The historic pubs of West Wycombe 1356 words

This week we welcome back guest contributor Andrew Mullis, who has kindly

provided another article in his series about the pubs in the Wycombe area.

Andrew writes:

West Wycombe parish had three alehouse keepers and an inn holder recorded in

1577. We don’t know the names of these houses but there’s a good chance they

were all situated on the medieval highway from London to Oxford, Worcester and

mid-Wales through West Wycombe village. The licensees were: Thomas Challenor

(inn holder), George Hunte, James Hawle and Margaret Neighbore (alehouse


Over 100 years later, in 1689, a tax assessment has Georg Russell of the Unicorn

paying two shillings and four pence, Tho [mas] Ryman of the Black Boy 10 pence

and Mr Wells of the Geog [sic] two shillings and 10 pence.

The 18th century

The road through West Wycombe became part of the Beaconsfield and Stokenchurch

Turnpike Trust in 1719. West Wycombe Road was realigned and surfaced between

1748 and 1752 using chalk dug from the hill behind the village. The Dashwood’s

West Wycombe Park was laid out from the 1750s to 1770s. All of this work led to

West Wycombe village becoming an estate village and the West Wycombe Road a part

of a modern coaching road.

The first licensing records in Buckinghamshire are from 1753. The White Hart is

not mentioned by name in 1753 but is likely to have been licensed in that year,

and earlier, as the building is 16th century. Francis Green was the landlord

from 1754 until 1767 when he moved to the newly opened Lord Le Despencers Arms

on Downley Common and the White Hart was closed. The building later became

Weller’s grocer’s shop, then the Apple Orchard guest house, a cafe and is now a

homeware and gift shop with a cafe attached.

The Coach & Horses name appears just once in the 1766 records with Thomas Barnes

as licensee. Barnes had been at the Plough until 1765 and it’s probable that the

Coach & Horses was the same premises. The location was the old sweetshop next to

the Church Loft. Neither Barnes nor the Coach & Horses appear again in licensing

records, but, as we shall see, the Plough returns.

The Lion appears in the 1753 list of licences issued as the Red Lion. It was

opposite the Church Loft and had gone by 1768. The Wheel was on the Oxford side

of the Lion and is also licensed in 1753 but disappears after 1770. The Chequers

is recorded between 1753 and 1767. It was where the Village Hall is today.

We saw that a Unicorn and a separate Black Boy appeared in a 1689 tax

assessment. In 1753 both a Black Boy and a Black Boy & Unicorn appear in

licensing records. The Black Boy disappeared after 1761 while the Black Boy &

Unicorn remained, becoming simply the Black Boy in 1812. Looking again at the

1689 tax assessment tells us that the George and the Unicorn must have been of

similar size and value, while the Black Boy was much smaller, so it’s unlikely

the Black Boy competed with its near namesake for custom.

The Swan and the George are pubs we know today; both were licensed in 1753 and

probably earlier. We’ll return to them shortly.

The 19th century

By 1829 West Wycombe village had a Swan, a Black Boy and a George, which was to

become the George & Dragon around 1853. Each of these pubs was leased from the

Dashwood estate by Wheeler’s brewery of Wycombe. The coming of the railway

between London and Oxford in 1844 put paid, almost overnight, to the coaching

trade. Only the George and the Black Boy & Unicorn had the facilities to service

long-distance coaches, meaning that there is little evidence that they were much

affected by the demise of the stagecoach.

The Beerhouse Act of 1830 enabled ratepayers to brew and sell beer on their

premises once they bought an annual licence from the Excise for two guineas

(£2.10). This act gave West Wycombe High Street two more pubs. The Plough, first

licensed in 1830, is in a building dating from 1727 opposite the George &

Dragon. The Nag’s Head, next door to the Plough, licensed in 1842, was in a much

more modern-looking building out of keeping with others on the High Street.

The West Wycombe Road gained the Friend at Hand beerhouse in 1845. The Wycombe

Railway’s extension from High Wycombe to Oxford and Aylesbury arrived at West

Wycombe in 1862 where a station was built adjoining the Friend at Hand. A full

licence was granted to licensee Thomas Bowler the following year.

The 20th century to the present

The railway through West Wycombe was brought up to main line standards between

1900 and 1906 by the Great Western & Great Central Joint Railway. Trains then

began to steam through from Marylebone to Manchester, joined by trains from

Paddington to Birkenhead in 1910. A new station now incorporated the Friend at

Hand pub, which the Great Western railway owned and leased to Wheeler’s Wycombe

Breweries. Part of the building became the booking office and there was a

dedicated public right of way through the pub from the road up to the platforms.

The Nag’s Head, run by the Harman family for 36 years, was considered by the

licensing magistrates to be redundant in 1909, closing at the end of that year.

Harry Harman received £37 10s for the loss of his licence.

West Wycombe village was in a poor state of repair by the late-1920s. Sir John

Dashwood, short of money to carry out repairs, put the village up for auction in

1929. The intention was to divide the village into 63 lots and give tenants the

opportunity to buy before the auction was held. At short notice the auction was

cancelled. The Royal Society of Arts had offered to buy the whole village to

preserve and maintain it. The Dashwood’s agreed.

The three oldest pubs in the village, particularly the Swan and the mid-16th

century Black Boy, were in a poor state in 1931. The licensing magistrates

approved plans to rebuild the Swan and close the Black Boy, which was in a very

bad state of repair. Compensation of £250 was paid to licensee Thomas Martin for

the loss of his licence and another £1350 to the Royal Society of Arts. The

Black Boy closed on 31 December 1931 later becoming the village hall and was an

antique shop by 1970. Today it houses Brocklehurst Architects.

The Swan was sensitively extended and refitted in 1932, retaining much of its

old character. One oddity is that the bar was refitted so that beer could be

drawn up from the cellar. Hand- pull pumps were never used and beer is still

drawn straight from the barrels on the stillage

behind the bar. In the same family since 1910, the pub is three-star rated by

the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) for its important historic interior, and is

Grade II listed.

Perhaps the oldest of all the pubs in the High Street is the George & Dragon.

It’s thought to date back to the mid-16th century and was refaced in 1720. The

sign is thought to date to that time. There was great excitement in May 1963

when new licensee Peter Maddock tested his theories about hidden rooms, a bag of

gold, a blocked-up cellar and the inevitable ghost. Sadly, he found nothing but

empty space behind the facade that dated back to the construction of the

Georgian brick facing. The grand unveiling of the hidden room took place in

front of TV cameras; at least the publicity must have been worth the effort.

West Wycombe station had closed in 1958 together with the right of way from the

West Wycombe Road through the Friend at Hand pub to the platforms. The pub

closed in 1998 being converted to housing.

The National Trust acquired the village from the Royal Society of Arts in 1934.

The Trust leases the three pubs that remain today, the Plough, the Swan and the

George & Dragon to their tenants.