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The Bear Public House Bedford

The Bear Z1306-10-33-61

The Bear about 1900 [Z1306/10/33/61]

To judge by surviving historical records today’s building dates from the early 19th century, though deeds in the Greene King collection [GK] probably take the history of the site back as far as 1624. The public house seems to have first opened in the 1830s.

In 1624 John Williams of Cottenham [Cambridgeshire] sold a building in the parish of Saint Peter de Merton to John Purnye or Purney of Bedford, wheelwright for £25 [GK97/1]. The building had previously been occupied by Gyles Lawrence, the current tenant being Gerrarde Stanton. It was purchased by John Williams alias Scott, the vendor’s father in 1546 having been previously owned by Warden Abbey, which King Henry VIII (1509-1547) had dissolved in 1537.

In 1627 Purney sold the cottage to Abigail Eston for £24 [GK97/2]. It was described as including a parcel of ground forming part of an orchard. It abutted north on a building which had belonged to the hospital of Saint John the Baptist, Bedford, now occupied by tailor John Newton, east on the street and west on land of Thomas Hawes, gentleman. By 1642 Abigail had married as she is described as Abigaill James of Bedford, widow and she gave this cottage (still abutting on the house of John Newton and with houses of Jacob Joye now to the south) along with another in Mill Lane to a trustee to be held for her nieces Abigaill and Rebecca Easton [GK97/5].

Abigail Easton married Thomas Jarves whose son Thomas, a draper, sold the cottage in 1675 (presumably Rebecca had died childless in the meantime). The buyer, for £25, was Edward Munns of Bedford, cordwainer (a man who made luxury shoes). The tenant was Robert Langford, William Burrows now had the house to the north and James Gee lived to the south [GK97/7]. In 1681 Munns sold the cottage to pipemaker Thomas Bowskill and Rebecca, his wife, for £45 [GK97/9].

In 1748 the cottage was mortgaged by William Arthur alias Bowskill, also a pipemaker and Sarah, his wife to Bedford innkeeper James Bailey for £20 [GK97/11]. It still abutted the house owned by Saint John’s Hospital to the north (occupier William Haynes), south now lay a house occupied by Negus Eston, a close owned by William lay behind the cottage. A further advance of £8 was made in 1750 [GK97/12]. By 1755 William was dead and his widow Sarah and son William sold the cottage to Martha Bailey, widow of James Bailey. The asking price was £42 [GK97/14]. Later that year James Bailey’s executors sold the cottage to Thomas Hornbuckle, millwright for £36, it was now empty.

In 1781 Hornbuckle mortgaged the cottage which had now been divided into two, one of which was a public house called the Windmill (Hornbuckle was, after all, a millwright). One tenement was occupied by Hornbuckle himself and the other by Mary Eastwick [GK97/16]. Hornbuckle died in 1784 leaving all his estate to his infant great-nephew Richard. The following year four year-old Richard joined his father Rev. Thomas Hornbuckle (the testator’s nephew) in selling property to Old Warden yeoman Samuel Sutton for £250. He had bought the Hornbuckles’ property at auction and it comprised: three houses adjoining each other in the several occupations of Jonathan Baxter and Mary Estwick with two barns, stable and yard the other with a garden, barns and stable in occupation of Thomas Warr [GK97/16]. The three houses seem to form two distinct properties – that occupied by Baxter and Estwick (the original cottage) and that occupied by Warr. This was, perhaps a newly built addition on the same site as the old cottage or an adjoining property bought by Hornbuckle, given the fact that the deeds include the history of the old cottage the former interpretation seems to be correct.


Samuel Sutton died in 1791. In his will [GK97/17] charging his various properties in Blunham, Mogerhanger, Kempston and Bedford with legacies to his grandchildren. The cottage in the High Street he left to his granddaughter Ann. In 1800 she joined her husband James Lantaffe in selling it to grocer John Emery for £150 [GK97/18]. In 1803 Emery sold a piece of land to Bedford brewer Peregrine Nash for £100 [GK97/19]. This is described as having had Warr’s house on part of it but the house had now burned down. This would seem to be the site of the later Bear. The Nash family would continue to own the pub for a century or more.

We know that there was a Bear in Bedford in the 18th century but this was in Saint Paul’s Square. The first countywide licensing registers of 1822 to 1828 [CLP13] also described the Bear as in Bedford, Saint Paul. A Bedfordshire directory of 1830/31 lists all the licensed premises in Bedford but no Bear is among them, so we can conclude that the public house in Saint Paul’s had closed by this date. Another directory, of 1839, lists a Bear in the High Street which is presumably today’s pub. The earliest mention of this is in 1832 when a man was accused of obtaining money by false pretences [QSR1832/3/5/25]. At his trial before the Quarter Sessions it was stated that he and his victim went from Stagsden to the Bear in Bedford on 3rd May 1832. The accused asked the landlady to take care of his boxes which were coming down by wagon until they were to be taken away by the wagon going to Chichley [Buckinghamshire]. The landlady agreed. This suggests that the Bear first opened in 1831 or 1832.

The Bedfordshire Mercury of Saturday 24th May 1845 reports an “infamous slander” as follows: “Mr George Hills, blacksmith, of Bedford, appeared to answer the complaint of Charles Whitworth, for assaulting him on the evening of Monday last. Mr Rogers was solicitor for the defendant, and the justice room was completely thronged by persons anxious to hear the proceedings in the case, which seemed to excite great interest. Mr Livius asked whether the matter could not be arranged out of court, but Mr Hills declined to do so”.

“The complainant [Charles Whitworth] was then sworn, and stated that on Monday night he was sent for to a room at the Bear Inn, in the High Street. Mr Hills, Mr Jebbett and Mr Day, the landlord, were there and he (the complainant) was asked what he had said about Mr Hills & Mrs Day, the landlady of the house?”

“He replied that he had said nothing more than what people had been speaking of for the last two months; and added that something had been stated on the subject in Coleman’s bakehouse [in Harpur Street] on the 23rd of April. The defendant [George Hills] then said he should not leave the room until he gave the name of the party from whom he (the complainant) had heard the report, and eventually knocked him down by a blow in the face, and when down kicked him on the breast till he was almost insensible”.

“In cross examination by Mr Rogers, the complainant admitted having said that the reports would be the means of causing the farmers to leave the Bear and go elsewhere; that he was an ostler to a person named Clark, who formerly kept the Bear, but [was] now landlord of the Anchor close by [6 Dame Alice Street]; and that he could not tell the name of any person whom he had heard talking of the rumour about Mrs Day & Mr Hills. The complainant had no witnesses, and Mr Rogers then addressed the bench, admitting that an assault had taken place, but not of that nature the defendant had described, and contending that the Act of Parliament gave the magistrates the power to dismiss cases of assault where it could be proved, as in the present instance, that gross provocation had been given. The facts of the case were these: on the 23rd of April, the complainant stated publicly in Mrs Coleman’s bakehouse, that Mrs Day and the defendant had been detected by Mr Day in a criminal situation. Mr Hills was a married man with a large family – Mrs Day was the mother of a family. This report, so far from being prevalent for two months, as stated by the complainant, had never been heard of till the last fortnight; and on its coming to the knowledge of Mr Day & Mr Hills, both of them had expended a great deal of time in tracing the origin of it, which was at length fixed upon the prisoner, who had evidently raised the slander for the purpose of inducing farmers to leave the Bear and put up at the house where he was ostler, which would of course be to his own profit”.

“On the night the assault took place a Mr Denton, who was in the bakehouse when the complainant spoke of the report was sent for, and on being confronted with him, the complainant at first denied using the language attributed, although he now swore that he did not, and then sought to fix the propagation of the falsehood upon a person named Wilmot. Under these circumstances he (Mr Rogers) felt assured the Bench would dismiss the case. It was useless for Messrs Day & Hills to spend a large sum of money in bringing an action against a vagabond fellow like the complainant for raising a false and foul slander, and therefore Mr Hills had adopted the only course open to him, by inflicting corporal chastisement; and he believed any man would have done the same under the circumstances”.

“Mr Jebbett was then called , and said that he was present at the transaction, and that the complainant was not so hurt as he pretended, and that he (Mr Jebbett) had not seen the defendant kick him. He was sitting at the other end of the room, waiting for a witness in a case of felony that he had in hand, when he saw the affray begin, he immediately pulled the defendant away. A young man named Wilmot proved that Whitworth had used the expressions stated in the bakehouse respecting Mrs Day and the defendant. The room was then cleared, and after a short deliberation the parties were called in, when the Mayor said, that although there had been clearly an assault committed, still in consequence of the provocation given, by the defendant’s propagating a false & cruel slander the bench had decided upon dismissing the complaint, and that each party should pay his own costs. The decision appeared to afford much satisfaction to the persons present in court”.

The Bedfordshire Times for 1st December 1855 recounted a “curious circumstance” as follows: “One evening last week, Mr Day of the Bear Inn was startled by hearing something fall on the outside. On going to the spot he found the servant girl stretched on the pebbles, against the back door, and in answer to her master, she had fallen out of the top window of the house – a height of about 35 feet. The girl appeared to have received some severe injury and was conveyed to bed. On examining the track of her fall it was discovered that she had let herself out of the window, her feet resting on some slight woodwork below, which gave way and she was precipitated to the pebbles. The girl recovered in a day or two; but what induced her to commit so mad a trick has not transpired”.

In 1892 a piece of land, on part of which the Bear stood was, with other property, mortgaged by Susan Nash and her business partner William Pritzler Newland mortgaged to raise £1,200 [GK162/2]. Peregrine Nash had bought the land on which the Bear now stands in 1803 [GK97/19]. He had purchased Saint Mary’s Brewery in 1783 and in 1810 took his son George Peregrine Nash into partnership as Nash and Company. The son became sole owner in 1819 at which time the company had nineteen public houses. G. P. Nash took his eldest son, of the same name, into partnership but he died in 1844 and the second son, William Joseph succeeded him as partner. He was sole owner by 1849 and by 1870 had 42 licensed premises. He built a new steam powered brewery in Lurke Street in 1875. He died in 1884 leaving his widow Susan to run the business. She took William Pritzler Newland as partner in 1890 the new company being called Newland and Nash. Newland owned the Duck Bill Brewert in Bedford and had set up with Frederick Thomas Young as partner, dissolving this partnership and forming Newland and Company, with fifteen licensed premises, in 1876.

On the formation of Newland and Nash the Duck Mill Brewery closed. On Susan Nash’s death her four daughters became partners in the company, which was floated as a limited company in 1897 with 75 houses. W. P. Newland died in 1900. By 1922 the firm was failing, despite buying the Potton Brewery Company in that year and in 1924 Newland and Nash was bought out by Biggleswade brewers Wells and Winch though a conveyance was not effected until 1938 [GK297/2]. By 1961 Wells and Winch owned 287 public houses and was ripe for takeover, falling to Suffolk brewer Greene King in that year, although the Wells and Winch name was retained for a further two years, finally disappearing in 1963.

The Bear public house June 2009

The Bear public house June 2009


  • GK97/1: bargain and sale of a messuage in Saint Peter’s: 1624;
  • GK97/2: grant of a messuage in Saint Peter’s: 1627
  • GK97/5: conveyance of a cottage in Saint Peter’s: 1642;
  • GK97/7: bargain and sale a messuage in Saint Peter’s: 1675;
  • GK97/9: bargain and sale of a cottage in Saint Peter’s: 1681;
  • GK97/11: mortgage of a messuage in Saint Peter’s: 1748;
  • GK97/13: feoffment of a messuage in Saint Peter’s: 1755;
  • GK97/14: assignment of a messuage in Saint Peter’s: 1756;
  • GK97/15: bargain and sale of a messuage in Saint Peter’s: 1756;
  • GK97/16: release of two messuages, one then called Windmill in Saint Peter’s: 1781-1787;
  • GK97/18: conveyance of a messuage in Saint Peter’s: 1800;
  • GK97/19: feoffment of burned down messuage in Saint Peter’s: 1803;
  • BorBP 807: plans for a workshop: 1880;
  • GK97/22: conveyance of part of the Bear: 1892;
  • GK162/2: conveyance of part of the Bear: 1892;
  • BorBP 4601: plan for a shed: 1905;
  • BorBP 6079: plans for alterations: 1916;
  • Z1306/10/33/61: postcard: 1926;
  • GK297/2: conveyance of Newland and Nash to Wells and Winch:1938;
  • Z224/22: photographs: c. 1960;
  • Z1306/10/33/82: card advertising the Bear: c. 1970;
  • BorB/PH3/141: photograph: c.1970



1839-1841: Francis Clark;
1844-1864: George Day;
1869-1876: John Gell;
1885-1890: Thomas Goss
1891-1904: Edward King;
1904-1923: William Price;
1923-1947: Ada Georgina Price;
1949-1956: Miss K Price;
1956-1968: Thomas Barrington Perrett;
1968-1972: William Frederick George Lewis;
1972-1981: Betty Grace Lewis;
1981-1985: Vlassio Kambanis;
1985-2015: Paul Raymond Shilladay