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The Silver Tavern Bedford

Time Out 30-32 High Street May 2009
Time Out 30-32 High Street May 2009

The Silver Tavern: 32 High Street, Bedford [earlier the Rifle Beerhouse, later the Silver Grill public house]

Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has a run of deeds for 30-32 High Street received from Greene King [GK74]. The first deed is the conveyance of a cottage in the High Street in 1729 from a Samuel Massey of Bedford and Lucretia, his wife, to George Hawkins of Bedford, draper for £360. In 1760 Hawkins' daughters Ann Towersey and Mary Diethoit and their respective husbands conveyed the building, with other property in Bedford, to Richard Swepson of Bedford, draper [GK74/2]. Swepson's widow Sarah and son Richard conveyed it to James Bailey of Bedford, draper in 1786 [GK74/4]. Bailey conveyed it to Abraham Stapleton of Bedford, draper, in 1798 [GK74/5].

In 1804 Stapleton conveyed the property to James Meacock of Bedford, draper [GK74/9]. Meacock immediately sold the property to London wholesale linen drapers John Phillips and Thomas Atkinson [GK74/11] who, in 1811 sold it, with additional land along the north side of Saint Paul's Square, to Edward Turner Palmer, another Bedford draper [GK74/14a]. The following year Palmer was in financial difficulty [GK74/17] and his property and assets were put in the hands of his creditors including Bedford tradesmen John Rawlins, wine merchant and Robert William Robinson, grocer. In 1814 Palmer had regained control of his property and was able to mortgage it to Bedford bankers Joseph Barnard and Francis Green to secure his debts [GK74/19]. In 1820, however he was still "embarrassed in his affairs" and had to sell off the land along Saint Paul's Square [GK74/20], 30-32 High Street then being charged with a debt of £2,000. Palmer was finally declared bankrupt in 1821, his property and assets being conveyed to assignees [GK74/21].

In January 1822 Joseph Coleman of Ampthill, leather cutter, purchased 30-32 High Street from the assignees in bankruptcy for £1,500 [GK74/29]. The property was then described as built of brick and timber with an "excellent light shewy shop" recently divided, a "convenient sitting room", "light cheerful parlour", "capital Kitchen", pantry, wash and brewhouse on the ground floor, a drawing room, five bedrooms and a small room above and an "excellent dry cellar with wine bins and capital arched beer cellar behind adjoining the house". There was also a coachhouse for three four wheel carriages with drying and tailor's work and cutting shops, a harness room, a two stall stable with a hay loft over, a woodhouse, a pump, two privies, a large paved yard and a garden well stocked with fruit trees. It sounds as if Palmer had tried to diversify the draper's business which had been carried on at the premises for nearly a hundred years with sale of wines, spirits and beer. Coleman now became a grocer and tea dealer and insured the property for £1,000 in 1823 [GK74/31].

From 1830 we can be more specific regarding No 32. It operated as a Butchers Shop under the Colson Family with Humphrey Colson (1830) and John Colson (1831 – 1864 ) as occupants. By 1839 Coleman had evidently given up the grocery trade as he leased the High Street premises to Bedford butcher John Colson for twelve years at rent of £80 per annum [GK74/32]. It is possible that the current building may date from around this time, built by Coleman on the site of the 18th century cottage, as 30 High Street was a butcher's shop for most of the next 150 years whereas 32 became licensed premises [see below]. Coleman made his will in 1847 dividing his Bedford property between his three sons George, Edward and William White Coleman [GK74/33]. The will was proved in 1852. William White Coleman sold his third share to his brother George for £360 but no deed was ever executed [GK74/34]. George devised his two thirds share of the High Street property to his daughter Mary Susannah in 1872 [GK74/35]. Edward, who owned the other third died in 1881 and his executors sold his third to Mary Susannah, now wife of Joseph Coleman, in 1899 for £2,600. During this period The Thody family then took over, with William Thody, his wife Elizabeth and their sons running the butchers business from C 1869 – 1887. Miss Emma/Emily Wood briefly took over in 1881 and 1890 before Joseph Sell and his family took charge between 1891 – 1901, a partner, Mr Willshaw, joining the business between 1897 – 1901.The shop then became a restaurant/refreshment rooms in 1902 operating under Henry Thomas Barnes until 1910, and then having a change of name to Barnes Restaurants Ltd up until 1920.

In 1922 Mary Susannah Coleman died and her executors conveyed 30 and 32 High Street to Bedford brewers Higgins and Sons Limited [GK74/48]. Higgins and Sons were taken over by Biggleswade brewers Wells and Winch in 1931. Between 1934  - 1963 the Silver Grill operated under a succession of proprietors (Mrs Florence Grice-Wigley, William Henry Hines, J T Roades, Philip Duncan Cameron , Lt Cmdr Franklin Noble, R A F Jackson and R Mason) and was listed as a Public House. Between 1947 – 1966 the premises were sublet with No 32 A being occupied by a Hospital Service Association (1947 – 1950), a Motor Agents Association (1955 – 1966), John Gedge, an architect (1955 – 1957), R Peplow, a journalist (1959) and D.J.Wooding, an architect (1963 – 1966).

Wells and Winch were taken over by Suffolk brewers Greene King in 1961. A lease for 21 years from Higgins and Sons to the British and Argentine Meat Company Limited survives [GK74/50] as does a lease from Wells and Winch to Dewhurst Limited of 1952 [GK74/54] which was noted as cancelled on 6th January 1967. 


The Rifle Beerhouse

The Rifle beerhouse was in existence by at least 1863 as the two men who killed Bedford solicitor Frederick William Budd were stated to have been drinking there before the attack. It seems reasonable to guess that John Taborn called it the Rifle during the whole of his tenancy, beginning in 1861 or earlier. As it was a beerhouse it is not named in directories, making its life span impossible to give but a single beer seller is listed in the High Street in directories of 1847 and 1851 (William Seamark) and 1853 (John Covington) and it is possible that these men were licensees of the Rifle. In December 1871 a George Barnes was given as occupying 32 High Street [GK74/34] and it seems likely that he was either father or some other relative of Henry Thomas Barnes who used the premises as an eating house. This suggests that the Rifle may have closed as a beerhouse in that year. The name was retained for a while, however, as a directory of 1885 refers to Barnes' eating house as being called the Rifle. In 1901 a Dyer and Cleaner’s named as Achille Serre is established. The company originated from a Parisian ribbon dyer who came to the country in 1870. The establishment in Bedford was probably under the management of his son, Eugene Serre, and stayed at No 30 until 1913.

Two leases survive from Mary Susannah Coleman to Henry Barnes - the first of 1910, by which time the eating house is run by Barnes Restaurants Limited [GK74/43]. This lease ran for eleven years. The second, ten year lease to Barnes Restaurants, is dated 1921 [GK74/45]. Barnes may have died in 1922 - the conveyance to Higgins and Sons of June that year still refers to 32 being leased to Barnes Restaurants [GK74/48] but the Bedford Directory for that year gives 32 as the Silver Grill public house, run by Alfred Ernest Lightfoot. Yet another name change came in 1967 with the site being named “The Silver Tavern” up until 1976. From at least 1993 up until the present time it has operated a Club/Night Club under the names the Pig and Whistle (1993), Time Out (2008) and Astons (2023)

So much for the ownership of 30 and 32 High Street. A combination of leases and directories allow us to trace the occupation of the two premises.  

Summary of Occupiers at Nos. 30 And/Or 32

1729: George Hawkins, Draper

1760: Richard Swepson, Draper

1786: James Bailey, Draper

1798: Abraham Stapleton, Draper

1804: James Meacock, Draper

1804: John Philips & Thomas Atkinson, (London) Wholesale Linen Drapers

1811: Edward Turner Palmer, Draper

1821: Assignees of Edward Turner Palmer, Draper, a bankrupt

1822: Joseph Coleman, (Ampthill) Leather Cutter

1823 – 1830: Joseph Coleman, Grocer and Tea Dealer

1841 – C1850: Frederick Thompson, Bookseller


C1851 – 1854: Thomas Morton, Ironmonger/Whitesmith

Sumary of Occupiers at No.30 Only

1861 – 1871: John Taborn, Coffee House and Beer Retailer/Publican

1871: Susan Taborn, Beer Retailer

1876: George Barnes, Licensed Refreshment House Keeper (Rifle Inn)

1881 – 1901: Henry Thomas Barnes, Licensed Refreshment House Keeper, (The Rifle)

1901 – 1913: Achille Serre, Dyer and Cleaner

1914: The River Plate Fresh Meat Co Ltd, Butcher

1915 – 1929: British and Argentine Meat Co Ltd, Butcher

1930 – 1966: J H Dewhurst Ltd, Butcher


1967: Empty.  During Renovation three Anglo Saxon Skeletons found 

Summary of Occupiers of No.32 Only

1830: Humphrey Colson listed as a Butcher

1831 - 1862: John Colson , Butcher

1864: John Colson OR William Thody Butchers on site

1869: Mrs Elizabeth Thody, Butcher

1871 - 1877: Mrs Elizabeth Thody and Sons, Butchers

1881: Mrs Emma/Emily Wood, Butcher

1885 – 1887: Harry Thody, Butcher

1890: Mrs Emma/Emily Wood, Butcher

1891: Joseph Sell, Butcher

1892 – 1894: J and J Sell, Butchers

1897 – 1901: Sell and Willshaw, Butchers

1902 – 1910: Henry Thomas Barnes, Restauranteer

1911 – 1920:  Barnes Restaurants Ltd

1920 – 1931:  The Silver Grill, Alfred Earnest Lightfoot, Proprietor

1932: The Silver Grill, Mrs Florence E Lightfoot, Proprietor

1934 – 1938: The Silver Grill, Mrs Florence Grice – Wigley

1939: The Silver Grill, William Henry Hines

1940: The Silver Grill, J Roades, Proprietor

1947 – 1950: The Silver Grill, J T Rhodes, 32a Bed. Hospital Service Assoc., L W Bond Secretary

1952: Silver Grill, Philip Duncan Cameron

1955 – 1957:Silver Grill, Philip Duncan Cameron, 32a Motor Agents Assoc.SE Midland, 32a John Gedge

1959: Silver Grill. Lt Cmdr Franklin Noble, 32a Motor Agents Assoc.SE Midland, 32a R Peplow

1961: Silver Grill, R A F Jackson, 32a Motor Agents Assoc.SE Midland

1963: Silver Grill, R Mason, 32a Motor Agents Assoc.SE Midland, 32a Design Services, D J Wooding

1965 – 1966: Silver Grill, 32a Motor Agents Assoc.SE Midland, 32a Design Services, D J Wooding

1967 – 1968: Silver Grill

1969 – 1976: Silver Tavern

C 1993: Pig and Whistle Club

2008: Time Out Club


2023: Astons Club

See here for a more detailed list of the onwers and occupiers of number 30 and 32.


  • GK74/1: conveyance of a cottage in the High Street: 1729;
  • GK74/2: conveyance: 1760;
  • GK74/4: conveyance: 1786;
  • GK74/5: conveyace: 1798;
  • GK74/9: conveyance: 1804;
  • GK74/11: conveyance: 1804;
  • GK74/14a: conveyance: 1811;
  • GK74/17: assignment to creditors: 1812;
  • GK74/19: mortgage: 1814;
  • GK74/21: conveyance to bankruptcy assignees: 1821;
  • GK74/22: conveyanc: 1822;
  • GK74/32: lease of 30 High Street: 1839;
  • GK74/33: will of Joseph Coleman: 1847, proved 1852;
  • GK74/34: conveyance of a third share: 1858;
  • GK74/35: will of George Coleman: 1872;
  • WL73: sale catalogue of Horne Lane Brewery and licensed premises: 1875;
  • GK73/36: conveyance to Mary Susannah Coleman: 1899;
  • GK74/43: The Rifle leased by Barnes Restaurants Limited from Mary Susannah Coleman: 1910;
  • GK74/45: The Rifle leased by Barnes Restaurants Limited from Mary Susannah Coleman: 1921;
  • GK74/48: conveyance to Higgins and Sons: 1922;
  • BTNegOB41/4: negative of the High Street including the Silver Grill: c.1920s;
  • Z1135/2/1: Silver Grill menu card: 1929;
  • Z1169/8/8/25/3-6: plans and elevation of the Silver Grill: 1938;
  • GK74/54: lease from Wells and Winch to Dewhurst Limited: 1952;
  • BorB/PH3/93: negatives of the Silver Grill: c.1968

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: 

The Rifle

1847-1851: William Seamark?
1853: John Covington?
1861-1869: John Taborn;
1871: Susan Taborn;

Henry Thomas Barnes used the premises as an eating house from at least 1885 to at least 1914. 

The Silver Grill (at least 1922 to at least 1968)

1922-1928: Alfred Ernest Lightfoot;
1932: Florence Lightfoot;
1938: Florence Grice-Wigley;
1939: William Henry Hines;
1947-1950: J. T. Rhodes

The Silver Tavern (at least 1970 to at least 1976)