The Fir Tree Inn, Woburn Sands
1900 - 1949
I include here a report of a wedding celebrated at The Fir Tree, not only as they were related to Benjamin Garrett, but also so you can see the level of detail that local newspaper reports went into at the time. From the Bucks Herald, 4th October, 1902:
"WAVENDON. Wedding. A pretty wedding was solemnised at Woburn Sands Church on Wednesday, 24th ult., the contracting parties being Mr. P. Charles Brill, second son of Mr. E. Brill, of Fen Farm, Wavendon, and Miss Katherine Louise Garrett, eldest daughter of the late Mr. R. Garrett, of Milton Keynes. The officiating clergyman was the Rev. G. Fiennes, of Milton Keynes. The bride was given away by her uncle, Mr. Harry Frost, of Oxford, Mr. Thomas Burgess acting as best man. After the ceremony a reception was held at the bride’s uncle's, Mr. B. Garrett, of the Fir Tree Hotel, where very pleasant time was spent. The presents were of a very useful character, and were follows:- Bride's mother, wedding dress and bath towels; bridegroom's father and mother, bedstead and bedding, mahogany dressing table, and glass marble clock, bride cake, whatnot, kitchen table, and half-dozen knives and forks; Mr. H. Frost (bride's uncle), breakfast service and brooms; Mrs. Frost, Damask tablecloth; Cousins Laura, spirit lamp and coffee pot; Archie, tea caddy; Roland, glass water jug; Dorris, jam dish and salts; Ivy, half-dozen plates; Mr. and Mrs. J. Frost, alarum timepiece; Mrs. J. Cox, afternoon tea cloth; Mr. Albert Frost, dish; Mr. Smith, cheese dish; Mr. B. Garrett (bride's uncle), devotional chair; Mrs. B. Garrett, various presents; bride's sisters, pictures, tea cosy, and cushion; bridegroom's two table lamps and ornaments; Mr. T. Burgees (friend to bridegroom and best man), half-dozen chairs; Rev. R. N. Barrett (Droylesden), Damask tablecloth; Mr. Stringer (Droylesden), antimacassars; Mr. F. and Miss A. Brazier, carving knife and fork; Mrs. and family (Crab Tree Farm), afternoon tea tray and ornaments; Miss Burgess, ornaments; Miss Cole (Newport Pagnell), silver jam spoon; Mr. F. Taylor (Guildford), ornaments; Mr. Odell table lamp; Mr. and Mrs. Tansley, china kettle; Cousins, Polly and Amy, egg stand, cruet, and pair ornaments; Sergeant and Mrs. Plater, silver butter dish; Mr. Bunce (Weston Turville), silver cruet; Mr. Collins (Fenny Stratford), handsome ornaments; Mr. Swain, trinket set; Mr. T. G. H. Berry, silver breakfast cruet; Mr. J. Dudley and Mr. McMurtrie, rocking chair; Miss Lucy Bithrey, ornaments; Mr. Charles Brill, overmantel; friend from Weston Turville, bath towels and socks; etc., etc. On Thursday evening another party was held at the bridegroom's parents. Fen Farm, when a very pleasant time was spent. The happy couple subsequently left for Oxford, where the honeymoon is being spent. The Woburn Sands Prize Band was in attendance, and rendered selections of music in excellent style."
There was another licensing report in 1903, which described the house as being clean and in good repair. The estimated yearly rental was £45, more than double the amount of The Royal Oak. Garrett again had to appear in court in a case against George Munn, who had been ejected from The Fir Tree, and found by the police on the highway, and was charged with being drunk and disorderly. The defendant did not appear, but was fined 10s with 9s 6d costs.
We are now well into the age of the captured image, and I am able to better illustrate this story. Cameras had been around since the 1840's, but I have seen very few photographs of Woburn Sands pre-1900. Pictures of the thatched version of The Friends Meeting House probably are, as it was demolished in 1901, to make way for the building we see today. People would have sat for portrait pictures, but these are usually indoors, and more often than not, have no details about who the sitter is. We know that Blake and Elgar, photographers of Bedford, held a studio every Thursday in the High Street in 1891.
Picture postcards changed all this. The Post Office had allowed postcards from 1894, although the image and message had to be on the same side until 1902. New production methods meant colour images were available more cheaply and more widely than ever before, and everyone clamoured for local views that they could send to their friends. Postcard collecting became a huge hobby, with many famous collectors. Everyone vied to have the most cards, which is why so many cards that can still be found today weren't actually sent, they were just filed away in albums, to be shown off to friends.
Fred Newman was one of the local postcard sellers in Woburn Sands. He had an antique shop, and obviously wanted visitors and passers by to enter, so what better than to have a rack of appealing local views by his door? He was a keen photographer himself, and one of his order books survives at Bedford. (BLARS Z251/174) That's how we know that Garrett bought six postcards of The Fir Tree in October 1905 from him. Whether he sold the cards on to his guests, used them to advertise the Hotel, or used them personally to send to friends, we cannot tell, but Garrett was eager to use images of the Hotel in adverts, as his entry in “Gregory's Guide and View Book of Woburn Sands, Aspley Guise and Woburn” in 1904 shows. This charming 64 page book is full of adverts for local businesses, postcard-type views and some history and description of the villages. The Fir Tree and The Swan are the only two adverts with photographs. There must have been some fierce rivalry between the two inns, both with such commanding positions in the centre of the village.
The main upstairs windows of the pub are decorated with planted window boxes. The text that ran with the picture was the standard piece he ran in local papers. The Hotel is also listed in the section under 'Apartments', and the Club Room also appears in the section on ‘Public Buildings’. The picture of the Swan looks quite stark by contrast, with no advertising hoardings or signs. The main text of the book itself waxes poetical about the delights of Woburn Sands, quoting at length from Bryant and Longfellow. This was on the back of the health resort reputation, but among the more picturesque descriptions, the author still finds place to complain about:
There is also a nice postcard of The Fir Tree produced by Gregory. A coloured picture with what looks to be the Garretts in all their finery stood in the entrance to the court yard, and the earliest version I have seen was sent in July 1905. There seems to have been some artistic licence taken with the hand-colouring, but it's a lovely picture. The ivy has spread higher up the outside of the main building, otherwise it looks very like the one used in Gregory's Guide.
Grand trips out to Woburn Sands continued to use the Fir Tree for their meals. In 1902, the Dunstable and District Unionist Club came, 50 strong, expecting to meet their candidate for South Beds, George Elliot, who was coming up from London. A telegram was received that sadly he had got to Dunstable and was not able to get a carriage to comlete the journey. Toasts and congratulations were made to Balfour on becoming Prime Minister.
Fortunately, these attractive views do not convey the smells of that time. Next door to the Fir Tree was a horse-carcass dealer, who had been threatened with court action in 1899, due to the highly unpleasent odours coming from his business. In 1903, the courts finally took action against Elmer and forbade him from conducting business there any longer, as it was considered injurous to local health, there being no sanitary arrangments on the premises whatsoever. Garrett appeared as a witness, and said how he had to keep his windows and doors closed when the smell was too bad. Elmer had sent his mother to defend him at the Court, and she was very disgruntled at the ruling!
In 1906, the Club Room was used for the inquest into the death of ‘Dot’ Farmer, a 43 year old labourer at the brickworks. He had helped out at the fire at The Cyclists Rest on his way home from work, and then later that evening was seen heading towards the clay pit ponds down by the station. Nothing was seen of him again, and his wife reported him missing the next day. The basket he had been seen carrying was discovered at the edge of one of the ponds, and it was dragged and his body recovered. There was speculation that he had been looking for plovers eggs, and may have been drinking. His wife Annie Eliza Farmer was left with six children to provide for. The jury handed over their fees for the case to the widow.
The Fir Tree Clubroom was used for more lively activities too, such as shooting! This report from the Beds Times, 9th February 1906:
"WOBURN SANDS. A very enjoyable friendly shooting match took place in the gallery at the “Fir Tree”, Woburn Sands, on Saturday evening, when a team of six, composed the main of non-commissioned officers of the “I” Bletchley Company of the 1st Bucks. V.R.C., travelled over to try with a local Woburn Sands “six”. The practice made was at times excellent, and the result was in doubt up to almost the last shot. At the first range the Fenny Stratford team led, but again at the second distance Woburn Sands went to the front, but not with sufficient points to wipe out their original deficiency, their visitors winning the match in the end the close margin of 6 points.”
Woburn Sands was featured in Home Life magazine in August 1906, under “How and Where to spend a Happy Holiday”. The piece told how to obtain a licence to be allowed to pick the wild flowers of the woods, and be allowed access to private areas of the woods. It again pushes the airs of the area as being beneficial to invalids, and quotes prices of 15s to 20s per week for apartments. The 3rd class fare from London was just 5s return.
Great excitement was caused when Lord Rothschild’s Stag Hounds chased a stag into the village in 1909, and they managed to corner it in the porch of the Henry VII Lodge, and once captured, the Fir Tree stables provided an impromptu pen to hold it. Also in 1909, the Bedfordshire Times recorded that Miss Mary Garrett, late of The Fir Tree had married Mr. Frank W. Jackson of The Leys.
In 1910, Garrett placed an advert in Kellys Directory, a precursor to the modern phone book. All the principle private residents of the town were listed, along with the commercial businesses, and information about posting times, public offices such as the overseers and a little history about the public buildings etc. His advert specified that the Hotel dated from 1889, and used the catchy tag-line of “If you want serving well, go to the Fir Tree Hotel”. A push was also given to the local woods and how nice they were to walk in. The boom time for visitors taking the airs was starting to wain. The advert featured the same Gregory postcard image as mentioned above. There was also a Tax Valuation this year, with the following description listed: "Ground: Bar and Jug Dept., Taproom, Smoke Room, Kitchen, Outside Kitchen for Summer Catering, store over. Basement: Cellar. First Floor: 4 Bedrooms. Two W.C.'s, Harness Room, Stable 3 boxes, 3 stalls with loft over, open carriage shed 3 bays, with dining & tea room over." Garrett was paying £25 a month in rent.
The next year, 1911, was a census year, and Benjamin, now 63, and his wife Catherine, 61, are recorded at The Fir Tree with one domestic servent and one visitor, Harry Holland, an engineer born in Manchester.
1912 was an eventful year for the pub and the Garretts. In January, a Woburn man, Albert Farr came to the pub, and said that his father, Frank Farr needed 15s. to pay to the Rector of Wavendon, before he could start doing a job there. Garrett knew Frank, and leant Albert the money with a receipt being given. Later Garrett met Farr Snr., who knew nothing about the job, and they realised they had been tricked. By the time police caught up with Albert, he had also tricked 30s. out of a stationer in Ampthill, with a story about needing money for the chauffeur of Woburn Abbey to pay a speeding fine, which was also untrue. As he had prior convictions for similar offences, he was sentanced to 9 months hard labour.
Garrett ran an advert on the front page of the Woburn and District Reporter from June to November, reading:
“If you want serving well go to THE FIR TREE HOTEL Woburn Sands, Family & Commercial Hotel. Established 1889. The Best Accommodation for Beanfeasts, School Treats, Parties and Cyclists. Special attention given to Large or Small Parties, Estimates submitted. Only the Best English Meat served. The Woods are now in all their Spring and Summer beauty, and are open to pedestrians. Those who have not visited Woburn Sands should not fail to do so this year. These Woods are open daily to the public from year to year. If you have not visited the Fir Tree Hotel, you will do well to give it a Trial, Satisfaction Guaranteed. Be sure and ask your Drivers to pull up at the "Fir Tree" for the best accommodation. Proprietor - B. GARRETT.”
In May, it was reported that:
In June, The Woburn Reporter ran a piece saying:
But by far the most intriguing newspaper reports began in September, and rumbled on for over a month. From the North Bucks Times and County Observer:
The Woburn Reporter also picked up the story the next week:
The first press report also prompted Garrett to write in to the North Bucks Times and County Observer and answer their piece:
However, this was not the end of the matter, and the story was soon embellished as it travelled around the district. Last word was left to the North Bucks Times and County Observer. Most of the fuss seems to have been just idle gossip:
...yet this did not turn out to be the case. Garrett was later sued by Mr. A. Boyes, the owner of “Sunny Villa”, a residence somewhere in Woburn Sands, for three months rent on the house. Mrs. Garrett had rented it at £16 p.a., but they had decided to leave before the lease was up. They tried to give notice, and had returned the keys, but this did not sway the court, and the Judge gave the case to the plaintiff with costs. It would seem that the Garretts had tried to leave in a hurry as they were taking over “The Greyhound” at Billington. It would not seem that the Newport Pagnell Brewery Company had contacted him and asked for his assistance, as The Greyhound was a Benskins pub. Whatever the reasons behind it, Benjamin Garrett took it over and ran the pub from June 1914 to December 1915. The inventory that Garrett took on from the last landlord, J. T. Kinder, survives at BLARS (BML10/7/15) and shows the contents of the inn, right down to three enamelled spittoons! Some of Garretts early correspondence regarding the Greyhound was written on "Fir Tree Hotel" headed notepaper, featuring Gregorys postcard view of the pub.
That is not the end of Garretts involvement in the areas pubs, as after the Greyhound, and a short stay in Leighton Buzzard, he returned to the local area and took “The Plough” at Wavendon. He was there in 1917 when Mrs. Garrett died, and was buried at Milton Keynes churchyard, and he was still there in 1919, according to the Register of Electors.
1913 to 1914 - Charles Henry Wynne
Back to the Fir Tree, and the new landlord in 1913, Mr. Charles Henry Wynne. This may have been the same C. Wynne as the one who had been an innkeeper at Putney for more than a decade, and later at Barnes. This is referred to in a report of a court case when Wynne left some belongings at Frederick Bowlers house, and had difficulty in retrieving them.
From the Luton Times and Advertiser, of Friday 21st January, 1916.:
"Night Scene at Woburn Sands. Police Charged with Assault. The Woburn Bench on Friday were occupied for a considerable time in the hearing a charge of assault preferred against two constables, William S. Hyde and Arthur R. Genn, in the Bedfordshire Police Force, by John William Foster, machine agent, residing at San Remo, Aspley Heath. The magistrates present were Dr. Waugh (Chairman), Mr. W. F. M. Weston-Webb, Mr. E. Creasy, Dr. Charnock Smith, and Colonel Mercer. Mr. C. C. Bell appeared for the complainant, and Mr. W. W. Marks defended. the police. The affaire occurred on Christmas Eve, when the complainant, it was stated, had occasion to meet a friend off the last train at Woburn Sands and left his motor cycle at the Fir Tree Hotel, Woburn Sands. On coming back from the Station he went into the hotel yard for his cycle and was getting it out of the shed when it was alleged that P.c. Genn came on the scene and roughly laid hold of him, after telling him that he was on licensed premises, and proceeded to him from the yard. P.c. Hyde also came along later and took part in this alleged rough usage. The complainant, it was further stated, was dragged about the yard, and not allowed to have his motor cycle.
The complainant, on oath, giving his version, said that he was told by P.c. Genn that he had no right to be on licensed premises at that hour, and later the constable threatened to “have him on his back in minute,” and took him by the shoulder. The other constable, who was not in uniform, then came and took hold of his other shoulder, but on his appealing to them they allowed him to go back for his bicycle, but again came and “fixed” him the shoulder and pulled him down the yard. Sooner than have any trouble on licensed premises, he asked the landlord to put him for the night. The landlord said he could do so, and P.c. Genn then let go of witness. The other policeman, however, gave him a jerk, throwing him down on the gravel, and then twisting a scarf round his neck, dragged him across the yard and told him to home to Aspley. That was the last witness saw of his scarf.
The complainant, cross-examined Mr. Marks, said he had lived in Aspley for three mouths, and before then lived in Bedford and Kent. Mr. Marks subjected the witness to a cross-examination. Witness denied that he had shouted or used bad language, but admitted that he had in the Fir Tree for five hours during that day. He alleged that the police did all the shouting, and that they were very excited. George Alexander, landlord the Fir Tree Hotel, said he heard no bad language used by the complainant. The only swear word came from P.c. Genn. The police were terribly excited, and used the complainant roughly. For the defence, Thomas Lawson, road foreman to the Duke of Bedford and a special constable, stated that soon after closing time on Dec. 24th, he saw Foster go to the Fir Tree Inn, and he also heard some shouting in the yard. This was the second time he had seen the complainant enter licensed premises after closing hours, and he informed P.c. Genn. He also sent P.c. Hyde to the house. Foster was shouting and very excited when he was brought out, and there was shouting between the landlord and Foster before the police went near the premises.
Robert Genn, one the defendants, who served 12 years in the 16th and 17th Lancers before joining the Beds. Force, said he had never had a black mark against him since joining. After being told by Special Constable Lawson of what was going on, he found complainant in the Fir Tree yard swearing about the acetylene gas generator. Asked why he was on licensed premises, said, “Go away, I’ll spread you.” The landlord then said, “Shut up, John; keep quiet.” This was repeated several times. Neither witness nor P.c. Hyde were excited, and if complainant had behaved like an ordinary man would have been allowed to go away. The complainant sat down on a drain and said he “would ----- well stop there all night.” Then he asked the landlord for a bed. Witness considered it his duty to remove a man in that condition from licensed premises, and with P.c, Hyde lifted him out the drain and took him outside. The complainant was not in a fit condition to ride a motor cycle. P.c. William Samuel Hyde, the other defendant, said he had been member of the Beds. Police for 13 years, and held both the Boer War Medals with four clasps. Describing the scene in the Fir Tree yard, witness said the landlord asked him to see the complainant off the premises. Supt. Matthews said the defendants had been under him for two years, and he had found them good discreet constables. Counsel having addressed the magistrates, the charges were at once dismissed, the Chairman stating that there was no reflection on the conduct of the constables."
The Fir Tree appears in one First World War-connected story that I can find. In November 1917, a Canadian Forestry soldier, Private Albert Parent, visited the home of Alice Dora Butcher, who worked as a maid at The Fir Tree, and whom he obviously knew well. She was just going out, and he asked if he could remain in her room until she returned, but when Alice got back he had gone. She discovered that four £1 notes and two 10s notes she had been saving for her brother were missing. She had told Albert several days before that she was saving it. It would appear that Albert used to money to get himself and his friends drunk at the Weathercock. Once arrested, he admitted the crime and was fined 15s along with having to repay the money. Lieutenant Oxley of the Canadians guaranteed to repay the money by the next day.
After the War, Woburn Sands was very much changed. As well as the loss of so many of the town’s youth, there was never the same ‘tourist’ style appeal. The depression years came, and many were out of work.
1924 to 1927 - Brigadier Francis Robert Beresford
With the assistance of his family, George Alexander stayed on running the Fir Tree until 1924, when a Brigadier Francis Robert Beresford and wife, Jessie, took over in June. There was a Tax Assessment report the next year, which describes the interior in some detail.
The bar had three divisions, a skittle room and a smoking room, with four bedrooms and a ‘commercial’ room upstairs. There is also the first mention of a conservatory, which can be seen in later photos of the pub. The large hall across the car park was let to the Band twice a week for 1/6 a night. Beresford gave his takings as £624 pa, which the assessors did not believe! They noted in their book that the Swan opposite did 4 - 5 barrels a week. However, Beresford convinced them that the Swan was in a better position, and managed to get his assessment reduced from £43 to £30.
However, Beresford didn't get everything he wanted. Beds Times, 5th June 1925:
"LICENSING APPLICATION REFUSED. An application by F. R. Beresford, of the Fir Tree Hotel, Aspley Heath, for four hours’ extension on Bank Holiday, was turned down on the recommendation Supt. James, who said he strongly objected to it. It would not be fair to the other publicans, he said. They could get all they wanted from 10 o’clock 2, and if they should get a drop too much there would time to get straight before the houses opened again."
The Newport Pagnell Brewery Company, who had been running the Fir Tree since at least 1871, and had owed it since 1876, was taken over by Charles Wells of Bedford. They put the Newport Pagnell premises up for auction in 1920, and eventually, in 1926, completely absorbed the Newport company. In the schedule of the transfer in 1926, the Fir Tree was listed as:
The next record of the pub comes from the book "Ferme en Foy, a history of the Roman Catholic Church of St. Mary 1926 - 1976", written by Rev. Edmund Golston in 1976.
“I an indebted to the late Mr. Charles Howard, one-time Manager of the Woburn Gas Works for the following account of the beginnings of the Catholic Mission at Woburn Sands. It is given exactly as he wrote it, and is of absorbing interest. At the time of writing (October 1975), Tom Casey, one of the few present at the First Mass, is still with us, a very youthful 89, and still singing in the Choir! Please God, he will still be with us to celebrate our Golden Jubilee on 18th July 1976.
An account of the beginnings of the Woburn Sands Mission, written by Mr. Charles Howard, of Gas Works Cottage, Woburn, June 1953
'Previous to 18th July 1926, the Catholics of this district went to Mass at Leighton Buzzard or Bletchley. We either walked or cycled. Then, in late June or early July 1926, a priest brought a party of school children from Bedford for a ramble in Aspley Guise Woods.
The day was hot and the children tired and, no doubt, hungry, having eaten their sandwiches. The priest in charge went on a forage for refreshments, and the first likely place he came to was the Fir Tree Hotel at Woburn Sands. Here he enquired of a young lady if they could provide a tea for his party. The lady in question called out: "Daddy, there is a parson here who wants tea for a party of children."
Was it a coincidence? It was fortunate for our Mission that the proprietor was a Catholic, one Brigadier Beresford, who soon set things in motion. By the way, I should mention here that the priest was Father Dalby, now Dean Dalby at Luton. To him, and the Brigadier, we owe a great debt of gratitude.
The result of this meeting was that on 18th July 1926, the First Mass at Woburn Sands was celebrated in the Club Room of the Fir Tree Hotel. The Brigadier wrote to all the Catholics he had heard of in the neighbourhood, telling us of the great event, enclosing a small handbill. I have one of these by me now. The Mass was at 10.30 a.m. and the Celebrant was the Very Reverend Canon Tonks of Bedford, who preached us a sermon on our good fortune in having the Mass.
The Beresfords had cleaned up the Club Room and had provided the necessary furnishings. Our first altar was a small portable one. Where it came from we did not know. Thereafter the Canon came to say Mass on the first Sundays, hearing Confessions before Mass. He came by taxi and brought a server with him. Father Dalby officiated on the other Sundays. The time of Mass was altered from 10.30 a.m. to 8.30 a.m. Father Dalby used to come to Woburn Sands by motor cycle, a 'Panther' (I believe he was a dispatch rider in the 1914 -18 war). He brought along his server on the carrier, and frequently both he and his passenger arrived perished with the cold through travelling at high speed.
After several weeks the portable altar was replaced by one made up by Mr. Beresford, the altar table being a trestle table on which was placed the altar stone taken from the portable altar. This arrangement was all right for the Canon, but was too low for Father Dalby, so we had two higher trestles made to suit; then we had to cut five inches off these to suit the Canon's stature.
It was surprising how our congregation grew in a few weeks. Worshippers came in from several miles distant, many of them being domestic helps. I must mention here Mr. T. Casey, a resident of Aspley, who played the harmonium for us at Mass and was a great asset to the Mission. In addition to being a great organist, Tom Casey was our Jazz Band Leader, and was indispensable at our Whist Drives and Dances. Our first Whist Drive and Dance was held on 17th November 1926 at the Woburn Sands Institute; so you will see there was no time lost in starting to raise funds for a church. As a result of our first effort we were able to hand Canon Tonks the sum of £12. Our next Whist Drive and Dance was held on St. Patrick's Day, 1927, at the Aspley Guise Memorial Hall. I would like to mention the help we had from the young folks of Bedford Church. Several times they brought coach-loads of young people to our dances.
In August 1927 the Beresfords left the Fir Tree Hotel to reside near London. We missed their great help very much, but things did not stagnate. The Whist Drives and Dances still carried on. The new proprietors of the Fir Tree Hotel were not of our Faith, but kindly allowed us the continued use of the Club Room; but what a difference there was! We missed the care and preparation which the Beresfords had given to the Club Room. The times of Mass had been altered from 10.30 a.m. to 8.30 a.m., and on some occasions when we got to the Fir Tree Hotel at 8 a.m. we found that the new proprietors were not yet out of bed. Then we had to rouse them, get the key and open up the Club Room which we would find cold, dirty and untidy, and reeking of stale beer and tobacco. We would then hurriedly set to and clean the place up, arrange the altar, wash and fill the cruets, put out the chairs and. kneeling pads, and arrange the vestments over chairs to air. As they were usually cold and damp, we placed them near an oil stove we had bought. I remember one occasion when we arrived the room was in great disorder as the local band had spent a jovial Saturday evening there. Band instruments had been left strewn about the floor and on chairs. We had quite a bit of fun collecting them up and stowing them away before starting to clean up and set the room ready for Mass.
It would not be out of place here to mention the confessional. In the corner of the room was a half-glass bar with shelves and a serving hatch. Here sat the Confessor inside a small clotheshorse, on which was draped a patchwork bedspread. The Penitent knelt on the outside in full view of the congregation. There was thus little privacy and we all had to mind ones step. How we missed the late proprietors in all this discomfort!
There was one occasion when the Canon arrived when we had not had time to get the confessional properly prepared, and so Priest and Penitent alike had to face partly empty glasses, beer bottles and a four-and-a-half-gallon cask under the counter. I apologised to Canon Tonks for the discomfort of his surroundings. He said: "Nevermind, my son, we shall manage", and calmly carried on as if there was nothing unusual. He was a lovable man and was never flustered. One was always at ease with him.
After carrying on for several weeks in these trying conditions we were able to get the services of a local man (non-Catholic, a part-time postman), to open up the room, clean it, light the stove and air the place. We paid him ninepence per hour. Things were now improving, and we only required to get along early enough to put out the vestments to air. Then there arrived an R.C. man, a wandering tailor, who used the Hotel Saddle Room as a dwelling and workshop. We christened him The Anchorite'. He took over the duties of cleaning out the Club Room and lighting our oil stove. On one occasion, when we arrived we were greeted by a thin curl of smoke from the stove, and an appetising smell of roast cheese and bread. Apparently our stove was being used by him for warmth and culinary purposes.
For several Sundays we had a Father Dunlevy to say Mass. He was an invalid, and was living at Aspley Heath amidst the pine woods for his health.
Soon after this we left the Fir Tree Hotel, and for several Sundays had Mass in the Scouts' Hut at the back of the council schools. From there we moved to premises at the junction of Sandy Lane and Aspley Heath Road. This was a building which was being altered for use as a tea room. Here we stayed for several weeks, Canon Tonks and Father Dalby continuing to celebrate Mass for us.”
A photo of the Altar at the Fir Tree existed, as it was used in the production of the above book, but the original has since been lost, as has the handbill of 1926. What a shame! As the above states, Francis Beresford left the Fir Tree in September 1927, and he died in South West Surrey in 1939, aged 63.
1929 to 1938 - Harold Clements
In January 1929, Harold Clements moved in with his wife, Lavinia Alice, and the revolving door of landlords settled down for a while.
From the Crest Private Museum, 57 Hill Field Road, Hemel Hempstead, Herts. To Thomas Clegg Esq.
I later obtained 6 envelopes from an internet auction, all sent to Clements at the Fir Tree in the 1930's. Whilst the first is addressed just to "H. Clements, Fir Tree Hotel" in 1931, the rest have variations of "The Curator, Museum Dept., Fir Tree Hotel" up to 1938. Sadly, none still had the contents in, to see what people were buying from him!
The Beds Times reported on 21st June 1935: "CELEBRATION DINNER WOBURN SANDS FOOTBALL CLUB LEAGUE SUCCESS. By way of celebrating their successful season in the Bedfordshire League (Division IV) they finished second and gained the runners-up medals, the Woburn Sands Football Club held a dinner at the Fir Tree Hotel, Woburn Sands, the Club’s headquarters, on 14th June. Mr. C. Hutton (President) was in the chair, and Mr. Clements, the host, served an excellent dinner. Mr. Hutton presented the medals."
In the same edition of the paper was an obituary for David Giltrow, who had been landlord of The Fir Tree from 1881 to 1884.
"PERSONALITY By the death of Mr. David Giltrow, which occurred at Woburn on Saturday, the town loses an old and interesting personality. He was eighty-eight years of age, and though he has been in failing health for some time past he was out as recently as a fortnight ago. At a very early age he went to work at straw-plaiting and afterwards engaged in agricultural work. In later years he had gone in for dealing, besides being licensee of public-houses at Woburn, Woburn Sands, Aspley Guise, and Sheep Lane, he was fond of sports of all kinds, had been much in request on the cricket field as umpire: he took an interest in racing, and up to few months ago enjoyed a social evening and a hand at "nap" with old friends and acquaintances. Naturally, Mr. Giltrow could recount interesting experiences of the old coaching days and episodes, in which he took part, concerned the young "bloods" about town. His wife died several years ago, and for the last few years he had resided quietly at the Woburn almshouses, where he had been looked after by a neighbour, Miss Amanda Chisnall. Three sons and two daughters survive him. The funeral took place at Stanbridge Church on Wednesday."
There seems to have been an anomaly in the times that the pubs of Woburn Sands could open until in the evening. Those whose licenses were issued by the Bletchley bench for Buckinghamshire could open until 10.30pm, while those issued by the Woburn bench for Bedfordshire had to close at 10pm. As the county boundary runs through the middle of the Square, this meant The Fir Tree and The Swan had different opening times, with the Swan allowed to open later. In 1936, the local Bedfordshire inns decided to get this changed, and Harold Clement took on the job of persuding the Woburn Magistrates Court.. From the Bedfordshire Times & Independent, Friday 21st February, 1936:
"An application for an extra half hour for the opening of licensed houses throughout the year was granted at the annual licensing meeting for the Woburn Division held at the Town Hall on Friday. The application was made by Mr H. Clements of the Fir Tree Hotel, Aspley Heath, on behalf of the license holders of the Division. The Justices were Col. A. R. Liddell (in the chair), Major C. E. Thornton, Col. E. J. Skinner, Mr C. J. Kilby and Mr J. Charnocke Smith, with the clerk Mr R. Hobourn.
In making the application, Mr Clements said that the licensed victuallers of the Division were unanimous in requesting this extra half hour. There was not a single dissention. They asked for the extra half hour as to bring the Division into uniformity with the neighbouring Division of Bletchley.
A few years ago this application might have been termed “a desirable concession”, but today it was of the greatest importance. The brickworks had been extended and new ones built, and the Government works at Cranfield were in full swing. This meant that the men returned home in the evenings too late to obtain a drink. After their hard manual labour he thought that they were entitled to a little consideration.
Mr Clements said that the competition from the Bletchley Division was so severe that they were feeling it very badly. The main roads through the Division were fairly heavily used, and at some periods of the year it was still daylight at 10pm. It was an astonishing thing that people returning from visits and business upon driving through the Division in daylight should be too late to obtain refreshments.
Since the Buckinghamshire Division had obtained an extra half hour the loss of trade to the Woburn Division licensees had been almost unbelievable. At present moment, many were in bad straits. One could not blame the public for using the houses that had extensions. The licensees asked for equality and an equal chance of earning their living.
In the past they had been commended by the bench on the way they had conducted their houses, and they claimed they should be trusted to have an extra half hour. Thoiugh they could not recover the trade they had lost, they could stem the tide of disaster if the application was granted. At Woburn Sands, Mr Clements added, there were two houses within a stone’s throw of each other. One was open and one was shut after ten o’clock in the summer.
The Clerk asked if anyone had any objection to make. There was no response. Supt. Folkes said that the Police had no objection. He would like to see the Division in uniformity with neighbours in regard to licensed hours. The Chairman said the Bench would grant the application, but it did not apply to Clubs."
Success! He must have been an elequent, persuasive speaker. But his extra half-hour of trade did not convince him to stay much longer...
1938 to 1951 - Sidney Hughes
Clements left in 1938, to be replaced by Sidney and Ivy Alice Hughes. The Hughes' ran an advert in The Times in May 1939, under ‘Hotel Assistants’, saying they required a General Maid and occasional help in lounge during weekends. The hotel telephone number was gradually increasing; having been just ‘Woburn Sands 127’ in 1936, by 1939 it was ‘Woburn Sands 2127’.
There is a large gap in the knowledge about the pub here; the next item after 1939 is an advert in a local bus and train timetable of 1951. What happened in the war years? The local papers were restricted in what they could print, due to regulations and the scarcity of paper to print on. Many of the staff from Bletchley Park were billeted in the surrounding area, so possibly there were code-breakers staying in the rooms of the Hotel. We know that several of the local houses were used in connection with Bletchley Park, for billeting etc, and that London evacuees were sent here in the early days of the Second World War.
After the war, the local papers changed their emphasis on reporting, and the columns of town life were usually focussed on flower shows, school awards and the Women’s Institute. The kind of scandalous details of arguments and fights were gradually painted out of the picture. As well as local papers concentrating on bigger issues than village gossip, the golden years of picture postcards was now over, and not much seemed to be happening in Woburn Sands - not that got recorded anyway!