 1927 and the valuer visiting 17 Sheep Lane [DV1/C132/11] found that it was owned by the Duke of Bedford. The valuer considered the premises to be "very poor" and a "Poor sort of place"; it consisted of a living room and scullery downstairs and three bedrooms upstairs with a stable for two beasts outside which, it was noted, was neglected. The premises did not even contain a cellar for storing the beer. The building was cement faced and thatched. Today [2006] this thatched property is an attractive private house.

In 2015 this pretty and historic cottage was demolished.

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:

1834-1845: William Tame;
1850-1853: Thomas Phillips (also carpenter);
1861-1885: Daniel Hobbs;
1885-1886: Thomas Fields;
1886: Charles Bolton;
1886-1893: Frederick Going;
1893-1917: Henry Rolls;
1917-1918: Eliza Rolls
Beerhouse closed 1918 

References of Documents held by Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service

  • Deopsitions by witnesses to a disturbance and theft at the Red Cow: QSR1834/325-327;
  • Z1118/1/21/10: Counsel's opinion on title of premises: 26 Jul 1845;
  • Z1118/1/21/17: Further opinion on title: 21 Sep 1845;
  • Z1118/1/21/16: valued at £160: c.1845;
  • Z1118/1/21/27: Land Tax assessment; William Tame tenant: c.1845;
  • Z1118/1/21/18: details of value and repairs: 1845;
  • CRTPot130/3: notes; c.1860-1926;
  • BML10/42/60: sale particulars: 17 Aug 1880;
  • CLP15: closure of the Red Cow: 1917-1918.