Public Houses in East & West Molesey

Rowland G. M. Baker, 1981

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Walton Road, West Molesey


The Royal Oak is one of the most prolific of English inn names, as well as one of the most historic. Its romantic sign swings outside nearly eight hundred houses throughout the kingdom. It is common knowledge that the name commemorates the escape of Charles the second after the Battle of Worcester in 1651, when he hid in the celebrated Boscobel Oak, and successfully evaded capture just above the very noses of Cromwell's pursuing Ironsides.

Following the restoration of the monarchy innkeepers demonstrated their loyalty by naming their houses after the symbol of the event which made it all possible.

The landlord of West Molesey's inn was in the van of this upsurge of popular feeling and promptly altered the name of his pub to suit the changing times. For we know it was called the Royal Oak as early as 1669 [127], which was only nine years after the Restoration. By this action he not only showed his allegiance to the crown, but also his fealty to the lord of the manor, Thomas Brend, who had recently been invested with the Order of the Royal Oak, an honour of chivalry inaugurated by the restored monarch but abandoned after a short time [128].

Before this the house was known as the White Hart. Also a very popular name for inns and taverns. A white hart, collared and chained in gold, is a device of great antiquity. It was certainly in use in Roman times, and was employed by Richard the second as his personal badge. His army wore it displayed on the front of their jerkins, and publicans proudly painted it on their inn-signs, as an indication of their support. Many White Hart inns date from this time.

In 1636 the landlord of the White Hart at "Little Moulesey" was called Parnell Nightingale [129]. The Nightingales were a yeoman family holding considerable sway in West Molesey. Their descendants continued to live in the village right up to the present century, and Nightingale Road is named after them.

Robert Curtis, the man probably responsible for the change in the inn's name, was also a man of influence in the parish. His name appears several times as a witness to other people's wills [130].

At the time when there was a desperate shortage of small change, he had his own coins minted. Official money of the realm, especially in small denominations, halfpennies and farthings, was in extremely short supply during the seventeenth century, and normal business became practically impossible to transact. Tradesmen found it necessary, therefore, to strike their own coins, usually referred to as tokens, in order to provide change for their customers. With the use of these tokens, trade could proceed as normal. But the issuers were honour bound to redeem their own coins for national currency if demanded. However, the majority of the regulars probably spent them at the same pub at the next available opportunity.

The token issued by Curtis was a silver halfpenny, inscribed on the obverse: "ROBART CORTES OF WEST MOLSEY - HIS HALFE PENY"; and on the reverse was the representation of an oak tree and three crowns, with the words: "THE RYALL OCKE 1669" [131].

Token issuers were permitted by law only to mint in silver, therefore, the coins being of such small denominations were absolutely miniscule in size, and were very prone to get lost.

The Royal Oak next appears on the scene in 1752, when the building was insured against fire. The records of the Hand-in-Hand Insurance Society, with whom the policy was taken out, give a good idea of the structure as it existed at the time.

It was of timber construction, of three portions, each of two stories high, with garrets over one part. The ground sizes of the three portions were, 36 feet by 18 feet, 20 feet by 17 feet, and 13 feet by 10 feet, respectively. Besides which there were external buildings consisting of: a shuffle board room, for the entertainment of the customers, 27 feet by 12 feet; a back room, 15 feet by 14 feet; and a wash-house, 12 feet by 12 feet. All amounting to a total value of two hundred and fifty pounds. It was described as being "on ye North side of ye Road at Moulsey aforesaid in ye parish aforesaid standing clear of other Building being the Royal Oak Alehouse in ye possn. of Saml. Noble". The policy was paid for by Robert Thomas of Highgate, who was than the owner of this and other property in West Molesey [132].

The policy lapsed in 1758, but within two years another had been taken out with the same company in somewhat similar terms, although the total value of the property was entered at the greatly reduced figure of one hundred and fifty pounds. What was before called the back room is now designated a brewhouse, an interesting reminder that in the eighteenth century the Oak brewed its own beer [133].

The ownership of the property had by then been acquired by Nathaniel Winch, a distiller living in Hampton (who was probably a relative of Robert Thomas), on whose death in 1775 it passed in trust for the benefit of his "dear wife Catherine" [134]. The trustee named in the will, Charles Causton, was Robert Thomas's son-in-law. He lived until 1811, and the inn was then sold, probably to the Kingston brewery firm run by the Rowlls family, who were subsequently named as the owners. However, as Mr. Causton had died intestate, his executors did not realise that the estate was owned by copyhold and not freehold. So no record of the transaction was entered into the manor court rolls, and therefore, strictly speaking the property was not legally conveyed, In fact, it was not until 1857, after the brewery had been sold to W.F. Hodgson, and the various premises belonging to the firm were being transferred, that the omission was discovered, and Rowlls found that he held no proper title to the Royal Oak at all [135].

To legitimise the situation it was necessary to locate Charles Causton's legal heir, who was still on paper the lawful owner. This turned out to be his great-grandson, Thomas Lilford Neil Causton, and on 5 September 1857 a manorial court was held at which he was officially admitted to the property, and which he immediately surrendered to Hodgson. Although the latter transaction was not finally enrolled on the manor court records until December 1860 [136].

Hodgson took prompt action to prevent such an occurrence from happening again, and in 1861 he purchased an award of enfranchisement from the lords of the manor which gave him the freehold of the property [137].

It was probably soon after Hodgson had taken over the property that the old wooden inn was demolished and the present unpretentious brick building erected.

Hodgson's Kingston Brewery Company was eventually merged with the Courage group, who are the present owners of the Royal Oak.

As in most places, being a well-established inn on the main road through the village, the Royal Oak soon became the posting place for the royal mails. In 1845 we find that the post arrived from London at a quarter past eight in the morning, and was immediately delivered around the village. Letters could be posted at the inn during the day until a quarter past six in the evening, but late postings could be accepted until half past six on payment of an extra one penny each [138].

In the same year we also find that the Royal Oak was the station for passengers wishing to board the omnibus which ran daily (except Sundays) between Addlestone and London, calling at West Molesey on the way, at nine o'clock and returning at a quarter past six in the evening. Besides which, every other day, the carrier, William James from Weybridge, with his lumbering van, called to pick up packages. Travelling to town on Tuesdays and Fridays, and returning on Wednesdays and Saturdays [139].

In 1883 Mrs. Matilda Houstoun, a lady who had gained a moderate literary fame in Victorian England, recalled the days of her youth when she had lived in the house which is now the West Molesey Vicarage, and wrote: "Within a stone's throw of the 'mossy, mouldering wall' that surrounded the graveyard, stood a hostelry of good repute, from the door of which tipsy men and slovenly idle women were never seen to emerge" [140].

Licensees include:-

            1636 - Parnell Nightingale

            1664 - Robert Curtis

            1697 - Paul Johnson

            1699 - Thomas Buss

            1752 - Samuel Nobles

            1756 - Willmot Nobles

            1760 - Daniel Redford

            1794 - James Draper

            1822 - John Edwards

            1844 - Francis Edmonds

            1848 - George Licquorish

            1853 - James Larkman

            1855 - H. Jacobs

            1857 - Mr. Griffen

            1859 - William Soppitt

            1860 - R. Newland

            1862 - Edward Castle

            1873 - Richard Rope

            1888 - George Egerton

            1893 - James Skinner

            1893 - James Bouchier

Notes on some innkeepers:-

ROBERT CURTIS: In 1664 his house was assessed for four hearths, under a tax levied on the number of fire places [141]. In 1663 and 1664 he was elected to the office of churchwarden, a post which he obviously undertook with little relish, as during the latter year he appeared three times before the magistrates for obstinately refusing to fulfil his statutory duties in collecting the rates and paying them to the county authorities for the maintenance of bridges, gaols, and hospitals [142]. On 13 February 1678, "being in perfect memory and remembrance praised be God", he made his will, in which, after asking for his body "to be buried in Christian buriall in the graveyard of Westmoulsey", he left all his freehold houses and lands in West Molesey to a Thomas Fisher of Kingston [143].

PAUL JOHNSON: THOMAS BUSS: The wills of both these gentlemen describe them as victuallers and as living in West Molesey. As it is unlikely that there was another inn in the village at that time they have been included in this list as landlords of the Royal Oak [144].

SAMUEL NOBLES: Was living at West Molesey as early as 1734, when his daughter was baptised [145], but whether he was the landlord of the Oak at that time is uncertain. He was buried in the churchyard in 1753 [146].

WILLMOT NOBLES: Was the widow of the above. She died in May 1758 [147]. In her will she expressed the desire that her daughter, Mary, "wife of Daniel Redford should have the house that I now live in" [148].

DANIEL REDFORD: Came from Teddington and married the daughter of the two foregoing [149]. He inherited the inn in the right of his wife on the death of his mother-in-law. He was churchwarden five times between 1778 and 1793.

FRANCIS EDMONDS: Died in 1848, his white headstone still survives in the churchyard.

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