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The Royal Oak Public House Houghton Conquest

The Royal Oak February 2016
The Royal Oak February 2016

The Royal Oak Public House: High Street, Houghton Conquest

To judge by external appearances the Royal Oak is a 19th century building, however, there has been a Royal Oak in Houghton Conquest since at least 1778. In 1770 William Farrer of Meppershall, yeoman and Sarah, his wife, together with their son William conveyed a cottage with a shop, barn and adjoining orchard, occupied by William Jackson and William Ward to John Cherry of Houghton Conquest, along with a rood of land – the buildings and land being sold for £40 [WL1000/1/HOUC/1/1-2].

In 1778 John Cherry conveyed the property to Abraham Draper of Houghton Conquest for £105 [WL1000/1/HOUC/1/3-4]. This conveyance tells us that the cottage had been “lately converted to a public house under the sign of the Royal Oak”.

In 1784 Draper, together with Sarah, his wife, conveyed the Royal Oak to John Seabrook of Houghton Conquest for £120. Acting as Seabrook’s trustees were Bedford brewers Henry Whittingstall, James Whittingstall and William Long [WL1000/1/HOUC/1/5-6]. In his will of 1790 John Seabrook devised the Royal Oak to his son John, who was living in Maulden [WL1000/1/HOUC/1/8]. In 1796 John Seabrook junior mortgaged the Royal Oak to Ampthill brewer John Morris for £100 [WL1000/1/HOUC/1/9]. The last deed in the bundle is an assignment of the mortgage by John Morris’ son John to John Seabrook of Maulden in 1842 [WL1000/1/HOUC/1/13]. Though drawn up as an assignment of the mortgage it looks very like the mortgage was redeemed by Seabrook by this deed. The countywide licensing register of 1876 gives the owner of the Royal Oak as John Seabrook of Maulden. By the time of the countywide licensing register of 1891 the owner is Bedford brewer Charles Wells, in which ownership the pub remains at the time of writing [2016].

In 1825, as unlikely as it may sound, there was a riot in Houghton Conquest during the movement of three local men apprehended for housebreaking (James Redman, Joseph Redman and John Hostler), to prison at Bedford by the parish constables [QSR1825/368-9]. It seems as if the people of the village objected to their being taken. John Robinson of Houghton Conquest, yeoman, who seems to have been the chief constable, tells us that as he was driving his cows across the road to another field William Brown came up and Robinson said to him: "Brown, run down to the assistance of the other Constables, for they are just gone by with the prisoners”. Brown answered that he was going as fast as he could go. Robinson told him he thought he had better see them safe through the Town.

A short time afterwards Robinson went with William Redman towards the village and met John Topham and asked him: "What is the matter of that row?" On being told that the prisoners had been ill-treating Brown Robinson borrowed Topham's stick and went to the Royal Oak. As soon as he got into the door he saw Brown and said "Brown, what have the Mob been doing to you?" Brown, or William Robinson, another constable, said that the mob had been striking him with their pattens. John Robinson said “Why did you not take them into custody?” Robinson then accompanied Brown to the magistrate, Mr. Barber, to lay information against the rioters. Brown's face was bleeding from the blows he had received.

John Robinson estimated the crowd, through which he passed twice, at 120, the greater part of whom were calling Brown by nick names "and using towards him very provoking language". He went on "I heard a great deal of swearing from the females assembled".

The Gaol Register [QGV10/1] tells us the James and Joseph Redman and John Hosler, all of Houghton Conquest, aged 20, 26 and 19 respectively, were all charged with housebreaking on 8th December 1825. James Redman and Hosler were sentenced to death but were, instead, transported for life. Joseph Redman was also sentenced to death but had this reduced to twelve months’ hard labour.

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. The valuer visiting the pub [DV1/C78/107] found that the tenant paid rent of 52/6 per quarter, i.e. £10/10/- per annum. The premises comprised a bar, a tap room, a living room, a kitchen and a cellar and there were four bedrooms upstairs. A timber and tiled barn, an earth closet, a brick and tiled stable and a cart hovel all stood outside. Trade was half a barrel of beer per week (i.e. eighteen gallons) and half a gallon of spirits per month. The valuer commented: “large place, too big, rambling old place” and “must be more than Camel”.


  • WL1000/1/HOUC1/1-2: conveyance: 1770;
  • WL1000/1/HOUC1/3-4: conveyance: 1778;
  • WL1000/1/HOUC1/5-6: conveyance: 1784;
  • WL1000/1/HOUC1/8: will of John Seabrook: 1790;
  • WL1000/1/HOUC1/9: mortgage: 1796;
  • WL1000/1/HOUC1/10: mortgage: 1806;
  • CLP13: Register of alehouse licences: 1822 – 1828;
  • QSR1825/368-9: rioters injure parish constables at Royal Oak: 1825;
  • WL1000/1/HOUC1/11: assignment of mortgage: 1827;
  • WL1000/1/HOUC1/12: mortgage: 1827;
  • WL1000/1/HOUC1/13: assignment of mortgage: 1842;
  • PSA5/1: Register of Alehouse Licences - Ampthill Petty Sessional Division: 1872-1927;
  • PSA5/2: Register of Alehouse Licences - Ampthill Petty Sessional Division: 1934-1959;
  • PSA5/4: list of licensed premises in Ampthill Petty Sessional Division: c.1950s;
  • PCHoughtonConquest30/5: transfer of license: 1964;
  • PCHoughton Conquest 9/9: applications for transfer of licence: 1969 – 1981;
  • PCHoughtonConquest30/8: transfer of license: 1976;
  • PL/P/MB76/1218 and PC Houghton Conquest18/2: plan for alterations and extensions: 1976;
  • PCHoughtonConquest33/5: travellers’ use of the Royal Oak: 1981;
  • PCHoughtonConquest30/15: application to remove licence to temporary premises: 1986;
  • WL738/4: Charles Wells in-house magazine Pint Pot article on remodelling of Royal Oak 1986;
  • PCHoughtonConquest30/16: transfer of license: 1986;
  • PCHoughtonConquest30/23: transfer of license: 1992.

List of Licensees: note that this is not a complete list. Italics indicate licensees whose beginning and/or end dates are not known:

1778-1784: Abraham Draper;
1822-1823: Caroline Draper;
1824-1828: William Seabrook;
1851-1879: William Penwright;
1879-1883: Edmund Day;
1883-1891: George Day;
1891-1905: William Smart;
1905-1927: Thomas Smart;
1927-1930: Henry Hayes;
1930-1959: John William Dunham;
1959: George Robert May Robertson;
1964-1968: Alistair Taylor;
1968-1976: John Patrick Murphy;
1976-1980: Walter Robert Gould;
1980-1986: Stephen Douglas Abley;
1986-1992: Ian Victor Folkes [in a portakabin 20 February to 6 November 1986]
1992-1995: Leonard John Addison