Kings Arms Bedford
‘When far away from friends so dear, we console ourselves with Kings Arms beer!’
BLARS has recently purchased at auction a visitors’ book for the Kings Arms Hotel, St Mary’s Street, Bedford, which covers the years 1905 - 1938 [Ref.Z1340/1/1]. The proprietor for most of this time was Albert Tamkin, who was succeeded in 1936 by his son Alec.
The book gives us an idea of the type of visitor to whom the hotel played host. There are many visitors from London, Birmingham and Cambridge, and some from farther afield; George F Blamire from Cape Town, South Africa in September 1906, F.Schlichs from Dusseldorf in 1909, and Tod Sloan from New York in December 1910. There are many entries from members of Cycling Clubs and Motor Clubs, who stayed overnight after a long journey, or whilst on a tour. A regular visitor, P.L.Brasig, illustrated the penny farthing he had first ridden to the pub ‘how I came 25 years ago’, the car he presently drove, and drew a flying machine ‘how I hope to come in the future’ [see above].
At one stage in March 1907 friends and frequent visitors Joe Longmore and R J Pilkins kept just missing each other and used the book to communicate; ‘Good old Joe, just before me again!’ writes Pilkins, ‘Why do we miss so often? And in such a nice place too!’ replies Joe, ‘On reflection perhaps God, or Providence is wise. There might have been too much ‘Bumble’ and I am sure Tammy’s stock of scotch wouldn’t have held out’ returns Pilkins. Many of the comments reflect on the warm welcome and good food; ‘well served tea’, ‘grub ripping’, ‘came to stay one night but stopped six!’, ‘there’s only one fault, the bed is so bally comfortable you can’t get up in the morning!’. The popularity of the landlord and his staff was evident. On 9th Feb 1908 E Leach of Hanover Gardens, London wrote ‘Had several scotches with landlord, he’s a brick, have been here before and will never come to Bedford without visiting Kings Arms’. Henry G Arnold who visited from Hitchin considered ‘Everything ideal, including the charming maid’.
The quality of the beer and scotch available is repeatedly noted. One 1911 visitor, perhaps drowning his sorrows, was moved to poetry: ‘Here’s to Tamkin’s whisky, so amber and so clear, ‘tis not so sweet as woman’s lips , but a damned sight more sincere’. Many guests expressed themselves in verse. In September 1910 ‘When Smiths, Drew, Faulkeners in Bedford meet, they all look round for a snug retreat, To the King’s Arms they wend their way, with beer and grub they feel all gay. ‘ L. Heggate of the ‘London & North Western Railway Bridge Scrapers Union’ wrote: ‘When to Bedford Town you go, And a real good house you want to know, Where ease & comfort you may find, with moderation well combined (For a stomach that is fully lined, Brings ease unto a troubled mind), At the Kings Arms, Bedford, you must stay, You’ll never want to go away’.
Some guests appeared to have been in the bar for a while before signing the book, such as E.G.Croager from Amersham ‘I lost my lager! Very good, never mind, I got another’, and ‘illegible’ of London, enjoyed a ’lock in’ ‘Here with my beer, I sit, while golden moments flit; Alas!, they pass, unheeded by, And as they fly, I, being dry, sit idly sipping here, my beer’. Accompanying this is a sketch of a cat ‘out 9pm, home 5am’ [see below right].
Other comments reflect on national events ‘Very good hotel but don’t come to Bedford when the King dies’, wrote Claude A Cooper from Ilford & the Isle Of Man on 20 May 1910, the date of the funeral of Edward VII. Tantalisingly, one of their many repeat visitors signed himself 12th August 1908 as ‘Harvey Crippen, London, & wife’ comment ‘Fare very good, attendance regular’. However, it is doubtful this was the notorious wife murderer Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen, as he signs in the same clear hand ‘H C Crippen’ on his earlier visit on 14 July 1906!