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The Dukes Head Public House Totternhoe

The former Dukes Head January 2010
The former Duke's Head January 2010

The Duke's Head Public House: 26 Knolls View, Totternhoe

The Duke's Head Public House was built some time between 1806 and 1820. In 1806 William Howard the elder of Hemel Hempstead [Hertfordshire], merchant and John Duterrau of Bond Street, London, watchmaker assigned the leasehold of a close of pasture called Spilman's, a cottage built on part of the close, an orchard lying to the west and a close abutting to the north to Dunstable brewer Thomas Burr [Z172/4]. In 1820 Burr redeemed the Land Tax on the property by paying a lump sum and the Dukes Head Public House is mentioned as being part of the land [Z172/5]. It would, therefore, seem as if Burr converted the cottage standing in Spilman's Close into a public house called the Duke's Head soon after acquiring it in 1806.

Thomas Burr died in 1835 and devised his real estate to his nephew Edward Burr when he became 21 (in 1840). In 1843 the property was put up for sale by auction along with the rest of Burr's Dunstable Brewery [BH409]. The sale particulars describe it as: "a newly brick-built and slated House…containing Tap, Parlor [sic], Pantry, Wash-house, Cellars, and four Bed Rooms. Garden in front, Yard with Pump of Water therein, Cow-house, Piggeries, Stable, Barn and Wood-house, Garden, Orchard and Paddock, containing altogether about 1 acre, 2 roods. Two Common Rights for one Cow each, or one Horse together, belong to this Lot". John Bellington was in occupation at an annual rent of £12 per annum. The particulars note that the leasehold term had begun in 1636 for 750 years. In 1844 the leasehold of the Dukes Head was assigned for £300 to Frederick and Charles Burr who were brewers in Luton [Z172/6].

In 1851 the Duke's Head was again up for sale as Frederick Burr's Luton Brewery sold off nine public houses [X95/251]. The description was little different to that in 1843 except that the total land now comprised 1 acre, 3 roods, 14 poles. John Billington was still in the occupation. The leasehold was assigned to John Andrew Groome of King's Langley [Hertfordshire], brewer, that same year for £275. Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service also has a plan of the Duke's Head and adjoining property by Luton surveyor John Cumberland dated 1862 [Z172/8]. The plan appears below, to see a larger version, please click on the image.

Plan of the Dukes Head and surrounding area in 1862 [Z172-8]
Plan of the Duke's Head and surrounding area in 1862 [Z172/8]

Interestingly, the Duke's Head does not appear in directories in the 1850s or 1860s. Either the owner or tenants did not pay for entries, or the public house closed, or it lost its full licence and became a beerhouse (as these were not named in directories). The Duke's Head does appear in the Luton Petty Sessionall icensing register beginning in 1872 [PSL6/1].

 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 Duke's Head [DV1/C105/1-2] noted that it was owned by Benskins of Watford [Hertfordshire], who must have bought it from the Groome family at some point, and occupied by James Turvey, who paid £12 per annum rent. The property was built in brick and slate and stood in just over a sixth of an acre.

The fully licensed house comprised a tap room, living room, kitchen and cellar with three bedrooms and a boxroom above. A brick and slate stable for two horses, a pig sty and a weather-boarded and corrugated iron hen house ("very poor") stood outside.

Trade consisted of twelve gallons of beer, a dozen bottles of beer. A half a pint of spirits and a dozen minerals per week. Weekly takings are not recorded (publicans often claimed not to know what they were). The valuer commented: "Outside village. Isolated spot".

The Duke's Head was still open in 1953 but had closed by the mid 1980s. It seems as if the old public house was altered and extended to form the private dwelling on the spot today [2010].


  • Z172/4: assignment of the leasehold of Spilman's Close and a cottage: 1806;
  • CLP13: register of alehouse licences: 1822-1828;
  • Z172/5: Copy certificate of redemption of Land Tax: 1820;
  • CLP13: Register of alehouse licences: 1822-1828;
  • BH409: sale particulars: 1843;
  • Z172/6: assignment of the leasehold of the Duke's Head: 1844;
  • X95/251: sale particulars: 1851;
  • Z172/7: assignment of leasehold of the Duke's Head: 1851;
  • Plan of the Duke's Head and surrounding area: 1862;
  • PSL6/1: Register of Alehouse Licences - Luton Petty Sessional Division: 1872-1901;
  • Z611/1: reference to the Duke's Head in a notice regarding the regulation and inclosure of the commons and common fields: 1888;
  • PSL6/2: Register of Alehouse Licences - Luton Petty Sessional Division but without Luton Borough premises: 1929-1954.

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

1822: Thomas Pratt;
1840: Thomas Horton;
1843: John Bellington or Billington;
1872: Richard Pratt;
1878: Fanny Pratt;
1892: James Turvey;
1930: Jesse Richard Turvey;
1951: Jonathan Cooper;
1953: Leslie Fred Andrews