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The Stone Axe Public House Stratford

14 Stratford Road - site of The Stone Axe - December 2010
14 Stratford Road - site of The Stone Axe - December 2010

The countywide register of alehouse licences of 1876 states that the Stone Axe was first licensed in 1796. The name suggests that it might have been associated with finds of prehistoric tools. It may have been built by the Manor of Sandy as it certainly formed part of the Manor of Sandy in 1851 when was put up for sale by auction, along with the rest of the estate. The accompanying map pinpoints the location as being today’s 14 Stratford Road and the description [AD1119] is as follows:

THE STONE AXE PUBLIC HOUSE
AT STRATFORD

Partly Thatched and partly Slated, containing Two Parlours, tap Room, Cellar, Dairy, and Four Bed Rooms.

Small Farm Yard, Threshing Barn, Hen House, Cow House, Stable for Two Horses, Piggeries, Cart Hovel, Summer House, GARDEN,

AND SEVERAL PIECES OF MEADOW & ARABLE LAND,
CONTAINING IN THE WHOLE
25A. 0R. 16P.

Let to GEORGE NELSON, yearly tenant, at £50. 8s. per Annum.
A FOOTPATH from BIGGLESWADE to STRATFORD across the Premises.
CHESTER FIELD in the Stratford Road, containing 6A. 1R. 37P.

The 1876 licensing register referred to above gives the owner as Wells and Company of Biggleswade. In 1891 the Biggleswade Petty Sessional Division licensing register [HF143/4] shows the owner change to Arthur Wellesley Peel. The 1891 countywide licensing register notes that the public house was now a freehouse not tied to any brewery.

In 1891 George Preece took over as licensee of the Stone Axe after the previous landlord, Jesse Blain, had been there around thirty years. It was not a happy move as he was in trouble straight away. The Bedfordshire Times of 24th October reported the case thus:

THE SANDY HAY CASE 

George Preece, formerly of Sandy, was indicted with stealing two trusses of hay, value 6 shillings, the property of the G. N. R. Co [Great Northern Railway Company] at Sandy , on March [four days after getting the licence of the Stone Axe]. Thiscase had been postponed from the last Quarter Sessions, and the accused now pleaded not guilty”.

“Mr. Fordham and Mr. McGee appeared for the prosecution and Mr. Lindsell defended the accused”.

“Mr. Fordham said on March 25 the prisoner was in the employ of the G. N. R. as foreman porter at Sandy Station, and prior to that date had served a good many years in their employment. On the date named his service with them expired, and he became tenant of a public house at Stony Stratford [clearly a mistake for Stratford in Sandy]. Some days prior to the occurrence (the subject of this charge) some wagons were sent down through Sandy to London and when they reached their destination it was discovered that some trusses were missing. A search was instituted, and near Sandy two trusses were found on the line and they were removed to the side. Next morning they were gone and prisoner, on being asked if he knew anything about it replied, “I suppose the donkey has eaten it”. The police afterwards visited his barn, and found two trusses untied, which corresponded to those missing. On being arrested accused admitted taking the hay. Further it was ascertained that a Mrs. Daniel had seen him and another carrying hay across the field from the railway. Prisoner afterwards explained that he had forgotten to report finding of the trusses on the railway”.

“Frederick Bannister, James Wright, goods porters; John Francis, good clerk; William Hall, Joseph Leggatt and others were called in support of the charge”.

“George Odell, a boy in the employ of the prisoner’s aid when he told Preece there were two trusses of hay on the line, he said he would fetch them away”.

“Superintendent Parrish, G. N. R. police, read a statement made by the prisoner, saying he took charge of the trusses which were lying on the side of the line, and forgot to report the matter. A letter to the Stationmaster at Sandy, to the same import was read”.

“Mr. Fordham said the case was different from a man finding anything in the street, and not knowing where to apply for the owner, for prisoner was a servant of the company, and it was his duty to report the matter. As for the fear that the hay would be carried under a passing train, the platelayer had put it in a safe place. As for the pleas of forgetfulness, it was not proved that he had an abnormally forgetful mind”.

“Mr. Lindsell, for the defence, impressed the jury with the importance of being fully satisfied that the man took possession of the hay with dishonest and wicked intention. The accused had for many years occupied a position of great trust and confidence, and he had given notice of his own free will to leave the Company’s employ. He was looking forward to occupying an independent position as a small farmer and publican, and then they had a man flinging all this away for a mere couple of trusses of hay, and risking certain detection. Superintendent Smith, an officer of great capabilities and fairness, had the case brought before him and saw no reason to detain him, and the prisoner was told he could go; but Superintendent Parrish was determined to get up a case and he ferreted about with but little result. They had it that on the boy Odell telling the prisoner about the hay being on the line, Preece instructed him not to touch the hay as it had to go to the station”.

“The Chairman summed up, and the prisoner was found guilty”.

“After remarking on the difficulty of detecting such cases and the easy manner in which they could be perpetrated, the Court passed sentence of 12 months’ hard labour”.

Preece’s conviction bought the Stone Axe Beerhouse to an end after nearly a hundred years. That October John Newman wrote to Arthur Wellesley Peel, the owner of the [property, whom he addressed as “The Right Honourable The Speaker” as Peel was Speaker of the House of Commons from 1884 to 1895: “At the request of Mrs. Preece of Stone Axe Farm, Sandy, and on behalf of herself and her family, I beg to approach you on the subject of her leaving the Farm”.

“She wishes me to ask if you would allow her to stay on until [sic] Michaelmas on 1892, as leaving in March next (combined with the long sentence passed upon her husband) would be almost the ruin of her as regards the small capital they had in commencing here, all of which has been expended on the place in labour, manure, and other expenses. I may say I have been assisting Preece here all the summer, and would volunteer to stay on until she went out of the place; hoping to keep things together duly considering the place as to keeping everything in order, working the land to the best of my abilities”.

“She also thinks, Right Honourable Sir, that the Sentence passed on her husband is very severe indeed considering his previous long and tried character, and feels it only as a wife and mother can” [X344/144]. Unfortunately a letter from Peel’s land agent [X344/145] stated: “I cannot recommend you to entertain Mrs. Preece’s application; under the circumstances it is most desirable that the tenancy should not continue longer than Lady day next [25th March]. If Mrs. Preece is allowed to stay on the farm will be thrown on your hands for the winter and she will practically have the year’s profits for a half year rent. I believe Newman is Mrs. Preece’s brother, he has worked on the farm since Preece took it and the report is that he found part of the capital”. Sadly, as so often, the outcome of Mrs. Preece’s appeal is not known

George Preece had had an eventful year. In April the following report was made in the Bedfordshire Mercury: VIOLENT ASSAULTS. – On Good Friday morning about 2.30, as P. C. Woods, of Sandy, in company with George Preece, was crossing the Biggleswade Common, from Biggleswade to Sandy, he saw something in the ditch by the side of the footpath. On stooping down to see what it was he found it was a man who had a bundle by his side which was rather bulky. He spoke to the man and took hold of him, which was the cause of a struggle between the two. After some little time a second man appeared who struck Woods on the head and threw some stones at him. Preece seized the second man and tried to pull him away from Woods. Then he got hold of Preece and bit him and struck him on the head with a stick. Preece went away and called on Woods to leave also, saying that if he did not he would be murdered. Being exhausted they left the men and returned to Biggleswade, and Superintendent Smith sent them to Doctor Emmerson to have their wounds dressed and afterwards conveyed them home inn a cart. Woods has not been able to leave home since. The men are believed to be well-known, and there is no doubt they will soon be brought to justice”.

The 1891 census, taken in March, shows that George lived with his wife, four children, brother and sister-in-law. He was 34 years old and came from Saint Weonard's near Lugwardine in Herefordshire. His wife, Elizabeth Ann, was 37 and came from Hertford. Their children were: Sarah jane, aged 10, Rose E., aged 7, Percy George, aged 4 and Maud M., aged 1 - all born in Sandy. Elizabeth's brother and sister were George walker, aged 48 and Mary Walker, aged 55, George having been born in Hertford and Mary in  Bourne [Cambridgeshire]. John Newman, aged 29 and a market gardener from Much Marcle in Herefordshire was described as a boarder and living in a "Farm little way from 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 14 Stratford Road [DV1/C148/73] found it owned, like most of Stratford, by Viscount Peel and occupied by George Smith who paid rent of £92/15/- per annum including farm buildings adjacent and 31.106 acres of nearby arable land.

The “old” brick and tiled, detached property comprised two living rooms, a kitchen, dairy and store room with four bedrooms above. Outside lay a brick and tiled washhouse fitted with a copper, for heating water, and a sink, an earth closet and a temporary wooden shed. Water came from an outside tap.

The adjoining farm buildings comprised: a brick and tiled two stall stable with a loft over; a wooden open shed; a wooden chaff store with a drying loft over; a brick and tiled storage shed with a concrete floor; an “old” brick and tiled two stall stable, a brick and tiled calf shed, a brick and tiled chaff store, an old temporary wood and corrugated iron open shed, a wood and corrugated iron four bay open shed at the side and an old corrugated iron barn in a field.

Today [2010] the building on the site of the Stone Axe appears to be late 20th century. Presumably the old premises was demolished to make way for it, unless it is simply a case of extensive alterations, it is impossible to tell by looking at the property from the road.

References:

  • CLP13: Register of Alehouse Licenses: 1822-1828;
  • HF143/1: Register of Alehouse Licences - Biggleswade Petty Sessional Division: 1872-1873;
  • HF143/2: Register of Alehouse Licences - Biggleswade Petty Sessional Division: 1874-1877;
  • HF143/3: Register of Alehouse Licences - Biggleswade Petty Sessional Division: 1878-1881;
  • HF143/4: Register of Alehouse Licences - Biggleswade Petty Sessional Division: 1882-1890;
  • HF143/5: Register of Alehouse Licences - Biggleswade Petty Sessional Division: 1891-1900;
  • X344/144-145: correspondence regarding Mrs. Preece’s tenancy: 1891.

List of Licensees: note that this is not a complete list. Italics indicate licensees whose beginning and/or end dates are not known:

1822-1827: William Edmonds;
1828: William Shelton;
1847: Thomas Nelson;
1851-1854: George Nelson;
1864-1891: Jesse Blain;
1891: George Preece.