The Battle of the Alma Beerhouse Silsoe
The Battle of the Alma in the 1950s [WB/Green4/5/Si/BA1]
The Battle of the Alma Beerhouse: 17 West End Road, Silsoe [also The Alma and The Alma House]
The Battle of the Alma took place on 20th September 1854 and was one of the first battles in the Crimean War (1853-1856). 28,000 French, 27,000 British and 6,000 Turkish troops assaulted Russian positions on high ground on the other side of the River Alma occupied by 36,500 men. After a hard fought action the allied force won the day, opening the way to Sebastopol.
In 1837 the future licensed premises was simply a cottage. Its owner, Mary Porter had died and an inventory was taken for probate purposes before the place passed to William Cooke or Cook [WE1275]. The inventory reads as follows:
Kitchen range with trivets, fender, tong[s], poker, shovel and footman, small carpet and piece of carpet, square deal table, clawed table, three black chairs, thirty hour clock with case, pair window curtains, small glass, two pair candlesticks, tinder box, flask and tin ware, knife tray and seven knives and forks, tea pot, Sunday cups and saucers, two flat irons, coal box, pair bellows, shovel &c.
Iron post bedstead and furniture, feather bed bolster and pillows, six and one elbow bamboo chairs, bath, stove fender and fire irons, mahogany turn over table, chimney glass time piece and sundry chimney ornaments, deal side board, pair of window curtains, two tea pots and sundry earthenware, set of china, five wine decanters and four wine glasses, three tumblers, two pepper, mustard, pair of salts &c., about five dozen bottles with currant wine, three mats in passage
Sundry earthenware and brown ware, wine jack, three saucepans, spoons &c., lantern, glass bottles, small cask and sundries.
Iron boiler, pan, three iron saucepans and tea kettle, quantity of wood and coals, water pail, clothes horse and earthenware.
Small mahogany next of drawers, curtain, carpet brush and sundry books.
Four post bedstead and furniture, feather bed bolster and pillows, straw bed and pair of blankets and two bed quilts, beside carpets and two chairs, night convenience and painted linen chest, dressing table and glass, warming pan, basin stand, basin and jug, pair of window curtains, two hand basins and small glass, box, ironing blanket &c., three pieces of carpet and small Kidderminster carpet, grate, chimney blind, bobbin wheel and sundries, mahogany two leaved dining table and cover, oak chest of drawers, three chairs, pair window curtains, dressing glass in box pane.
Six pair sheets, eight pillow cases, six table cloths, eight small table cloths, nine towels and napkins, white cotton counterpane.
Two table spoons, six tea spoons and pair sugar tongs
Five gowns, five petticoats, six shifts and four night gowns, two pair stays, shawl, seven handkerchiefs and six caps, silk cloak, four pair stockings and pair shoes, pair pockets, sundry pillow cloths.
The entire inventory was valued at £39/2/6.
William Cooke was noted as a "stranger in blood" to Mary Porter from which it might be inferred that Cooke's wife Frances was a relative of hers. The cottage was described as being a leasehold property, held for the unexpired portion of a term of one thousand years which had begun on 25th January 1743. Mary Porter had devised the property to Cooke and his wife for their lives and, after the death of the longest lived of them, to their son Isaac.
The countywide licensing register of 1876 states that the beerhouse was first licensed in 1861. It may be that the old cottage was pulled down and rebuilt at that date as it looks more mid 19th century than 18th century from the exterior.
In 1862 the Alma Beerhouse, as it was then called, and the surrounding lands and properties were mortgaged by Isaac Cook or Cooke to Woburn solicitor John Green for £600 [L23/321]. When Green died in 1882 £700 was outstanding as Cook(e) had taken a further advance of £100 in 1866. As Green's executors wanted redemption of the mortgage the beerhouse and surrounding land was put up for sale by auction in 1883.
In 1883 sale particulars note, besides the Alma, ten other premises, one of which had been leased as a chapel from 1881 [WE1278]. Lot 5 was the Alma which was described as follows:
THE SUBSTANTIALLY-BUILT BARCK-AND-SLATE
FREEHOLD PUBLIC HOUSE
SITUATE IN THE WEST END, SILSOE
GROCER'S AND GENERAL SHOP, WITH DOUBLE FRONTAGE,
And Cellar under, Tap-room, and 2 Sitting Rooms, Kitchen, Scullery and 5 Bedrooms; Gardens, Yard, Stable, Chaise-house and Piggery, Coal and Wood House and Barn.
The above is and has been for many years in the occupation of the Vendor.
Despite the premises being described as a public house it was simply a beerhouse or, perhaps more likely, a beer shop (in other words an off;licence). Distribution of alcohol seems to have been a fairly minor part of the business in the later 19th and early 20th centuries, if entries in directories are anything to judge by; the licensee being described in various entries as follows:
- 1862: grocer etc.;
- 1864: shopkeeper and tailor;
- 1871: grocer;
- 1877: shopkeeper, tailor and beer retailer;
- 1885, 1890, 1894, 1898: shopkeeper;
- 1903, 1906: beer retailer;
- 1910: carpenter and beer retailer.
All five lots in 1883 were bought by Francis Thomas de Grey, Earl Cowper for £900 and the properties thus became part of the Wrest Park Estate. The abstracted conveyance [L23/321] describes the Alma with its draper's and general shop as well as: five brick cottages in the occupation of Robert Sutton, Edgar Ashley, Amos Swannell and two unoccupied; two thatched cottages, one in the occupation of Widow Case, the other unoccupied; a messuage let as a chapel for ten years and two brick and slate cottages in the occupation of Charles Lyston and James Mann.
The countywide licensing register of 1903 estimates the gross rental of the Alma as being £13 per annum. Rateable value was £9/15/-. It was a free house "in good repair and clean" and had both front and back doors.
In 1919 Nan Ino, 10th Baroness Lucas sold the Alma Beerhouse to Louisa Cook. She had had an abstract of her title drawn up previous to the sale [L23/321]. Louisa may have been a relation of Isaac Cook(e) who sold the place in 1883.
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. The valuer visiting the Battle of the Alma [DV1/C236/12] found it was still owned by Miss Louisa Cook and occupied by George Edward Cooke who paid rent of £10 per annum, the same as the figure before the Great War ("must be family").
The brick and slate property comprised a reception room, a living room, a kitchen and three bedrooms. A small lumber room occupied the roof along with another bedroom. Outside lay a store barn and an old work shop.
The beer shop measured 11 feet by 15 feet and served J. W. Green Limited of Luton's beer. Trade was about eighteen gallons per week. A cellar lay beneath the shop.
In 1939 Charles William Cooke became the owner, being followed by Jessie Rust, later Bottoms, from 1946 and in 1951 Luton brewer J. W. Green Limited bought the property. This firm merged with Midlands brewer Flowers in 1954 and the new company took the Flowers name. Flowers was bought out by Whitbread (London) LImited in 1968.
A photograph of the Battle of the Alma taken in the 1950s [WB/Green4/5/Si/BA1] shows what appears to be an off-licence rather than a public house. The building ceased to be a licensed premises on 1st February 1968 and is now a private house.
17 West End Road the former Battle of the Alma Public House October 2011
- WE1275: copy inventory of the goods of Mrs. Porter: 1837;
- L23/321: mortgage by Isaac Cook to John Green: 1862;
- WE1281: extract from the Silsoe valuation list: 1869;
- WE1276: account of the succession of Isaac, son of William Cooke: 1872;
- PSA5/1: Register of Alehouse Licences - Ampthill Petty Sessional Division: 1872-1927;
- WE1277: two letters relating to overdue interest from Isaac Cook to John Green: 1881;
- WE1278: sale particulars: 1883;
- WE1279: correspondence regarding to sale to Earl Cowper: 1883-1886;
- L23/321: draft abstract of title of Baroness Lucas: 1919;
- X940/1/3: sale catalogue: 1919;
- L23/1007: papers relating to the sale of the beerhouse: 1919;
- PSA5/2: Register of Alehouse Licences - Ampthill Petty Sessional Division: 1934-1959;
- WB/Green4/2/4: certificate of title of J. W. Green Limited: 1936;
- WB/Green4/5/Si/BA1: exterior photograph: 1950s;
- WB/W4/5/Neg1: Negative of the premises: 1950s;
- WB/Green4/2/19: schedules of deeds to J. W. Green Limited premises: 1950s;
- PSA5/4: list of licensed premises in Ampthill Petty Sessional Division: c.1950s
- WB/Green4/2/5: list of J. W. Green Limited licensed premises: 1952;
- WB/Green4/2/17: J. W. Green Limited trust deed for raising additional debenture stock: 1952-1972;
- PSA5/5: list of licensed premises in Ampthill Petty Sessional Division: 1968-1995.
Licensees: Note that this is not a complete list; italics indicate licensees whose beginning and/or end dates are not known
1862-1891: Isaac Cook;
1891-1910: Louisa Cook;
1910-1939: George Edward Cooke;
1939-1946: Charles William Cooke;
1946-1951: Jessie Rust [became Jessie Bottoms on 22nd December 1948];
1951-1956: Thomas Scott Mackey;
1956-1959: Roy Kenneth Ansell;
1959-1967: Joseph Henry Halliday;
1967-1968: George Albert Reed.
Licensed premises closed 1968.