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The King William IV Public House Kempston

The former Three Fishes Beerhouse and King William IV Public House about 1920 [Z209/95/82
The former Three Fishes Beerhouse and King William IV Public House about 1920 [Z209/95/82]

The King William IV Public House: 36 High Street, Kempston

This building is one of the older ones in Kempston, having been Grade II listed by the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works in 1962 as Grade II, of special interest. The building dates from about 1600 and is timber-framed with colourwashed brick infill beneath a clay tiled roof. The building is L-shaped and has two storeys. The left-hand wing has a lower roof line than the main block. There is an additional block, comprising one storey and attics at the left gable end. There are also a number of 20th century additions to the rear.

There is no evidence for the building being used as a public house before 1829 when Thomas Lambert was recorded as licensee [PSB1/1]. The 1876 countywide register of licenses gives a date of 1830 for the first license. King William IV ascended the throne when his brother George IV died on 26th June 1830. Early in his reign he was a popular monarch as he was perceived to be a down-to-earth character and an improvement over his unpopular predecessor.

Thomas Lambert died in 1834 and in his will left all his property to his wife Elizabeth then to their daughter Rebecca [ABP/W1834/9]. In 1840 the King William IV was robbed. The case was heard at quarter sessions [QSR1840/3/5/47/a]. She was in bed about 6 a.m. when Lewis Wright came upstairs and said "your house is broken open and the club box is stolen". She got up and found the window of the Club Room, which was upstairs, and various doors open, which she had closed and fastened herself the night before. She had gone through the club room to get to her bedroom.

The benefit club box - a deal box about 2 feet long and 18 inches deep – was missing. She did not know what it contained. She was certain it was locked with three locks. It was a heavy box, but not too heavy for one man to carry. Wright said he found the Club Room broken and was afraid Mrs. Walker had been murdered. They went downstairs and soon after the box was brought in by someone. The front of the box was broken in and the box was split in two. Several people had collected in her house having heard of the robbery, including Joseph Haines. The little cash box and club books were still in the box.

Lewis Wright was not a member of the club. Mrs. Walker had known him for several years and had always found him perfectly honest. He lived nearby, and she had often had his mother and sister in her house during her husband's illness since November 13th. Wright’s sister was staying with the widow at the time of the robbery

William White of Kempston, butcher was auditor of a benefit club which met at the King William IV. When the club last met he had shut up and locked the box with three different locks and keys. The landlady kept one key and the two stewards one each. When he locked the box there was some cash in the little cash box which was kept in the great box. He thought there was more than £15 in the box, mainly in silver. On Saturday morning he heard the box had been carried away and broken and the money all gone except one half crown. He went to Mrs. Walker's and searched the club books and found there should have been £15 9s 20d in the box. He heard Wright was the first person to discover it. He went to Wright and asked him for particulars - he said he found it in Mr Williamson's plantation. He asked Wright to go with him and point out the way he went when he discovered it. Wright went with him. He asked Wright what he had gone into the plantation for and he said he was going to Williamson's about some potatoes. White went with Wright to the place where he said he had found the box. He said the club books were thrown into the ditch near where the box was found. He examined the footsteps which appeared to be those of two different persons. Wright did not say anyone was with him when he found the box, but he said James Walker, one of the members, went with him to help fetch it away. Wright said: "It was somewhere here that I did a job for myself but I don't see it now".

Henry Ison Jebbett, a superintendent constable stated at the quarter sessions that he received information that a robbery had taken place at Kempston, so he went to Mrs. Walker's and saw a ladder lying in the yard near the club room window, with marks as if the feet of the ladder had been placed there. He saw the footsteps of two people on the ground and measured the impressions. From information received he went to Wright and asked how he had spent the previous evening and when he went to bed. Wright said he did not know what time he went to bed but it was pretty early. He asked Wright what shoes he wore the previous day - he said the same he had on then. Wright also remarked "these boots are not strong enough to kick the box in". Jebbett said it appeared a "singular circumstance" that Wright should be the first person to discover the robbery. He asked Wright what drew his attention to that particular spot. Wright said he didn't know. He said he was going to the foreman at Williamson's farm about potatoes. They talked about the part of the plantation where the box was discovered - Wright said he had been there a time or two before. Wright said after he discovered the box he went home to his brother's yard before going to Mrs. Walker's and stopped there about ten to fifteen minutes. Jebbett asked why Wright supposed the box belonged to the club held at Mrs Walker's. Wright said he had no particular reason for thinking so – Wright was illiterate and so could not read the books which were scattered about. Jebbett left Wright and went to his house where Wright’s wife gave him a pair of boots which he measured and found matched the footmarks where the box was found. He tried to see if it were possible for Wright to have seen the box and it appeared to him impossible. He left the boots with Wright's wife. They appeared to him to have fresh damp earth on them of the same description as the earth in the ditch. He then took Wright into custody.

In a later statement Jebbett said that since the last examinations he had gone to the plantation and placed his son, a lad seven years of age, at the place where the box was said to have been found and went to the part from which Wright said he had discovered the box. He could not see his son - he tried from almost every direction near where Wright stood. He measured the distance as about seventy yards. He searched the house where Wright lodged on the day he was committed but found no money. When apprehended Wright had three sovereigns and a few pence on his person, which he said he received for two pigs he had sold at market for his brother or cousin for thirty shillings each.

John Tregenza, keeper of Bedford Gaol stated that Wright was searched in his presence by the turnkey Skinner on Thursday 15th April. Wright first produced five shillings and a six pence and six pence of halfpences. When challenged he then produced three sovereigns and a half. Wright had since said he received the money for two pigs sold to the ostler of the Hop Pole in Cauldwell Street, Bedford.

Alice Wright of Kempston, widow, Wright's mother, said she remembered Wright going to bed on the evening in question about 10.30 p.m. and he got up about 5.05 a.m. She lay awake for much of the night as she had been ill. She heard her son speak during the night and he came and gave her a light when she called him to bring it to her. She had heard the clock strike each hour from eleven to three and she believed he was in the house all night. She was sure he could not have left his room without her hearing him as he always lay with his bedroom door open and so did she. The doors almost touched each other.

Samuel Wright, Lewis’ brother, in his statement described himself as a pig jobber and said that Lewis also bought and sold pigs. Lewis sold two pigs the previous week to the ostler at the King's Arms and two to Finedon at Wilshamstead. The pigs Finedon bought were worth about thirty shillings each. He did not receive the money for them - they bought and sold together so he would have expected Lewis to pay him, though they never accounted to each other at all. Subsequently the ostler at the King’s Arms and Samuel Finedon of Wilshamstead confirmed that they bought pigs from Wright.

Rev. Edmond Riland Williamson, Rector of Campton and Lord of the Manor of Kempston Daubeney subsequently gave Lewis Wright a character reference. The papers do not give the verdict in the case but the gaol register for 1840 [QGV10/2] states that the bill against him was ignored, so he was evidently not convicted. He was described in the register as thirty four years old, five feet two inches tall, with black hair, hazel eyes and a fresh complexion, though he had a scar on his right cheek. He was never held in the gaol again. The culprit who stole the box seems to have remained at large.

In 1852 the following report of a case at the Bedford petty sessions of 9th March appeared in the Bedfordshire Times: “A PUBLIC HOUSE BRAWL. – John Tew, a labourer of Kempston, was charged by Samuel Maynard, landlord of the King William, with giving him a bloody nose &c., on the 9th ult. It appeared from the statement of the complainant that, about ten o’clock on the night in question, a number of the native rustics dropped in to his hostelrie, where they became very noisy, and remained boozing til 11, when the ponderous form of police-constable Cheney walked in and gave a hint to ‘mine-host’ that it was time to close business. The complainant immediately went into the tap-room and politely told the company to ‘misle’. Amongst those who felt indignant at being ordered off so unceremoniously, after fooling away their hard earned tin, was the gallant Tew, who sat half muzzy on the end of the table. He said he would not stir til he pleased. A row ensued, during which the candles were put out. The complainant was about to lay hold of Tew, for the purpose of putting him out, when the latter put himself in fighting attitude, and, after cutting sundry extraordinary capers, threw out his left which caught Boniface slightly on the bread-basket; this he followed up immediately after with a tremendous right hander on his smeller, which uncorked his bottle and the claret flowed very copiously. The defendant called two witnesses to prove that the complainant began the row, and struck the former several times before he retaliated on his unfortunate proboscis. The Bench considered that there were faults on both sides and dismissed the case – each party to his own costs”.

Another fight occurred nearly forty years later, the Bedfordshire Standard for 1893 reporting, more prosaically and almost in note form: "Fredk. W.Cotton and Henry Darlow, labourers, Kempston, were charged with being disorderly and refusing to quit Isaac nelson's licensed premises, on Nov. 18th. Darlow pleaded not guilty, and as Cotton did not appear his case was taken afterwards. Mr.Webb appeared for the prosecution, and asked the Bench to make an example of the defendants. Isaac Nelson, landlord of King William the Fourth publichouse [sic], Kempston, said defendant came into his house at 8 p.m. with several others. They were very quiet at first, but after a time Cotton and Darlow got very noisy and annoyed the other customers by treading on their toes. He requested them to leave, but they refused, and as he found they were too much for him he went to fetch a policeman; he had not proceeded far when his daughter called him back, and on returning to the house he found defendants fighting. Witness subsequently put the men out himself. Fredk. Smith, fitter, Kempston, said he saw defendant at the publichouse, and he was making a great noise with Cotton and treading on people's feet and throwing beer about. In the other case, P.S.Tatman proved the service of summons on Cotton, and evidence similar to the above having been given, both defendants were fined 10s. and 8s. 6d. costs, in default, seven days”.

“William Henry Page, labourer, Kempston, was charged with assaulting Fredk. Smith of that place on Nov. 18th. This case arose out of the last, and Mr. Webb appeared for Smith. Defendant pleaded not guilty. Prosecutor said he was in the King William the Fourth on Nov. 18, when he was knocked down and kicked by defendant on the side of the head, blood flowing freely from the wound. The landlord and Tatman saw his condition. Cross-examined: I did not ask you whether you kicked me but I accused you of doing it. Isaac Newton said he saw Smith's head bleeding and it had evidently been kicked; his lip was also bleeding. Defendant said he did not attempt to strike Smith, and called James Tysoe, who said he had come there to say Page did not beat Smith. Page was trying to stop the row; he saw Smith underneath others on the floor. Fined 10s. and costs £1, in default seven days".

At this point the public house was still in private ownership but was sold in 1900, whilst Isaac Nelson was still licensee, by James Adams of Highworth in Wiltshire to Bedford brewer Charles Wells [POE119/1]. In 1927 Bedfordshire was valued under the terms of the Rating Valuation Act 1925, every piece of land and building was valued to determine the rates to be paid on it. The valuer visiting the King William IV [DV1/R25/43] found accommodation comprised a tap room, bar, cellar, smoke room, kitchen, scullery, washhouse and wc downstairs with four bedrooms, box room, & wc above; outside was stabling for five horses, three being used as pig sties, there was also a corrugated iron hut used as a club room with a billiard table. Weekly trade was steady at two and a half barrels, three dozen bottles and four dozen half bottles of beer, two dozen bottles of minerals, and about half a gallon of spirits. He noted: "Takings not revealed". He concluded by noting: "Nice old fashioned place. Low Bars, Buses stop here (terminus)". Following alterations in the mid 1930s [UDKP683] the valuer noted: "Ground floor of old cottage converted to licensed room. Lost Billiard Room in fire. Say quits, no increase" [DV1/X173].

At the time of writing [2013] the King William IV remains a Charles Wells public house.

 Picture of King William the fourt public house in Kempston
King William IV in October 2007


  • PSB1/1 p.3: licensee Thomas Lambert: 1829;
  • ABP/W 1834/9 will of Thomas Lambert: 1834;
  • PSB1/1 p.317: licensee George Walker: 1834;
  • QSR1840/3/5/47a: theft of a club box from the public house: 1840;
  • Bedfordshire Times: report of brawl at public house: 1850;
  • Bedfordshire Times: license transfer at Petty Sessions: 1852;
  • GK130/7: auction sale at public house: 1860;
  • Bedfordshire Mercury: report of fight at public house: 1893;
  • POE119/1: abstracted conveyance: 1900;
  • PSB9/1: register of licenses: 1903-1935;
  • UDKP683: plans of new lavatories & farm buildings 1935;
  • PSB9/2: register of licenses: c.1955-1995;
  • Z53/67/1: photograph of public house: 1961;
  • WL722/2: article on public house in Charles Wells in-house magazine Pint Pot: 1966;
  • WL722/27 restoration of public house in Charles Wells in-house magazine Pint Pot: 1980;
  • DCN/Pub1/3: North Bedfordshire Borough Council official guide with photograph of public house: c.1981;
  • TC Kempston18/9: plans correspondence regarding adventure playground: 1985;
  • WL722/96: mentioned in Charles Wells in-house magazine Pint Pot: 1998;
  • WL722/98: article about family features at public house in Charles Wells in-house magazine Pint Pot: 1999;
  • WL722/102: restoration described in Charles Wells in-house magazine Pint Pot: 2000 

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

1829-1834: Thomas Lambert;
1834-1839: George Walker;
1840-1844: Ann Walker, widow [licence suspended for 2 months in 1844 on the complaint of Superintendent Tebbutt for improperly conducting the house];
1845-1852: Samuel Maynard;
1852 -1885: Thomas Dewberry;
1890: Arthur Mallows;
1891: Francis Noble;
1893 -1905: Isaac Nelson;
1905-1906: Jack Evans;
1906-1909: Albert Plater;
1909-1910: Walter Edward Green;
1910-1914: Walter Owen Williams;
1914-1917: Henry Kirk;
1917: Herbert Henry Palmer;
1940-1947 Walter William Haynes;
1951-1955 Harry Edmund Rogers;
1961: Derek P Rogers;
1974: Harry Edmund Rogers;
1974-1976: Hubert Crowsley and Eric Clegg;
1976-1978: Richard Rawson Wolstenholme Hancock and Eric Clegg;
1978-1979: Richard Rawson Wolstenholme Hancock and Rodney Keith Barton;
1979-1981: Richard Rawson Wolstenholme Hancock and Jack Edwin Clifton;
1981-1985: Kenneth Pepperell;
1985-1988: Stephen Charles Borley;
1988-1989: Anthony Ivor Hugh Thomas and Brian John Constance;
1989-1991: Raymond Greenwood and Stephen Edward Ashley-Clarke;
1991-1993: Raymond John Greenwood and Malcolm Doig Starling;
1993: Ray John Greenwood and Susan Keen;
1993-1995: Ray John Greenwood and Michael Alfred Porter