The Tom & Jerry Public House: Dunstable Road, Tilsworth?
A public house, unfortunately not named, is shown near the site of the present Anchor Public House in the 1804 sale particulars of the Tilsworth Estate. It was tenanted by Joseph Cooper and described thus: "A PUBLIC HOUSE, Brick Pannel, Tiled and Thatched, containing a Parlour, Kitchen, Brewhouse, Cellar, Dairy and Three Bed Chambers, a small Stable, Cowhouse, Pigsty and Woodhouse, Timber, Weatherboarded and Thatched, Croft &c.".
A clue as to the name of this public house may come from press cuttings in a Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service scrapbook for 1965 [FSD/PC7] which refers to the destruction by fire of Yew Tree Cottage and the cottage next door, (today more or less on the site of 7 to 11 Dunstable Road). The following report was printed in the Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire Observer on 9th March 1965: "At a quarter to four on Wednesday morning Mr.Derek Bunker, who lives opposite the cottage, looked out of his window and saw the thatch well ablaze. He rushed across the road and awakened Mr.Gurney, and together they threw out some furniture and possessions to save what they could. "Fifteen minutes later", said Mr.Bunker; "it was impossible to get back in". Meanwhile another neighbour, Mr.Amos Hartley, had telephoned the Fire Service but the fire was too well established for the cottage to be saved in spite of the efforts of the firemen".
"They were able, however, to prevent the fire from engulfing the adjoining cottage, although the flames had spread to some of the beams. After fighting the blaze through the cold hours of the morning, the firemen were still hosing down the smouldering debris seven hours later. Mr.Gurney, in the mean time, was recovering from his rude awakening at the nearby home of his daughter , Dorothy, and her husband, Mr.Harold Ludgate, who is an agricultural engineer. "As long as we have a roof over our heads" said Mr. and Mrs.Ludgate "he has one too".
"The thatched cottage is reputed to be upwards of 250 years old, and Mr.Gurney's living quarters were added later. Eighty year old Mr. W. M. Tompkins, a near neighbour, said that his great-grandfather, a Mr. Cooper, who was born in 1802, was the last publican of the Tom and Jerry public house, as it then was".
"The cottage had been unoccupied for three weeks after Mr.Horace Evans and his wife, Nurse Evelyn Evans, of Langdale Road, Dunstable, took over as tenants. They were decorating the cottage for her parents to move into from their home at Barton-on-Humber, Lincolnshire".
There is no other mention of the Tom and Jerry. By the time of the first licensing register for the county in 1822 there were only two licensed premises in Tilsworth, the Bull Inn and the Anchor public house, the latter occupied by Richard Inwards. Tom and Jerry was a slang term coined in the early 19th century for beerhouses.
The Anchor public house and 5 Dunstable Road in 1901, the latter is numbered 85 on the map above
It is, therefore, not possible to say whether the story of the Tom and Jerry is fact or a confused local and/or family memory. It is possible that Joseph Cooper's public house, certainly in existence in 1804, was given that name, but in the 1804 sale particulars it is unnamed. It is also unclear from the 1804 map whether the public house was on the site of the modern Anchor or simply nearby, as was the case with the old cottage at 7 Dunstable Road. However, it does seem more likely that Number 81, the reference number for the public house, stands nearer the site of the Anchor than 7 Dunstable Road, which looks more like number 74 on the sale particulars map, a house and blacksmith's shop, then tenanted by Thomas Twigg.
Interestingly a blacksmith's shop in Tilsworth was put up for sale by auction in 1879 [BML10/42/54]. The particulars do not allow one to proove where the premises was, but the frontage quoted may be correct for the cottages on the site of 7 Dunstable Road, given that numbers 3 and 5 Dunstable Road were not yet built and the land was undeveloped. The particulars are as follows:"all that Brick and Stud-built, Boarded and Thatched FREEHOLD BLACKSMITH'S SHOP, with an excellent piece of BUILDING or GARDEN GROUND, situate in the centre of the Village of Tilsworth, and adjoining the High Road leading from Standbridge [sic] to Dunstable, to which it has a frontage of about 65 feet, and is surrounded by property belonging to Sir H.Dryden. The Property is let to Mr.William Tompkins, whose tenancy expires at Michaelmas next". It was, of course, a Mr.Tompkins who remembered the Tom and Jerry being in his great-grandfather's occupation. Perhaps the blacksmith also sold beer in a small way to his customers despite being so close to a public house, it would not have been uncommon.
The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 stated that every piece of land and building in the country was to be assessed to determine the rates to be paid on it. Tilsworth was visited in 1927 and the two tenements comprising the site of 7 Dunstable Road were then occupied by F.Gurney and S.D.Price and owned by Gurney's father E.C.Gurney (a farmer who owned and farmed both Green Farm and Wood Farm). The valuer described each as being built of brick, stone and thatch and being semi-detached to each other. Frederick Gurney's cottage comprised two living rooms, a kitchen and scullery downstairs with three bedrooms above; next door comprised a living room and kitchen downstairs and two bedrooms above. Both properties had a wood and thatch barn.
- AD534/4: unnamed public house shown on Tilsworth Estate sale plan: 1804;
- FSD/PC7: newspaper reports, with photographs of fire at cottage: 1965
List of Licensees: note that this is not a complete list; entries in italics refer to licensees where either beginning or end, or both, dates are not known:
1804: Joseph Cooper