The Story of the Raven Beerhouse
by Mavis Warner
In the early 19th century, the Government was becoming increasingly concerned about the amount of public drunkenness after a reduction in the duty on gin had led to the proliferation of plush “gin palaces”…
The Raven originated in the mid-17th century, when a small cottage was built in the centre of the tiny hamlet of Beacon’s Bottom, near Stokenchurch; a second cottage was added a century or so later with various other additions after that. It became a beerhouse sometime in the middle of the 19th century, owned latterly by the High Wycombe brewers Wheeler & Co, but had to surrender its licence in 1921 when a number of public houses in the county were forced to close. It then split into two cottages again, one of which achieved brief fame when it was bought by the comedienne/actress Dora Bryan in the 1950s. It reverted to one house around 1956.
In the early 19th century, the Government was becoming increasingly concerned about the amount of public drunkenness after a reduction in the duty on gin had led to the proliferation of plush “gin palaces”. Charles Dickens in his “Sketches by Boz” did much to spotlight this problem. In order to lure drinkers away from gin and other spirits, the Beerhouse Act of 1830 abolished the duty on beer (as well as ale and cider) and allowed it to be sold by householders in private houses for an annual excise fee of just 2 guineas.
Thus was born the Beerhouse – springing up in every town and village, it was the forerunner of the public house. Usually the licensee would have one or more main jobs and the selling of beer was a mere sideline. The beer would either be home brewed or supplied by a local brewer.
The Beacon’s Bottom Beerhouse (as it was called until the end of the 19th century) was a true bodgers’ pub – run by chair makers for a local population largely made up of chair bodgers and other woodland workers due to the proximity of Bottom Wood, where the remains of saw pits can still be seen.
Records indicate that the property was probably owned and occupied at the time of the 1830 Beerhouse Act by William Stratford. The Stokenchurch Rate Valuation of 1840 described it as “house, shop, sheds & garden” – the presence of a shop suggests beer was possibly sold then. The property was still two cottages the next year, when the census recorded it consisting of one uninhabited cottage and William Stratford, “ag lab” [agricultural labourer], living in the other. It seems that William died in the early 1840s.
In 1844 the tithe notes show the owner was George Bartholomew, and the occupant – seemingly of the whole property – was now Sarah Dobbins, not a likely candidate for a beerhouse keeper (also “shop” had disappeared from the description). There is evidence to suggest that Sarah was related to George, who was a grocer in Watlington and had a number of properties in the Stokenchurch area.
Sarah did not stay long – in the 1851 census she was a “Visitor” to George Cresdee (who had previously lived in Mallards Court in Stokenchurch) at 41 Gravel Lane, Southwark, when she was described as a “Landed Proprietor”. She died at the same address in 1854 and was taken back to Stokenchurch for burial.
A casual beerhouse – Richard Norcott
The first real evidence of a beerhouse points to Richard Norcott who probably moved to the property during the latter half of the 1840s after Sarah Dobbins had moved out. He was described as a chair maker in the 1851 census when he was recorded living there with his wife Mary, two lodgers -indicating accommodation was provided – and a servant. And he was certainly listed as a chair maker and beer retailer in the 1854 Post Office Directory.
Operating a beerhouse was a fairly casual job – genealogist Jean Cole wrote “A couple of barrels of beer would be set up in the corner of the kitchen where people, chickens and the odd dog would wander in and out….very often it would be the job of the [beerhouse keeper’s] wife and daughters to keep the ‘house’ while he worked elsewhere.”
However, sometimes things were a bit too casual – a case at Watlington Petty Sessions on 19th July 1856 was reported by the Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette:
“Beer House conviction – Richard Norcott, of Bacon’s* Bottom, Stokenchurch, beer house keeper, was charged by Mr. Superintendent High with keeping his house open for the sale of beer at 25m past 10 o’clock, who stated that at that time he had found seven persons drinking in his house. Norcott, in defence, said that Mr. Barney, the constable, had given him leave to keep open until 11 o’clock, a statement which Mr. B. asserted was false. The bench convicted him in the penalty of 1l. [£1] including costs, which was paid.”
George Bartholomew was still shown as the owner in the 1858 enclosure map notes, where he was described as a “Gentleman”.
A chair maker beer retailer – Richard Way
By 1861 Richard Way, a chair maker, was resident in the cottage. His predecessor Richard Norcott was by now living in Stokenchurch, described as a chair maker and publican – he is listed at the Coach & Horses in Stokenchurch in the 1874 Mercer & Crocker’s Directory.
Richard Way also found that running the beerhouse was not without its problems – in June 1861 Jackson’s Oxford Journal reported that:
“Benjamin Munday, of Bacon’s Bottom, Stokenchurch, was convicted of stealing 5½d. in copper, out of the till of his master (Richard Way, of Bacon’s Bottom), on the 16th inst., and was sentenced to 7 days’ hard labour, under the Juvenile Offenders’ Act”.
In 1863 Richard Way was listed as a beer retailer and chair maker in the Dutton, Allen Directory. The Valuation of Property List (Poor Law) of 1864 paints a picture of the property – “House Shop & Garden” (29 poles) & “Stables Workshops & Garden” (34 poles). [A pole is about 30 square yards]. The latter were opposite the house and no doubt travellers’ horses were accommodated there while their owners were in the beerhouse: a former owner of the Raven has said that, before the A40 was built to Oxford, the stage coaches came up Old Dashwood Hill and through to Beacon’s Bottom where the horses were changed. The workshops were probably where chairs were made.
Before long, the 1869 Wine and Beerhouse Act brought back some of the stricter controls of the previous century which the 1830 act had abolished; once again beer retailers had to obtain licences from justices.
As a beerhouse, the two original cottages were now one house. According to local knowledge, the front room on the east was the “Tap Room” with trestle tables and benches; the front room on the west (the middle of the house now) was the “Parlour” where the ladies sat in somewhat more comfort. The room over the cellar was a “Club Room” for playing games such as shove ha’penny and dominoes – in those days, this had to be separate from the licensed premises.
Richard Way continued to live in the Raven until the late 1880s and his empire was expanding – in the 1881 census he was described as “chair maker and farmer, employing 4 men on farm 40 acres; 20 men and boys in chair trade”.
George Bartholomew remained the owner until 1881 when on Christmas Day, the last quarter day of the year, an agreement was made between George Bartholomew and Thomas Lucas/Alfred Leadbetter for a lease for 21 years at a rent of £18 per annum on the Beerhouse in Bacon’s Bottom, allotment land and outbuildings occupied by Richard Way:
A family business – Fred and Elizabeth Way
Richard’s wife Eliza had borne 10 children including Frederick, who was baptised on 30th December 1866 in Stokenchurch. By 1891 Fred had replaced Richard as publican at the beerhouse and Richard had moved to Filberts, then next door but now with two modern houses between them. Fred was a man of many talents – he is recorded in the 1895 Kelly’s directory of Buckinghamshire as carrier and beer retailer, while “Way F. & T.” [Fred and his brother Tom] were additionally farmers and chair makers in Beacon’s Bottom.
The beerhouse licence renewals in 1895 listed Fred Way at “Raven”, which was now owned by Messrs Leadbetter & Bird of High Wycombe. This was the first reference to the beerhouse being called the Raven.
In 1898 Leadbetter & Bird’s company Frogmore Brewery was sold to Wheelers Wycombe Breweries Ltd; the leasehold premises of Thomas Lucas/Alfred Leadbetter, both brewers of High Wycombe, were assigned to Alfred Leadbetter/Henry Pegg, the latter a Middlesex brewer of Ealing.
The same year the property was marked “B.H.” [Beer House] on the Ordnance Survey map.
It may not have been coincidence that Wheelers also owned the Raven public house on the east side of Stokenchurch (now the Mowchak), only a mile or two away. This caused much confusion, almost to this day.
In 1903, a licence was granted to Fred Way of “Raven” Stokenchurch as a beerhouse, owned by Wheelers Wycombe Breweries.
Fred and Elizabeth Way are in the doorway; those in ‘uniform’ to the left could have been employed in the carrier’s business while those on the right may be customers.
There is a notice advertising “Cyder” in the window.
The board over the door reads
“FRED WAY Licensed to sell Beer
by retail to be consumed
on the premises”
The death of the patriarch of the Way family, Richard Henry Way, in 1903 was greeted with sorrow. The South Bucks Standard reported that he:
“for 40 years has resided in this little village, where he was for many years the principal employer of labour, and carried on a considerable business in the chair stuff making industry. The deceased, who was a native of Towersey, settled for some years at Radnage, after which he removed to the Raven Inn, Beacon’s Bottom, where he remained for 25 years, retiring from the house in favour of his sons, who still continued to carry on their father’s business. Mr. Way, who was of a quiet and genial nature, was greatly respected in the locality, where he had many friends, by whom he will be much missed.”
Fred Way remained in situ as a “Beer Retailer/Publican and Carrier”, later on also a “Hay and Straw Dealer” in partnership with his brother Tom who lived in Water End. When Tom died on 4th July 1910, he left everything to his wife Emma and his share of the business was sold to Fred for
Elizabeth Way, Fred’s wife, was the daughter of Abraham Butler who lived in Water End and who had progressed from being a chair turner to a farmer of 80 acres. More interestingly, back in 1891 he had been the publican at the Foresters’ Arms in Water End – just up the lane from the Raven. He eventually died at the Raven in 1910 aged 75 of senile decay and cardiac failure. Perhaps his daughter (also known as Bessie) was nursing him there, or maybe he was merely visiting when taken ill.
The 1911 census states that there were 6 rooms (including kitchen but excluding bathroom, cellar etc) in the house. Then, these would have been the tap room and the parlour on the ground floor at the front, with two bedrooms above (the two original “one up one down” cottages); the other two rooms would have been the kitchen – behind the tap room, and the “games room” on the first floor. It is interesting to note that the postal address for the hamlet at that time was “Stokenchurch, Wallingford, Berkshire”!
Fred died not long after, on 12th December 1912, as a result of injuries sustained in a trap accident which had been reported in the Bucks Free Press:
“ACCIDENT – An unfortunate accident occurred to Mr. Fred. Way (of Beacons Bottom) and Mrs. A. Plumridge (of Horsley Green) on Thursday evening, Sept. 5th. Mr. Way was driving home from Ibstone with Mrs. Plumridge, and at the turning of the road near the Swilly Pond they were both thrown out of the cart, Mr. Way sustaining severe injuries to his head and hands, and Mrs. Plumridge a broken arm.”
Described on his death certificate as a “Hay and Straw Dealer and Licensed Victualler”, a newspaper report on Fred’s funeral added “farming and chair turning businesses” to his occupations. He was obviously well-known and much loved as at his funeral in Stokenchurch: “practically the whole of Beacon’s Bottom turned out to pay their last tribute of respect” and members of the Ancient Order of Foresters, of which he had been a member for 28 years, lined up wearing their regalia forming an avenue through which the coffin and mourners passed.
The property was called the Raven Inn in the probate registers in 1913, when probate was granted to his widow Elizabeth Way and Harry Thomas Butler, the latter a carman and also Fred’s brother-in-law.
On 14th February 1913 the beerhouse licence was transferred to Elizabeth Way and subsequently to Henry (aka Harry) Butler a year later. Henry was described as “Beer Retailer and Hay and Straw Dealer” and seems to have taken on the Way family businesses after the recent demise of both Fred and Tom.
By the end of the First World War, cheap drink had become rather too generally available – beer was around 2d per pint and gave comfort to people at a time when life was pretty difficult on the whole. As a result, the local authorities determined to close down a number of drinking establishments in Buckinghamshire. After an unsuccessful voluntary scheme in 1918 was followed by a failed Compensation Authority of 1920, a meeting was held on 6th December 1920 to find a way forward.
New forms of transport led to all public houses on main roads being reprieved due to the need for accommodation for the public. Subsequently, representatives of the owners of free houses suggested six houses to be closed in Buckinghamshire which included three in the Wycombe area – The Raven, Beacon’s Bottom; The King’s Head, Stokenchurch [not The King’s Arms]; and The Crown in Radnage.
The meeting was adjourned until 22nd December 1920 when it was decided that seven houses in the county would be closed in 1921 with no compensation. These included The Raven and The King’s Head – but not The Crown, which is successful to this day.
Although the property was again confirmed as a Beer House on the 1921 Ordnance Survey map, its licence expired by surrender on 30th September 1921 and, indeed, no compensation was paid.
A private residence – Arthur Way and Harry Butler
Fred’s brother Arthur, who lived at the Filberts, bought the Raven from Wheelers on 31st March 1922 for £450. This included the land on the other side of the road. Harry Butler remained the tenant. (Arthur eventually died in 1948, the last of the brothers in Beacon’s Bottom and still living at Filberts).
Elizabeth Way had by this time moved to a new house she had had built up the road near the Studley Arms and died the following year, on 23rd August 1922. Perhaps it is hardly surprising from her previous surroundings that she died from chronic alcoholism and cirrhosis of the liver. Her gravestone at Stokenchurch reads:
“Elizabeth the beloved wife of Fred Way died August 23 1922 aged 54 years –
A light is from the household gone,
A voice we loved is stilled,
A place is vacant in our home,
Which never can be filled…”
Harry Butler continued to live in the Raven, still operating as a hay and straw dealer, until he moved out in 1926 to run a garage at the top of Dashwood Hill.
This brought to an end the era of the Beacon’s Bottom Beerhouse; the house was then split once more into two cottages, which were called Raven Cottage and Old Raven, before combining again in 1956.
British Newspaper Archive
Stokenchurch Parish Council
General Register Office
Beacon’s Bottom was in Oxfordshire until 1896, when it was moved to Buckinghamshire.
*It was also called Bacon’s Bottom in the past, being in a dip below fields which were once known as “Bacon’s”.
The Raven was variously called Raven, the Raven, The Raven, Raven Cottage and the Raven Inn.
The Filberts was variously called Filberts, the Filberts, The Filberts and Filberts Cottage.
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