The Book of Molesey

Rowland G. M. Baker, 1986

Previous Chapter Contents Next Chapter There is a Tavern Index
'There is nothing which has yet been contrived
by man by which so much happiness is produced
as by a good tavern or inn'.
Samuel Johnson (21 March 1776)

In 1636 John Taylor, better known as a waterman-poet, compiled a vade-mecum for travellers entitled A Catalogue of Tavernes in Ten Shires about London, and gave us our earliest known record of public houses in Molesey. He notes first At Mowlessey, Anthony Powell'. This presumably refers to East Molesey, as an Anthony Powell was for some time a warden of East Molesey Church. But where he resided and what his house was called we do not know. Taylor then continues 'At Little Moulesey, Parnell Nitingale, White Hart'. The White Hart was almost certainly the forerunner of the Royal Oak at West Molesey. The Nightingale family was established in the parish for many generations, mostly as yeoman farmers, and filled many parochial offices.

By the middle seventeen hundreds there were three public houses flourishing in East Molesey — The Castle, by the riverside adjacent to Hampton Court ferry; The Bell, opposite the parish church; and The Swan, near Tanners Bridge. Because of Molesey's river-girt situation, the villages saw virtually no through traffic, and the Castle was probably the only house catering for travellers and thereby qualifying as an inn. The other two would have been alehouses providing only for the needs of locals.

Castle Hotel

Castle Hotel, from Bridge Road.

The Swan occupied a position at the farther end of a row of cottages, which then stretched from the house now called Quillets Royal to the roadway leading to Tanners Bridge. From an insurance policy taken out in 1758 we find it was a timber building, probably of weather-board construction, of two storeys, 37 by 19 feet. As early as 1737, however, the churchwardens bought beer from the landlord, William Hollis, probably to refresh the bell-ringers.

The earliest mention of the Bell is in 1706, when a coroner's inquest on the body of a man killed in an explosion at the gunpowder mill was held there. Although the house was larger than the Swan, it seems primarily to have been a farmhouse, known for much of the 18th century as St Eloy's Farm, and the farmer only ran the alehouse as a secondary consideration. In fact it continued as such until 1777, when John Goddard, who had previously been mine host at the Swan, moved to take over the Bell. Goddard was apparently no farmer and concentrated purely on running the public house. The Swan then closed its doors as a pub.

The many-gabled facade of the Bell, its medley of warped shapes, its twisted angles and rippling roof, its patterned bargeboards and seemingly unopenable windows, have created a paradise for artists and photographers alike. The Dickensian atmosphere absolutely reeks of mail coaches and masked highwaymen, and such allure is bound to generate romantic legends. The dandified Claude Duval, whose particular haunt was Hounslow Heath just across the river, and Jerry Abershaw, who terrified the Portsmouth Road until he was hanged in 1795, are the two gentlemen of the road whose names are most usually associated with the Bell by storytellers; even the legendary Turpin is not entirely left out of their accounts. Truth to tell, however, all of these tales, romantic though they may be, must remain pure speculation. There is no authentic evidence to link any of them with the Bell at all, and most likely none of them ever even saw the place.

The Castle stood abutting the eastern side of Bridge Road, directly fronting the banks of both the Thames and the Mole, on the space now occupied by the roundabout in front of the Ferryboat Inn. (At that time Hampton Court bridge formed a continuation of Bridge Road and the Mole disgorged into the Thames where Hampton Court Way now runs.) When the house was first built is not certain; it was here in the reign of George I, for it is shown in the background of Leonard Knyffs bird's eye view of the Palace, and on many other prints and paintings. Its raison d'être was probably to cater for travellers wanting to cross the ferry, who would demand refreshment or a night's lodging.

In 1816 the Castle, together with a lot of other property in Molesey, was put up for sale. Its relative value can be appreciated by the fact that this lot sold for £1,000, while the Bell, including an adjacent shop, two cottages and gardens, fetched a mere £550. Moreover, the Bell, which is often thought of as an old coaching inn, had only half the stable accommodation of the Castle, and no coach-house.

When the original Hampton Court bridge was constructed in 1753, certain roads were laid down as an approach for travellers coming from the Portsmouth Road, including that now known as Esher Road. The inevitable increase of traffic engendered by this new road appears to have been the stimulus for the opening of another hostelry. This was sited in what had previously been a shop at the junction of the new road and Walton Road, opposite the present police station, on what is at the moment derelict land, and was called The Bridge Coffee House.

We should not be misled by the use of the term Coffee House. As Defoe informs us: 'when you come into them they are but ale houses only they think that the name of coffee house gives them a better air'. It was presumably this better air that the proprietor, a Joseph Carpenter, was aiming at, for he describes himself not as an innkeeper but as a vintner — a seller of wines, probably thinking that the clientele to which he aspired was more used to sipping wine in the comfort of a coffee house than quaffing ale in a common taproom.

That he did, in fact, draw upon the custom of the upper crust is demonstrated by the diary of John Baker, formerly Solicitor-General of the Leeward Islands, who records that, on 7 August 1769: '1 went to Garrick's house, thence by boat near the bridge and dined Bridge Coffee House, Moulsey'. There the two were joined by a party which included Sir Thomas Frederick, of Burwood Park, Hersham; Henry Dodwell, of the Priory, West Molesey; James Norman, the owner of the gunpowder mills; Mr Rowlls, the Kingston brewer, and Edward Lovibond, the poet. That such company should choose this establishment for their carousal shows that, within a remarkably short space of time, it had already secured a high reputation for good fare.

Joseph Carpenter was not the only person to realise the potential of this area for opening a hostelry. Just across the road there was a large cottage with a garden running down to the river Mole, and this was leased to a man named John Benham who, about 1766, obtained a licence to open it as a public house, and called it the Kings Arms. It soon became part of the community life of the village. The Parish Vestry minute book recalls that, on 22 September 1767, the meeting was adjourned to the 'House of John Benham', which it further describes as 'one of the usual Houses of meeting'. The Bridge Coffee House closed down not long after that.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries public houses were the very focal point of village social activity. The publicans, too, played an important and respected role in local affairs. Their names are often to be found in the lists of Molesey's parochial officers, as churchwardens, overseers and the like. In 1845 the horse omnibus to London called every morning (except Sundays) at the Royal Oak and the Kings Arms to pick up passengers, and every evening to set them down again. Twice a week the carrier, William James from Weybridge, with his lumbering van, called at the same two hostelries to collect parcels and such human cargo as could not afford the luxury of the omnibus. It is not without significance that in both East and West Molesey it was an inn which became the village's first post office. Mine hosts were both innkeepers and postmasters alike, often delivering the mail to the houses themselves. As there were then no letter boxes, people had to take their letters to the pub and post them in mail bags, which were hung up in the bar-rooms; this they could do up to a quarter past six in the evening, but late postings could be accepted up to half past six on of an extra one penny each.

In 1830 an Act was passed which enabled the owner of any property assessed above a certain value to obtain a licence to sell beer (and only beer). The first of such beerhouses in Molesey was opened at the end of a terrace of cottages in Bridge Road known as Bridge Row. In 1839 this was acquired by William Shaw, the owner of a brewery business in Church Street, Kingston, called Albion Brewery, and from this the beerhouse, which was managed by a middle-aged woman name Sarah Evans, was called The Albion.

Propitiously, the opening of the Albion coincided with two other events which were to have a profound effect on the development of the district and its pubs — the opening of Hampton Court Palace to the public and the building of the branch railway. These together were the catalyst to draw thousands of people to the area, providing a ready reservoir of potential customers for any public house in the immediate neighbourhood — a situation of which entrepreneurs were not slow to take advantage. Thus, at the end of the century, no less than five public houses and one licensed restaurant were located within 100 yards of the foot of the bridge, where only one, the Castle, had existed before.

The first new public house to appear after the opening of the railway was built on a plot of land almost opposite the Albion, and opened in 1853. Of a rather flamboyant Victorian Tudor style, it was at first called the Prince of Wales and Railway Hotel and, although the latter part of the name was soon dropped, it appears on the first 25 inch Ordnance Map as just The Railway Hotel.

Barely 14 years elapsed before the next inn appeared in Bridge Road, and was given the name Carnarvon Castle, although no reason for the choice is obvious; the Anglicised spelling is surely unlikely to have been adopted by a Welshman. It stood next to the Castle and on the way to and from the railway station. This was ideal for passing traffic and, as it was announced that the railway alone had bought three quarters of a million people to Hampton Court during the previous year, the potential trade was enormous. As originally constructed, the building was surmounted by a small decorative turret, which was removed about 40 years ago.

Bridge Road

Bridge Road, from the foot of the bridge, about 1900, showing the Thames Hotel and the Carnavon Castle.

During the 1880s the popularity of the riverside grew apace, bringing more and more visitors and more and more business to the catering trade. Little wonder that Mr Charles Dickens, the son of the novelist, wrote of Molesey that it was chiefly interesting to excursionists from the point of view of refreshment. The Carnarvon Castle was enlarged in 1883 and again in 1895. Not to be outdone, the owners of the Castle built an annex on a piece of ground between their house and the Carnarvon, which consisted of dining rooms, a billiard room, and bedrooms. It was a plain, rather hideous building. Its biggest drawback was a public road which isolated it from the main building. This problem was overcome by the construction of a bridge over the road, virtually a covered corridor, forming a passage linking the two premises at second floor level.

In 1887, the same year that the Castle's annex was built, further development was proceeding on the opposite side of the road. Mr Harry Tagg, a member of the well-known family of watermen, had a boat works along River Bank, in a building which had been erected in the 1870s, and which still stands on the corner of Feltham Avenue (although that road had not then been constructed). He also had a house in Bridge Road which backed onto the works, part of which he used as refreshment rooms. In the crutch between was an open field, known locally as Griffen's Corner. Mr Tagg was nothing if not a businessman and, realising the value of the site, treated for a lease of the field. He then demolished the house, moving the refreshment rooms to the top storey of his boat works with a verandah overlooking the river, and built a magnificent hotel on the whole corner, which he named the Thames Hotel. To all and sundry it was known simply as Tagg's Hotel, and was so called by locals, as the present writer recalls, long after its founder was dead and buried.

Meanwhile, down in the village of East Molesey, the resident population was steadily growing, providing ever-increasing possibilities for the expansion of licensed business. In the middle decades of the century three new public houses were opened along Walton Road. Initially each opened as a beerhouse under the 1830 Act, and each straightaway applied for a full licence to serve wines and spirits, but each had to wait, in some cases several years, before this was actually granted. A licence was allowed for the New Inn in 1856, for the Europa in 1861, and for the Poyntz Arms in 1868.

The Royal Oak is one of the most popular of all English pub names, and commemorates the escape of King Charles after the Battle of Worcester, concealed in the famous Boscobel Oak. Our West Molesey Royal Oak must have been among the earliest of these, for we know it to have been so called as early as 1669, when the landlord, Robert Curtis, had his own halfpenny tokens minted because of the dearth of small coinage. Before this, as we have already stated, it was known as the White Hart. The old inn was a rambling weather-boarded timber building, which stood until the middle of the last century. It was demolished and the present house erected probably soon after it was taken over by Hodgson's Kingston Brewery in 1857.

The old Royal Oak

The old Royal Oak, about 1800.

The present house called The Cannon in High Street dates from 1897, but replaces a much older building. The earliest mention of this is in 1753.

The Cannon

The Cannon, rebuilt in 1897.

On the corner of High Street and Walton Road, where the post office and grocer's shop now stands, there were formerly five cottages, built about 1810, the largest of which became a beerhouse called The Traveller's Friend. In 1867 the Beerhouse Act was repealed and the landlords of all those houses which had opened under the old act now had to obtain annual licences from the magistrates at the Brewster Sessions. As far as the Traveller's Friend was concerned, the bench did this reluctantly and only after their worships had given the landlord a strict warning to be very particular not to engage in Sunday trading. At this time the licensee, William Heirsey, combined the business of beer retailing with that of butcher, selling beer on one side of the passage and meat on the other. Three years later, all the property on this corner was demolished for road widening, as part of an agreement with the Lambeth Water Company, who were laying their mains. And that was the end of the Traveller's Friend.

Around 1870 John Cann, the Clerk to the East Molesey Local Board, developed an area of land just inside West Molesey parish, on which he laid down a road and built houses. Realising the commercial possibilities of a public house midway between the two Moleseys, in an area ripe for development, Mr Cann had a house built on the corner of the road suitable for use as an inn, and in March 1870 applied for a full licence, which the bench declined to entertain.

He then applied for a beerhouse certificate, but met with no better success. He then applied for permission to sell beer for consumption off the premises, and this was granted, but withdrawn in the following year after the landlord, John Lawrence, had been convicted of allowing the beer he had sold to be drunk on the premises. The house was then closed up. Every year Lawrence made a fresh application for a licence, and every year with regular monotony it was turned down. It was not until 1882 that the beerhouse certificate was granted and not until well into this century that a full licence was obtained. The house was named after Lord Hotham, the lord of the manors of Molesey, who died in the year it was first built.

After the appearance of the Lord Hotham no new public houses were opened in Molesey for almost a century, and then two sprang up in just over six years — The Paddock in 1968, and The Surveyor in 1974, both built to cater for the residential and industrial growth of West Molesey around that time.

Of the Molesey inns whose stories we have traced, it has been the lot of two to be pulled down for road improvements; two reverted to private houses but both have since been demolished, and three have changed their names. It is sad to relate that the Carnarvon Castle has become the Ferryboat Inn; Tagg's Thames Hotel, The Streets of London; and quite recently the Poyntz Arms has emerged as the Village Arms. This is all to be regretted, but is a sign, one supposes, of changing times and changing social habits, and changes in the role that public houses play in the life of the community.


The Castle Hotel

The Castle Hotel and old Hampton Court bridge from the river Mole. Note in the top left hand corner the bridge which connected the main building to the annex constructed in 1887.

Castle Hotel

Castle Hotel, from the river.

The Castle Hotel

View from the Middlesex bank, showing the Castle Hotel with the annex behind, the two little wooden bridges which spanned the river Mole leading to the station, and on the right hand side behind the bridge, Tagg's Thames Hotel.

Olde Home

Olde Home, formerly The Bridge Coffee House.

Olde Home

Olde Home in demolition, 1967, for road improvements, which have yet to take place.

The Albion

The Albion, opened in the 1830s.

The Prince of Wales

A Victorian view of the Prince of Wales, opened in 1853.

The New Inn

The New Inn, about 1920.

The Europa

The Europa, about 1920, when it still had a porticoed entrance.

The Poyntz Arms

The Poyntz Arms, about the turn of the century; no motor cars to be seen, but plenty of horse droppings.

Tagg's Thames Hotel

Tagg's Thames Hotel, resplendent with tubs and hanging baskets filled with flowers of every hue.

Bridge Road

Bridge Road, about 1880, showing the old bridge, the Castle Hotel, and the Carnavon Castle (now the Ferryboat Inn) with the little turret with which it was formerly crowned. The shops on the western side of the road had not then been built.

Bridge Road

Bridge Road, showing the tower which once stood atop the Carnarvon castle (now the Ferryboat Inn).

The Royal Oak

The Royal Oak, about 1900.

The Surveyor

The Surveyor.

The Surveyor

The Surveyor looks through his theodolite from the last pub to be built in Molesey.

Tagg's Thames Hotel

Tagg's Thames Hotel and boat house from the river.

ISBN 0 86023 251 4

The Book of Molesey was originally published by Barracuda Books, now part of Baron, publishers of heritage volumes - maritime, military, transport, sporting and local. It is made available here with the kind agreement of Radmore Birch Associates.

Previous Chapter

Next Chapter

Related Subjects:

Printed version of this book:


A printed copy is available from:

  • Molesey Residents Association: Ernest Mallett, 20 Walton Road, East Molesey, Tel 020-8979-6446
  • Bookshop: 68, Walton Road, East Molesey 020-8224-3232
  • Molesey Library, The Forum, Walton Road, West Molesey 020-8979-6348
  • Houben's Bookshop: 2a Church Court, Richmond 020-8940-1055
  • Alternatively you may be able to get second hand copy on amazon.

All books copyright © R G M Baker, all rights reserved.
Images © 2006 M J Baker and S A Baker, all rights reserved.
Web page design © 2006 M J Baker and S A Baker, all rights reserved.