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The Kings Arms Public House Market Hill Luton

The Kings Arms Market Hill about 1867 [Z50/75/182]
The Kings Arms Market Hill about 1867 [Z50/75/182]

The Kings Arms Public House: Market Hill, Luton [formerly the Half Moon] 

The earliest reference to this former in found in records held by Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service is in 1779. It was one of the properties conveyed by William Kinder of Saint Albans [Hertfordshire], brewer to Thomas Kinder of Saint Albans, brewer, eldest son of William Kinder's brother and co-partner Thomas in 1824. The establishment is described as: the Kings Arms, Luton, measuring 42 feet next to the Corn Market and 21 feet next to the Butter Market formerly in occupation of Thomas Rotherham, late William Cookson, then John Cookson conveyed to Thomas Kinder, deceased and William Kinder as joint tenants by George Griffin, nephew and heir at law of Edgar Edlyne the younger late of Saint Dunstan in the West, London, watchmaker, deceased and Jane, his wife on 31st May and 1st Jun 1779 [WB/B4/1/Lu/Bell17]

William Austin in his History of Luton and its Hamlets, published in 1928, stated that the Kings Arms dated from the early 19th century as such, having previously been called the Half Moon. He also states that "in 1706 the building was a brewhouse of T. Marsom; in 1732 T. Blain had held it some time; in 1794-1806 it was occupied by Mr. Cookson, later by James Ford. Mr, Phillimore (c. 1850) was a "late tenant"". Unfortunately Austin does not state his sources but they may be court rolls for the Manor of Luton, of which Austin was steward. Certainly the inn was called the Kings Arms by 1822 as it appears in the countywide register of alehouse recognizances for that year [CLP13].

Kinders' brewery was purchased by Adey & White in 1868 but it looks as if the Kings Arms was sold to Luton brewers the Burr family well before this, as in 1854, an annuity arising from a number of public houses in the centre of Luton, including the Kings Arms, was conveyed to trustees on the marriage of Frederick Burr with Charlotte Sandon [BH36]. The deed quotes a conveyance by Elizabeth Burr, as executor of Arthur Burr, of 1837, clearly implying that the inn was in the family's possession by that time.

Frederick Burr's Brewery was purchased by Luton rival Thomas Sworder in 1857 and finally conveyed to him in 1860, after complex financial negotiations [Z660/D/1/4], the King's Arms along with it. The purchase would drag down Sworder's finances for many years and, along with injudicious speculation in malt, would bring his business to the point of bankruptcy.

The Corn Exchange built on the site of the Kings Arms [Z50/75/95]
The Corn Exchange built on the site of the Kings Arms [Z50/75/95]

In 1864 the Kings Arms was valued at £1,000, the rent to its tenant being £25 per annum [X95/292/55]. A letter of 1866 to from Thomas Sworder to his uncle, also Thomas Sworder, who was bankrolling his business, the younger man notes "From what I hear I fear there is a strong opposition getting up against purchasing the King’s Arms". The plan was that Sworder would sell the building to the Local Board of Health for District of Luton. The sale was finally agreed on Christmas Eve 1866 [X95/275], Sworder receiving £1,050.

A letter of April 1867 from nephew to uncle [X95/292/191] asks: "Did you sell the King’s Arms subject to the tenant’s interest? It appears Mr. Bailey got you to sign notices with the intention of doing the tenant out of his compensation.  All the tenant asks is that he shall be paid such a sum so that he may not be a loser by being turned out without a chance of getting a return of the money he invested in the house in goodwill and fixtures drawn only a year ago.” It was not until 24th December that year, the first anniversary of the sale of the public house that Thomas Sworder the younger wrote to his uncle stating: "I have seen Mr Bailey respecting the rent of the King’s Arms and having referred him to the agreement with the tenant on giving up possession (which it appears he had not seen), I think there will be no difficulty now in the way of the settlement" [X95/292/206]. That same day land "on which plot lately stood the Kings Arms", recently taken down" was conveyed by Thomas Sworder to the Local Board of Health for Luton, for the £1,050, agreed the year before [X95/276].

Following demolition of the Kings Arms the Corn Exchange was built on the site. This was demolished, in its turn, in the 1950s. The site is, today [2010], a kind of public performance or exhibition platform opposite Debenham's department store.

The site of the Kings Arms June 2010
The site of the Kings Arms June 2010


  • WB/B4/1/Lu/Bell17: Kings Arms conveyed by George Griffin to Thomas and William Kinder: 1779;
  • CLP13: register of alehouse licences: 1822-1828;
  • WB/B4/1/Lu/Bell17: copy release of the Kings Arms and other properties from William Kinder to Thomas Kinder: 1824;
  • BH36: settlement on the marriage of Frederick Burr and Charlotte Sandon including an annuity arising from the Kings Arms: 1854;
  • Z660/D/1/4: conveyance of William Burr's brewery by Edward Burr and Richard Hatley Crabb to Thomas Sworder: 1860;
  • X95/292/41: rent in barrels of the Kings Arms: 1862;
  • X95/292/55: valuation of the Kings Arms as: rent £25, value £1,000: 1864;
  • WB/S4/5/Lu/KA1 and Z50/75/182: photograph of Market Hill including the Kings Arms: c. 1865;
  • X95/292/175: mentioned in a letter: 1866;
  • X95/275: sale of the Kings Arms: 1866;
  • X95/283: account of rents of Thomas Sworder's properties: 1867;
  • X95/292/191: tenant's compensation: 1867;
  • X95/292/206: tenant's compensation: 1867;
  • X95/276: conveyance of the plot: 1867;
  • 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 

1732: T. Blain;
1794-1806: John Cookson;
1822-1824: James Ford;
1824-1828: George Gray;
1828: Richard Brown;
1830: Jane Brown;
1839-1847: Thomas Farmer;
1850: Frederick Eyles;
1854: James Summerfield;
1860: Thomas Billimore or Phillimore;
1864: Mrs .L .Chalton;
1866: George or Charles Howard.
Public house closed 1866 and demolished in 1867.