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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].

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. 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 and Wells and Winch were taken over by Suffolk brewers Greene King in 1961.

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 from 1839 (in the case of 30 High Street) and 1861 (in the case of 32 High Street) until 1976.

Number 30 was a butcher's shop for the best part of 150 years, its occupation being as follows (note that this is not a complete list; entries in italics refer to occupiers where either beginning or end, or both, dates are not known):

1839 to 1861: John Colson, butcher;
1862 to 1864: William Thody, butcher [previously at 57 High Street];
1869 to 1871: Elizabeth Thody and Sons, butchers;
1876: Thody and Sons, butchers;
1885 to 1887: Harry Thody, butcher;
1890: Miss Emily Wood, butcher;
1892: J. and J. Sell, butchers;
1893 to 1901: Sell and Willshaw, pork butchers;
1914: River Plate Fresh Meat Company Limited;
1922 to 1928: British and Argentine Meat Company Limited;
1932 to 1967: Dewhurst, butchers 

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.

Number 32 was a licensed premises for most of the same period:

1861 to 1869: John Taborn, beer retailer, also coffee house (in 1861) and dining rooms (in 1864);
1871: Susan Taborn, beer seller;
1876: not listed;
1885 to 1901: Henry Thomas Barnes, eating house (called the Rifle refreshment rooms in 1885);
1914: Barnes Restaurants Limited, run by Cecil Cuthbert;
1922 to 1968: Silver Grill public house;
1970 to 1976: Silver Tavern 

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. 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. This is last mentioned in the Bedford Directory of 1968, by 1970 it had become the Silver Tavern. The Silver Tavern subsequently became a Mexican restaurant called Amigos. It is, at the time of writing [2009], a bar and club called Time Out.


  • 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)