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1 High Street - Formerly The Bell

1 High Street August 2009
1 High Street August 2009

1 High Street appears quite an old building and records suggest that it dates to at least the 17th century. Surprisingly, it was once a public house called The Bell. This is clear from a run of deeds for the property from 1676 to 1859 in which the final deed contains a sketch plan of the property as shown below.

1 High Street in 1857 [ST387]
1 High Street in 1857 [ST 387]

In 1675 Richard Farnell of Maulden, blacksmith, conveyed an inn called The Bell in Westoning High Street to Simon Urlin of Ampthill for £45 [ST359]. In 1683 Urlin conveyed it to Westoning butcher Humphrey Adams for £60 [ST360]. Adams at once mortgaged the premises to John Richardson of Ampthill [ST361]. On Adams' death his son John, a bricklayer and John Richardson assigned the mortgage on the Bell to John Hanscombe of Ampthill, wheelwright, in trust for Robert Hanscombe of Westoning, collar maker [ST362]. It seems as if Robert Hanscombe may have taken the business over because in 1691 he is described as living at the inn, though still a collar maker, when John Adams conveyed the property to him for £50 [ST363]. This is the last date at which the building is referred to as an inn.

In 1697 Robert Hanscombe mortgaged the building to Francis Prudden of Westoning, victualler, for £5 but the building is then described as "formerly an inn called the Bell" [ST364]. A victualler meant a licensee of an inn or public house and it seems a worthwhile guess that Francis Prudden was licensee of The Chequers on just the other side of Church Road though we do not know the names of any of that public house's licensees before 1822 though mid 19th century sources describe The Chequers as having been previously called The Griffin, impyling a history at least back into the 18th century and perhaps further. Hanscombe was still living at the former Bell but perhaps found collar making a more lucrative business, especially if The Chequers was a public house at that date. A little later Hanscombe doubled his mortgage with Prudden [ST365], increasing it again to £15 in 1699 [ST365] and £22 in 1701 [ST367].

There is then a gap in story of 1 High Street until 1731 when William Prudden of Leagrave conveyed it to William Olney of Westoning for £43. One is left to guess on what happened. Perhaps Hanscombe defaulted on the mortgage so that the house became the property of the Prudden family, or he sold it or, perhaps, devised it in a will to the Pruddens if they were relatives. By 1731 the house was in the occupation of William Parles junior [ST369]. Olney made his will in 1735 and died in 1738, devising his property to his wife Mary for her life, then to their four daughters Elizabeth, Mary, Sarah and Ann [ST370].

By 1807 the property was in the hands of James Pinney of Barton-le-Clay, labourer and his wife Lucy, formerly Lucy Olney and of Mary Olney. Both Lucy and Mary were the children of William Olney, the only son of Benjamin Olney, the uncle and heir of Elizabeth, wife of Henry Millard and daughter of William and Mary Olney [ST372-373]. They conveyed 1 High Street to John Bunker of Westoning, cordwainer (shoe maker) for £160 who was then living there. In 1824 Bunker mortgaged the property to Charles Fullwood of Luton for £300. The reason is made clear in the property description - as well as the former Bell Bunker was mortgaging "three tenements lately built on the premises" [ST378-379]. In 1826 Bunker conveyed 1 High Street to John Everitt of Knightsbridge [Middlesex] for £175 [ST380-381] and five years later Everitt conveyed it to Thomas Burr of Dunstable for £120 [ST382-383].

Thomas Burr was a brewer. This suggests that he saw potential to re-open a licensed premises on the site. He made his will in 1835 devising all his business premises to his nephew Edward Burr. He died in the same year. Edward Burr found debts of over £12,000 to Thomas' sister Mary and, accordingly, in 1843 decided to sell the business and its licensed houses at auction. 1 High Street was bought by Ampthill brewer John Morris. The sale particulars described it thus:

LOT17

The BELL, Beer Shop, at WESTONING,

About eight miles from Dunstable, at the corner of the old road to Ampthill; containing Lobby, side Entrance, Shop, Tap, Parlor [sic], Wash-house, Cellar underground, two Bed Rooms and a dark Room. 

Yard with Pump of Water therein. Skittle Ground, Stable for three horses, &c.

In the occupation of THOMAS SHORT, at an Annual Rent of £9.0.0.

FREEHOLD.

N.B. There is a Right of Way through the Yard to some Cottages adjoining these Premises, and of getting Water from the Well. [see the sketch plan above]

Directories show that Thomas Short was a beer retailer in Westoning from at least 1839 until at least 1856. In 1857 Morris mortgaged his business to Woburn solicitor John Green and the following year it was agreed to sell the property to Lord of the Manor of Westoning John William Coventry Campion [ST386]. The conveyance was made in 1859 [ST387] at which time the property was described as formerly in the occupation of Thomas Short, but then unoccupied. This suggests that the beerhouse may have closed when Short left, between 1856 and 1859, and never re-opened.

Perhaps the final straw was an assault by a customer. The Bedfordshire Times of 27th September 1856 had this short piece under Ampthill Petty Sessions September 25th 1856: "Assault – Josiah Jellis, labourer of Flitwick, an old offender, was charged with assaulting Thomas Short, beer retailer, of Westoning, for which he was fined 60s and 8s 6d expenses".

So the evidence suggests that 1 High Street was an inn from at least 1675 until at least 1691, then a private house, then a beerhouse from at least 1831 until at least 1856. It was certainly neither a beerhouse nor a public house between 1822 and 1828 when only one licensed premises is listed in Westoning in the countywide register of alehouse licenses [CLP13]. There is no evidence from deeds to suggest that the property was ever demolished and so it seems possible that today's premises is, at least in part, that which existed on the site in the 17th century, although only detailed inspection by someone with a knowledge of architecture and building techniques could confirm this.

The Westoning Estate, i. e. the property of the Lord of the Manor, was sold in two tranches, in 1904 and 1918. In the latter sale 1 High Street formed Lot 7. It was then described as:

The Valuable Business Premises
occupying a corner position in the High Street, comprising

BRICK AND TILED DWELLING HOUSE
with Sitting Room, Pantry, Kitchen, Underground Cellar and 4 Bedrooms, Outside Closet and Barn

BUTCHER'S SHOP
Slaughter House fitted with copper, Fasting Pen, Store Room, Coach House, hay Loft, 2 Loose Boxes and Yard

Estimated Rental: £18:0:0 per annum
TITHE FREE

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every piece of land and building in the country was to be assessed to determine the rates to be paid on it. Westoning, like most of Bedfordshire, was assessed in 1927 and the valuer visiting 1 High Street [DV1/C135/63] noted that it was owned and occupied by H. Lappin and one of a semi-detached pair. Next door was owned and occupied by F. Peddar.

The property comprised two living rooms and a kitchen downstairs with a shop which was part of the living room. Four bedrooms lay upstairs. A brick and tile garage, and slaughter house ("not used") stood outside along with a timber and tiled store shed and brick and tiled barn and earth closet. The valuer commented: "Altered user, now a cottage, buildings disused. Neglect shop when valuing".

Next door appears to be no longer in existence. Number 1 was on the corner with Church Road and Number 3 further north-east. To judge by photographs taken at the time, this property seems to have been very severely damaged by the tanker explosion in 1976 and thus not rebuilt. It comprised [DV1/C135/64] two living rooms and a scullery downstairs with two bedrooms above. An earth closet stood outside as did a small yard. The valuer commented: "One room of this and yard let to Rag Merchant at 5/- per week".

When a petrol tanker exploded in the High Street on 11th September 1976 1 High Street was damaged and the adjoining property to the north had to be pulled down. Happily 1 High Street itself was repaired and still stands today, an unassuming property with an intriguing legacy.

References

  • ST359: conveyance from Richard Farnell to Simon Urlin: 1675;
  • ST360: conveyance from Simon Urlin to Humphrey Adams: 1683;
  • ST361: mortgage from Henry Adams to John Richardson: 1683;
  • ST362: assignment of mortgage to Robert Hanscombe: 1686;
  • ST363: conveyance from John Adams to Robert Hanscombe: 1691;
  • ST364: mortgage from Robert Hanscombe to Francis Prudden: 1697;
  • ST382-383: conveyance from John Everitt to Thomas Burr: 1831;
  • BH409: sale catalogue of Dunstable Brewery: 1843;
  • ST384: abstract of title of John Morris: 1858;
  • ST387: conveyance from John Green to John William Coventry Campion: 1859

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:

1675: Henry Lowens;
1680: John Knight
1683: William Atford;
1686-1691: Richard Hanscombe;
Inn closed about 1691

Beerhouse opened about 1831
1839-1856: Thomas Short.
Beerhouse closed between 1856 and 1859