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The Bull Inn Tilsworth

Bull Farm Tilsworth December 2008
The former Bull Inn June 2008

The Bull Inn, Watling Street, Tilsworth (now Hockliffe)

It is not possible to say how long the Bull Inn was open. There are a number of 17th and 18th century references to Bull Inns in Hockliffe. The Bull in Tilsworth stood right against the Hockliffe boundary, on Watling Street which would have led most people to presume that it was in Hockliffe. The picture is also muddied by the Bull, also known as the Black Bull Inn, Chalgrave, which stood on the other side of Watling Street and is also referred to as being in Hockliffe! It is therefore not always possible to say which inn is meant. Following boundary changes the former Bull Inn today [2012] does lie in Hockliffe.

The earliest reference to a Bull in the area is in 1623 when when Sir Thomas Hillersdon of Ampthill mortgaged an inn called The Bull "in Hockliffe" with a three acre close to a number of people [GA469]. This seems a little unlikely to be the Tilsworth Bull as it was part of the Manor of Tilsworth in 1804 and the natural assumption (though assumptions can be dangerous) is that it had always been so; Hillersdon was Lord of the Manor of Hockliffe. The accounts of the Howbury Estate mention repairs to "the Bull in Hockley" amounting to £30/13/11 paid in January 1634 [PO1].

There is a reference to a Bull Inn in Hockliffe in the Assize records for 1671 [HDA1671/W/79]. John Dier, Husborne Crawley 4 July 1670. John Dier of Husborne Crawley worked as a shoemaker in Barnet [Hertfordshire] and had been asked by one Roger Norris to go with him to the "Kingdome of Ireland". Accordingly they set out together at 4 o'clock on the afternoon of Friday 1st July, reaching Redborne [Hertfordshire] about ten o'clock that evening. They ate, drank, and moved on to Market Street that night. They then moved on towards Dunstable but "betweene Markett Street and Dunstable they stayed in the highway and there they fell out and beate one another and the said Roger Norris pursuing the said John Dier with blowes drave him back into the wheate lands and there the said John Dier confessed he knocked downe the said Roger Norris with a crabtree cudgill which was before sun riseing the next morning and immediately after that blow the said John Dier went away from the said Roger Norris and after the said John Dier was gone a little way the said Roger Norris appeared at the lands and againe and the said John Dier went from thence to Hockliffe in the county of Beds. and there stayed about an houre at the sign of the Bull in Hockliffe and from thence he came to Wooburn in the County aforesaid". Dier was arrested on his way to Woburn on suspicion of stealing a razor and sheath, scissors and 12/6 from Norris.

In 1678 the Hockliffe parish register records the burial of Martha Swaine. She was buried on 23rd January and was noted as: "a stranger dying at the Bull" Another legal case mentioning the Bull in Hockliffe occurs ten years after John Dier's sojourn at the Bull, in 1681 when Anne Coleman have evidence of goods being stolen from her house in Walton [Buckinghamshire] and the culprit being apprehended at the Bull. It is described as the house of Mary Painter [AD3272].

The Bull Farmhouse building was listed by the former Department of Environment and was described as 18th century. This means, with regard to the 17th century references that either: the assessment of the 18th century date is wrong; or the old Bull was demolished and rebuilt in the 18th century; or that the Bull in the 17th and early 18th century records really was in Hockliffe, or the Black Bull in Chalgrave, and not the Bull in Tilsworth. On current evidence at Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service it is not possible to say which but one must lean towards the latter explanation.

The first definite mention of this inn, comes in the Tilsworth Estate Sale particulars of 1804 [AD534/4] when it was part of a farm occupied by William Arrowsmith. The inn is described thus: "a Brick and Tiled Messuage, containing, Two Parlours, Two Kitchens, Bar, Pantry, Cellar and Five Bed Chambers, a Brick and Tiled Brewhouse, Five Stables (Brick and Timber weatherboarded and Thatched), Three Barns, containing 10 Bays, Cowhouse, Woodhouse, Cattle Lodge and Piggery (Timber weatherboarded and Thatched, and Site of Buildings &c.). The estate, including the inn, was not sold at that time.

In 1806, two years after the intended sale of the Tilsworth Estate, the Lord of the Manor Charles Chester sold the inn to William Arrowsmith [T41/1-2], who mortgaged the premises in 1809 [T41/4-5]. William Arrowsmith died in 1813, leaving the premises to his wife, Mary, who, in 1815, married James Welch of Potsgrove. In 1820 Mary Ann Warner, the mortgagee from 1809, sold the Bull , so Mary evidently defaulted on the mortgage. The inn was sold to Sir Gregory Osborne Page-Turner, who later also acquired the Manor of Tilsworth [T41/11], the property thus returning to manorial control after fourteen years.

The Bull Inn is last mentioned in a directory of 1854. The licensee, John Inwards, was buried on 15th June that year, aged 70 and it seems as if the inn closed, the building reverting to a farmhouse.


  • AD534/4: sale particulars of Tilsworth Manor Estate: 1804;
  • T41/1-2: conveyed by Charles Chester to William Arrowsmith: 1806;
  • T41/10: devised by William Arrowsmith to his wife: 1813;
  • T41/8-9: part of marriage settlement of James Welch with Mary, widow of William Arrowsmith: 1815;
  • T41/11: conveyed by Mary Ann Warren to Sir Gregory Osborne Page-Turner: 1820;
  • CLP13: Register of alehouse licences: 1822-1828

List of Licensees: note that this is not a complete list; entries in italics refer to licensees where either beginning or end, or both, dates are not known: 

1804: William Arrowsmith;
1822-1826: Thomas Clarke;
1827-1828: William Inwards;
1841-1854: John Inwards