The Blockers Arms Public House Luton
The Blockers Arms about 1900 [Z1130/75]
The Blockers Arms Public House: 5 High Town Road, Luton [later The Well Public House]
The name of this public house comes from the hat trade, blocks being the things on which hats are shaped. A pamphlet produced by Luton Museum [WB/Green7/7/4] states that the Blockers Arms stood near the site of an 18th century inn called The Windmill, itself named after a structure which blew down in a gale.
Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service does not have many records relating to the Blockers Arms because it was owned first by Hitchin [Hertfordshire] brewers Lucas Brothers and later by London brewers Mann, Crossman and Paulin, which became Watney Mann in 1958. The first mention Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has of the property is in a licensing register of 1872, though Stuart Smith in his Pubs & Pints: the Story of Luton’s Public Houses & Breweries states that the house was open in the 1850s and 1860s and frequented by patrons of very dubious antecedents.
For much of the 19th century the Blockers Arms was a beerhouse and licensees are very difficult to trace because beerhouses were not named in trade directories, the licensee was simply listed as beer retailer and there are a number of those in High Town Road, as one would expect. By 1920, however, the Blockers Arms was a fully licensed public house.
The following sad piece appeared in The Luton News of 26th March 1908, it shows how differently mental health issues were dealt with over a century ago: “Henry Workman, a man about thirty five years of age, appeared at the Luton Borough Sessions yesterday (Wednesday) to answer the charge of attempting to commit suicide on Saturday, March 14th. He seemed to be still very weak and was wearing a wrap round his throat. The craving knife with which it is supposed that he tried to take his own life was in Court, wrapped up in paper, but was not handed round for inspection”.
“The first witness was Mrs. Moore, the landlady of the Blockers Arms, High Town-road, who stated that the defendant had been in her employ, as a barman, for about six months. He had only been with her about a month when he was ill for about tend days. Afterwards he was in the LutonButeHospital about a week and had been an out-patient of a London hospital. His illness took the form of depression. On Friday, March 13th, he did his work as usual, but was very depressed all day. She went to bed about midnight and later heard Workman walking about his room. She went towards his room, intending to ask if he was ill, but before she got there he said “Well, here goes”. Upon opening the door she could see that the man had done something to his throat, so she called on two lodgers, one of whom called Dr. Smithson and gave information to the police”.
“Dr. Smithson spoke to being called to the public-house about two o’clock on the Saturday morning, and finding Workman in bed. There were two big gashes in his throat, in addition to several little cuts. The gashes were not very deep, but the man was in a state of collapse. Witness stitched the wounds, and the man was taken to the ButeHospital. Witness understood that Workman drank spirits, but not beer. He seemed to be dazed and excited. He did not know that he had cut his throat or why he had done it. Three days later he feebly realised what had happened, and was perfectly rational now”.
“The Clerk told Workman that under ordinary circumstances the Magistrates should commit him for trial, but if he promised not to commit such a rash act again and to sign the pledge, the Magistrates might see their way to release him”.
“Workman said he did not remember what happened. He promised not to attempt to take his life in future”.
“Replying to a question as to whether he was a Luton man, Workman said he came here when he was six years of age”.
“The prisoner, who said he had two brothers in Luton, was bound over in the sum of £5 to come up for judgement if called upon within three months. He promised to take the pledge and Mr. R. S. Tomson remarked that if he broke it, the Probation Officer could bring him before the Court”.
The bar of the Blockers Arms was badly damaged by arson in the early hours of Sunday 4th February 1990 [FSD/PC33]. The Luton News reported that three bottles used as petrol bombs may have been thrown through the windows. The pub had had a reputation for violence in the late 1980s. A police spokesman was recorded as saying: “For many years the pub has had a chequered history and it’s always a place that has been of concern to us”. He went on to say that the landlord had tried hard to improve things. By 1994, however, the pub was closed and boarded up [Z852/1/10-11] although by 1998 [WB/Green7/7/4] it had reopened with a new name, The Well. At the time of writing  it is a bar and club called Déja Vu.
5 High Town Road the former Blockers Arms June 2011
- PSL6/1: Register of Alehouse Licences - Luton Petty Sessional Division: 1872-1876;
- FSD/PC33: newspaper report of suspected arson: 1990;
- Z852/1/10-11: slides of boarded-up exterior: 1994;
- WB/Green7/7/4: Mentioned in Luton Hat Trail 2 - High Town-Old Bedford Road, a pamphlet on the hat trade and buildings connected with it produced by Luton Borough Council Planning & Development Department: 1998
Licencees: note that this is not a complete list and that dates in italics are not necessarily beginning or end dates, merely the first/last date which can be confirmed from sources such as directories and deeds:
1872: George Cook;
1873-1874: George Pollard;
1874-1875: James Day;
1875-1877: Albert Andrews;
1885: William Johnson;
1894-1906: William Moore;
1908-1928: Mrs. Mary E. Moore;
1929-1933: John Bernard Simpson;
1933-1935: Cecil Augustus Busyard;
1935-1941: Sydney Forknall;
1941: Gingelle Essex;
1941-1944: Alfred William Cain;
1944-1949: Nelly Cain;
1949-1951: Charles Fred Barrett;
1951-1954: Henry Alfred Strapps;
1954: Sidney Charles Smith;
1959: Evan Daniel Hopkins and Enid May Hopkins;
1959: Enid May Hopkins;
1962: Ruth Inskip;
1980: Ernest Terence Walker-Spiers and John Fraser;
1986: Terry Walker-Spiers and Elaine Kay Jenkins;
1986: Elaine Kay Jenkins;
1987: John Robert Worboys and Michael Robert Parrott;
1988: John Robert Worboys and David John Rigby;
1989: David John Rigby;
1992: David Edward Driscoll.
The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every building and piece of land in the country was to be assessed to determine its rateable value. Sadly none of the rate books concerning licensed premises in Luton have survived but a book detailing a visit to 5½ High Town Road as it was known, the smithy at the rear of the Blockers Arms, has survived [DV1/AP3/21]. It was owned, like the public house, by the trustees of Benjamin Bennett and leased by A. Denton who had a smithy and other premises. The valuer noted: “Inspected this for Book work July 1928. Practically all Horse Shoeing”.
Directories for Bedfordshire were published every few years from 1839, for example, the beginning of the 20th century has directories for 1903, 1906, 1910 and 1914. Countywide directories ceased to be published during the Second World War, the last for Bedfordshire being in 1940. Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has directories just for Luton for 1939, 1950, 1960, 1965, 1968, 1972, 1974 and 1975. The first street numbers in High Town Road begin to appear in directories in 1885 but it looks as if there was some renumbering of properties on the odd side of the road between 1890 and 1894.
- 1894: 5½: William Palmer, blacksmith;
- 1898: 5½: William Palmer, blacksmith;
- 1903: 5½: William Palmer, blacksmith;
- 1906: 5½: William Palmer, blacksmith;
- 1910: 5½: Arthur Edward Cadwell, blacksmith