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The Five Bells Public House Eaton Bray

The Five Bells about 1920 [Z50/39/24]
The Five Bells about 1920 [Z50/39/24]

The Five Bells Public House: 2 Market Square, Eaton Bray

The Five Bells was one of the three pubic houses in Eaton Bray dating back to 1822 and before (the other two being The Chequers, also now closed and The White Horse). The earliest known date for the Five Bells is 1811 when John Brown of Eaton Bray blacksmith, victualler, and cutler published his will (proved in 1812) in which he left his blacksmith’s shop and the residue of his real estate including, presumably, the public house, to his son Sam [ABPW1812/21]. Presumably the pub was run as a side line to Brown’s main business of blacksmith.

We know that Samuel Brown was licensee for many years. The 1851 census describes him as 71 at that date. He had been born in Eaton Bray and described himself as victualler. He had, presumably, given up smithing. His wife Sophia came from Caddington and was only 37! Her mother Anne Britton, aged 62 lived with them. She was also from Caddington and plaited straw. There was also a servant, Edmund Ellingham, aged 20, unmarried and from Eaton Bray. Directories reveal that he was still licensee in 1854 but by 1862 John Brown was the landlord.

The countywide licensing register of 1876 states that at that date Charles Meacher of Watford [Hertfordshire] was the owner of the Five Bells and that he leased it to Ivinghoe [Buckinghamshire] brewers Roberts and Wilson - Jesse Simmonds the publican was, therefore, the sub-tenant. By the time of the countywide register of 1891 Roberts and Wilson were the owners, as they were in 1903 when the Five Bells was reported as: “clean and in good repair”. It was only 44 yards from nearest licensed premises (The White Horse) and had one front and two back doors.

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every building and piece of land in the country was to be assessed to determine its rateable value. Eaton Bray, like most of the county, was assessed in 1927 and the valuer visiting the Five Bells [DV1/C253/8] found it still owned by Roberts and Wilson. The tenant Mrs. A. Kitchen paid rent of £8 per annum.

Mrs. Sarah Jane Webb was just taking over – the valuer commented: “Mrs. Webb taking over from Mrs. Kitchin in a week’s time 24/9/1927. Good position. Good little house but I say trade neglected. Buses pass along road. Very good buildings but unused”. The rent was just about to be raised to £10 per annum.

The Five Bells comprised a tap room, a smoke room and lounge and a cellar (all “good”), a scullery and a pantry completed the lower accommodation and three bedrooms lay upstairs along with a “Long lumber room”. Outside stood a weather-boarded and slated earth closet, a brick and slate urinal, a brick and tiled open barn, coal barn and two stall stable and a weather-boarded and corrugated iron open shed stood by the house. There was also one rood of orchard with “old trees”.

Takings were between £10 and £12 a week. Trade comprised one barrel of beer per week including bottled stuff (“which is four dozen pints and three dozen half pints” per week and 29 gallons of spirits in the previous year. On average the pub sold one dozen bottles of minerals a week. The valuer commented: “This must be less [than the White Horse] but not such a great difference”. Another hand noted: “Sir T [Sir Trustram Eve] saw Benskins. Trade 40 barrels”.

Benskins Watford Brewery took over Roberts and Wilson during 1927 and Benskins was, itself, taken over by Ind Coope of Burton-on-Trent [Staffordshire] in 1957 when the Watford brewery closed. In 1961 Ind Coope merged with Ansells of Birmingham [Warwickshire] and Tetley Walker of Leeds [Yorkshire] to form Allied Breweries.

The Five Bells closed in 2010 and Central Bedfordshire Council approved a change of use for it to become a private house. This leaves the White Horse as Eaton Bray’s oldest continuing licensed premises.

The Five Bells December 2008
The Five Bells December 2008


  • ABP/W1812/21: will of John Brown: 1811, proved 1812;
  • CLP13: Register of alehouse licences: 1822-1828;
  • P63/1/16: burial register entry for Samuel Pearson found drowned in the well at the Five Bells: 1848;
  • PSLB4/1: Register of Alehouse Licences - Leighton Buzzard Petty Sessional Division: c.1860s-1949;
  • PSLB4/3: Register of Alehouse Licences - Leighton Buzzard Petty Sessional Division: c.1860s-1956;
  • Z50/39/23: postcard showing the Market Square and Five Bells: c. 1909;
  • Z50/39/24: postcard showing the Market Square and Five Bells: c. 1920;
  • PSLB4/2: Lists of Licensed Premises - Leighton Buzzard Petty Sessional Division: 1922-1948;
  • PSLB4/4: Register of Licensed Premises - Leighton Buzzard Petty Sessional Division: 1967-1992;
  • PCEatonBray30/1: change of licensee: 1988;
  • Z1309/1/4: drawing by Gill Richards: 1990;
  • PCEatonBray30/2: change of licensee: 1994.

Licensees: note that this is not a complete list and that dates in italics are not necessarily beginning or end dates, merely the first/last date which can be confirmed from sources such as directories and deeds:

1812: John Brown;
1822-1854: Samuel Brown;
1862: John Brown;
1864: Alpheus Collyer;
1869-1891: Jesse Simmons;
1891: Charles Seaton;
1891: Henry Mann Roberts;
1896: George Leach;
1896: John Hodgson;
1896-1897: Edward Henderson;
1897-1898: John Pendrell Sharp;
1898-1899: John Reeve;
1899-1901: Alfred Element;
1901-1906: Edward Henderson;
1906-1907: Benjamin George Kitchener;
1907-1909: Harry Thomas Rand;
1909: George Loake;
1909-1910: William Loftus Johnson;
1910-1915: Albert Gibbs;
1915-1916: Thomas Price;
1916-1927: Alexander Kitchin;
1927: Sarah Jane Kitchin;
1927-1933: William Herbert Webb;
1933-1937: Walter Johnson;
1937-1945: Lavinia Johnson (Lavinia Mathers from 1942);
1945-1956: Walter George Buckingham Aylott;
1964: Edgar Spence;
1973-1979: Kenneth Alexander Beadle;
1979-1984: Thomas Patrick Browne;
1984-1988: Terence Edward Oakley;
1988-1990: John Hainey;
1990-1994: Patrick Norbert Coughlan;
1994: Gerry Paul Lewis and Jane Isabella Lewis.