02 May 2022

Searching for the old inns
and the closed pubs
of Stony Stratford

The Barley Mow closed in 1970 … it stands on the oldest site of an inn in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Stony Stratford enjoyed its ‘golden age’ during the coaching era that arrived in the 18th century, and the first turnpike in England was on Watling Street, between Stony Stratford and Hockcliffe.

Stony Stratford was a convenient stop on the road north from London, and this town in north Buckinghamshire soon became a coaching town, with many travellers changing horses or staying the night at one of the town’s many inns and taverns.

I was writing yesterday about the Cock and the Bull, two neighbouring coaching inns or hotels on the High Street that gave rise to the phrase ‘a Cock and Bull story.’

The ready supply of horses and the facilities to change them at Stony Stratford means that the old children’s nursery rhyme, ‘Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross,’ may refer to the Cock Inn.

Many of the old inns and hostelries in Stony Stratford, however, did not survive when the coaches gave way in the 19th century first to the canals and then to the railways.

The site of Grikes Inn or Grilkes Inn … first mentioned in 1317, making it the oldest recorded inn in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Grikes Inn or Grilkes Inn once stood near the bridge that crosses the Great River Ouse, separating Stony Stratford from Old Stratford and Buckinghamshire from Northamptonshire. It was first mentioned in 1317, making it the oldest recorded inn in Stony Stratford.

Early accounts refer to a chapel dedicated to Saint John the Baptist and a leprosy isolation hospital behind this building. Inns continued on this site for centuries, and by 1677 it was known as The Angel. The last pub on the site was known as the Barley Mow when it closed in 1970.

Today, this is a private family home, but the name Barley Mow survives over the entrance door at the side of the house.

The former Cross Keys at 97 High Street is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The former Cross Keys at 97 High Street is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Stony Stratford. It still bears its old signs, and its mediaeval timber structure, dating from ca 1480, with its moulded archway.

It was also known as Saint Peter’s Keys, and may originally have been a church-related lodging house.

This was once the town’s Guild Hall, and it later became the town’s first courtroom. The murderers of Grace Bennet, Lady of the Manor of Calverton, were tried there in 1697. Later it was tea house and curiosity shop, and today it is a hairdresser’s shop, Hair Master.

A little further south on High Street, the Fox and Hounds is another surviving inn on the west side of High Street that dates from the late 17th or early 18th century. Its features include a steep early tiled roof, a hipped dormer and a brick chimney.

Nos 92 and 94 High Street … once the Swan with a high central archway (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Cross Keys and the Fox and Hounds stand opposite Nos 92 and 94 High Street, which still shows the signs of an impressive and prosperous coaching inn, with a high central archway.

The Swan, which stood on this site, also had dormitories at the rear to accommodate people travelling by coach.

This was also known, over time, as the Swan Inn, the Swan with Two Necks, and the Three Swans. The building is closed these days, although there are signs that offer the promise of reopening in the near future.

The former Rose and Crown Inn on High Street is associated with the stories and legends about the ‘Princes in the Tower’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

At the other end of High Street, Nos 26 and 28 stand on the site of the Rose and Crown Inn. This is where the uncrowned 12-year-old ‘Boy King’, Edward V, was met Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, and Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester and later King Richard III, on 29 April 1483.

The young King Edward was taken by the two dukes from Stony Stratford to the Tower of London, and it is there, it is believed, he and his younger brother, ten-year-old Prince Richard, Duke of York, were murdered.

Their disappearance has given rise to many of the stories and legends about the ‘Princes in the Tower.’

No 11 Market Square was once the King’s Head Inn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Market Square also had a number of inns and hostelries, although the Crown, close to the corner of Silver Street, is the only one that remains to this day.

No 11 Market Square was formerly the King’s Head Inn. This low, two-storey house dates from the early 17th century, with later additions. It is now a private residence, but still retains its steep early tiled roof, with brick verges and kneelers on the south gable, two brick chimney stacks, and two hipped dormers.

All the walls are cement rendered, but the windows are wooden casements in stucco reveals, with three two-light, three-light and four-light window. The wooden doorcase has two plain pilasters and a hood on two shallow cut brackets. Good door with 4 fielded and 2 incised panels.

Inside, the house retains many of its original features, including a large inglenook fireplace and a fine four-centred arch lintel with mouldings, dating from ca 1600.

Nos 12 and 13 Market Square form an interesting 17th century stone house (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Nos 12 and 13 Market Square forms an interesting, later 17th century two-storey stone house.

The stones forming the heads of windows on the ground floor have sloping sides and curved tops which, with a raised keystone, give the forms of a crown. The doorway has a good moulded eared architrave, with a carving of long leaves spreading out and down from a boss with a head of a putti above a carved keystone.

Above the front door and resting on the band is a rectangular plaque with the letters ‘IAM’ above an heraldic shield and the date 1790. The letters IAM may refer to Joseph and Amelia Malpas.

Perhaps the Malpas family gave their name to the Malpas Hotel, later the Commercial Hotel, at Nos 14 and 15 Market Square. Today, No 14 houses the Alliance Française de Milton Keynes.

The Malpas Hotel, later the Commercial Hotel, stood at Nos 14 and 15 Market Square (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

I sometimes wonder what these old inns, hostelries and taverns looked like in their heyday. I catch a glimpse of this, I imagine, when I visit the Crown on Market Square and the Old George on High Street, one of the oldest surviving inns in Stony Stratford.

A former posting house, the Old George dates back to 1609 and has 18th century, two-storey bay windows.

The sunken floor level indicates the original level of Watling Street and how the road through Stony Stratford has been built up and raised over the centuries.

The Crown on Market Square … a reminder of the old inns and hostelries in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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