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The Great Northern Public House Luton

The Great Northern, 63 Bute Street, June 2011
The Great Northern, 63 Bute Street, June 2011

The Great Northern Public House: 63 Bute Street, Luton [possibly earlier The Ship]

The Great Northern was listed by the former Department of Environment in February 1981 as Grade II, of special interest. The department dated the property to the 1860s. The house is built of Luton grey bricks with yellow brick quoins and a Welsh slate roof. The house was named after the Great Northern Railway station which opened in Bute Street in 1858. This station was originally run by the Luton, Dunstable and Welwyn Railway Company. It was Luton’s first station (the second, in Midland Road, following in 1868). The company was taken over by the Great Northern Railway Company in 1861.

It may be that the Great Northern was originally called the Ship. Certainly in his book Pubs and Pints on Luton licensed premises Stuart Smith states that this was the case. Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has no direct proof of this but also has nothing to contradict it. The Ship was also in Bute Street and the Ship and the Great Northern do not overlap in directories. The countywide licensing register of 1876 states that the Ship was owned by Saint Albans [Hertfordshire] brewers Adey and White. However, the register is often misleading on this point, frequently quoting breweries holding leases from private individuals as being the owners. In 1921 the Great Northern, along with four other public houses was conveyed by Colonel Harvey Alexander and others to Benskins Watford Brewery Limited [Z1211/3/12]. This indicates that the pub was in private ownership at this point. The Alexander family also owned the Cardinal Public House in Brache Street.

In 1917 Arthur Walker Merry carried out inspections of a number of Luton public houses for the licensing magistrates [BML10/45/10]. He wrote of the Great Northern: “This is a house containing Private Bar, Public Bar and Tap Room all with good supervision catering for the same class of trade as the “Cooper’s Arms”.

Because the pub was owned by an out-county brewery, sadly, Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has very little information on it. Benskins was taken over by Ind Coope in 1957. That firm merged with two other breweries to form Allied Breweries in 1961. At the time of writing [2011] the Great Northern is a free house.


  • PSL6/1: Register of Alehouse Licences - Luton Petty Sessional Division: 1872-1876;
  • BML10/45/10: report on public house: 1917;
  • Z1211/3/12: photocopy of the front part of a conveyance: 1921;
  • WB/Green7/7/1: Luton Town Centre Historic Pubs and Breweries Trail pamphlet produced by Luton Borough Council Planning & Development Department.

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: 

1869: William King;
1872: William Matthews;
1873-1874: William Bailey;
1874-1875: Alfred Spearing;
1875-1877: Donald McKillican;
1885: William Puddephatt;
1890: Henry Rowe;
1894: Ernest M. Fox;
1898-1903: Thomas Hume;
1906: Arthur George Prince;
1910: Henry James Wills;
1914-1939: Harold Stansfield;
1939-1940: John Pugh;
1940: Emma Pugh;
1940-1949: Harry Cyril Hawkes;
1949-1950: Joseph Pickavance;
1950-1954: Cyril George Breed;
1954-1955: Frank Smith;
1955-1956: Harry Haslam;
1956-1968: Cyril Smith;
1968: Grace Matilda Smith;
1968-1971: Frank Reginald Gibbard;
1971-1973: Eric Hellier;
1973-1985: Lewis Thomas O’Dwyer;
1985: Richard John Cousins.