Today, Wistow is a small village with The Three Horseshoes its only surviving public house. However, at one time, Wistow was home to up to seven (or even possibly eight) pubs, which is even more incredible when you consider that in the past the population of the village was considerably less than it is today. The census for 1881 shows that Wistow’s population of only 340 was being served by seven pubs. Given these numerous opportunities for wetting ones whistle, one can only surmise that agricultural work was an extremely thirsty business, and you wonder how straight the furrows were!
Thanks go to the current residents for providing information to help in the preparation of this article.
For the sake of simplicity we’ll take the pubs in alphabetical order.
The Chequers used to be along Church Street and is now called The Cottage, owned by Paul and Wendy Turner. It was built in the middle of the 19th century, probably between 1840 and 1860, and may originally have been a smallholding. It was operating as a pub by 1851, and the census of that year shows the publican to be Robert Squires, who was also a milkman, and who lived there with his son and daughter. Robert was publican until at least 1881, but by 1891 it had been taken over by his son Frederick who was described as “publican and farmer”.
It appears that the pub was acquired by the Falcon Brewery of Huntingdon in 1899, and it is probable that the publican brewed his own beer on the premises up to that time. The property was sold in 1950 to East Anglian Breweries when Falcon Brewery went into liquidation, but appears to have ceased trading as a pub in 1933. During its life as a pub, a public footpath used to run out of the village through the garden, providing access from Upwood and The Raveleys.
The Exhibition is now called Toll Farm, the home of the Garton family, and stands on the main road at Wistow toll opposite the road into Wistow village. It is, strictly speaking, in the parish of Warboys but, as it is much closer to Wistow than Warboys, it is included as a Wistow pub.
It first appears as a “beer house” in the census of 1861, Longland Fuller being named as publican and farmer with his wife Mary and their two children. By 1871 William Garton was the publican, as well as being a cattle dealer and farmer, with his wife Martha, and he continued until the early 1900s when Martha took over, presumably on the death of William.
THE FLEUR DE LIS
The Fleur de Lis (now spelt Fleur de Lys and the home of Alan and Jean Duke) directly facing Bridge Street was operating as a pub into the 1950s. The present building was built around 1860 and stands on the site of an earlier pub called The Cross Keys which is believed to have burned down. The Cross Keys was probably built in the 17th or 18th century and, from evidence of the old foundations found by Alan and Jean, was orientated diagonally to the present building.
The 1851 census shows the landlord to be John Cope, “brewer, farmer and shopkeeper”, with his wife Ann and three children. By 1861 the publican was William Cope, believed to be John’s son; William’s wife Precious had taken over by 1871. In 1881 the publican was noted as Sarah Butler, and then Charlotte Garton took over until at least 1911.
The Fleur de Lis was certainly trading as a pub in 1871 when it was sold by auction. In the auction details it was described as a “Free Public-House” and sold with “newly-erected brick and tile brewhouse, barn, stable, and other convenient outbuildings; along with a very large garden”. It was further described as “an excellent business, that has been carried out on the premises for several years”. At this time, beer was obviously brewed on the premises.
The last publican and owner was Ted Clarke, who was also an undertaker. Coffins were made on the premises and the hearse used to be parked in the back garden. A blacksmith, a Mr Halam, who lived in Broughton, used to operate from one of the outbuildings. The story goes that, towards the end of the pub’s life, Ted Clarke got “a bit shaky” and used to bring a tray up from the cellar with a pint of beer, plus a small extra glass to top up what he had spilled from the pint. Mrs Clarke was well known for her “Fair Isle” – style knitting. It was apparently common practice for customers to move back the hands of the clock on the wall in order to procure a bit more drinking time.
It was also usual for people to cycle in from surrounding farms to catch the bus from Wistow, and they would leave their bikes in the pub barn. Alan and Jean still have the sign saying “Cycles Stored Here”. They also have a black metal sign, citing the Rights of Way Act, which carries the name of Huntingdon Breweries; it is unclear if the pub was ever owned by the brewery, as it is believed that it always traded as a free house.
THE KING WILLIAM IV
Very little is known about Wistow’s eighth pub, which apparently stood on Bridge Street on the opposite side to the Oddfellows Arms. The only reference that can be found is in a map of 1832 showing enclosure details and the King William IV is shown as a beer-house or public house. As William IV only took the throne in 1830, the pub either had only just opened then, or was an existing pub that changed its name. The landlord, or possibly the owner, was listed as Thomas Meadows. No subsequent records can be found.
THE ODDFELLOWS ARMS
The Oddfellows is now called Bridge House and is lived in by Althea and David Walker. It occupies a site on Bridge Street adjacent to the old Post Office. The property was built, probably during the 1830s, by a Thomas Meadows, but occupied by a Mr Alpress. However its first mention as a public house came in the census of 1861.
The 1861 census showed an Eliza Wilkinson, widow and beer house keeper, living at the Oddfellows Arms with her 5 children aged from 1 to 11 years. In the 1851 census there are Eliza and Joseph Wilkinson living in Bridge Street but, as the house names and numbers are not given, it is difficult to know if they were in this particular property at that time. Her husband Joseph has died and her eldest son, Joseph (11), was listed as an agricultural labourer. Mary (8) and William (6) were scholars. The probability here is that, when her husband died, Eliza needed to open up her home as a beer house in order to make some money and feed her family; the same reason that 11 year old Joseph was sent to work in the fields. This is an interesting insight into the home economics of more than a century and a half ago.
By the 1871 census Thomas and Ann Peach were at the Oddfellows Arms living with their nephew Charles. Thomas Peach, aged 51, was listed as an agricultural labourer and publican. Thomas and Ann had had a son called William, who was also listed as an agricultural labourer in the 1861 census, when the family lived together in another dwelling in Bridge Street. William was 18 years old when he died on November 28th the same year that the census was taken, as can be seen on his gravestone in Wistow churchyard.
In the 1881 census George Harding, “agricultural engine driver and publican”, lived with his family in the Oddfellows Arms, having moved there from Manor Street. However by the 1891 census, although George Harding’s family still live in the cottage, he is no longer listed as a publican but as an agricultural labourer, so it appears that the pub ceased trading during the 1880s.
As an interesting background to the name of the pub, it seems that Eliza Wilkinson must have joined up to the Oddfellows friendly society and meetings were held in her pub – hence the name.
The Plough, on the corner of Church Street and Bridge Street and now a private house called The Old Plough, was a pub until 1955. At the time that it closed it was owned by East Anglian Breweries of Ely and was sold by the brewery for what seems now the incredible price of £1,000. The publican at the time it was sold was Charlie Matlis, an ex-policeman, who had taken over a few years earlier from the Buddle family; following the sale, Mr Matlis moved to be the publican at the Three Horseshoes. As a private house it was initially known as Crossways, until Pat and Geoff Thornton bought it in 1966 and renamed it The Old Plough.
The pub had no bar, beer being served directly to the customers from barrels kept on duck boards over a wet floor in the lean-to. Refreshments were served from a wooden shed. Darts was a popular pursuit, and until recently it was possible to see the depressions where the players threw from. A small back room had a piano, and a larger function room was used for meetings and social occasions. Across the yard a gate led to the bowling green which lay where the modern Crown Green House now stands; despite the name, the version of bowls played was flat green, not crown green as played in the north of England. The bowling green closed towards the end of the 1940s. John Abraham remembers that, in the late 1930s, the youngsters of the village would sit on the cellar steps and be given small glasses of beer.
Saturday nights were memorable times. When the darts players and domino groups had a break, the “Kitty” (an old cigar box) was put on the table and everyone was required to sing. Those people who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, sing had to put at least sixpence or a shilling into the Kitty in order to be let off. Customers’ beer mugs were kept topped up from gallon jugs, and last orders were called at 10.30.
A rare and unusual local version of skittles, known as Four Corners, was played in the pub, a similar game also being played at Woodwalton and Upwood. The game involved knocking over four 2’ high solid wooden skittles using a wooden “cheese”; lighter cheeses were available for the ladies. The front skittle was called the Jenny, and, as can be imagined, was extremely battered. A former landlord before the war, Mr A Whitehead, did not allow gambling, and the large inscription “Please Notice this Notice no Gambling A.W.” can still be seen on the wooden beams of the outbuilding in which the skittles were played. It is believed that the notice was not very effective in preventing wagers on the outcome of skittle games.
The Plough used to be at the centre of village life. It was the custom of the British Legion to parade to church and then repair to The Plough for a great tea and jollity before, much later, parading back to Warboys.
Going a little further back, in 1841 the landlord was Faithful Chapman and his wife Mary, who employed a brewer called John Bond. The census for 1851 has the publican as Samuel Samworth with his wife Drusilla and two children, and they were there until at least 1871; one of the children, Edward, went on to become the landlord at Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The census for 1881 shows the publican to be a Joseph Middledich who lived there with his wife Ann and two young daughters. In 1891 it was run by Arthur Chapman who is listed as “butcher and publican”, and the census for 1901 shows the publican to be a Joseph Howes who lived there with his wife Caroline and three sons.
THE THREE HORSESHOES
This is Wistow’s only remaining pub, run by Julia and Gerry Berry since 2005. It is a very attractive thatched building which was believed to have been built sometime in the 1700s and has long been a focal point for the village. At one time the local harness maker lived next door.
In 1832 the pub was operated by John Page, and the 1841 census shows the publican to be Thomas Page, along with his wife Lettice and five children; Thomas was possibly John’s son. By 1861 the pub was being run by Sarah Peach, in 1871 by John Cawent and his wife Elizabeth and their three children, in 1881 by Robert Squires and his wife, and then for a number of years by Joseph Howes and his wife Caroline and five children; by 1911, Caroline had taken over the pub.
In the years following the Second World War, the Three Horseshoes was at the centre of village social life. On Saturday nights, a lady played a baby grand piano in the bar, and as many as three “bookie’s runners” operated from the pub. Three darts teams played there, one for men, one for the ladies, and one for “gentlemen” i.e. the oldies. Saturday lunchtime was always a busy time, with all the farm workers retiring there once work had finished. The pub was also a meeting point for fox hunts; originally the Fitzwilliam, from Oakham in Rutland, and then the Burleigh from the early 1960s.
John Abraham recalls how he used to have a pet fox which he would take to the pub. The fox would lie quietly underneath the bench in the bar while John drank with his mates.
John and Eileen Cooper, who were the publicans from 1969 until 2003, were the first to end the pub being run as a tenancy when, in 1986, they obtained the freehold from Watney Mann.
Earlier photos of The three Horseshoes:
UNCLE TOM’S CABIN
Now called Ross House and owned by Tom and Carol MacInnes, it stands on Church Street next door to the Fleur de Lis. It is believed to have been built during the 1830s by a George Ross, a butcher, who is shown as the owner in the census of 1841.
The first mention of the property as a public house is in the census of 1871 when the landlord was a James Sansum who lived there with his wife Susannah and two children. By 1881 the publican was Edward Samworth with his wife Elizabeth and small daughter, Edward being the son of a previous landlord of the Plough. The publican in 1891 was Charles Elmore with his wife Sarah and seven children. It is believed that a Phoebe Creek took over the pub during the 1890s but after that there are no further mentions of the property being a public house.
It is known that a butchery business was run from the premises for a number of years, possibly into the early 1900s, and “fleshing” was carried out in the cellar. During road-works during the 1990s a pipe was found running from the cellar and down Bridge Street to the brook, presumably to carry away blood from the fleshing. Apparently, during the war, the cellar was used as an air raid shelter.