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The Welcome Stranger Beerhouse Luton

The site of the Welcome Stranger June 2010
The site of the Welcome Stranger June 2011

The Welcome Stranger Beerhouse: 61 Duke Street, Luton.

The countywide licensing register of 1876 states that the Welcome Stranger beerhouse, which stood on the corner of Duke Street and Back Street, was first licensed in 1866. By 1876 it was owned by John Langridge. A later owner was Dunstable brewer Benjamin Bennett. He died in 1906 but his brewery in Dunstable continued until 1938 when it had 59 public houses and was taken over by London brewers Mann, Crossman & Paulin, which accounts for the lack of information held on the establishment by Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service.

The Welcome Stranger, as the name suggests, was as much a cheap lodging house as a beerhouse. The lodging house was next door to the beerhouse. The 1871 census shows twenty seven people inhabiting the premises! Their details, along with those of the landlord and his family, are as follows:

  • William Oakley, the licensee, aged 37 and born in Hertfordshire;
  • Sarah Oakley, his wife, aged 32 and born in Northamptonshire;
  • Edward Oakley, their son, aged 14 and born in Buckinghamshire;
  • Thomas Oakley, their son, aged 12 and born in Bedfordshire;
  • Rose Oakley, their daughter, aged 3 and born in Bedfordshire;
  • James Golden, a lodger, aged 37 and born in Cambridgeshire;
  • Joseph Bliss, a lodger, aged 24 and born in Oxfordshire;
  • Thomas Coates, a lodger, aged 31 and born in Ireland;
  • James Millington, a lodger, aged 21 and born in Kent;
  • Margaret Millington, a lodger, aged 19 and born in Bedfordshire;
  • Ellen Millington, a lodger, aged 2 and born in Hertfordshire;
  • Cornelius Fosh, a lodger, aged 15 and born in Bedfordshire;
  • William Fosh, a lodger, aged 17 and born in Bedfordshire;
  • Elizabeth Spencer, a lodger, aged 71 and born in Wiltshire;
  • Joseph Spencer, a lodger, aged 35 and born in Wiltshire;
  • Abraham Wilford, a lodger, aged 29, Suffolk;
  • Elizabeth Wilford, a lodger, aged 28 and born in Bedfordshire;
  • Catherine Wilford, a lodger, aged 70 and born in Suffolk;
  • Charles Clinton, a lodger, aged 39 and born in Oxfordshire;
  • Jane Clifton, a lodger, aged 33 and born in Cheshire;
  • Sarah Clifton, a lodger, aged 1 and born in Oxfordshire;
  • Eliza Kirby, a lodger, aged 27 and born in Warwickshire;
  • Thomas Baker, a lodger, aged 30 and born in Warwickshire;
  • George Holland, a lodger, aged 42 and born in Lancashire;
  • John Gurney, a lodger, aged 18 and born in Hertfordshire;
  • William Pertman, a lodger, aged 20 and born in Bedfordshire;
  • Eliza Sore, a lodger, aged 20 and born in Cambridgeshire;
  • William Madden, a lodger, aged 30 and born in Lancashire;
  • Margrat Madden, a lodger, aged 30 and born in Scotland;
  • James Madden, a lodger, aged 2 and born in Yorkshire;
  • Robert Baldwin, a lodger, aged 40 and born in Norfolk;
  • John Clarke, a lodger, no other details supplied.

Correspondence regarding the licence of the Welcome Stranger is included in a Luton Borough licensing register in 1945 [PSL3/36/1]. One letter, from the Chief Constable of Luton to accountant Arthur C. Wright reads: “I have to acknowledge receipt on the 17th instant of your undated letter requesting my authority to permit the licensee of the “Welcome Stranger” Public House [other evidence is that it was, in fact, still a beerhouse], 61, Duke Street, Luton, to allow the premises adjoining his licensed house, formerly known as the Lodging House, to be used by his customers for darts and skittles, and also asking whether intoxicating liquor could be consumed in this room after being purchased in the Public House”.

“As you are no doubt aware, the premises known as the Lodging House are separated from the Public House by a three-foot passage, and before they can be incorporated in the licensed premises an application must be made at the Brewster Sessions to the Licensing Justices”.

“I do not know of anything to prevent customers from licensed house resorting to a room in the Lodging House for the purpose of playing darts and skittles, provided that at no time do any of these customers engage in gaming. If the licensee places a discharged sailor or any other person in charge of a room set aside for the exclusive use of his customers, then under the licensing laws the licensee must understand that he personally accepts responsibility for any unlawful acts or permissions made or given by his servant”.

“I think the correct line of approach is for the licensee to see his Brewery Company and ask them to submit plans to the next Brewster Sessions for alterations to his premises, which would take in the rooms now available in the Lodging House, and increase the amenities and facilities of the “Welcome Stranger”. This surely is not a matter which the licensee can himself deal with through you”.

On 2nd December 1945 Police Sergeant Harry Murray wrote in a memorandum to his Inspector, Jacob Paterson: “I was approached by the licensee of the Britannia and later by the licensee of the Green Man. They both made the same complaint regarding the licensee of the Welcome Stranger”.

“It appears that the latter licensee, who is a woman, has recently been obtaining an almost unlimited supply of small shell fish, and cooked fish such as shrimps and cooked eels. The former mentioned licensees complain that in consequence their customers purchase this food at the Welcome Stranger, and take it to their bars where they consume it. Their main complaint appears to be the smell that is created in the bars, and the fact that after closing time their floors are littered with shells from the shell fish, shrimp heads and tails and bones from the fish and eels. In ordinary times this would appear to be nothing of interest to us as Police, nor is it now, strictly, but I suggest that the information be forwarded to the Local Food Control Office”.

“The complaint is that this licensee is serving meals in her house in the form of cooked fish for which she does not hold any kind of refreshment license”.

“To strengthen their complaint they also tell me that she also sells wet fish of all kinds, and that a queue can be seen at the rear door of the premises every morning, again she has not a licence to carry on such a business”.

“This information is no doubt correct, as it is known to us that the licensee of the Welcome Stranger is an evacuee from South-End-On-Sea [sic], and that prior to taking the Welcome Stranger she was in the fish trade especially shell fish and cooked fish”.

A fuller report from Warrant Sergeant William John followed on 20th December: “I respectfully report that at 1 p. m. on Saturday the 15th December, 1945, I visited the Welcome Stranger Public House, in company with P. C. Grant, with reference to the attached file of papers respecting an increase in the drinking facilities and concerning the complaint that wet fish was being sold on the premises. Shells from winkles were being placed on the floor and in the drinking glasses at neighbouring Public Houses, which gave rise for complaint from the neighbouring licensees”.

“I interviewed Mr. Smith and his wife, and at this point I might say that Mrs. Smith is the prime mover in any discussion regarding these premises, although her husband is the licensee. Neither of these persons were present at the time of my arrival, and we spent about ten minutes in the room at the rear of the premises which was previously used as a kitchen when the lodging house was in being. In this kitchen were various pans and sacks containing winkles and a tray on the table containing shrimps. A box of kippers was also on the table and at varying intervals a crippled employee came into the kitchen for winkles for the customers in the bar. A number of children called at the kitchen during this period to purchase kippers and shrimps to take away direct to their homes. One could conclude that this was in fact a fish shop, and it was apparent that at some time or other a deal of frying took place on a substantial gas stove situated at the far end of the kitchen”.

“When the licensee and his wife returned, I asked them if they had the necessary food licence to permit the sale of wet fish to customers and also to outside persons. Mrs. Smith then conducted me into the Public Bar, where, posted up behind the counter in a conspicuous position, was a Food Permit signed by “W. H. Robinson” authorising the sale of meat pies, etc. and wet fish on the premises. It did appear that this permit did meet the purpose, but in my opinion, considering the premises are licensed for the sale of intoxicants, it leaves much to be desired regarding children frequenting the premises to make purchases for their parents. Although they do not enter any bar on the premises the habit is bad and I doubt if the Food Permit was meant for this purpose, and that the Brewers, Messrs. Mann & Crossman Ltd. would tolerate such a position”.

“Mrs. Smith stated that she had made full enquiries and was satisfied that she was in order and that the fish etc. came from the London Market, and Southend being taken to Luton by a utility truck which has been purchased for the purpose”.

Sketch plan of the first floor of the Welcome Stranger in 1945 [PSL/3/36/1]
Sketch plan of the first floor of the Welcome Stranger in 1945 [PSL/3/36/1]

“The room which this licensee intends to utilise for the increased drinking facilities is situated above this kitchen, access being gained by way of a wooden stairway from the passage and opposite the Public Bar door. This room is not shown on the attached plan [above]. The room is about 60 feet long and 20 feet wide and a number of domino tables, which were left there by Mann & Crossman on the return of their men to London, will be used by the patrons. Dart boards will be installed, but the licensee will not allow the sale in the room, and the customers will be obliged to purchase their drinks at the bar downstairs and take it up to this room”.

“At the entrance to this room, the landing extends to a room above the Public Bar, and a passage to another two smaller bedrooms, now occupied by the son and daughter of the licensee. The former room is the bedroom of the crippled employee. A doorway has been fitted on top of this landing so as to prevent any person going further than this proposed games room, but there is nothing to prevent a person climbing over the doorway, as a space exists between the top of the frame and the ceiling. There have been some structural alterations here, but not to provide for increased drinking facilities. The licensee agreed that so as to exclude these private rooms from the proposed games room, it would be necessary to brick or board up the space above this door. This will, of course, come within the category of structural alterations to increase drinking facilities, but that would appear to be a matter for the Brewers to decide”.

“If this latter step is not taken it would appear from the stated cases on the subject, that no offence will be committed by the licensee if he permitted drinking to take place in this room, as it is already within the ambit of the licensed premises. The alterations must be structural before the Licensing Justices or Police can intervene. The normal test is that if drinks were consumed in these rooms after permitted hours, could a charge of consuming on licensed premise by [sic] substantiated? It is beyond doubt that as it is within the cartilage of the licensed premises, such a charge would be correct. Even when a man was found consuming intoxicating liquor on a seat outside the premises after hours, it is held that he was on licensed premises and he was convicted. A licensee added stables adjoining his licensed premises, and made certain alterations. In this case it was held that he should have had the consent of the Justices”.

“This matter is dealt with at some length under Sec. 71 and 72 of the Licensing (Consolidation Act) 1910, and I have come to the conclusion that if the introduction of the building-up of the space above the door on the landing be contemplated, then the matter will have to come before the Justices, otherwise the only responsibility the licensee has is to make an “entry” with the revenue Authorities under the Beerhouses Act of 1834”.

“The licensee and his wife stated that for the matter of privacy it will be necessary to make alterations, and in this light an application should be made to the Justices together with a plan. In any case the Justices can require these alterations to be made under Sec. 72”.

“As far as the subject matter of this report relates to the sale of fish on the premises, I would suggest that the Town Clerk be notified of the facts”.

On Christmas Eve the Chief Constable wrote a strongly worded letter to the brewers Mann, Crossman & Paulin: “Mrs. Smith, wife of the licensee of the above licensed house has, through Mr. Arthur C. Wright, Accountant of 242 Biscot Road, Luton, made application to me for permission to use two upstairs rooms at this house as games rooms for the customers”.

“Mr. Wright in submitting the application has enclosed a letter from you, reference EKK/CM dated 23rd November 1945, in which you say that the large room upstairs, previously the Common Room of the Lodging House, is within the Licence Curtilage, and that Mrs. Smith will be quite I order in allowing customers to take beer there”.

“In the first instance, Mrs. Smith to whom you have addressed the letter is not the licensee, and I strongly deprecate a Brewery Company giving advice with regard to their premises to some person who is not legally responsible in the matter whatsoever. Secondly, I hope that you or your representative has inspected this room. If you have, I think you will agree with me that it is totally unsuited for use as a public room. In fact, the house is structurally unsuitable to hold a license”.

“I understand from Mrs. Smith who appears to do all the business in connection with this house, that arrangements have been made to remove a gas cooker and an old stone sink from one of the rooms in order to increase the drinking facilities in this room”.

“I have no knowledge of any plans being approved for these alterations or any application for permission having been received”. The reason for the Chief Constable’s view on the unsuitability of the former Common Room as a games room is given in a letter to Arthur Wright: “Entrance to thee rooms can only be gained by a very narrow steep staircase with a narrow entrance door at the foot of the stairs. The rooms themselves are of ordinary brickwork covered with whitewash, and the atmosphere in these rooms would be bound to lower the general conduct of the premises if they were resorted to by customers”.

The Smiths gave up their license in 1946, one suspects because their plans for the games room had come to nothing. The Welcome Stranger closed in 1958 and was subsequently demolished.


  • PSL6/1: Register of Alehouse Licences - Luton Petty Sessional Division: 1872-1876;
  • PSL3/36/1: correspondence regarding the licence, including sketch plan of premises: 1945

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: 

1871-1877: William Oakley;
1885-1894: William Day;
1920: William Swain;
1924: Walter Ansell;
1928-1937: Arthur Puddephatt;
1937-1938: Sam Varley;
1938-1942: Ann Puddephatt;
1942-1946: Thomas George Smith;
1946-1949: Reginald Joseph Andrews;
1949: Reginald George Turner.
Beerhouse closed 30th March 1958 and licence removed to the Albion Tavern.