The Flying Duck beerhouse, Aspley Heath
Today, the only public house on Aspley Heath is the Royal Oak, situated at the bottom of Church Road. But in late Victorian times and the early years of the 20th century, walkers through the woods might quench their thirst at another establishment at the top of the hill: the Flying Duck, the property now known as the Old Heath House in Heath Lane. My grandparents, Harry and Dorcas Seabrook, were the house’s last licensees. The licence was surrendered in 1918, although they continued to live at the property until the mid-1950s, my parents staying on there for a little longer.
Dorcas Yarrow married my grandfather, Harry Seabrook, in 1898, and a few years later the couple moved up to the Heath to become landlords of The Flying Duck. This was his second marriage. His first marriage was to Eliza Elizabeth Gilbert at Wootton (near Kempston) in 1888, but she died in 1897 leaving him a widower with two children. According to my researches, he was then living in Wood Street. When he married Dorcas he moved to no.1 Chapel Street (next to Methodist church) and stayed there until 1903 when he moved to the top of the Heath. There would be five children born from the second marriage, though one died as an infant in 1904.
I'm told that the beerhouse was something of a family centre for generations of visiting Seabrooks and their in-laws! Incidentally I was brought up in this old house but Heath Lane never had a name as such in those days - the 1940s and 50s.
The first thing that must be said about the Flying Duck is that it wasn’t a public house in the way we understand the term today. Its status as a beer house, probably granted in the late 1860s, did not allow it to sell wines and spirits. Initially, it had a succession of short-lived tenants, but in 1880 the Ambrose family moved in and remained until 1903, when my grandparents took over.
The house was generally known as the Flying Duck, although sometimes it was referred to as the Heath Hotel - no doubt with tongue in cheek! From time to time lodgers were taken in but the main trade was serving beer and providing teas. The customers included not only local people but also visitors to the nearby sanatoriums and day trippers from as far afield as Bletchley and Bedford - such was the popularity of the Heath. My late aunt, Bessie Hill, could remember helping her mother prepare food and wash up empty tankards after the drinkers had left. A few of these old glasses and pewter tankards have passed down to members of my family.
To Peters family memories, I can add the following facts:
Bedfordshire & Luton Archives and Records Service has a list of known Licensees from the Woburn Licensing book [BLARS PSW3/1], to which I have added some others found in newspaper reports:
????-1870 William Gooding
Unfortunately the old deeds of the property were lost when the Duke of Bedford’s premises in Holborn were bombed in the London blitz, so there is no trace of its early life, but from other sources, we have pieced together this timeline:
1861 - Census - no reference to the house. The late local historian Arthur Parker believed that Hammond was the original squatter who enclosed the land and built the cottage in the late 1860’s.
1870 - An unnamed beerhouse on Aspley Heath had its' license transferred from William Gooding to John Giles.
1871 - Census - this identifies the house, calling it the Flying Duck, but records that it was unoccupied. In July, The Luton Times recorded that the licence of The Duck beerhouse, Aspley Heath, was transferred to James Parrott.
1872 - In February, the Northampton Mercury reported that Thomas Ayres, bricklayer, was charged by James Parrott, landlord of the Duck beerhouse, of threatening to kill him. Witnesses were brought forward who proved the case. Ayres was ordered to find sureties to keep peace, to the amount of £10 himself and £10 each from two others.
1874 - The Northampton Mercury of February 28th records that the licence of an Aspley Heath beerhouse transfered from Joseph Northwood to George Boyes.
1876 - Register of Ale Houses. David Hammond is listed as owner and occupier of The Heath Cock.
1879 - Bucks Herald of 6th September: "ASPLEY HEATH. TO BE LET, with immediate Possession, THE HEATH INN, with about TWO ACRES of LAND. Apply to Messrs. ALLFREY and LOVELL, Newport Pagnell."
1880 - Bucks Herald of 15th May: "To Be Let - THE ASPLEY HEATH INN, with large Garden. For Particulars, apply to Messrs. ALLFREY and LOVELL, Newport Pagnell Brewery."
1881 - Census - Aspley Heath - No beerhouse name is given, but it lists Noah (George) Ambrose, 32, with the occupation "Chelsea Pensioner". He was born in Clothall, Hertford. His wife is listed as Agnes Ambrose, 33, from Chesham, but the name Ann is used in all other records. Martha Prun, Agnes’ widowed mother, aged 72, was also in the house. She was a former lacemaker who was also from Chesham. From Noahs' military pension records, he was Private 3982, who left the army in January 1880, after just short of 13 years service in the 1st Batt. Scots Foot Guards, including 5 years and 8 months in the East Indies. His discharge was due to no longer being fit for active service, but "his conduct has been that of a good and efficient soldier, trustworthy and sober. He is in possession of three Good Conduct Badges." His army papers record he was intending to live at St Albans.
1883 - Sale Sold by David Hammond and Sarah Jane Deverell to Robert Tucker Pain of Bromley in Surrey but there is no record of his holding the license himself. [BLARS Bedford Office index]
1885 - Baptism Noah and Ann baptise Albert William at St Michaels. Noah is described as an Innkeeper.
1887 - Beds Times 15th October "Aspley Heath Hotel - To be sold - A Freehold House and Premises known as the "Heath Hotel" with a portion of the ground now occupied by the tenant of the house - Apply to Geo. Whitman, House and Estate Agent, Aspley Guise."
1888 - Mortgage Pain mortgaged to John T Green. [BLARS Bedford Office index]
1890 - Directory Noah Ambrose - Beer Retailer.
1891 - Licensing Report states "Duck, on the Heath" had a "On and Off without Wine License", and had been licensed prior to 1869.Owned by and tied to Morris and Co, of Ampthill, and occupied by Noah Ambrose. Rental £10 p.a., Rateable value £9 and has not had license transferred in the last 10 years.
1891 - Census - house described as Heath Hotel, Ambrose family plus lodgers are recorded.
1894 - Directory - Noah Ambrose - Beer Retailer.
1894 - Beds Times, 15th September: "WOBURN SANDS. A Natural History Ramble. On Saturday afternoon party visitors from Bedford, by kind permission of the Duke Bedford, spent a pleasant time in search of natural history objects in the woods of Woburn. Aspley and Woburn Sands. Among them were Messrs. A. Ransom, R. Stride Ager. A. E Hawkins. P. W. Barker. J. Harason, G. D. Allen, and H. Studman, of Woburn, who, with Mr. A. Ransom, piloted the party through the woods, and pointed out some charming views, especially one in the direction of Woburn, and the magnificent panorama visible from the heights above Bow Brickhill. After visiting Aspley Woods the naturalists wandered through “Beech Hundreds” to Bow Brickhill, returning through Wavendon Woods to the Aspley Heath Hotel, where justice was done to the generous entertainment offered the house."
1898 - Directory - Noah Ambrose - Beer Retailer.
1901 - Census - house described as the Duck Inn, Ambrose family and barman recorded.
1903 - Directory - Noah Ambrose - Beer Retailer.
1903 - Licensing Report States "Heath Hotel" still under Noah Ambrose, and owned by Morris & Co. Rental was now £20, Rateable value £16 "Clean and in fairly good repair".
1910 - Directory - Harry Seabrook, beer retailer.
1914 - Directory - Harry Seabrook, beer retailer.
1917-18 - Closed Sold to Duke of Bedford, and beer license withdrawn.
Postscript: Noah Ambrose died in 1932, aged 83. His wife Ann died in 1923, aged 76. Their son, Albert William, died at the young age of 23 in 1907, living in The Leys, Woburn Sands. Harry Seabrook died aged 87, in 1954, his wife Dorcas died aged 79 in 1958.