At the turn of the century Godmanchester still had around thirty pubs. An amazing amount for such a small town. Obviously not a great Temperance centre! Although, it would appear the landlord of one local pub the 'Hog & Chequers' was, himself, a teetotaller. Licenses were easy to obtain, so almost anyone could apply to turn their private home into a public house. Many beer houses sprang up during the building of the railway to accommodate the navvies, and the hordes of sightseers that would turn up on a Sunday to watch the work in progress.
The first pub on the Godmanchester side of the bridge was the 'Woolpack" - now offices for "The Bridge Hotel". It was licensed at the time of the Crimean War, and the first licensee was a Mr. Raynor, a wool sorter who named it after his calling. It soon became 'The Malecoff' due to its round shaped end, after a tower, often referred to in the War. Close by 'The Railway Tavern' was built by Mr. William Markham, a well-known local builder, on the sight of an old stonemason’s yard, to coincide with the opening of the station. It did a brisk trade with train passengers.
At the start of Post Street stands the lovely old 'Black Bull' still as popular today as it was many years ago when toll gates were on The Avenue. Farmers and others going to Huntingdon Market would leave their horses and pony & traps at the 'Bull' and walk into town to avoid paying tolls - no doubt stopping in for liquid refreshment before going home.
On the opposite side of the street was the old 'White Lion'. The license was transferred early this century to new premises built by the licensee, Mr. James Burton, at the beginning of West Street. Mr Burton acquired local fame by being one of the few people in those days to survive Tetanus, or Lockjaw as it was then known. This, apparently, was due to his lack of front teeth, making it possible for liquid food to be forced down his throat. A big strong man, he survived into old age.
Also, on Post. Street was the 'Big White Swan', a Watermans pub, and the "Rose & Crown" now the Quaker Centre. Many of the taverns brewed their own beer on the premises. On the river side of Post Street stood another pub - 'The Godmanchester Arms' considered a somewhat disreputable place frequently by navvies working on the railway.
The "Horse Shoe" was a coaching Inn on the corner of the Causeway, it was noted for its excellent accommodation and stabling. Coaches used to enter through a large archway off the Causeway into a courtyard at the back, and out through an entrance on the Cambridge Street side. It also had its own brewhouse. On the Causeway the 'Royal Oak" was originally a long low thatched building with an old-fashioned swinging sign. Unfortunately, this was demolished by Mr. John Clifton, a freeman, who built the present pub on the same sight. Other taverns in the same vicinity were the "Nag's Head', 'White Lion' and the 'Wheat Sheaf". The latter had an open well at the front door.
Mr Garka, a local brewer and owner of several pubs, was obviously a very patriotic man calling his pubs the 'Royal George', the 'Lord Nelson' and the 'Prince of Wales Feathers".
Down towards the end of West Street, Mr. William Reed, a shepherd, became the first tenant of a beer house and named it appropriately the 'Shepherd & Dog'. This is now the lovely home of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Stokes.
So called 'Parlour nights' were very popular with the Victorian middle and upper class in such pubs as the 'Black Bull', 'Royal Oak" and 'Queens Head'. Usually, one night a week was put aside for old friends to meet and put the world to rights, and discuss local gossip - not much drinking was done, it was more of a social gathering. Others would use the taprooms. Most pubs had a bowling alley, not on the same scale as the modern ones, but the same objective of knocking down the pins with one throw. These were eventually banned for some reason.
What I wouldn't give to go back into the past and talk to some of the old characters and sample the home brew. Even if this was possible, I don't think, as a woman, I would have been very welcome as pubs were considered a man's domain, and women rarely entered them.
Also, unlike the present-day pubs with their thick carpets and smart decor, the old ones would have had white-washed walls, bare boards or flag Stone floors with plain pine benches to sit on, and trestle tables not exactly warm and welcoming
In this article, I can only name a few of the many. Today, sadly, only four remain - the lovely old 'White Hart', 'Black Bull', 'Royal Oak" and 'Exhibition'. Over the years, with changing circumstances, the others gradually disappeared. Most of the buildings are still standing and are now private houses. If walls could only talk, I would like to bet they could tell a tale or two.
To see the location of these pubs go to Godmanchester maps on the main menu