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The Fox Public House Luton

The Fox, 1950s [WB/Green4/5/Lu/Fox1]
The Fox, 1950s [WB/Green4/5/Lu/Fox1]


The Fox Public House, 32-34 Dunstable Road, Luton

According to Page Woodcock writing in the Bedfordshire Magazine was made up of three thatched cottages standing back from the road facing the track to Dallow Farm. The space in front of the inn was the site of an annual ‘Fox Fair’ notable for its buns, which were known as ‘Wigs’. A poem on an inn sign written in 1791 when Lawrence Clarke was the innkeeper read: 

‘I am a Fox you plainly see
There can no harm be found in me
For Lawrence Clarke hath set me here
To let you know he sells good beer.’

In the 1853 Directory for Luton the occupier was John Ireland, who as well as being a victualler was also licensed to let horses for hire. During his tenure at the Fox Ireland was called upon to give evidence in two cases heard at the Bedford Quarter Sessions. At the Epiphany Sessions of 1850 an employee of John Ireland, Thomas Pestell, was accused of stealing fowls. Ireland gave evidence that in November 1849 Pestell had been in his employment as ostler for eight days, during which time he had lost six or seven fowls. Thomas Thorogood stated that he had been in the Fox when Pestell came in and told him he had killed a fowl and hidden it in straw in the field. Thorogood bought the fowl for nine pence, and Pestell told him he would kill some more if he wanted them. Thorogood then took the fowl to Thomas Sworder’s brewery in Luton and sold it to Sworder [an interesting coincidence as six years later Sworder became the owner of the Fox]. Thorogood later sold six more fowls he said had come from Pestell: two to ironmonger Frederick Brown, two to Thomas Strange, a groom, and the last two to butcher Joseph Lucas at the Eight Bells beer shop in Church Street. Thomas Pestell was found not guilty on four counts of theft, suggesting the jurors felt that Thorogood’s evidence was not entirely trustworthy.

The second case in 1856 tried William Martin for stealing a pony and cart valued at £14 and a padlock. Ireland stated that Martin had been lodging at the Fox for a month. On 21st June Ireland had left home leaving his cart in the yard, his pony in a field next to the Fox and the harness locked in a barn. The keys to the barn and the stable were hung up in the bar. When he returned home at about five o’clock he met Martin driving the horse and cart along the Dunstable Road about 400 yards from his house. Martin was beating the pony. When asked to stop Martin refused and drove towards Dunstable as fast as the pony would go. Ireland returned home to the Fox, explained the situation to his wife; he then went in search of Martin, finally catching up with him at Harlington. He handed Martin over to the police constable James Bushby; the policeman had to call for help to subdue the prisoner, who hit him and tried to throw him out of the cart. Later that evening Ireland was shown a padlock and two keys found on Martin by the police which he identified as his property. He told the court that Martin had asked to borrow his pony and cart, but that he had not agreed. Martin, on the other hand, said that John Ireland had agreed to lend him the pony and cart so that he could travel to Brickhill to meet his father, who lived in Old Bradwell [now part of Milton Keynes]. He claimed to have told Ireland that he intended to stay at Harlington overnight. The jurors appear to have believed Martin’s version of events as he was found not guilty.

In 1856 Luton brewer Thomas Sworder purchased the Fox from Frederick Burr for the use of the Luton, Dunstable and Welwyn Junction Railway Company. Sworder appears to have had some difficulty getting the Railway Company to pay him what they owed. In 1857 he wrote to his uncle Thomas Sworder of Hertford hoping to borrow money using the deeds to the Fox as collateral. In the letter he explained: “If I could have obtained the whole £1,400 (the purchase money of the Fox) I could get on swimmingly but if you could get me only £8 or £900 immediately it would enable me to pay the £514 Malt Duty due on Saturday next (31st) & also enable me to meet other payments amounting to £400 which I ought to have made a fortnight ago & which I have been obliged to postpone.” He was again asking for money early the next year when he complained that “the railway company are not yet in a position to pay me for the Fox”. A month later Sworder was still “anxious to get a party to take the Fox off my hands”. The Luton, Dunstable and Welwyn Junction Company amalgamated with the Hertford & Welwyn Railway Company to form the Hertford, Luton and Dunstable Railway Company, which finally reimbursed Sworder for the purchase, although the Fox was never actually conveyed to the company. The Railway Company also acquired (and subsequently sold) property adjacent to the Fox, so it appears that the railway line may have originally been intended to run slightly to the south of its eventual route. In 1858 Sworder agreed to convey the Fox to any person nominated by the Railway Company. The subsequent transactions are somewhat confusing but Sworder came out of them as the owner of the Fox with a substantial mortgage on the property [a legal opinion on Sworder’s title to various properties mentions errors in the descriptions of earlier title deeds for the Fox which would explain the confusion]. Another mortgage for £1000 was taken out in 1889. In 1875 the landlord, Amos Gregory, was convicted of opening during prohibited hours and was fined two pounds and ten shillings, including costs.

Site layout plan, The Fox, 1897 [X95/312]
Site layout plan, The Fox, 1897 [X95/312]

In 1897 Thomas Sworder, who had suffered severe financial difficulties for many years, sold his brewery to J. W. Green Ltd. The sale particulars describe the Fox as a fully-licensed public house situated on Fox Hill opposite the Workhouse. The property consisted of a bar, two tap rooms, bar parlour, kitchen, scullery with sinks and copper, cellar with cask entrance, three bedrooms, two w.c.s and a boot shed. The back yard had a well and windlass, with a large barn at the side of the house which was used as a shop. In front was a spacious yard with a wooden blacksmith’s shop with a slate roof, a wood and glazed coach painter’s shop with a corrugated iron roof, and a w.c., urinal and drying ground at the side. These additional buildings can be seen on the plan above. There was a right of way from the road ten feet wide serving cottages in the rear. This original Fox building was pulled down and replaced by a new public house fronting onto Dunstable Road in the 1920s.

The Fox c.1960 [WB/Flow4/5/Lu/Fox1]
The Fox c.1960 [WB/Flow4/5/Lu/Fox1]

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 the 1970s the site of the Fox was required in order to divert Dunstable Road to join the new relief road from Luton to Dunstable as part of Phase III of the construction of the Luton Inner Ring Road. It was acquired by Bedfordshire County Council and in 1976 was leased back to Whitbread Ltd. for £8000 per annum. The Fox closed in 1977 and demolished in 1978.

 The Fox before demolition in 1978 [Hi/PH1/12/17]
The Fox before demolition in 1978 [Hi/PH1/12/17]


  • CLP13: register of alehouse licences: 1822-1828;
  • QSR1850/1/5/16a-d: depositions in case of Thomas Pestell: 1849-50;
  • QSR1856/4/5/8: depositions in case of William Martin: 1856;
  • X95/291/119,146,155: letters from Thomas Sworder of Luton to Thomas Sworder of Hertford: 1857-1858;
  • Z210/81: in draft agreement between Thomas Sworder of Luton and Thomas Sworder of Hertford: 1873;
  • WB/Green5/5/1: register of successive tenants of J.W.Green Limited licensed houses: 1887-1926;
  • X95/322/10: mortgage: 1889;
  • X95/299: schedules of deeds relating to Luton Brewery and public houses: 1897;
  • X95/340 and 345: abstracts of title: 1897;
  • X95/312: plans of Thomas Sworder & Company public houses: 1897;
  • X95/313-314 and Z210/84: sale catalogue: 1897;
  • X95/346: opinion on title by T.R.Colquhoun Dill of Lincolns Inn as to title of Thomas Sworder to brewery and public houses: 1897;
  • WB/Green4/1/VP1: photocopy conveyance of brewery and public houses from Thomas Sworder to John William Green: 1897;
  • WB/Green1/1/1: J.W.Green Limited articles of association, trust deeds etc.: 1897-1936;
  • WB/Green4/5/Lu/Fox1: Black and white photograph of exterior side and front on Dunstable Road; 1930s;
  • WB/Green6/2/2: Photocopy of photograph of Bedford truck of J.W.Green Limited delivering barrels to Fox, Luton: c.1934;
  • 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/Green4/2/13: Schedule of Deeds and Documents of J.W.Green Limited property: c.1949;
  • Bedfordshire Magazine vol.ii page 132: sketch: 1949/50;
  • 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;
  • WB/Flow4/5/Lu/Fox1-2: photographs of the Fox: 1960s;
  • WB/W4/1/Lu/Fox1: Tenancy agreement between Bedfordshire County Council and Whitbread Ltd: 1976;
  • Hi/PH1/12/17: four photographs: 1978

Licensees: Note that this is not a complete list; italics indicate licensees whose beginning and/or end dates are not known

1791: Lawrence Clarke;
1822-1828: Lawrence Clarke;
1842: Thomas Brown
1853: John Ireland
1872-1873: James Ricketts;
1873: John Neal;
1873-1876: Amos Godfrey;
1891-1896: Mrs.Howkins;
1897: John Hawkins;
1898-1906: Walter Seabrook;
1906: Harriet Seabrook;
1906-1916: Frederick Howkins;
1916-1931: Fred Martin;
1931-1937: Alfred Robert Monument;
1937-1948: Claud Albert Green;
1948: Ernest Albert Green;
1958: William Edward Singleton;
1965: Robert William Allen;
1966: Robert William Allen and Keith Ernest Charles Riches;
1967: Norman Arthur Hards and Keith Ernest Charles Riches;
1967: Norman Arthur Hards;
1969: Norman Arthur Hards and Edwin Albert John Ackland;
1972: Norman Arthur Hards;
1972: Norman Arthur Hards and Reginald William Tomlinson;
1973: Norman Arthur Hards;
1974: Norman Arthur Hards and Ronald William Tomlinson;
1976: Norman Arthur Hards and Charles Joseph Sherry.
Public house closed 1977.