The Beer Houses of Stoke

The Beerhouse Act 1830 liberalised the regulations governing the brewing and sale of beer. It was not finally repealed until 1993. The Act enabled any rate-payer to brew and sell beer on payment of a licence costing two guineas (£2.10 in modern money). The intention was to increase competition between brewers and encourage people to drink beer instead of strong spirits.

The passage of the Act during the reign of King William IV led to many taverns and public houses being named in his honour, including the King William in Stathe Road. Other local beer houses were the George (later the Black Smock); the Railway Inn (later The Pigeons); the Anchor & Hope in Curload; The Angel and the Rose & Crown in Woodhill; the Cottage Inn & The Kings Head in Athelney.

These were not the ‘village pubs’ that became popular in the 20th century, when Stoke families began to have more disposable income, largely due to the withy growing and basket making industries. They served as places where business transactions took place, but often the tavern was also where Father might go each winter week day and sit with one pint of beer for the evening. The penny this would cost far outweighed that of heating the cottage. Mother and the children would wrap up well and go to bed.

Railway Hotel

The Yeovil to Taunton railway was built by the Bristol & Exeter Railway to connect its main line with the market town of Yeovil. It opened in 1853 using the 7ft broad gauge and was the firs railway to serve Yeovil. It ran from Durston Junction, but later improve,ments meant that trains could travel in to Taunton. The Railway Hotel was built to cater for the passengers on the line, including business reps visiting local farms and businesses.
   In 1868, a Mr H. Trenchard applied for a full license, on behalf of Mr Charles Boobyer Garland, for a house situated near the Athelney railway station. “The applicant said the house contained six rooms on the ground floor, and had stabling for 14 horses.” The license was granted in August of that year. He was still landlord in 1894, but by 1902 Sidney Hearle had taken over. At the time of the great flood of 1929 the landlord was a Mr Major. In the photo the licensee was named Woodland.

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The 'Tea Drinkers' Skittles team

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The Athelney Inn

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The Kings Head

Another Beer House originally catering for the boating community, but later popular with the withy workers after a day’s cutting. The cider barrels were placed on a slightly raised platform in the front room.

    In 1859, Samuel Winchester, who kept the Kings Head with his wife Elizabeth, was summoned by the police for having his house open for the sale of beer after 10 o'clock. The Taunton Courier reported P.C. Alex Layes’ statement in court: “The defendant is the landlady of the King's Head beerhouse, Stoke St. Gregory. About 25 minutes before 11 o'clock I went to this house. I found the front door closed, but not fastened. I opened it and walked in. I found two men sitting there. One was leaning upon a table, upon which stood two empty cups; the other was sitting in the middle of the room smoking, and before him I saw a cup partly filled with something. He asked me to drink, and I took up the cup and tasted. It was malt liquor. The landlord was sitting between the two men; the landlady was upstairs. I called the landlord's attention to the time. I was then told that his daughter was very ill, and that they expected her death, and were sitting up with her. I left the house and remained outside till about five minutes before 11 o'clock, when the two men came out and were followed by a third, who I believe to be a relative of the family. I understood that he was upstairs at the time I went into the house. The landlord then asked me if I would have anything to drink, and offered to fetch it if I would, but I declined.” Mrs. Winchester replied: “I believe it is all true what the constable has said; but I drew the beer before ten o'clock. The gentleman I drew it for is here to prove that. Mr. Allen: We don't call upon you for any witnesses. We consider, as you say, that the persons were sitting up with you for the reason stated.” The case was dismissed.

    In 1918, Harriett Winchester was landlady of the Kings Head. She was still there in 1927.

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The Railway Hotel (Later The Pigeons)

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The Floods of 1929

Athelney Inn

On the other side of the railway was the Athelney Inn. It had started life as a pair of cottages used to house workers building the new branch line to Yeovil. From the late 1850s Robert (or Richard?) Keirle, aged 41, ran the Beerhouse with his wife Eliza, aged 23. It had various licensees during its lifetime: Walter & Frances Hill in 1918 and 1927; Rose Larder in 1935; John Small in 1939. The skittle alley at the Athelney Inn was notorious for sloping off towards the river. In 1858 Mr Keirle was fined (50p) for “selling beer at undue hours, on Sunday, 30th May. The case was proved by P.C. Mortimer, and another witness, and defendant was fined 10s including costs.”

The Hope & Anchor

This beer house, by the river at the bottom of Curload Hill, was run by Bernard (or Barnard) Cousins in 1861. He was married to his second wife with the wonderful name of Hephzibah Leahy. In 1851 Barnard had been a cordwainer (a shoemaker who is allowed to make shoes from new leather, as opposed to a cobbler who can only repair shoes or make them from recycled leather) in Bedminster, and his then wife, Elizabeth was a shoe binder. By 1871, Barnard and Hephzibah had moved from Stoke and taken the George in Middlezoy. This was one of many watering holes that sprung up along the river bank to cater for the various boating families that passed by.

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Kings Head in 1880

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Harriet Winchester outside an extended Kings Head

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Stanmoor Road

A puzzling entry appears in the transcription of the 1861 Census. Edward Pocock aged 38, is listed as a Beerhouse keeper, with the address - ‘Stanmoor Road, Love 4,Let Lane’ and 'love 4, let lane beer house'. This appears as the entry next to that of the Kings Head. Like many Athelney residents he had been a boatman ten years earlier.

Cottage Inn

Also in Athelney was the Cottage Inn, in 1861 run by George Watts, brother of Lot Watts, the blacksmith in the Square. George was also a coal dealer. The stocks of coal would have been delivered right to his house on the river bank before the railway arrived.

    His misdemeanours included selling short measures. The following appeared in the Taunton Courier 14 August 1861. “Deficient Weights and Measures. The following persons were summoned Mr. Superintendent Goldsmith, for deficient measures: George Watts, beer house keeper, Stoke St. Gregory; Bernard Cousins, Stoke St. Gregory; Samuel Winchester, Stoke St. Gregory, Edward Pocock, beer house keeper, Stoke St Gregory.” They were all found guilty and fined.

The Angel Inn

In 1861, a John Hembrow ran the Angel Inn in Woodhill, with his wife Grace, who was originally from West Hatch. John’s brother Charles, a Withy Merchant, also lived with them. In the 1871 census, John was listed as a farmer, Grace having taken over as landlady of the beer house. In 1881, John was still farming at the age of 56. Their granddaughter, Bessie Loveridge, was now living with them. Brother Charles, still a withy dealer, had moved to Hancocks (later Hancox) Farm. In an interview, Doreen Loveridge recalled her grandparents running the Angel as a pub and Floss David (Patten as was) remembered stripping withies in the yard behind the big gates.

NEXT - The Royal Oak and The Rose & Crown,

with Samuel Loveridge, Farrier,and John Squire, Higgler