Ninety-year-old Bert Brudenell of Woodley Court, in a fascinating interview gave me a list of 38 Godmanchester public houses which he had compiled. How came there to be so many in what was, in those days, a town of under 2000 people? Firstly, Godmanchester was on the Old North Road, one of the two famous coaching roads out of London to the North, through Ware. The other was the New North Road through Stevenage. Both met at the former Wheatsheaf at Alconbury which had stabling for hundreds of horses. Secondly, Godmanchester's water supply was notoriously bad and Gumcestrians had, perforce, to slake their thirst at its hostelries. A third point is that many of the 38 pubs were unlicensed alehouses and just quite small houses - there were not less than five in London Street alone.
Not that there was not a strong Temperance Movement in Godmanchester, which finally resulted in the building of the Salvation Army Citadel, recently removed from Piper's Lane to Silver Street, but their efforts were evidently of limited success.
We started at the north end of the town after crossing the stone bridge from the midpoint of which the Mayor, by an ancient privilege, proclaimed the Accession of the Monarch (this was last done in 1936). The Woolpack has been a pub until quite recently. It was licensed in the 1850's by a wool sorter when the Riverside Mill opposite was built and popularly known as the Malecoff for its rounded end like the Russian Battery captured by the British and French in the Crimean War. Near it was the General Peel named for one of the two MP's - he was brother of Sir Robert Peel the Prime Minister and founder of the Police Force in 1829. Very near the Woolpack the Railway Tavern still bears its name and was built when the Eastern Counties Railway from St Ives to Godmanchester was opened.
Proceeding along the Avenue, the Black Bull was popular with farmers who left their traps in the yard to avoid taking them into Huntingdon and paying toll at the gate by the still existing Tollgate Cottage. Though altered in Victorian times, the old beams inside suggest it is much older. In Post Street I can find no trace of the Nag's Head, White Lion or Godmanchester Arms, but the Rose and Crown is now the Quaker Centre and the White Swan now Hatton House, was the favoured venue for the watermen when freight barges used the Great Ouse and its locks. The Godmanchester Arms was used by the navvies building the Great Northern Railway in the 1840's.
Coming to The Causeway, the estate agent's at the corner and the clothes shop facing the river were once the Horseshoe which was a coaching inn (they drove in by an arched opening from The Causeway and out into Cambridge Street). The landlord, King, had a large brewhouse in the yard and hired boats. The Royal Oak, built about 1860, was preceded by a pub with a thatched roof. The Grapes and the White Horse were also in The Causeway, the latter at the beginning of West Street, where also stood Uncle Tom's Cabin whose inn sign carried two scenes from the book, and The Wheatsheaf. On the north side of West Street, Mr and Mrs Richards' house was once The Farmyard while next door was The Vine. Inside the taproom of the latter was a framed verse:
My beer is good, my measure just Bring ready money for I don't trust
Further along West Street, in what was Bert Brudenell's home, and with a projecting sign was The Nelson. Also on the north side, and almost the last house, was The Shepherd and Dog, a splendid and ancient timber framed building (now called Shepherd's Halt).
All these last were on the road to the New North Road. On the Old North Road the Little White Swan is marked on an OS Map of 1900 on the site where Munro's shop now stands in Cambridge Street. Also in the street were the Cross Keys, Brickmakers' Arms (there were brickworks in Cow Lane) and Cambridge Arms and, of course, The White Hart. At the end of Earning Street on the North side was Miller's Home which still bears its name as does, just on the other side of Roman Gate flats, The Plough. The other four in London Street were Golden Lion, Musician's Arms, Queen's Head and Prince of Wales' Feathers. In London Road, besides The Exhibition used to stand the Fox and Hounds.
I have omitted till now not a few, not on main roads. There were the Hog and Chequers at the end of Chadley Lane, an old picturesque house which disappeared in 1926 when the corner including the Vicarage was rebuilt. The Ship in Silver Street was named after the Royal George, an 18th Century warship, while the Black Swan was also in Chadley Lane. Readers may know of others - please tell the Editor.