Skip Navigation

Welcome to Bedford Borough Council

Home > Community Histories > Totternhoe > The Cross Keys Public House Totternhoe

The Cross Keys Public House Totternhoe

The Cross keys between 1902 and 1911 [Z1130/127]
The Cross Keys between 1902 and 1911 [Z1130/127]

The Cross Keys Public House: 201 Castle Hill Road, Totternhoe

The Cross Keys Public House was listed by the former Department of Environment in April 1952 as Grade II, of special interest. The listing description gives a 17th century date. The building has a timber-framed first floor with brick nogging (i.e. infill between the timber framing) and a colourwashed brick ground floor. It comprises one storey and attics.

The earliest reference to the Cross Keys public house held by Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service is in the countywide register of licensed premises which begins in 1822 [CLP13]. It is thus not possible to say at what date the 17th century house became a licensed premises.

In 1829, following the death of the Earl of Bridgewater, his estate in Totternhoe was surveyed [BW1004]. The survey also included every building in the parish, whether owned by the estate or not (and at that date most were not). The survey showed that the Cross Keys was owned by a Mr. Hunt and occupied by John Clements, standing in one rood, one pole of land. A similar survey was carried out in 1840 and at that date the owner was listed as Thomas Hunt, John Clements still being in occupation 

The 1841 census reveals that John Clements had not been born in Bedfordshire; he was about forty and lived with his wife Sarah, who was about the same age. Living with them were their children John, aged 10, Mary, 5, Ann, 4 and Hannah aged 2.

Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has a book of rentals from 1847 to 1859. The first 146 or so pages are missing but James Clements at the Cross Keys is included [AD3725]. It is assumed that the properties listed belonged to Thomas Hunt. They include land and premises in four parishes besides Totternhoe - Markyate [Hertfordshire], Saint Albans [Hertfordshire], Dunstable and Kensworth. In 1848 Clements was paying £7/1/4 in rent, 14 shillings in Land Tax and 4/8 in Property Tax. By 1859 this was £10/3/1 in rent (he had also spent £1 in "repairs straw" which had been deducted from his rent showing that it would have been £11/3/1), 11/1½  in Land Tax and 2/4½  in Property Tax with 3/4 also paid in Income Tax (first paid in 1856).

In October 1859 the Cross Keys was sold at auction along with a farm at Markyate, two cottages at Kensworth and two farms in Totternhoe (one of which was Church End Farm). The public house was described as containing two bedrooms, a lumber room, club room, tap room, kitchen and pantry and the out buildings comprised a barn, cow house and piggery along with a small orchard and meadow - the whole holding coming to 3 roods, 32 poles. The particulars noted: "The House being an ancient Messuage, gives a right of Common for two Cows over the Cow Commons of the Parish".

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every piece of land and property in the country should be valued to determine its rateable value. Totternhoe, like much of Bedfordshire, was assessed in 1927 and the valuer visiting the Cross Keys [DV1/C101/107] noted that it was then owned by H. C. Hadrill and occupied by Frances Turner, who paid £20 per annum rent for public house and a further acre of land. The valuer noted: "but as a fact Tenant does internal repairs".

The brick and thatched building ("really a cottage") comprised a tap room, combined kitchen and scullery and living room downstairs with two bedrooms and a boxroom above and a cellar beneath. The valuer noted that the establishment was a free house with "poor accommodation, Tap room used as sitting room". Trade was three quarters of a barrel of beer and two dozen bottles of beer per week, "hardly any spirits (1 bottle in 4 months)". They also sold four dozen bottles of minerals per week.

Outside stood a large brick, weather-boarded and slated barn and three brick, weather-boarded and corrugated iron pig sties "Both of these are not used now as farm buildings". The valuer commented: "Does a little trade in teas?"

On 10th February 1941 fifty incendiary bombs were dropped on Castle Hill Road. One of these damaged a shed at the rear of the Cross Keys [WW2/AR/CO2/3]. More serious damage occurred in April 1966 [FSD/PC8] when a fire swept through the premises. The Fire Brigade from Dunstable took an hour and a half to extinguish the fire which completely destroyed the thatched roof and upper storey. Two problems the Brigade faced were low water pressure, meaning water had to be brought from the stream near Lane Farm, about a quarter of a mile away, and a strong wind which fanned the flames. The publican and his wife subsequently lived in a caravan in the grounds until the pub was repaired.

Thankfully the Cross Keys was restored and remains (with the Old Farm in Church Road) one of two public houses still open in Totternhoe. At the time of writing [2010] the public house also serves as a fish and chip shop on Thursday nights.

Fish and chip shop sign at the Cross Keys February 2010
Fish and chip shop sign at the Cross Keys February 2010


  • CLP13: Register of alehouse licences: 1822 - 1828;
  • BW1004: Totternhoe Estate survey: 1829;
  • BW1006: Totternhoe Estate survey: 1840;
  • AD3725: Rental: 1847-1859;
  • CRT130Tott5: photocopy of part of the sale catalogue: 1859;
  • PSL6/1: Register of Alehouse Licences - Luton Petty Sessional Division: 1872-1901;
  • PSL6/2: Register of Alehouse Licences - Luton Petty Sessional Division but without Luton Borough premises: 1929-1954;
  • WW2/AR/CO/2/3: bomb damage to shed at the rear of the premises: 1941;
  • FSD/PC8: Newspaper reports of a fire at the Cross Keys: 1966;
  • Bedfordshire Magazine Volume XXII, page 98: sketch by Bernard West: 1989;
  • Bedfordshire Magazine Volume XXIII page 106: photograph: 1991.  

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

1822: Mary Tompkins;
1824: John Clements;
1872: Mary Clements;
1902: Hannah Clements;
1911: Sidney Snelling;
1912: William Henry Clarke;
1913: Edward Bonner;
1913: Evelyn Owen Southwell;
1914: William Hubbocks;
1916: Frank Charles Newton;
1918: William Turner;
1923: Herbert William Tarner [Turner?];
1926: Mrs Frances Turner;
1949: Sidney James Else;
1966: Roy and Violet Barratt;
1986: Violet Alice Barrett;
1987: Brian Thomas Westbrook;
1992: Martin Edward Rutter.

The Cross Keys August 2009
The Cross Keys August 2009