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The Queens Head Milton Ernest

The Queen's Head Public House [sometime The Booth Arms]: Rushden Road, Milton Ernest

The Queen's Head about 1925 [WL800/4]
The Queen's Head about 1925 [WL800/4]

The Queen's Head is an old building. It was listed by English Heritage in August 1987 as Grade II, of special interest. The property dates from the late 16th or early 17th century and we know by a date stone on the street gable end that it was renovated in the 1730s. It was later altered and extended by Sir Albert Richardson in the late 1930s [RDBP2/1207]. The building is made of coursed limestone rubble and comprises two storeys and attics beneath an old clay tiled roof. The original building was in an L-shape.

The first reference to the Queen's Head is in 1733 when it formed part of the Manor of Bassets [CC6]. This date and the fact that the inn was extended in the 1730s seem to be coincidental but it is possible that the alterations at that time were intended to convert a farmhouse into an inn. In 1786 the manor, with the Queen's Head was conveyed by Jervoise Clarke Jervoise to Samuel Boyden [CC44]. In 1818 Edward Knight devised a third of the manor, including the Queen's Head, to John Evans, Rowland Evans and Richard Richards as trustees [Z951/6/1]. In 1845 the third of the manor, with the inn, was conveyed to Philip Booth [Z951/6/1]. It seems to be at this time that the inn's name changed, temporarily, to the Booth Arms, certainly in directories in 1853 and 1854 and in a deed of 1853 it is referred to thus. The tenant was Susan Brown, who is later recorded as the tenant of the Queen's Head.

In 1852 Booth conveyed the third of the manor, with the inn, to Saint Pierre Butler Hook as he had run into significant debts. This third was then, conveyed in the following year to Benjamin Helps Starey [Z951/6/1]. In 1872 Starey sold his third of the manor, including the Queen's Head [BMB4/1/10/36/1]. A portion of the garden was conveyed away in 1873 [Z951/7/2].

The countywide licensing register of 1876 lists the owner as Allfrey and Lovell, brewers of Newport Pagnell [Buckinghamshire] who, presumably, bought it in 1872. Allfrey and Lovell became Newport Brewery Company, which was eventually bought out by Bedford brewer Charles Wells, which still owned the inn as late as 1997 [WL722/92]. The Queen’s Head today [2014] is owned by Greene King.

Milton Ernest was obviously a rough place in the early 19th century as these two stories featuring the Queen’s Head testify. In the early hours of the morning on Sunday 15th July 1821 Thomas Hine, farmer and local constable was called out of his bed by some persons who said “if I did not get up immediately and go into the street opposite the Queen’s Head Public House and put an end to the disturbance, murder would ensue”. He opened his bedroom window and heard a great noise. Venturing out, he found that the rowdies had gone into the Queen’s Head so he went into and ordered them to leave. “They went out pretty quiet. I then charged them all to go home”.

However, some of the group went down the street to the Swan, so Hine followed them and told them to go to their own homes. They obeyed but made “a great noise”. Hine again followed them and this time had some stones thrown at him. Then Henry Hart and James Parrott began to fight: “I laid hold of Hart and told him he had broken the peace and insisted therefore he would go home or else I would take him into custody. He resisted and I endeavoured to take him away. John Solesbury swore I should not take him away and struck me with the intention of liberating Hart. I let loose of Hart and seized Solesbury and charged John Sturges the elder and John Sturges the younger to assist me and another person whose name I do not know but whose person if I saw him again I could swear to”.

He led Solesbury away, assisted by the two Sturgesses “when on an instant we were surrounded by twenty or thirty men, including Edward Hart, Henry Hart, James Parrot and William Brown who shoved us about and endeavoured to pull Solesbury away from us”. The mob cried out “Put them into the Pond” and the three men were driven twenty yards until they were on the brink of it. There the mob rescued the prisoner. The two Sturgesses corroborated the constable’s account.

Strangely, John Solesbury does not seem to have gone to prison, perhaps he was reckoned to be going quietly. He was not, however, a quiet man. The year before, when he was eighteen, he had served three months in Bedford Gaol for poaching. He was described [QGV11/1] as five feet tall and “stout grown”; he had brown hair, hazel eyes and a fair complexion. His general conduct in prison as described as: “very bad”.

The other four all served time for misdemeanour as a result of their drunken riot. The gaol register [QGV11/1] reveals that Brown was 32 and from Oakley, the rest were from Milton Ernest – Edward Hart was 28, Henry Hart 21 and James Parrott just 18. The elder Hart was 5 feet 3 inches tall, had light hair and a fresh complexion and was given six weeks. Henry Hart was the tallest at 5 feet 7 inches, had brown hair and a fresh complexion and also served six weeks. Parrott was 5 feet 6½ inches, had brown hair and a fresh complexion and served one month (perhaps his relative youth extracted some leniency). Brown was 5 feet 5 inches, with dark hair and complexion and received a six weeks sentence.

In 1839 Thomas Martin complained he had been assaulted by his colleague William Bettles [QSR1839/4/5/11a]. Martin was from Well Street, Bedford (today’s Midland Road) and he and Bettles had been to work together for Mr Hinde of Knotting and Mr Whitmee at his farm at Thurleigh, lodging at the Jackal in Thurleigh. They left together on Saturday afternoon when Martin had four half crowns, a sixpence and twopence in copper in his breeches pocket. He and Bettles stopped at the Falcon at Bletsoe and had a pint of beer together, for which he paid the twopence. When they left they were “both sober”. Then they stopped at the Queen's Head and stayed there drinking until 10pm, having four or five pints of beer. He paid for two pints out of the sixpence and Bettles paid for the rest.

When he left Milton Ernest Martin protested that “he was not drunk, and had a good sleep there first”. Bettles came with him. About a mile from the village Bettles laid hold of the collar of his jacket and pulled him backwards. He fell on his back. Bettles lay across him, held him down and took two of the half-crowns from his pocket. He struggled and told Bettles not to choke him. They got up and walked on together for nearly a hundred yards, when Bettles said "I've a good mind to have the other two only you'll have the Law of me". They came to Bedford together, when Martin told Bettles he would "fix" him. He dare not say this before as Bettles was stronger than him. The previous day, it turned out, Martin had won 10/6 from Bettles at bowls. The next day Martin paid him back five shillings and out of the rest paid for the victuals and drink they had together at Thurleigh.

When they got to Bedford Martin went to Lamb and Saviour and told them what had happened. He went to Bettles' house on Sunday morning - his wife said Bettles was not home. Constable Samuel Lamb of Bedford saw Martin at 12.30am in Dame Alice Street at the corner near Saint Peter’s Green and he told him he had been robbed by Bettles. The back of Martin’s coat was "all over sludder" as if he had been on the ground. Martin was not very tipsy. The constable went to Bettles' house but no one was there.

When Bettles was examined [QSR1839/4/5/11b] he said that Mr Hinde totalled the money and said it came to £3 12s - he made a mistake and it should have been £2 12s. Martin said it was stupid of him to tell Mr Hinde of the overpayment. He admitted losing at bowls but “thought he was to have the money back. On Saturday he asked Martin for the money but was given no answer. Later the landlord said that as they were like two brothers they should "part" the money”. Martin refused, but gave him five shillings and paid for what they ate and drank. He described Martin as "swaggering" at Milton and pulling his money out. He said that on the way home he asked Martin for five shillings as he did not want to go home with nothing, having spent all his money in Milton Ernest, but Martin refused. Bettles said: "We have worked hard together and what you have got now we'll part". Martin refused, “so he caught hold of his collar, pulled him back and said they would have half each, which would be right. Martin said let me alone and I'll give you half, which he did”. After they got up he told Martin he could not say he had been robbed, as he had not taken all his money, just half. They then went on to Bedford singing because they were both "very tipsy". As he went home he saw Martin near the New Inn, Bedford, "hollering and swearing" for ginger beer, but they did not speak.

Bettles was duly tried for highway robbery but was acquitted [QGV10/2]. He was 34 and 5 feet 6 inches tall. He had brown hair and hazel eyes with a fresh complexion, he could red “imperfectly”. In 1842 he was again in trouble for assault and served a month in prison [QGV10/2]. At least he could now read and write well, perhaps he had tried to better himself after his last brush with the law.

The countywide licensing register of 1903 states that the Queen’s Head was in good condition, 250 yards from the nearest licensed premises (the Swan) and had two front doors and one back door. The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every building and piece of land in the country was to be assessed to determine its rateable value. Like much of the county Milton Ernest was assessed in 1927. The valuer visiting the Queen’s Head [DV1/C1/42] found it now owned by Charles Wells, the tenant, William Heritage paying rent of £16 per annum. The valuer commented: “Very old-fashioned place, low pitched”.

The property comprised: a parlour, a living room (“registered”), a bar, a tap room and a lean-to kitchen downstairs with three bedrooms above. Outside were: a range of three timber and tiled pigsties, a meal house with a copper for heating water, a loose box and a greenhouse. Trade was 1½ barrels of beer per week. The valuer added: “Bottled beer and spirits uncertain”. He also commented: “Neglect”.

The Queen's Head 1962 [Z53/82/15]
The Queen's Head 1962 [Z53/82/15]

The late, lamented Bedfordshire Magazine is a source of good period information about the county. Volume III Number 17 of Summer 1951 contains an article on local public houses by Page Woodcock. Her writes of the Queen’s Head: "Still fishing for information, we travelled back to Milton Ernest. Gay flags and bunting welcomed us; it was 'Gala Day' in the village. We sported our pennies at the fun-of-the-fair. then, in search of local lore, we visited the Queen's Head. This small tavern bristles with inn-signia. Paying tribute to artist, brewer and landlord alike, it owns a massive, colourful wall-sign and silhouettes another queen's head on a sign-post to catch the eye; yet no clue to her identity could we find. The Ernys or Ernest family, squires long ago, lived through many reigns. From the wives of Henry VIII, who created almost a glut of queen's heads, to Bloody Mary and Elizabeth, or even on to Anne or Victoria - choose whom you will for the original of the title; Mr. Bradley of Milton Ernest's Queen's Head minds not at all".

"Craven's directory of 1853 mentions the present Swan and a now lost Booth's Arms [see above] in this quiet village. Was Booth the landlord? Or a former Earl of Warrington, whose family name was Booth [see above]? We quizzed our 'locals' but they knew not; gin and generals were their only suggestions".

The Queen's Head February 2011
The Queen's Head February 2011

List of Sources:

  • CC6: mortgage: 1733;
  • CC9: deed: 1734;
  • CC10-11: mortgage: 1735-1737;
  • CC44: conveyance: 1786;
  • Z951/6/1: devised in a will: 1818 (proved 1819);
  • QSR1821/348-349: disturbance at the Queen's Head: 1821;
  • CLP13: Register of Alehouse Recognizances: 1822-1828;
  • QSR1839/4/5/11/a: a man assaulted after drinking at the Queen's Head: 1839;
  • Z951/6/1: conveyance: 1845;
  • Z951/6/1: conveyance: 1852;
  • Z951/6/1: conveyance: 1853;
  • BMB4/1/10/36/1: sale particular: 1872;
  • Z951/7/2: portion of the former garden conveyed: 1873;
  • X668/39: deed of indemnity: 1873;
  • PSS3/1: Register of Alehouse Licences - Sharnbrook Petty Sessional Division: c.1901;
  • PSS3/2: Register of Alehouse Licences - Sharnbrook Petty Sessional Division: c.1903;
  • PSS3/3: Register of Alehouse Licences - Sharnbrook Petty Sessional Division: 1904-1930;
  • WL800/4: photograph: c. 1925;
  • WL801/59: glass plate negative: c. 1925;
  • RDBP2/1207: plans for rebuilding: 1938;
  • Bedfordshire Magazine Volume III Number 17: article and photograph: 1951;
  • Bedfordshire Magazine Volume VIII Number 58: photograph: 1961;
  • Z53/82/15-16: photographs: 1962;
  • X351/9: photograph: 1965;
  • PSBW8/3: Register of Alehouse Licences - Biggleswade and North Bedfordshire Petty Sessional Divisions: 1976-1980;
  • WL722/56: refurbishment mentioned in Charles Wells in-house magazine Pint Pot: 1988;
  • BorBTP/88/1251/LB: planning application for illuminated advertisement: 1988;
  • WL722/92: refurbishment mentioned in Charles Wells in-house magazine Pint Pot: 1997;
  • X939/9/5/14: photograph: 2008.

List of Licensees: note that this is not a complete list. Italics indicate licensees whose beginning and/or end dates are not known:

1733-1734: John Robinson;
1822 -1829: Joseph Brown;
1847-1862: Susan Brown;
1864: George Barcock;
1869-1885: Robert Makeham;
1890: John Smith, butcher;
1894-1913:Mrs. Caroline Smith;
1913-1930: William Heritage;
1930-1932: Lavinia Jane Heritage;
1932-1938: Charles Clark;
1938-1940: Henry James Austin;
1966-1968: John George Major;
1968-1979: Thomas Frederick Marshall;
1979-1980: Florence May Marshall;
1980-1986: Alan John Fraser;
1986-1988: Paul Richard Wells and David John Byford;
1988-1991: Richard Andrew Harrison and Adam Henry Krawczyk;
1991-1992: Andrew Robert Peaple and Richard Andrew Harrison;
1992: Malcolm Doig Starling and Andrew Robert Peaple;
1992-1993: Alan Clarke and Malcolm Doig Starling;
1993: Alan Clarke and Susan Keen;
1993-1994: Alan Clarke and Michael Alfred Porter;
1994-1996: Frances Mary Bartlett and Michael Alfred Porter;
1996: Beverley Plumbly and Mark Tulett