Public Houses in East & West Molesey

Rowland G. M. Baker, 1981

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Bridge Road, East Molesey


Before 1933 the bridge spanning the Thames between East Molesey and Hampton Court formed a continuation of Bridge Road. At the foot of the bridge on the Molesey side was an ancient inn called The Castle. It stood abutting the eastern side of Bridge Road, and directly fronting the banks of both the Thames and the Mole, on the space now occupied by the roundabout facing the Ferryboat Inn and the Thames Hotel.

The Castle is often stated to have been an inn from the seventeenth century [68], although this seems highly unlikely. No documents have come to light which might prove or disprove this assertion.

The earliest proof of its existence which the present author can find is in the reign of George the first, when it is depicted in the background of Leonard Knyff's well-known bird's-eye view of Hampton Court. After which it appears on a number of prints and paintings of the palace and bridge.

It was probably brought into being because of the ferry which, before the first bridge was built, carried people across the river from Hampton Court to a point just beside where the Mole fell into the Thames. Travellers coming up to the palace from the south would well require refreshment or a night's lodging before crossing over the river, and likewise in the opposite direction, and so the inn came into existence to cater for the demand.

One of the prints of the bridge, published in 1754 [69], shows the view looking upstream, with the inn on the left hand side, and the landing stage for the ferry in front of it. Apparently at this time it was called the "Prince of Wales", for the sign board painted with the three feathers of the prince's badge can clearly be seen hanging from the façade facing the river. It may well have been in respect to Frederick Louis, the son of George the second, who became Prince of Wales in the late 1720s, who often resided in the palace just across the water, that the inn was so called. If so we know not by what name it went before that time.

The name change must have come about soon after this, for it was Thomas Davis, the licensee during much of the latter half of the eighteenth century who appears to have dubbed it "The Castle". Davis came, according to a journal kept by his great-grandson, "from some castle in Wales" [70].

Since the reign of Henry the eighth the Manor of Molesey Prior, of which the Castle was part, had been a crown estate. However, in 1816, in order to provide sufficient capital to purchase Claremont as a home for Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Prince Regent, an Act was passed through Parliament to enable the king to sell off as much other property as would raise this sum [71]. So in October 1820 the Commissioners of Woods and Forests sold the whole manor to the then lessees, Lord Hotham and the trustees of Sir Thomas Sutton, for an undisclosed sum [72]. The purchasers immediately sold off the Castle to Farnell and company of the Isleworth Brewery [73].

Both of these agreements, however, seen just to have been ratifications of transactions already entered into, for the whole estate had been put up for sale by auction in June 1819, and the Castle sold as freehold [74].

The catalogue of the sale illustrates well the house as it then stood: "LOT XXIV. A very valuable freehold estate, tithe free, comprising the well frequented Public House called the Castle. Which is a substantial brick building, tiled, containing six rooms in the garrets, four sleeping apartments, and two parlours on the one pair floor; tap room, bar, two parlours, kitchen, wash-house, and store room, on the ground floor. Good cellaring. The out buildings, consisting of stabling for eight horses, coach-house, a coal shed, and a wood building (formerly a stable) but now used as a skittle place". The relative value of the Castle can be appreciated by the revelation that this lot sold for £1,000, whilst the Bell, including the adjacent shop, two cottages and gardens, fetched a mere £550. And the Bell, which is often thought of as an old coaching inn, had only half the stable accommodation of the Castle [75].

The strategic importance of the Castle was emphasised even further when the railway was opened in 1849, with the station virtually on its doorstep, The development of the British railway network and the consequent decline of mail coaching left many an old roadside inn bereft of travellers; but those, like the Castle, who were so fortunately placed as to reap the full benefit of the age of the new iron horse, were swept forward on a flood tide of prosperity. In fact, one landlord of the Castle, a few years later, after spending just eleven years as host, is recorded as having "left the parish and retired on a fortune" [76]. No wonder many other people were anxious to open licensed houses in the area.

With the ever increasing popularity of Hampton Court as a tourist attraction, it became clear that, in spite of the new inns opening up nearby, the demand for hotel and refreshment accommodation was still greatly unfulfilled. To take full advantage of this potential the Castle needed to expand. But the site on which it stood was so completely circumscribed, with roads on two sides of it and rivers on the others, that expansion thereon was out of the question.

Nevertheless, just across the other side of the road leading to the station, on the south of the inn, lay the answer to the problem. A piece of ground which was owned by the Castle, on which the stables and coach-houses stood, as well as a plot laid out as a garden. In February 1887 plans were submitted to build an annex to the hotel on this land [77].

The building erected consisted of dining rooms, a billiard room, two bedrooms, with the usual offices. Its biggest drawback, of course, was the road between, which isolated it from the main block. The dilemma was solved by the construction of a bridge over the road, virtually a covered corridor, forming a passageway linking the two premises at second floor level. The same expediency as that adopted by the Charing Cross Hotel in London when faced with a similar problem, the result of which may still be seen by anybody wandering up Villiers Street today.

As the road over which the bridge stretched was a public highway, the owners of the inn paid a wayleave of one shilling a year for permission to use it [78]. In spite of the ornamentation on which the Local Board insisted the bridge was not to everybody's liking. One vociferous opponent of the scheme described it as "reminding him more of the infirmary of a large school than anything else" [79].

The death knell of the Castle sounded when it was decided to rebuild Hampton Court Bridge on an alignment to bypass Bridge Road, which was much too narrow to cope with the ever increasing volume of traffic, and the site of the old inn was required for the approach to the bridge. The doors were opened to the public for the last time on 15 March 1930, when a final nostalgic party was held, and upwards of a hundred and seventy people sat down to "an excellent repast" [80]. Thereafter the contents were auctioned off, the demolishers moved in, and the ancient hostelry reduced to rubble, which was used as part of the infilling for the old bed of the river Mole, which had to be diverted into the Ember. So somewhere under the roundabout, the roads, and lawns, now lays all that is left of this little piece of East Molesey history.

Innkeepers during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries:-

            1753 - John Pearce

            1765 - Thomas Davis

            1792 - William Davis

            1816 - James Kingett

            1821 - Samuel Keene

            1829 - John Mullins

            1846 - John Robert Scaiffe

            1851 - Mrs. Jemima Scaiffe

            1855 - Bryan Wiffen Mullins

            1868 - James Fuller

            1876 - Reuben Gutteridge

            1884 - John Mayo

Notes on some landlords:-

JOHN PEARCE: Was churchwarden of East Molesey in 1759 and 1760, and overseer of the poor in the following year.

THOMAS DAVIS: According to one of his descendants [81] he came from Wales to serve in the stables of George the third at Hampton Court. Certainly he was living in the district before taking over the Castle in 1765, as he appears as an overseer in 1760. He was a churchwarden in 1766 and 1767 and an overseer again practically all the time from 1775 until his retirement in 1792. Being too active a man to rusticate doing nothing, even though over sixty-four years old, he apparently took a job as a boatman on the river, for he was thus described on his will [82], which was drawn up for him by his friend John Walker, the local schoolmaster and clerk of the parish vestry, in April 1809. A month later at the ripe old age of eighty-one, he died [83]. The will expressed his desire "to be interred in decent Christian burial and to be followed to the ground by all my family who are to find and wear their own hat bands and gloves and I desire the choir may sing an anthem in the church at my funeral for which I desire my executors to give them ten shillings". His family was indeed numerous. He had had nine children, and his progeny even today are scattered all over the world, including some who still live in Molesey.

WILLIAM DAVIS: Was the fourth son of the preceding. He was lame, having been thrown off a horse in his youth. Besides running the inn, he hired out horses from the extensive stables, as well as rowing boats and punts on the adjacent rivers. These extra mural activities brought many clients who required refreshments. Mrs. Davis was a noted cook, and by then the house was already acquiring a reputation, especially for its eels and pies. The family also owned a number of meadows near the river where osiers were cropped for the manufacture of baskets [84]. The victualling families in Molesey were a close knit community in those days; Davis's brother married the daughter of the landlord of the Cannon at West Molesey, whilst his own daughter was wed to the latter's son, and another daughter married the son of the licensee of the Bell. William Davis was overseer five times between 1794 and 1814. He was buried in St. Mary's churchyard, but his grave was moved to its present position, next to his father's, when the present north aisle was built in 1867 [85].

JOHN MULLINS: Built the row of houses now known as Creek Cottages, which was still called "Mullins Alley" within living memory. His grave in St. Mary's churchyard, along with William Davis's and John Scaiffe's, was one of those moved when the church was enlarged in 1867 [86], so it looks as if there was a little portion of the cemetery reserved for the landlords of the Castle. Bryan Wiffen Mullins, who was a later licensee of the Castle, was his son.

JOHN MAYO: It was once said that "Mr. John Mayo is known from John o'Groats to the Land's End, counting his friends by the score, or rather century", and like laudatory remarks were also reserved for the hotel he kept, "Princes and their suites stay here, the famous cuisine and wines doubtless providing a great attraction. It is a prime favourite with the honourable and ancient fraternity of anglers. Racing men, who know a good thing when they see it, make the hotel a resting place, it being furthermore close to Hurst Park, Kempton and Sandown" [87]. Some idea of the trade enjoyed by the Castle at this time can be gauged by the fact that Mr. Mayo's rent was £1,000 a year. A colossal sum in Edwardian times [88].

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