The Coopers Arms Public House Luton
55 Bute Street June 2011
The Cooper’s Arms Public House: 55 Bute Street, Luton
The countywide licensing register of 1876 states that the Cooper’s Arms was first licensed in 1864; it first appears in a directory in 1869 when Benjamin Mayne was the licensee, in 1864 he was recorded in a directory as being a beer seller at 26 Bute Street.
The public house was owned by Simpson & Company of Baldock Hertfordshire]. The company was floated as a private limited company in 1935 as Simpson's Brewery Limited and was taken over by Greene King in 1954 changing its name to Greene King (Baldock) Limited in 1963. Because of the Hertfordshire ownership of this pub Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has very little information about it as the deeds are at Hertfordshire Archives service.
The Luton licensing hearings of 8th March 1917 pondered the application for renewal of the Cooper’s Arms’ licence long and hard. The following is an extract from a newspaper, probably The Luton News [BML10/45/10]: “Applying for the renewal of the licence of these licensed premises in Bute-street, Mr. T. Newton (Bedford) said the licensee was serving his country at the Front, and he thought it would be very hard indeed if in his absence his business was taken away from him , and his wife was required to invest his monies in another business without his knowledge and consent. He therefore made this application for the renewal of the license with considerable confidence, although without the actual personal instructions of the licensee. At any rate the license could be renewed without prejudice until the man had returned from the Front”.
“The justices decided to adjourn the consideration of this case until after they had heard the second application” [which was for the Shepherd and Flock at Round Green].
“After luncheon Mr. Newton, in the case of the “Cooper’s Arms” questioned service of notice on the ground that the tenant was in France”.
“Mr. R. Weatherhead (clerk in the justices’ clerk’s office) said the wife accepted service and read a letter from the licensee stating that “after his having served his country for twelve years , it would be a poor return to take away his living in his absence”.
“The justices said they were satisfied with the service”.
“Mr. Newton: The Statute requires service in one of two ways; in this case it was not served in either”.
“Mr. Austin (clerk) said he would make a note of Mr. Newton’s objection “in the event of the matter going further”.”
“Inspector Janes said with a radius if 220 yards there were 14 alehouses and beerhouses, including the “Cooper’s Arms”. Meals were served if asked for; the recreations were dominoes, rings and shove-ha’penny. It was a working-class population, and the customers were principally working people, soldiers and girls. The conduct of the house had been fairly satisfactory, and there were five weekly lodgers. There had been in all 15 transfers of license. The house was very little used in the daytime, but in the evening there was a large attendance, and about 8 o’clock the saloon bar was packed with soldiers and girls like “sardines in a box”.”
“Replying to Mr. Newton , the Inspector said the custom at the several licensed houses was about the same, and there had been an improvement in the management of this house since a complaint had been made some time ago. He should think the trade had improved since 1908”.
“Mr. A. Merry said he had inspected the “Cooper’s Arms” and it was by no means a modern structure. This was an old part of Luton, but the majority of the public houses had been rebuilt”.
“Mr. Newton contended that there was no reason for altering the decision of 1908, and repeated it would certainly be very hard on the absent licensee not to renew the license. It naturally followed that there would be a number of these licensed premises in the centre of a busy town, and the evidence went to show that they all did a successful business and were consequently required by the public”.
“Having retired for consultation, on their return, the Mayor said the justices fully appreciated the plea put forward by Mr. Newton, and in view of the fact that the licensee was at the Front they had decided to renew the license, at any rate, until his return”. Directories show that the licensee, William J. Taplin was still licensee as late as 1924.
The 1917 report on the public house by valuer Arthur Walker Merry also survives [BML10/45/10]. He describes the public bar as measuring 16 feet 9 inches by 8 feet 3 inches with a ceiling 8 feet 6 inches from the ground. The bar itself was 6 feet 5 inches long and there was an entrance from the street. There was a smaller separate bar measuring 9 feet 3 inches by 5 feet 10 inches with a bar counter 4 feet 5 inches long. The entrance to this bar was via a passage with a door to the main road. A third public area was a “small serving bar” with an entry from a passage and measuring 11 feet 6 inches by 9 feet 6 inches with a 6 feet 6 inch long bar counter. The fourth public area was a tap room measuring 9 feet 6 inches by 9 feet and 9 feet high. A disused kitchen with a private w. c. led off this.
The first floor contained a kitchen with two bedrooms and a sitting room. Four bedrooms lay on the second floor. “There is a small Yard at back with some old Stabling which is not used by the travelling public. The public urinal and W. C. are in this Yard and the access is out of a side door from the Passage above mentioned and cannot be considered very adequate”.
The reason so many girls frequented the Cooper Arms is that it was surrounded by hat factories where they worked. One factory lay next door, that of Vyse, Sons & Company Limited. It was gutted by fire in February 1930 and eight people died as a result. The Cooper’s Arms was evacuated but, remarkably, suffered little structural damage, though it was rendered temporarily uninhabitable by excessive amounts of water.
The pub was still in business in the 1990s. At the time of writing  the former pub is an Arabic restaurant and café called Desert’s Rose.
- PSL6/1: Register of Alehouse Licences - Luton Petty Sessional Division: 1872-1876;
- CRT110/102: deeds at Hertfordshire Archives Service: 1874-1903;
- BML10/45/10: inspector’s report: 1917;
- WB/Green7/7/1: LutonTown centre Historic Pubs and Breweries Trail pamphlet produced by Luton Borough Council Planning & Development Department: 1998.
List of Licensees: note that this is not a complete list. Italics indicate licensees whose beginning and/or end dates are not known:
1869-1877: Benjamin Mayne;
1877: Hannah Mayne;
1885: William Oakley;
1890: David McGibney;
1894: Alfred Bradbury;
1898: Edward Barnes;
1903: Francis Edgar Dawson;
1906: James Conn;
1910: Henry Tilbury;
1914-1924: William J. Taplin;
1928-1938: William Patrick Plover;
1938-1951: John Bernard Simpson;
1951: Leonard Herbert Simpson;
1959: Arthur Henry Wildman;
1966: George Alexander Milligan;
1976: Mary Lillian Milligan;
1983: Michael Neil Logan;
1985: Francis Joseph Sherry