Skip Navigation

Welcome to Bedford Borough Council

Home > Community Histories > Luton > LicensedinLuton > The English Rose Public House Luton

The English Rose Public House Luton

The Rabbit Public House about 1920 [Z1130/75]
The Rabbit Public House about 1920 [Z1130/75]

The English Rose Public House: 46 Old Bedford Road, Luton [previously The Rabbit, then The Wabbit]

The Rabbit was built in an area known as Coney Hall, from which it derived its name. The public house, formerly two separate tenements, was purchased by Luton brewers Frederick and Charles Burr from Charles Austin in 1839. It was occupied by Matthew Lawrence and shared the use of a well with the owners and occupiers of adjoining cottages previously owned by Richard Jones and the Marquis of Bute, enjoying a right of way to the well across the neighbouring properties.

In 1842 William Upton of Shillington was arrested at the Rabbit and prosecuted at the Bedford Quarter Sessions on a charge of stealing seventeen sovereigns and two half sovereigns from his father John Upton, a wheelwright also from Shillington. The money had been left by the elder Mr. Upton in a coffer next to his bed while he went to a wood sale at Beadlow. William Upton had told his brother Charles that he intended to rob their father. Charles reported this to John Upton who checked and found the money gone. When William was searched by the police fourteen sovereigns, two half sovereigns, nine shillings and four pence were found in his pockets. He was found guilty of theft and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment with hard labour.

The Rabbit Site Plan [X95/312]
The Rabbit Site Plan [X95/312]

The Rabbit was sold along with the rest of Burr’s Brewery to Luton brewer Thomas Sworder in 1860. In 1867 he received a rent of £35 from the tenant; by 1889 this had fallen to £20 per annum and the premises were valued at £1000. The Rabbit was mentioned in another case at the Quarter Sessions in 1880. Charles Goode, who was charged along with his brother Henry with stealing a pony and cart, claimed to have tried to do a deal at the Rabbit to purchase a cart. After his attempts to purchase one failed Charles Goode had hired a cart but failed to return it. The pony and cart were recovered in London the next day. Henry Goode was said to be an associate of thieves and prostitutes at Kings Cross, and a substantial amount of money was recovered from the prostitute with whom he co-habited. Despite this Henry was released, but Charles was sentenced to five years penal servitude.

Thomas Sworder suffered severe financial difficulties and in 1897 his brewery was sold to J.W.Green Ltd. The sale catalogue describes The Rabbit as “brick-built and slated with double bay front”. It contained a bar with side entrance, tap room, smoking room, kitchen, scullery with pump and copper, two closets, cellar with flap entrance and four bedrooms. There was also a yard with a shed and side entrance. The tenant was Mr. G. Lawrence at a rent of £20 per annum.

The Rabbit about 1950 [WB/Green4/5/Rabbit1]
The Rabbit about 1950 [WB/Green4/5/Rabbit1]

In his book on Luton public houses and breweries, Pubs & Pints, Stuart Smith says that The Rabbit was rebuilt in 1908. During the 1950s a regular visitor was actress Diana Dors, whose first husband Dennis Hamilton was the son of landlord Stanley Gittins. She is said to have served behind the bar in the pub on a number of occasions. In 1954 J.W.Green Ltd. merged with Flowers Breweries Ltd and took on the Flowers name. The merged brewery was then taken over by Whitbread in 1961.

In 1978 the Rabbit was updated at a cost of £30,000, with the two original bars converted into a single bar. In 1983 the name was changed to The Wabbit, presumably to make the pub appear trendy, It was later changed again to the rather more staid English Rose, and is still trading under that name at the time of writing [2016]. Whitbread sold off its public houses early in the 21st century and the English Rose is now part of the Enterprise Inns chain.

The English Rose August 2011
The English Rose August 2011


  • QSR1842/3/5/23: depositions in case of William Upton: 1842;
  • Z660/D/1/4: conveyance of brewery and licensed premises from executors of Frederick Burr to Thomas Sworder: 1860;
  • BS2234: lease from the trustees of Edward Burr to Thomas Sworder and his trustees: 1862;
  • X95/283: account of rents of Thomas Sworder's properties: 1867;
  • X95/304: rent share in barrels of public house belonging to Luton Brewery: 1867;
  • Z660/D/1/6: conveyance of brewery and licensed premises from executors of Frederick Burr and Thomas Joseph Sworder to Thomas Sworder: 1878;
  • QSR1880/4/5/6-7: depositions in the case of Charles and Henry Goode: 1880;
  • WB/Green5/5/1: register of successive tenants of J.W.Green Limited licensed houses: 1887-1926;
  • X95/287: proposed arrangement of loans of Thomas Sworder & Company: 1889;
  • X95/296: schedule of deeds of properties held by William Anstee as security for £14,000 loan to Thomas Sworder: 1889;
  • X95/309: Abstract of title of Thomas Sworder to brewery, public houses and premises at Luton: 1889;
  • X95/332: abstract of title: 1897;
  • X95/312: plans of Thomas Sworder & Company public houses: 1897;
  • X95/313-314 and Z210/84: Thomas Sworder sale catalogue: 1897;
  • X95/298: schedule of deeds of Thomas Sworder & Company property: 1897;
  • WB/Green4/1/VP1: photocopy conveyance of brewery and public houses from Thomas Sworder to John William Green: 1897;
  • X956/332: Abstract of Title Number 1 of Thomas Sworder to maltings, public houses and premises: 1897;
  • WB/Green1/1/1: J.W.Green Limited articles of association, trust deeds etc.: 1897-1936;
  • WB/Green6/4/1: J.W.Green Limited trade analysis ledger for individual licensed premises: 1936-1947;
  • WB/Green4/2/4: certificate of title to properties belonging to J.W.Green Limited: 1936-1952;
  • WB/Green4/2/10: schedule of J.W.Green Limited deeds and documents: c.1949;
  • WB/Green4/5/Lu/Rabbit1: photograph of exterior of Rabbit on North Street: 1950s;
  • WB/Green4/2/5: list of licensed houses of J.W.Green Limited: c.1952;
  • WB/Green4/2/16: letter as to titles - J.W.Green Limited to their solicitors Lawrance, Messer & Company: 1952;
  • WB/Green4/2/17: Second Schedule of Trust Deed from J.W.Green Limited to London Assurance to secure 1,205,000 5% First Mortgage Debenture Stock: 1952-1972;
  • WB/Green4/2/19: various loose J.W.Green Limited schedules of deeds and documents: c.1954;

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:

[The Rabbit]

1845: John Ireland
1860-1878: Matthew Lawrence;
1885-1907: G.Lawrence;
1907-1942: Charles Henry Strapps;
1942-1946: Percy Arthur Fieldgate;
1946-1953: Ethel Victoria Fieldgate;
1953: Stanley Gittins;
1961: Robert William Allen and Bernard Rand;
1963: Robert William Allen and Derek Brian Haines;
1964: Robert William Allen;
1964: Robert William Allen and James Gill;
1965: Robert William Allen;
1967: Norman Arthur Hards;
1969: Leslie Shaw and Dudley John Holton;
1972: Geoffrey Buckland Dyer and Leslie Shaw;
1972: Geoffrey Buckland Dyer and Anthony John Doik;
1973: Geoffrey Buckland Dyer and John Hugh Linsey;
1974: Geoffrey Buckland Dyer and Keith Frederick Frank Evans;
1977: John Charles Lunn and Philip Eley;
1979: George Henry Warren and David Worthington;
1982: Graham Douglas Bennett and David Worthington; 

[The Wabbit]

1983: Richard Anthony Rees;
1984: Brian Philip Wisdon and Richard Anthony Rees;
1986: Christopher Raymond Fletcher;
1987: Frank Wyatt;
1989: Mark Edward Kretay and Andrew Walder;
1991: Jacqueline Manton and John Bodek;
1991: Richard John Bodek and Michael John Kennard;
1992: Richard John Bodek and Martin Ian Black