The George Hotel Luton
The George Hotel about 1900 [Z1130/75]
The George Hotel: 50 George Street, Luton
William Austin in his 1928 History of Luton and its Hamlets quotes proceedings in the Court of Star Chamber in 1509, the first year of the reign of Henry VIII which are our first surviving reference to the GeorgeHotel: "there seems to have been a dispute about the title to the property. The tenant of the George at the time was Thomas Thereder, a cordwainer [shoemaker], who was in possession under a lease for a term of twenty years granted by one Thomas Woodward, gentleman".
"The ground of the proceedings was a complaint to the Chancellor by Henry Stoppysley of Luton. Henry Stoppysley's claim was that he, Thomas Rotherham, esquire, Henry Chelmeley, gentleman and Robert Barbar, maltman, were seised in fee of the messuage called The George, of "oltyme called the George and the Swanne", in Luton, and thirteen acres of land, meadow and pasture, to the use and behoof of Henry Stoppysley and his heirs that they being so seised Thomas Woodward and Henry Thereder "withowte colower of right or goud tytyll" wrongfully entered, expelled, and put out the said Henry Stoppysley and his trustees".
"Thomas Woodward, in his reply, claimed that he derived his title from one Margaret Lylly, who being seised of the same premises in fee, granted the same to Sir Thomas Lovell, knight, and Christopher Moore to hold to the use of Thomas Woodward and his heirs. We have not succeeded in tracing the result of the action". Clearly the George was an old established inn by 1509, putting its foundation back into the late 15th century at least.
Austin also quotes an Archdeaconry Court Roll for 1680 in which an executrix is charged with subversion but did not appear before the court, it being stated that: "she was at the house of - Staploe, widow, called le George Inn".
The first mention of the George in any record held by Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service is in 1641 when a house which eventually became the Bell was conveyed and was described as standing in a road leading from the George to the Market Place [WB/B4/1/Lu/Bell1].
William Austin quotes from James Boswell's diary noting a visit to Luton Hoo with the great lexicographer Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) in 1781, compiler of the Dictionary of the English Language and notes that they dined at the George and, it being the King's birthday (George III), drank his health.
A letter of 1802 [G/DDA144/7] from Leonard Hampson to the Marquess of Bute describes a wall "between his (Hampson's) house and the George Inn" which was owned by the Marquess. The Marquess had given permission to raise the wall but Mrs. Cooke, wife of the tenant, objected because it would obstruct the view from the bar room over the garden into the fields. Hampson had wished to raise the wall "to remove the nuisance with the George yard is" to his house and garden. This letter shows that as late as the early 19th century the centre of Luton was not far from open countryside.
A letter of 1834 describes the conveyance of the George [G/DDA150/14] to a Mr. Austin. It seems likely that this was the solicitor Charles Austin or one of his family. William Austin notes that the hotel sign used to hang from a beam of timber which stretched across the road; he also recounts stormy meeting at the George in 1841: "a scheme for promoting a Bill in Parliament for the construction of a railway from London to Manchester was seriously undertaken. Mr. T. E. Austin was secretary of the promoting committee. The scheme originated in the fertile brains and ceaseless energy of Messrs George and Robert Stephenson, and the intention was to run the railway through Luton".
"The undertaking was supported by the late Mr. Lionel Ames, Mr. Vyse, the Wallers, Mr. Henry Tomson, Mr. E. C. Williamson, Mr. Charles Austin and a number of the principal inhabitants of the district".
"A meeting was held at the George Hotel at which Mr. Stephenson was present, when opposition and obstruction developed to such a degree that the amiable Mr. Stephenson was roused to a passionate outburst of anger, and told the opponents of the movement that "Luton should never have its direct railway communication with London so long as he lived". Luton did not receive this communication until 1860 and by then Stephenson was, indeed, dead. At the time of the 1851 census Luton was the largest conurbation in the country without a railway.
In 1849 the young Hertfordshire brothers Thomas and Robert Sworder purchased the Crown & Anchor Brewery. Robert, unfortunately, was something of an idler and a wastrel and in 1858 the Dunstable lawyer William Medland wrote to the pair's uncle Thomas Sworder the elder [X95/291/188] about Robert returning to Luton from running a brewery at Dowlais in South Wales: "with regard to Robert if you should decide about his coming back to Luton, pray impress upon him the necessity of his keeping out of the society that frequents the "George". I shudder at the idea myself as I well know his past conduct even now makes Tom's credit shaky and I am sadly afraid he will if he returns get to his old friends again. You do not know the parties of course, I do, which makes me answer yours by return. I'm sure I have no ill feeling towards Robert on the contrary or I should wish him to return to Luton so concerned am I that if he does it will be a sad day's work. I write this privately as I do not think I should be acting right to you if I did not let you know my opinion upon the subject, if it is not worth much. I have told Tom the same only this morning, when he introduced the subject". Robert had fallen in with a set who had been bitten by the racing bug and had even splashed out on a horse himself.
In 1878 the George, together with the George Tap, was conveyed by Richard Lloyd Jones of Forest Hill [Middlesex] to Frederick John Coleman , who would be the owner for the next seventeen years, having been licensee since 1873 [HN10/354/GH10]. Some amusing correspondence survives from 1888 between Coleman and his solicitor, John Thomas Green of Woburn. Coleman had been contacted by Luton solicitors Neve & Beck in February as follows: "We have been consulted by Mr. John I. Wright with reference to certain slanderous statements, calculated to injure his reputation, which you have circulated during the past few days. You are well aware that these statements have no foundation in fact & of this we have ample proof; we have therefore to call upon you to publicly retract such statements & unless you do this & send Mr. Wright a written apology within 2 days we are instructed to issue a Writ against you without further delay or notice. We trust you will see your way to making this retraction & apology & thus save us the unpleasantness of commencing proceedings against you as we shall otherwise be compelled to do" [HN10/271/Coleman1].
Green made some notes for his business partner and cousin Frederic Thomas Tanqueray [HN10/271/Coleman2] indicating, amongst other things, that Robert Sworder had, indeed, gone back to his old ways: "Harris, Sworder, Percival, Wright, Coleman & others drinking about together. Wright when drinking has a mania for breaking other people's hats after a little horse play. Coleman gets home and finds his Hat smashed - he instantly concluded Wright had done it 2 hours before when all up at his place. He sends the hat done up in paper up to Wright's House with a note something like this written on one of his Bill papers: "I never play practical jokes and I shall not allow you to do [sic] perform on me or my property" Coleman thinks the wife got hold of it and this has put the fat in the fire. I have told Coleman that he has no proof that I do not think it is a slander and he writes to Neve that he has forwarded his Letter to his Solicitor Mr. Green of Woburn and in hearing from him will write again. Send me your idea of letter I should write to Neve. I see no objection to asking for the statements and that quite useless to apologise"
Another letter from Green to Tanqueray [HN10/271/Coleman4] states: "If Coleman has done nothing more than send his own hat to Wright & tell him he would not have a practical joke played upon him. It is utterly absurd to talk of Slander. A Slander to give any ground for recovery of damages must be a defamation of character either accusing a person of an indictable offence or one from which actual damage can be shown, and there must be publication; sending a letter to a man is not a publication. However I suppose Coleman does not want to retract. I enclose a Draft letter". This draft said: "In reply to your letter of the 9th instant I am not conscious of having made any slanderous statements with reference to Mr. John I. Wright and I certainly have no intention of doing him any injury. Perhaps you will inform me what your Letter refers to. If anything has unwittingly fallen from my lips of the nature you mention I shall be most happy to apologize". Sadly, as is often the case, we do not know the result of all this.
A plan of the George in 1895 [HN10/354/GH18] to see a larger version please click on the image
In 1895 Coleman decided to retire to the house he had bought in Victoria Road, Bedford. The sale catalogue refers to the George as follows [HN10/354/GH18]:
GEORGE HOTEL, LUTON
Has been established upwards of 300 years, is the principal Family and Commercial Hotel in the Town, and is probably better known than any other House within a radius of 30 miles outside of London. It occupies a commanding and important position fronting George Street, which is the main thoroughfare of this largely increasing and thriving Market and Manufacturing Town, the centre of the Straw Plait Trade, and the premises extend to Waller Street in the rear,
The total area being nearly ¾ Acre.
The Hotel Buildings are Substantially Brick Built and Slated, with Painted Front, and the accommodation is mainly on Two Floors.
THE UPPER FLOOR - containing Eighteen Bed Rooms, Store and Housemaid's Cupboards, Bath Room, Two W. c. 's, and Four Attics over.
THE GROUND FLOOR - contains Good Entrance Hall, Commercial Room, Bar Parlour, Retail, Public and Private Bars, and Office; Two Private Sitting Rooms; Coffee Room, Smoke Room, excellent Billiard Room with Lavatory and w. c.; Large Dining Room, Kitchen, pantry, &c.
IN THE BASEMENT - are extensive Cellars divided off for Malt Liquors, Bottle Goods, Wines and Spirits &c.
Adjoining the Hotel and also fronting George Street is
THE WINE & SPIRIT DEPARTMENT
(doing a large and increasing off-trade in bottles).
And there is a Large Store Room over available for Offices or extra Bed Room accommodation, and a Paved Cellar in the basement.
THE STABLE, YARDS AND BACK PREMISES
Are approached from the front by Large Folding Gates, and access is also obtained from Waller Street in the rear, and comprise Coal Store with Ostler's Room over, Harness Room, Three large lock-up Coach Houses, and Stabling for 40 Horses, and ample Lofts and Storage Accommodation.
Flanking the Hotel is a well kept Lawn and Pleasure Garden, with Arbour, and beyond is a productive and well planted Walled-in Kitchen Garden, with Two Greenhouses, Potting Sheds, Boiler House, &c.
A SUBSTANTIAL BRICK BUILT AND SLATED
DETACHED TAP HOUSE
Abuts on Waller Street in the rear, and contains Four Upper and Four Lower Rooms, Cellars, &c.
The whole of the foregoing Property is of
THE GOODWILL OF THE TRADE
Has always been of an Extensive and Lucrative Character.
The premises was purchased by William Edward Dipple for £13,000.
A detailed list of the wine and spirits available at the Wine and Spirit Department which, an annotation states, had only been opened in 1894, was [HN10/354/GH17]:
- Port: 1/3 to 2/6 per bottle;
- Sherry: 1/3 to 2/- per bottle;
- Claret: 1/- per bottle "good sound wine";
- Claret: 1/3 per bottle "Saint-Julien";
- Claret: 1/6 per bottle "Margaux";
- Claret: 1/9 per bottle "Saint-Estéphe";
- Burgundy: 2/- per bottle "Beaune";
- Burgundy: 2/3 per bottle "Pommard";
- Burgundy: 2/6 per bottle "Volnay";
- Still Hock: 2/- per bottle "Laubenheim";
- Still Hock: 2/6 per bottle "Neirstein 1886";
- Champagne: 2/4 per bottle "Carte Blanche";
- Champagne: 2/10 per bottle "Crémant Sec";
- Champagne: 4/- per bottle "Cuvée Choisie Extra";
- Irish Whiskey: 2/5 per bottle "Irish Malt";
- Irish Whiskey: 3/- per bottle "Fine Irish";
- Irish Whiskey: 3/5 per bottle "Fine Old Irish (special blend);
- Scotch Whiskey: 2/6 per bottle "Islay Malt";
- Scotch Whiskey: 3/- per bottle "Old Scotch Whiskey";
- Scotch Whiskey: 3/5 per bottle "Fine Scotch Whiskey (special blend);
- Brandy: 3/- per bottle "Pale Brandy";
- Brandy: 3/6 per bottle "Superior Pale";
- Brandy: 4/- per bottle "Fine Old Pale";
- Brandy: 4/6 per bottle "Fine Old Cognac";
- Brandy: 5/- per bottle "Fine Champagne Brandy";
- Brandy: 3/6 to 4/- per bottle "Brown Brandy";
- Gin: 2/- per bottle "Good Cordial";
- Gin: 2/4 per bottle "Finest Cordial";
- Gin: 2/5 per bottle "Finest Dry";
- Rum: 2/6 per bottle "Jamaica";
- Rum: 3/- per bottle "Special".
William Dipple owned the George for sixteen years before putting it up for sale by auction in 1911. The sale particulars [HN10/354/GH31] were as follows:
The garden of the George Hotel in 1911 [HN10/354/H31]
The Premises contain -
On the First Floor:
Twenty-three Visitors' Bed Chambers; Three Staff Bed Rooms; Bath Room with House-Maids' Sink; One Lavatory and W. C. and Two other W. C. 's, Linen Cupboard, Store and House-Maids' Cupboards and Four Attics over
(Secondary Staircase to Ground Floor)
On the Ground Floor:
Entrance Hall; Commercial Room; Large Coffee Room.
Two Private Sitting Rooms and Reading Room.
Smoke Room with Dispense Bar and Office.
SPACIOUS BILLIARD ROOM
With Urinal, Lavatory and w. c.
Servants' Hall, Kitchen Pantry &c.
Excellent Public and Private Bars.
Large Stock Room (about 29 feet by 15 feet 6 inches) and
Luggage Room (about 26 feet by 15 feet 6 inches).
In the Basement:
FINE CELLARAGE FOR BEERS, ALES, WINES, SPIRITS, &c.
Adjoining the Hotel and fronting George Street is
THE WINE AND SPIRIT DEPARTMENT,
with Paved Cellar in the Basement
At the Rear is the Large Yard (approached in the front from George Street and access also from Waller Street in the rear), Stabling for about 40 Horses, Harness Room, Three Large Coach Houses, ostler's Room, Ample Lofts and Storage Accommodation. Well kept Lawn and Pleasure Garden with Arbour, and Large Walled-in Kitchen Garden, with Two Greenhouses, Potting Shed &c.
A Substantial Brick-Built and Slated
DETACHED TAP HOUSE,
Abuts on Waller Street in the rear and contains Four Upper and Four Lower Rooms, Cellars &c.
The hotel sold for £13,000 to William Henry Miles of Sydenham [Kent].
The George Hotel about 1935
The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every piece of land and building in the country was to be assessed to determine its rateable value. Most of Bedfordshire was valued in 1927. Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service is lucky in having the valuer's notebook covering most of George Street. Evidence in the book shows that the survey of George Street took place in 1928. Photographs of this time show a radically different George to that of 1911, for example, it is a fully fledged three storey building.
This premises, listed as 50-52 George Street was owned and occupied by Arthur Edmund Fisher [DV1/R7/14-15], whom Kelly's Directory for Bedfordshire in 1928 lists as a butcher at 25 George Street and 52 High Town Road. The valuer described the premises as "George Hotel" but made it clear that things were changing, noting "Rebuilt again - only just started". Thus the entries made in ink are annotated by later entries in pencil. The basement contained: a kitchen ("large, tiled floor"), scullery ("no sinks"), three pantries ("workroom for handy man"), servants' hall ("4 stock rooms"), boiler house ("lavatory (staff)"), four cellars ("account cellar, empty bottle cellar, 2 wine, spirit and Bottled Beer cellars", "electric laid on").
The ground floor comprised: a small wine shop ("and spirit off-licence, merely fitted, poor counter"), a reception office, two bars "Saloon and lounge (larger and better room); porter's lodge ("small and dark"); manager's office; gents' lavatories; telephone cabin; ladies' lavatories; large dining room; smaller dining room ("plainly furnished"); superior staff room ("occasionally used for small dinner parties"); tea lounge ("lighter and better room with Rockery annexe"); waiters' pantry; large public dining room at end of passage ("large room well furnished and light").
The first floor ("approached by staircase with large cathedral glazed windows")comprised: a commercial writing room at the top of the stairs ("numbered C2 rather small"), 22 guets bedrooms ("21 now") and 4 bathrooms. The second floor had twenty two bed rooms of which six were used for staff. The valuer noted: "Landings and Corridors on each floor. 3 Steel Fire Escapes".
A petrol pump stood in the yard along with eight lock-up stores and thirteen garages with concrete floors, brick walls and corrugated iron, asbestos lined, roofs. Each garage measured 8 feet 6 inches by 17 feet 6 inches. A boiler house stood outside with an Ideal Boiler for heating the garages. Also outside was a 37 feet by 68 feet open shed with six bays made from steel and corrugated iron for fourteen cars. There were also three old stables and a cottage which were "not used" ("demolished"). A wooden shed was "now used as Builder's office but will be demolished on completion of works". two unused greenhouses were later demolished as were a range of old brick and slate stables with lofts over.Three further brick and slate garages measured 8 feet by 26 feet 6 inches ("good", number 1 will be used as office for Garageman in future"). There was a new brick and corrugated iron store for petrol ("demolished and replaced by a 500 gallon petrol tank and Pratts Petrol Pump").
The valuer noted: "men and women's lavatory with George Tap". He also noted an advert hoarding measuring 66 feet by 6 feet 6 inches in Barber's Lane. Overall the valuer commented: "This is a first class modern hotel. I think best position in Luton".
Licence duty was £250 per annum. As for trade: "Says he only does two and a half barrels a week and two gallons of spirits".
The George is last mentioned in Kelly's Directory for Luton in 1965 and the hotel closed on 26th June that year. The 1968 edition has an entry for George Hotel National Dance Club at 50 George Street and by 1972 the entry for 50 George Street is blank. The Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record [HER} lists most of the county's old buildings and is now available in-line at the Heritage Gateway website. The entry for the George confirms that, like many another of Luton's old buildings, it was demolished. This occurred in 1971 in the case of the George [HER 18096]. Today  Primark occupies the site and interestingly the modern shop front has the same number of first floor windows as the George hotel once had.
The site of the George Hotel June 2010
- WB/B4/1/Lu/Bell1: feoffment of adjoining property: 1641;
- QSM: quarter sessions held at the hotel: 1715-1730;
- QSR1728/21: transfer of the baggage of the Royal Horse Guards from the George to Ware [Hertfordshire]: 1728;
- Sale catalogue can be obtained from the George: 1769;
- LHE381: auction sale held at inn: 1774;
- C856-857: auction sale at the George: 1779;
- WB/B4/1/Lu/Bell12: conveyance of adjoining property: 1788;
- G/DDA154/3: a bill of fare from the George: 1800;
- G/DDA154/2: a bill of fare from the George: 1801;
- G/DDA144/7: obstructing wall 1802;
- C1052: Luton commoners to meet annually at the George: 1806-1868;
- CLP13: register of alehouse licences: 1822-1829;
- BO401: bankruptcy sale at the George: 1827;
- BS1132: sale at the hotel: 1832;
- G/DDA150/14: letter referring to the George being conveyed: 1834;
- P85/3/1/2: receipted bills from the George: 1835-1838;
- WB/S4/1/6/1: auction sale at the George: 1839;
- C920: auction sale at the George: 1845;
- G/DDA315: rating meeting at the George: 1847;
- T43/53: sale at the hotel: 1848;
- X392/25/21: bill for bed, meals etc.: 1855;
- X95/291/188: necessity of keeping Robert Sworder away from the company he frequented at the George: 1858;
- C1016: auction sale at the George: 1860;
- BML10/45/1: auction sale at the George: 1865;
- BML10/45/2: auction sale at the George: 1872;
- HN10/354/GH10: conveyance of the George: 1878;
- HN10/354/GH11: draft mortgage of the George: 1879;
- Z1308/1/1: auction sale held at the George: 1883;
- HN10/271/Coleman1-6: accusations slander etc.:1888;
- Z210/86: auction sale at the George: 1892;
- X739/8/10/4: auction sale held at the George: 1895;
- HN10/354/GH18: sale catalogue for the George: 1895;
- HN10/354/GH22: draft conveyance from Frederick John Coleman to William Edward Dipple: 1895;
- HN10/354/GH23: draft mortgage from William Edward Dipple to Frederick John Coleman: 1895;
- BML10/45/3: auction sale at the George: 1896;
- X95/313-314, Z210/84 and WB/S4/1/1/5: sale catalogues of Thomas Sworder's brewery and licensed premises: 1897;
- WB/Green4/1/Lu/PSW6/6: auction sale at the George: 1897;
- WL1000/1/LUT/3/1: auction sale at the George: 1899;
- WB/Green4/1/Lu/CS8/11: auction sale at the George: 1903;
- HN10/349/Coleman1: invoice from the George for hiring a carriage for a funeral: 1908;
- HN10/348/1/12: will of Frederick John Coleman devising a £4,000 of a £5,000 mortgage secured on the George to Frederick John Flint in lieu of a bequest: 1908, proved 1909;
- HN10/348/1/20: transfer of mortgage on the George transferred by Frederick John Coleman's executors to Frederick John Flint: 1910;
- WB/M/4/1/VP8: auction sale held at the George: 1911;
- HN10/354/GH31: sale catalogue: 1911;
- HN10/354/GH34: draft conveyance from William Edward Dipple to William Henry Miles: 1911;
- BML10/45/6: auction sale at the George: 1914;
- BML10/45/7: auction sale at the George: 1915;
- BML10/45/8: auction sale at the George: 1915;
- Z532/20/1: lease of the ground floor of the George from Arthur Edmund Fisher to James Walker (Jeweller) Limited: 1924;
- Z720/1/36: auction sale held at the George: 1928;
- WB/Pearman7/2/1: later note that Wadsworth & Thaire had had a brewery at the George: 1928;
- Z267/1-2: auction sales held at the George: 1930;
- Z267/3: auction sale held at the George: 1931;
- Z267/4: auction sale held at the George: 1934;
- BML10/45/19: balance sheet: 1940;
- PK6/4/3: auction sale at the George: 1946;
- X941/1/21: South Bedfordshire Golf Club dance at the George: 1948;
- X941/1/22: Stockwood Lodge Ladies' Festival dinner and dance held at the George: 1948;
- X941/1/23: Stockwood Lodge Ladies' Festival dinner and dance held at the George: 1950;
- BML10/38/10: auction sale at the George: 1950;
- X941/1/25: invitation to a reception at the George: 1951;
- SDLutonSFC6/1: menu for Old Lutonians Club dinner at the George: 1952;
- Z452/DM/5: Luton & District Chamber of Trade banquet and ball held at the George: 1961
- Z452/DM/6: Luton & District Chamber of Trade banquet and ball held at the George: 1962
- Z452/DM/7: Luton Dunstable & District Association of Building Trades Employers dinner at George: 1963;
- WB/Green7/7/1: LutonTown centre Historic Pubs and Breweries Trail pamphlet: 1990s.
Licensees: Note that this is not a complete list; italics indicate licensees whose beginning and/or end dates are not known
1509: Thomas Thereder;
1680: Widow Staploe;
1774: Andrew Ewbank;
1802: Thomas Cooke;
1839: Thomas Butlin;
1847: Elizabeth Butlin;
1871: William Wadsworth;
1872: Elizabeth Wadsworth;
1873: Frederick John Coleman;
1895: William Edward Dipple;
1911: William Henry Miles;
1928: William Proctor;
1940: A. B. Johnson;
1963: Frank Lister Smith;
1963: Wilfred John Gent
Hotel closed 26th June 1965.