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The Cock Inn Leighton Buzzard

35 High Street June 2008
35 High Street June 2008

The Cock Inn: 35 High Street, Leighton Buzzard

The Cock Inn had a history of nearly four hundred years in Leighton Buzzard High Street. Interestingly it seems that it was part of a row of six drinking establishments on the north side of the High Street which were, moving west to east, the Black Lion, the Kings Arms, a barn belonging to the Black Boy, which probably stood on the south side of the High Street, the Red Lion, the Mermaid, the Raven and the Cock.

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 first mention of the Cock so far found is in 1500 when John and Joan Hoker were admitted to copyhold land in the High Street "whereon is placed the sign of the Cock" for which the fine (or fee) was one quart of wine [KK944/4]. The Historical Environment Record file for the Cock notes that a will was held by Buckinghamshire Museum in "my house in Leighton called the cocke with the bakeyarde called the Toynters close next adjoyning to Freyday Strett" was devised in 1555.

The Manor of Leighton Buzzard quitrent ledgers for 1621, 1626 and 1627 note that John Theed paid a quitrent of three shillings for the Cock and nine pence for "so much of his backside as is Copyhold belonging to the Cock" [KK775-777]. By 1700 the Cock Inn was in the hands of Thomas Simes, in his will made in that year, he devised it to trustees for sale [RY515-516]. In 1711 the trustees conveyed the Cock to William Pratt of South Mimms [Middlesex] for £120/10/- [RY515-516]. Pratt mortgaged for £150 and in 1723 sold the right of redemption of the mortgage to John Head of Milton Keynes [Buckinghamshire], yeoman [RY517]. In the Manor of Leighton Buzzard quitrent ledgers for 1749 and 1755 [KK783-784] John Head paid one shilling quitrent for the Cock.

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. Salusbury only mentions the Cock once in the diary, on 2nd November 1757: "Dined at the Cock, being a prebendal visitation [that is, the Prebend of Leighton Buzzard was visiting his Peculiar to make sure all was in order]. Mr. Registrar Bell not there, but young Burnham officiated for him. Very few people there, but all in one room, which made it very noisy and disagreeable". The old inn was entering the final years of its life and clearly not drawing many customers.

The Northampton Mercury of the 20th January 1772 contained the following advertisement: "To be Lett, and Entered upon immediately, or at Lady-Day next. That well-known and good-accustomed INN, the COCK, at Leighton Buzzard, in the County of Bedford, late in the Occupation of Mr. William Heathcote, with three Acres of plowed Land in the Field. For Particulars enquire of Mr. John Head, at Milton, near Newport Pagnell, in the County of Bucks". Head was still paying his quitrent for the Cock in 1772 [KK785]. He finally sold it at the end of 1782, to Leighton Buzzard solicitor David Willis for £195. By that time the inn had closed as it is referred to as a messuage or tenement in the High Street now repairing and empty, lately called the Cock Inn [RY519-520]. Head died the next year still owning a pightle of land which belonged to the Cock [X288/8], Willis was admitted later that year, obviously having bought that too. He mortgaged that former Cock in 1796 [RY536].

The last mention of the Cock is as an abuttal to the east part of the inn once called the Raven in 1803 [RY266-267]. The site was identified as 35 High Street in notes compiled at the beginning of the 20th century [P91/28/48].

In Bedfordshire Notes and Queries Volume I published in 1886 is the following piece, culled from The Antiquary and presumably written in the late 1870s, at least before 1881: "A discovery which has excited a deal of interest among local antiquaries has recently been made at Leighton buzzard, in the house for many years owned and occupied by the late Misses Willis, in the High Street. The house is at the present time being converted into a shop, and Mr. Thomas Gibbs, the contractor, removed an old canvas screen from the west wall in the front part of the building, when there came to light a full-length and life-sized watercolour portrait, drawn upon the wall, of a public bellman of perhapsfrom 150 to 170 years ago. The picture is that of a comely-looking and well-proportioned man of thirty to thirty five years of age, about six feet in height, and clad in the livery of oublic office, in the style peculiar to the time of the reign of Queen Anne. When the remnants of a thin coat of whitewash and the accumulated dirt of ages had been removed, the face and upper portion of the figure were found to be in an excellent state of preservation, and the general outlines and surroundings very distinct. The bellman, or town-crier, is represented with his right hand uplifted, holding aloft the symbol of his office, while in his left hand is clutched a long staff, set upon the ground. He wears a three-cornered hat and wig, long blue coat with scarlet facings, braid and yellow buttons, knee breeches, and buckled shoes; and just in the rear of him sits a large white dog. there appears on one side of the picture a Corinthian pillar, with cap, which evidently forms one portion of the original frame to the portrait. Unfortunately, before the discovery was made, a wall had been built up so much as to prevent search being made for the other side of the frame, although certain marks are visible which seem to indicate the edge of it [sic] outline. the house has been in the possession of the Willis family, as a private residence, over a hundred years. that it is a portrait of a bellman of the "good old times" there can be no doubt; and it may be conjectured that it represents one who secured for himself an honoured distinction among those who caroused at the "Cock", when the present shop premises formed one of about seven or eight hostelries standing in the High Street. An attempt is being made by Mr. Piggott, of High Street, to obtain a good photograph of the picture". Alas, neither painting nor photograph seem to have survived.

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 35 High Street [DV1/R56/66] noted that it was owned by C. A. Millard who occupied part of it as a tailor's shop - the two shops measured 22 feet 6 inches by 15 feet and 22 feet 6 inches by 8 feet 6 inches, there was also a back sitting room measuring 17 feet by 12 feet, a stockroom measuring 12 feet by 17 feet, a scullery measuring 13 feet by 8 feet and a lavatory. Under the shop was an unused basement cellar. On the first floor was a store room measuring 16 feet 6 inches by 14 feet and another 15 feet by 17 feet with workrooms measuring 9 feet by 16 feet and 8 feet by 3 feet 6 inches. There were two bedrooms measuring 11 feet 6 inches by 10 feet and 11 feet 6 inches by 14 feet as well as a W.C. The valuer noted: "double fronted furniture shop". He also noted that accountants Keen, Shay, Keens & Company paid £36 per annum rent (fixed in January 1925) for two first floor front offices measuring 16 feet by 15 feet 3 inches and 10 feet by 13 feet 6 inches. He also noted: "Joint use of W.C."

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 35 were as follows:

  • 1819: owner/occupier David Lee Willis;
  • 1830: David Lee Willis and Frederick Willis, solicitors;
  • 1841: David Lee Willis, solicitor;
  • 1851: house of Aurelia Willis;
  • 1861: house of Caroline Willis;
  • 1871: house of Charlotte Willis;
  • 1881: James Gibbs, tailor;
  • 1891: John Gifford, clothier;
  • 1894-1910: James George McCubbin, outfitter;
  • 1914:  Henry Stanley Willard, outfitter;
  • 1928-1940: Henry Stanley Willard, outfitter; Shay Keens & Company, accountants;
  • 1972: National Westminster Bank;
  • 1986: Anglia Building Society, (Nationwide Anglia Building Society from 1987 to 1992);
  • 2000-2008: Nationwide Building Society

The Nationwide continues to occupy the building at the time of writing [2009]. The property was listed by the former Department of Environment in 1975 as Grade II, of special interest, as it made a group with numbers 37 to 51. The listing states that it was built in the 19th century. It has a stucco exterior and a Welsh slated roof. This raises an intriguing possibility. As we have seen the house of the Willis family clearly incorporated part of the old Cock Inn. The house was much altered in the late 1870s to form a shop. Unless this shop was subsequently demolished in the last twenty years or so of the 19th century, today's building must be, at its core, the late 1870s shop and thus incorporate some of the 18th century Cock Inn.


  • KK944/4: admission: 1500;
  • will in Buckinghamshire Museum: 1555;
  • KK775: Manor of Leighton Buzzard quit rental: 1621;
  • KK776: Manor of Leighton Buzzard quit rental: 1626;
  • KK777: Manor of Leighton Buzzard quit rental: 1627;
  • RY229: noted as an abuttal: 1669;
  • RY515-516: recital of will: 1700;
  • RY523-524: shown as an abuttal to the Mermaid: 1711;
  • RY515-516: conveyance: 1711;
  • X288/1: surrender of the field behind the Cock: 1712;
  • RY517: conveyance of equity of redemption: 1723;
  • NC248: admission to pightle belonging to Cock: 1724;
  • RY243-244: noted as an abuttal to the Raven: 1736;
  • RY245-247: noted as an abuttal: 1736;
  • RY525: noted as an abuttal: 1736;
  • RY530-531: noted as an abuttal: 1739;
  • KK783: Manor of Leighton Buzzard quit rental: 1749;
  • KK784: Manor of Leighton Buzzard quit rental: 1755;
  • X288/6: admission to a piece of land belonging to the Cock: 1757;
  • RY256-257: noted as an abuttal: 1769;
  • Northampton Mercury advertisement for lease of Cock: 20 Jan 1772;
  • KK785: Manor of Leighton Buzzard quit rental: 1772;
  • RY248: noted as an abuttal: 1780;
  • RY519-520: conveyance: 1782;
  • RY250-251: noted as an abuttal: 1783;
  • X288/8: death of John Head: 1783;
  • RY538: admission to pightle: 1783;
  • RY536: mortgage of the former Cock Inn: 1796
  • RY266-267: noted as an abuttal: 1803;
  • Bedfordshire Notes and Queries Volume I: 1886; 
  • P91/28/48: indicated as having been at 35 High Street in notes compiled on Leighton Buzzard public houses: early 20th century  

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:

1723: James Colburne;
1736: Nicholas Hutt;
1769: William Heathcote;
1780: Samuel Rowland;
before 1782: Richard Keen;
Inn closed about 1782