Anyone with the strange urge to roam the streets of Godmanchester a century ago and count up the number of public houses would have recorded a total of 27. He would not have been at all surprised at what seems to us such an unbelievably inflated figure because all towns and villages were similarity well-endowed.

In 1869, when Godmanchester’s total was 23, Huntingdon recorded 38, St Ives 46, St Neots 37, the Hemmingfords 17 and Somersham 20

Twelve of our public houses were of the older type of inn dating back to the 18th century and before operating on a full licence, all the other  fifteen were a new breed which sprang up after 1830 selling  beer only. Only a very few, such as the Horseshoe and the Bull Inn would  be anything like the grand old inns that we normally associated with the age of old age and mail coaches. The majority would be quite humble affairs the beer houses being little more than ordinary houses with one room adapted for beer drinking.

Godmanchester was far from being a flourishing town in the 1870s and 1880s. By then all the river trade and most of the road traffic had vanished, killed off by the railways which also helped to flood the market with cheap foreign grain. In addition, a series of wet and cold winters in the 1880’s put some of the heavier land out of cultivation. All these factors brought about severe agricultural depression and depopulation.

Between 1861 and 1901 the population of the town fell by 17.5% and in 1881 56 houses lay uninhabited. Why then were 27 pubs open in such a declining town? If our investigator had gone into any of the houses for a drink during daytime, he would almost invariably have been served by a woman , either herself the tenant or the wife of the tenant .

The plain truth was that the income for a public house was not sufficient to keep a family. The husband had to follow another trade which kept him busy during the day, leaving his wife to care for the family and run the pub. Thus, William Squires of the Feathers was a corn dealer, Samuel Rose of the Bull a horse dealer, Edward Jones of The Plough a dealer in rushes and David Maile of the Godmanchester Arms a wheelwright.

Women frequently run pubs themselves and would carry on a house after the death of a husband. The Horseshoe was run in her own right by Mrs Mary Jordan from 1869 to 1876 from then to 1880 by Mrs Ann Morton who thereupon married Edward Enfield who kept it until 1887

So the public house with a means, however precarious, by which a wife could supplement the family income, adding perhaps  £1 or £2 a week to her husband earnings. In such hard times the licence with something of a lifeline, something to hang on to

Once given up it could never be regained. The record show that all 27 houses of 1882 still open in 1898. Only then did a new policy of rationalization by the brewers plus compulsory closures bring about a market fall. By 1914 the total is down to 12


John Hadley