A Short History of the New Inn

The New Inn circa 1920


Like most pubs which have “New” in the title, the New Inn is actually old – over 200 years  and pre-dates the town of New Bradwell. It was built as a canalside hostelry in 1804 to serve the bargees on the Grand Junction Canal, which itself had only been operational since 1790. It is a stone rubble-built building with thick walls. It is not always easy to come up with a detailed history of an old building but since I lived there between 1958 and 1963 when my father was the landlord there, I can probably piece together the development of the building.
The building today shows three gables, but I suspect the original structure had two – the stone-built part of the Inn. The walls were (are) very thick and this helped to retain warmth in winter and keep the place cool in summer. Downstairs there were four rooms with a central stairway leading to five bedrooms.  Two rooms on the street side filled the public bar function as they still do to this day. The two rooms on the west side were probably living quarters for the landlord.
A bill for its sale in 1828 boasts “a large and commodious wharf, Stables for 30 horses, Corn Granaries, Coke and Salt Houses, Pigsties, Brewhouse, Wash-house, other detached Offices and a large garden.” The house had a “spacious Kitchen, Bar, large Dining-room, Back Kitchen with pump and a good Well of water.” There was cellarage for 100 Hogsheads,  which seems an optimistic amount of beer to consume in a week. The “offices” was a contemporary euphemism what we would now describe as toilets.
The brick addition to the south, which is shown as having a barn door in this 1920s photograph was probably a late nineteenth century addition. When we arrived in 1958 it housed a Gents toilet on the street side and a Ladies toilet on the west side with an open courtyard in between. Upstairs was a large room which could be reached by an outside stair flight on the west side, or internally from the residential part. This was known as the “Club Room” and it extended into the former back bedroom area. In 1958 this part was derelict. The roof had been leaking for many years and the floorboards were rotten. At my father’s insistence the roof was repaired and a new floor laid. Thereafter it was used for Bingos run by the New Bradwell St Peter’s Football Club and various wedding functions and parties. Some time after we left it was converted into a restaurant.
Up to 1958 the pub entrance was on the street side, but my father closed this off to open up the bar a little bit and cut out the draughts. The canal side entrance then served as an entrance to the Public Bar and the Lounge Bar.
As I have already mentioned the New Inn was built to accommodate the bargees on what was once a busy commercial waterway. There was no “New Bradwell” in 1804 and local inhabitants would have been few. The 1841 Census lists several publicans in Bradwell but is a bit vague about which pub was occupied by whom.
In the mid century the pub was operated by William and Hannah Millward, he from Birmingham, she from Cheshire. Their lodgers on March 30th 1851 were two acting families whom I have described in The Comedians, The other half of this acting troupe stayed at the Radcliffe Arms on this night. In 1861 there are seven lodgers recorded, all male and presumably sharing room. Most of them are railway employees but one, James Heritage, was an itinerant bookseller. By 1871 Millward’s son Daniel is running the place so the Millward family were fixtures there for about 30 years.  Daniel Millward continued his career at the Railway Tavern on Glyn Street.
One puzzling element in what I assume is a long period of Millward tenancy is a minute I discovered in the minute books of the L&NWR Works, Construction and Estates Committee for 1854.
            It was ordered

That the terms and conditions of proposed tenancy of New Inn at Bradwell by Mr J. Smith, be reported to the committee before being finally concluded.

I have not found any record of the railway company acquiring the New Inn, although that does not mean that they did not, but this minute makes little sense in view of the apparently uninterrupted tenancy of the Millwards. I can only conclude that the reference to “New Inn’ is not “The New Inn” but rather the new building on Glyn Street which was subsequently named the Railway Tavern.
It is noticeable that guests and lodgers at the New Inn start to drop off after 1871. A number of cottages had grown up beside the wharf  in the previous decade and New Bradwell itself was growing. One might guess that there was sufficient local pub trade to provide a living,  As if to confirm this view, there is only the Tooth family living there in 1881. Tooth stayed there for about twenty years and  practised as a butcher on the side. I wonder if the addition described above was constructed in these years. This would have given him room to hang meat.
By 1901 the pub is down to a 70 year old widow Sarah Radbone and her 40 year old daughter. The club room is let out to a family and there are two New Inn Cottages that appear on the Census. I don’t know where these were located but clearly there was no evidence of them 50 years later.
In 1864 the short branch line from Wolverton to Newport Pagnell was completed and The New Inn became popular amongst the navvies working nearby. It is said that the pub was nicknamed the “War Office” on account of the number of fights that broke out there. It was certainly not that way in the 1950s but as a Public House it only delivered a part-time income. Some regular cutomers came up the hill and some down from the Bradwell Road, but New Bradwell was well supplied with pubs in those days. The pub then, as now, was owned by Charles Wells Brewery at Bedford. There was not a lot of choice. You could either buy Bitter or Mild on draught and some bottled ales – Light Ale Brown Ale, IPA, Strong Ale and Guinness. In the way of spirits, Scotch Whiskey and Gin were staples and there was some demand for Rum and Vodka, often mixed with tomato juice, orange juice or lime cordial was entering a phase of popularity. Typically men only used the Public Bar and on Saturday and Sunday the men would bring their wives and girlfriends to the Lounge bar.
This was the very successful New Inn darts team of 1959/60.
Back Row: Vic Ewins, Tom and Mick Emerton, George “Nobby” Odell, Ron Frost, Arthur Godfrey
Front Row: Sam Tuckey, Tom Howard, Bill Taft, Geoff Odell
The pub darts league ran every Monday night and was very popular.
Goodman’s scrap yard was opposite and the Goodman brothers also rented some of the New Inn land. The frontage to the canal was overgrown. Barge traffic was rare and leisure craft had barely started. The concept of a pub as a place to go for a sit down meal had yet to be invented.
Today The New Inn looks a lot prettier. Bay windows have replaced the old sash windows and the interior has been much modernised. There is now a lawn sloping down to the canal.

The Comedians

Travelling performers had been a feature of European life since at least the Middle Ages so it is no particular surprise to find a group showing up in Wolverton in the 1851 Census, although it is pure chance. Travelling players could have been in Wolverton on any other week in a ten year period and we would be entirely ignorant. There are, to my knowledge, no surviving playbills or contemporary accounts of such goings on, and local newspapers were yet to be invented in that part of the world. This accidental vignette does show us that there was money to be made in what must have been a hard life on the road. I imagine that after a 56 hour working week, Wolverton’s citizens were only too happy to be entertained.
On the night of the census in 1851, both the Radcliffe Arms and the New Inn accommodated the players.
The Rogers family were at the nucleus of this group, spanning three generations: Thomas and Mary Rogers, both 64, their son, also Thomas, with his wife Ann and four children, their daughter Caroline and the man she later married, John Wade Clinton, and two actors in their early twenties, just starting on a career, Charles and Caroline Brown. There was certainly enough of them to form a small acting company, capable of taking on most of the popular dramas of the day. The emphasis was on “light” entertainment and heavy tragedy left to the sophisticates of the London stage. The melodrama was the great favourite. These plays had a plot line which usually boiled down to Dick Dastardly threatening the Virtue of the pale, innocent and defenceless heroine, but thankfully foiled by the manly hero. In addition they might perform short sketches from the Commedia del Arte tradition and do a few comic “turns”. They are all recorded in the Census as “Comedians”, which would mean that they would perform the repertoire described above rather than do stand-up comedy as we would understand it today. In later censuses the women style themselves as “Actress” and John Wade Clinton gives his profession as “Lecturer and Comedian” which might suggest some changes in their repertoire.
Thomas Rogers the elder was born in Christchurch, Hampshire in 1786. His wife Mary was born in London so it is fair to assume that they met while touring. The family turns up in Warminster in 1841, all of the part of the family business. Their son Thomas is married to Ann with the beginnings of their family. There are three daughters, Amelia, 20, Augusta, 18 and Caroline, 15. Amelia and Augusta disappear from the Census after this date, presumably due to marriage. It is possible they continued their careers.
Some measure of the itinerant lifestyle can be taken from the places of birth of the children of Thomas and Ann Rogers -Agnes in Arlesford, Lavinia in Wimborne, Leonard at Henley in Arden, Amelia at Christchurch, Alfred at Wimborne, Clara in Somerset. After Caroline married John Wade Clinton, their children were born in Arlesford, Shaftesbury, Stallbridge and Bridport. In every census they are staying at Inns or in lodgings.
Thomas and Mary Rogers probably died with their acting boots on but the next generations appear to move towards more settled professions. Thomas Rogers the younger, his wife Ann, and two of their daughters settle as Innkeepers at Wootton Basset in their 60s. One son, Leonard became a telegraph supervisor in derbyshire and another, Alfred, a bank manager. John Wade Clinton started up a photography business in London’s West End. I have not been able to follow Charles and Caroline Brown.
On 30th March 1851, Thomas, the elder and Mary Rogers, John Wade Clinton and Caroline Rogers were staying at the Radcliffe Arms. The New Inn put up Thomas and Ann Rogers and their four children as well as Charles and Caroline Brown. We don’t know how long they stayed – I suppose for as many performances as could be booked, possibly a week. I imagine they performed at the Reading Room at Wolverton, this being the only building (apart from the school) able to accommodate this sort of activity.