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The Bull Public House Leighton Buzzard

44 High Street in June 2008
44 High Street in June 2008

The Bull Commercial Hotel: 44 High Street, Leighton Buzzard

The Manor of Leighton Buzzard alias Grovebury was the principal landowner in the town before the 19th century. Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has a full run of court rolls from 1393 to 1727 [KK619-715] and another full run from 1704 to 1867 [X288/1-23]. The service also has court rolls for other manor to own land in the town, the Prebendal Manor, from 1448 to 1459, 1588 to 1591, 1611 to 1622, 1627 and 1631 [KK792-1798]. Detailed study of these would be bound to produce quite full histories for most licensed premises in the town. Unfortunately such study would take a very long time. Thus the histories of licensed premises in these web pages are quite summary and not necessarily the full story.

The Bull occupied today's 44 High Street and was listed by the former Department of Environment in 1975 as Grade II, of special interest. It is a late 18th or early 19th century building, constructed of red brick with an old tiled roof; the shop front is 19th century. A project called Our High Street Revisited 1819-2000 by Leighton-Linslade Local History Research Group [CRT130Lei58] aimed to use directories and census records to try to establish as full a history of use of the building in the High Street as possible. The results for Number 44 were as follows:

  • 1819-1851: the Bull hotel;
  • 1861-1891: James J. Wood, confectioner;
  • 1898-1910: Wood & Company, cooks, caterers and confectioners;
  • 1924: Garner Wood & Company, confectioners;
  • 1928: Frank Edward Osborne, confectioner;
  • 1936: Mrs. Elizabeth Denby, confectioner;
  • 1940: Mrs. Elizabeth Denby, café;
  • 1973: Aspley, carpets and furnishings;
  • 2000: Prontaprint; Clipper, barbers; Barringtons café;
  • 2008: Perfect Presents, jewellery; Studio 44 

The first reference to the Bull seems to be in a list of quitrents of the Manor of Leighton Buzzard alias Grovebury for 1621 when John Osmund paid fourpence "for the Bull sine post" and another fourpence for the Bull itself [KK775]. He also paid a quitrent on the Swan, which may have been adjacent in 1621, the modern Swan Hotel being at 50 High Street three doors up from the site of the Bull. The early 17th century date clearly implies that the old Bull building was pulled down and the inn rebuilt during the 18th or early 19th century, or that it was imply so much altered over time that any 17th century work has been obscured.

In 1626 John Osmund sold the Bull to John New [KK776] who was duly recorded as owing the quitrent the next year [KK777]. Maureen Brown, June Masters and Tom Lawson wrote a book called The Old Pubs of Leighton Buzzard and Linslade which was published by Leighton Linslade Local History Research Group in 1994. In producing the book they used sources at Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service, Buckinghamshire Record Office, Northamptonshire Record Office as well as a number of published sources. They quote a fire insurance policy of 1731 for the Bull which is held by the Guildhall Library [11936/32]. Maureen Brown, in her notes kindly lent to Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service transcribed the document as follows:

18 May 1731. John Cranfield at the Bull Inn in Leighton Buzzard, Beds. Innholder on his household goods and stock in trade in the Drinking Rooms Lodging Room Bruehouse and Cellars of the said Inn Brick Brick [sic] Panneld and Tiled: £120;
Wearing Apparel only therein £40;
Stock of Corn hay Straw and Wood in his stables and Woodhouse adjoining on the Left hand in the yard Brick Timber and Tiled £40;
[Total] £200.

By 1749 the Bull had divided ownership as both William Harty and George Stevens paid quitrent of a shilling each for the Bull which is noted as "late Leache's" [KK783]. Maybe the greatly increased quitrent reflected the fact that the Bull had been rebuilt and was now a larger premises, the 1731 fire insurance may also reflect this hypothetical change. William Harty and Mary Stevens were still paying their respective quitrents in 1755 [KK783]

In 1960 Bedfordshire Historical Records Society published a volume, its fortieth, dedicated to diaries. County Archivist Joyce Godber edited and published the diary of Leighton Buzzard Justice of the Peace John Salusbury (1713-1787) written between the years 1757 and 1759. He was quite a frequent visitor, as his club, the Civil Society, often met there. The first mention of the inn was on 13th October 1757 when he went to a meeting of the club. He was there again on 10th November: "Supped at the Bull, being the anniversary of the Civil Society and Mr. Baskerfield's nomination [he owned the next door property]. The whole were there, except Mr. Gough, Loddington and Firth. We spent eighteen pence apiece besides the usual Club, and did not break up till almost 12". His next visit, again to the Civil Society function, was on 26th January 1758 after making his will.  Other visits connected with the club were on 9th March 1758, 19th October, 8th March 1759, 26th April, 4th October and 8th November.

Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has a formulary and notebook kept by 18th century attorney Benjamin Pyne which contains a list of twelve licensed properties in the town in 1761. Each inn also has a name beside it which appears to be the name of the licensee (who may both, of course, also have been the owner in some cases) is not stated. The Bull is still linked with the names of William Harty and George Stevens [X171/206]; perhaps this George Stevens was the son of George and Mary. In 1772 William Harty, son of William Harty and George Stevens were paying their respective quitrents [KK785]

In the Northampton Mercury of 19th January 1793 licensee of the Bull, Samuel Cooper, subscribed to a resolution of Leighton Buzzard publicans banning "seditious and disaffected persons" from their houses. This presumably was in reaction to the events across the Channel in France (four days previously King Louis XVI had been sentenced to death and two days later he went to the guillotine).

The Bull was put up for sale by auction in 1858 by the mortgagees of a business which had clearly defaulted. The sale was in 70 lots and included licensed premises in a number of parishes in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Huntingdonshire [GA2113]. The Bull was Lot 35 described thus: "The Bull Inn, Freehold, Situate in the Centre of the Stock Market, in the High Street, and opposite which the Hog Market is held, in the Occupation of John Deverell. The House contains Lobby, Taproom, small Bar, and Back Parlour, on the Ground Floor; capital Kitchen and Cellars in the Basement; Sitting room and large Dining Room, divided into 3 Rooms by moveable Partitions, on the First Floor; 4 Bedrooms on the Second Floor, and 2 Attics. Half the Yard, with Right of Way over the remaining half, and joint use of the Well, and Right of Way thereto, subject to half the expense of keeping the Yard and Well in repair, - the owner of the adjoining house having the fee of the remainder with similar rights and liabilities. Land Tax 10 shillings, Quit Rent 1 shilling". This clearly suggests that the old Bull premises, which had been divided into two ownerships was still in two ownerships but only half of it now traded as a public house. 46 High Street is built in a similar style to 44 and is also listed, dated to the early or mid 19th century. 42 is a much more modern building and it is impossible to know how it once looked. Either may have been the other half of the old Bull.

In the Post Office Directory of 1854 John Deverell is shown at the Black Bear. It is possible that when the other half of the old Bull became used for a different purpose that the name changed in a short-lived attempt at re-branding (if one may resort to such an anachronistic vulgarly modern concept); equally the Directory may have got the name wrong. Neither the Bull nor the Black Bear are mentioned in any directories after that of 1854 so it seems a reasonable assumption that the inn closed immediately or a short time after its sale in 1858.

Under the terms of the Rating and Valuation Act 1925 every piece of land and building in the country was assessed to determine the rates to be paid on them. Leighton Buzzard was assessed in 1927 and the valuer visiting 44 High Street [DV1/R74/75] noted that it was owned by local solicitor David Thomas Willis (who lived at The Grange in Heath and Reach] and occupied by F. E. Osborne who paid £100 per annum rent on a seven year lease from April 1927. He was a confectioner. The building had, under various ownerships, been used as a confectioner's shop since at least 1861 and would continue to be so used until at least 1936, as a look at the list of owners above will show. The premises comprised a shop measuring 18 feet by 17 feet 6 inches, a back living room measuring 12 feet 6 inches by 12 feet, a kitchen measuring 12 feet 6 inches by 13 feet and a scullery measuring 12 feet 6 inches by 6 feet 6 inches. There was a basement cellar measuring 15 feet by 16 feet and a W.C. with another scullery measuring 10 feet by 13 feet 6 inches as well as rooms measuring 15 feet by 16 feet and 13 feet by 15 feet. On the first floor were a number of rooms measuring 13 feet 6 inches by 16 feet, 9 feet by 16 feet, 15 feet by 13 feet 6 inches and 13 feet by 10 feet. The second floor contained two rooms measuring 9 feet by 10 feet and 13 feet by 10 feet.

Outside stood a brick and tile bakehouse measuring 15 feet by 12 feet 6 inches with a loft over ["poor"], a brick and slate coachhouse and one stall stable with a loft over ["used for stores, poor]", wood and corrugated iron rough shedding, an old wood and slate shed used as a garage ["poor"] and a one sack oven. The valuer summarised the property as "brick and tile old premises, fair repair, double fronted shop, wrong side of street".


  • KK775: Manor of Leighton Buzzard quit rental: 1621;
  • KK776: feoffment of the Bull: 1626;
  • KK777: Manor of Leighton Buzzard quit rental: 1627;
  • KK783: Manor of Leighton Buzzard quit rental: 1749;
  • KK783: Manor of Leighton Buzzard quit rental: 1755;
  • X171/206: landlord named: 1761;
  • KK785: Manor of Leighton Buzzard quit rental: 1772;
  • Northampton Mercury: resolution of Leighton Buzzard publicans banning "seditious and disaffected persons" from their houses: 19 Jan 1793;
  • CLP13: Register of alehouse licences: 1822-1828;
  • GA2113: sale catalogue: 1858

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:

1626: William Ashe;
1761: William Harty and George Stevens;
1785-1793: Samuel Cooper;
1819-1830: Nathaniel Stonhill;
1839-1841: Ann Stonhill;
1847: Henry Munday;
1850-1858: John Devrill/Deverell, hat manufacturer