Some history of the Royal Oak Inn at Brandon in the county of Warwickshire.


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The Royal Oak Inn stands at the south-west edge of Brandon village, close to the River Avon and railway line connecting Coventry with Rugby. There used to be a station on this line serving both Brandon and Wolston but this closed in 1960. The railway station stood a little to the west of the Royal Oak Inn and would have brought a little extra trade for the house.

Brandon : Royal Oak Inn [c.1906]

This photograph of the Royal Oak Inn dates from around 1906. There are two names on the signboard above the front entrance. John Cave was the owner of the building and the licensee was Leonard Walton, an Oxfordshire farmer who had married John Cave's daughter Sarah. It was her father who founded the family brewery that operated from the Royal Oak Inn from around 1860. His father, John Cave, was running the Royal Oak Inn during the 1840s along with his mother Sarah and sister Harriet. His brother Thomas was also living at the Royal Oak Inn but was described as a carpenter. He employed two men and could have been responsible for wooden casks for beers produced at the house. John Cave was recorded as a brewer and beer retailer in the census conducted in 1861 which also shows that he had married Wyken-born Sarah.

Daughter, Sarah Cave, had married the Rugby-born builder Edwin Tew in June 1885 at Wolston parish church but he died two years later. The 28 year-old widow married Leonard Walton in April 1889. Born in the Oxfordshire hamlet of Ledwell in 1858, he was the son of the well-to-do farmer George Walton and Harriett Hutt. It was following the death of Harriett Walton that the family moved to the parish where Leonard and his father employed a small workforce to farm more than 200 acres of land. Following their marriage, Leonard and Sarah Walton initially operated a separate farm from that of his father but would later move into the Royal Oak Inn where John Cave was taking more of a back seat. However, he continued to brew ales whilst Leonard and Sarah kept the pub. John Cave sold his ales to the free trade and had an agent in Coventry's Weston Street. He also operated brewery premises in Wolston.

John Cave was the first elected Chairman of Wolston Parish Council. His son-in-law Leonard Walton was elected vice-chairman. A busy man in public office, John Cave also served on the Warwickshire County Council. He was also a member of the committee at the Working Men's Club when that institute opened in March 1886. Indeed, at the opening ceremony he was called upon to give a speech, during which he showed he was both gracious and magnanimous in his praise for the building offering a recreational space for the villagers. The Nuneaton Advertiser observed that the rest of the committee "were perfectly aware that he was in a peculiar position. They knew very well that his time was spent principally in extracting the juice from English barley, and to sing the praises of a decoction of coffee berries, or of tea leaves from China, would seem to be a peculiar thing for him to do and they would therefore not expect him to be very hearty on that point." Conversely, the brewer and publican stated that he thoroughly appreciated such an institution, and that a room of that kind, where the parishioners could have their social meetings, enlivening and instructive entertainments, and services, must be a blessing, a comfort, and convenience to any village. Moreover, he thought every parish in the kingdom ought to have such a room, where people could assemble on neutral ground.

John Cave employed a small workforce at the brewery but was successful in the enterprise. He died on December 30th, 1904 and his employees acted as bearers. Their names were Bostock, Harris, Matthews, Clarke, Hutt and Webb. It was a very solemn occasion and the blinds of the houses in Brandon and Wolston were drawn as the cortege made its way to the small cemetery whilst the bell of the parish church tolled.

For many years Leonard Walton was occupied in the dual capacity of farmer and innkeeper. He became a well-known and highly respected member of the community and had a wide circle of friends. As publican of the Royal Oak Inn, it was said that his genial and cheery nature made him very popular with local residents. He joined the Warwickshire Yeomanry in 1877 as a member of the 6th Brandon Troop. As a sergeant in the troop for a number of years, he was a favourite with the officers and men. As an early recipient of the long service and good conduct medal, he retired from the military in 1907.

In public office Leonard Walton was the local guardian of the poor, and attended the meetings of the Rugby Board, where on many occasions be championed the cause of his less fortunate neighbours. As a member of the Wolston Burial Board, his business capacity always made his views respected. He was member of the Brandon Parish Council for many years. Following the passing of the Education Act, he was the representative of the Warwickshire County Council on the Brandon School Management. His kindly disposition in this role made him a great favourite with the scholars, while his ready assistance in any matter ensured he was respected by the teachers.

Leonard Walton was busy in all aspects of business and public office but he became seriously ill in the Spring of 1909. It was reported that he bore his illness with great patience, being quite cheerful to the last. Dr. Martin Richardson did everything he possibly could, but complications setting in, it was impossible to save him. His funeral took place at Wolston on Tuesday June 1st 1909. As the procession wended its way through Wolston signs of respect were shown on every side. Although a downpour of rain was taking place, a large number of people attended the funeral and testified to the great respect in which he was held. His coffin was borne to the grave by Messrs T. Ward, E. Sutch, F. Harris. T. Smith, F. Claridge, and E. Robins, old and respected employees of the family.

Brandon : Bicycle outside the Royal Oak Inn [c.1911]

Following the deaths of her father and husband, Sarah Walton became the owner of the Royal Oak Inn. Her name can be seen on the licensee's plate above the front door, although I am drawn to the bicycle parked outside whilst its owner has nipped in for refreshment. Any old photograph of a public-house with a bicycle is bound to excite a two-wheeled adventurer such as myself.

Advertisement for the Royal Oak Inn at Brandon [1914]

The above advertisement shows that the pub had taken advantage of the its position and featured a riverside tea garden. The boat house was located a short distance to the east of the pub. Cave's Ales were still on draught in the Royal Oak Inn. I believe that these were produced by another John Cave, a member of the family.

Advertisement for an auction of the contents of the Royal Oak Inn at Brandon [1910]

It would seem that Sarah Walton was no longer involved with the day-to-day running of the Royal Oak Inn. Her sister Harriet, along with her husband James Fitter took over the tenancy of the property. The son of a farmer, James Fitter was born in 1863 at Potterspury in Northamptonshire but grew up on a farm at Brinklow. He and Harriet were married at the parish church in April 1892.

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The Royal Oak was hit by double tragedy in 1912. Harriet Fitter passed away in July after becoming seriously ill when working in the tea gardens. The 40 year-old quite suddenly became unnconscious, and remained in this condition until she died six days later. It was reported that "she was well-known for her charitable disposition and kindly manner, especially amongst the children of the district." It was further stated that Harriet "for a number of years was a member, along with her husband James, of the Amateur Theatrical Society held at Brinklow, and took a prominent role in the Society."

Advertisement for an auction of the furniture within the Royal Oak Inn at Brandon [1914]

James Fitter died a few months after his wife. In March 1914 there was another sale of the household furniture, antique items and outdoor effects. The building became part of the estate of public-houses controlled by The People's Refreshment House Association Limited, an organisation that was founded in 1896 by Francis Jayne, an Anglican vicar who was appointed Bishop of Chester in 1889. Concerned about alcohol abuse and its effect upon the fabric of society, the Association borrowed from the Gothenburg System to manage public-houses free from tie to brewers. A key principle was that the houses were required to make adequate provision for the sale of food and non-alcoholic liquors and that the management of the house would be placed in the hands of a salaried manager, and persons employed on the premises would receive no profits from the sales of alcohol. With its popular tea gardens, the Royal Oak Inn was a good fit for the Association which, at its peak, controlled 170 public-houses and hotels in the UK. Share dividends were capped at five per cent and net profits were to be used for the public good.

The first manager of the new-look Royal Oak Inn was George Saunders. However, by 1920 Harry Leech was in charge of the establishment. Born in January 1879 at Hepworth in Suffolk his family moved across the county border into Norfolk where, working as a gardener, he married Emma Arnold in 1903 at Hockwold. Working as a gardener, he was socially mobile and the couple spent some time in Surrey. His change in career was probably as a result of his service in the First World War.

Harry and Emma Leech handed over to Archibald Crisp in May 1922. A social gathering was organised by patrons of the Royal Oak Inn to show their appreciation for the time at Brandon. The local newspaper reported that "the couple were presented with a very handsome clock as a small token of respect and appreciation of their courteous and obliging manner to all with whom they came in contact. Mr. Edward W. Ireson made the presentation, and in doing so said they trusted that whatever might by the future employment of the recipients they would have success." In that late 1930s Harry, supported by his wife, was the steward of Stourbridge Golf Club at Pedmore until his death in January 1944.

Archibald Crisp also hailed from Norfolk but came to Brandon via London where he had been in service to the Elliott family of Great Cumberland Place. Working as a groom, he was one of eight servants employed by the Elliotts. It was here he fell in love with Henrietta Knight who was the head housemaid. The couple married St. George's Church at Hanover Square in July 1917. This may have been whilst he was on leave as he served in Francy with the Royal Army Service Corps. during World War One.

In March 1925 Archibald Crisp, tenant of the Royal Oak Inn, applied for a seven-day licence for the pub which was being improved and enlarged. His legal representative explained to the bench that the need had arisen for a Sunday licence for the property. The magistrates were informed that the application was made at the urgent request of the inhabitants, and a petition would be presented, signed by every male householder in Brandon, and all the male population of Bretford. There was also a letter from the British Legion in favour of the application. The solicitor added that the other parishes in the neighbourhood had their houses open on Sundays. Edward William Ireson, a retired schoolmaster, said there was undoubtedly a need for a Sunday licence. The application was granted. The Royal Oak Inn was still a beer house at this stage - a full licence for the house was granted in February 1935. This licence was removed from the Rose and Crown Inn at Long Lawford, a public-house that closed on April 11th, 1934.

Advertisement for Lucas, Blackwell & Arkwright of Leamington [c.1900]

Brandon : Royal Oak Inn as an Ansell's house [c.1947]

I suspect that the Royal Oak Inn was once part of the tied estate of Lucas & Co. Ltd., a brewery at Leamington taken over by Ansell's of Aston during November 1928. The Royal Oak Inn can be seen here in the livery of Ansell's in a photograph dating from just after the Second World War. Compared with the image from Edwardian times, the modifications to the building that were undertaken in the 1920s can clearly be seen. The central core of the old building remained but was considerably enlarged by the either the Leamington Brewery or The People's Refreshment House Association Limited.

Ansell's - The Better Beer

Archibald Crisp would later run the Woodman Inn at Leamington. Before the Second World War he moved from the Black Horse Inn at Marton to run the Albion Tavern at Kenilworth.

Oscar and Winifred Varnish were mine hosts of the Royal Oak Inn during the late 1930s. At the end of the Edwardian period Oscar Varnish was working as a toolmaker at Rugby but lived at the Peacock Inn which was kept by his brother Arthur. He married Winifred White in 1911.

Brandon : The Royal Oak [2018]

I took this photograph when I called in during a cycle ride around the area in May 2018. However, the public-house has been updated/refurbished since so perhaps the frontage is a little different. The photograph below shows the interior following the £100,000 refurbishment.

Brandon : Interior of the Royal Oak [2020]

Ansell's Mild - Brewed in Birmingham

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Licensees of the Royal Oak Inn

1841 - Sarah Cave
1846 - John Cave
1916 - George Saunders
1920 - Harry George Leech
1922 - Archibald Horace Crisp
1936 - Oscar William Varnish
1942 - Edward Deacon
1943 - Walter Hewitt
Note : this is not a complete list of licensees for this pub. The dates of early licensees are sourced from trade directories, census data, electoral rolls, rate books and newspaper articles. Names taken from trade directories may be slightly inaccurate as there is some slippage from publication dates and the actual movement of people.

Map showing the location of the Royal Oak Inn at Brandon in Warwickshire [1951]

This map shows the location of the Royal Oak Inn at Brandon just after the Second World War. Note the railway station just along the road to the west of the pub.

Ansell's - Newcrest Stout

Related Newspaper Articles

"An inquest was held at the Royal Oak Inn, Brandon, on Saturday 2nd June 1866, before W. S. Poole, Esq., coroner for the district, and a respectable jury [Mr. John Hanson, foreman], on the body of a male infant, which was found in the River Avon, in the parish of Ryton. Dr. Thurston, who had made an external examination of the body, stated that the body was in such an advanced state of decomposition [having apparently been in the water a month], that it was impossible to say whether the infant had been born alive or not. The jury found a verdict in accordance with the medical testimony."
Warwick and Warwickshire Advertiser : June 9th 1866 Page 2

Ansell's Bitter

"On Wednesday afternoon Dr. Wynter, coroner, held an inquest at the Royal Oak Inn, Brandon, on the body of Thomas Radbourne, Ryton-on-Dunsmore, a platelayer, who was killed on the railway on Monday evening last. Mr. John Cave was chosen foreman of the jury, and Inspector Squires, of Birmingham, watched the enquiry on behalf of the Railway Company. Thomas Radbourne, labourer, Wolston, said the deceased was his cousin, and was 38 years of age. George Smith, signalman, Brandon, stated last he last saw the deceased about 8.45 on Monday evening at the signal-box near Brandon ballast pits, getting ready to go and see after the points and clear the snow away. Witness did not see deceased after that and no train passed till about 9.15, the 8.56 from Rugby. Deceased told witness he was coming back again, and as he did not return witness became uneasy about him, and told the ganger, who came two hours afterwards, to look for him. The ganger returned at 11.15, and said one of his men had found the body on the line. It was snowing very fast when the train passed about thirty minutes after the deceased left the signal-box. It was part of deceased's duty to clear the snow from the points, and he had with him a lamp and the necessary implements for that purpose. Deceased was apparently quite sober when witness last saw him. By juror: Four trains followed the 8.56 train in quick succession, as soon as they could get clear; and two trains came up, but there was sufficient space of time between them, so that he would not step out the way of one train into that of the other. A juror asked whether it had been ascertained which train killed deceased, and Inspector Squires said enquiries had been made by Mr. Mumford, locomotive superintendent at Rugby, but he could not learn anything, and none of the drivers saw any marks upon their engines. John Steane, platelayer, deposed that about 11 o'clock he was walking along the line, according to instructions he received from the ganger, to look for the deceased, and found the body about 200 yards from the signal-box, and about 100 yards from the points, lying straight along between the rails of the down line. Witness could not see any marks on the snow where deceased had gone on the line. It appeared as if deceased had passed the points, and had gone on towards the distant signal. The Foreman said that as the back of the deceased's head was smashed, it would appear that he was struck from behind while walking along. Deceased had been clearing the points, but more snow had fallen since. The Coroner said there could be no difficulty in coming to a conclusion as to the cause of death. Deceased, in carrying out his duty, was walking along the line, and being a snowy night he did not hear the train coming up behind him, and the result was the fearful and sickening injuries which the deceased had received. He did not think there was any blame attached to anyone, an no one could possibly have prevented the accident. A juror remarked that deceased would be doing wrong to be walking between the metals. Inspector Squires said the rules were very clear in regard to the employees not walking along or crossing the line on the approach of trains, in order to avoid accidents. A juror remarked that is was a very rough night, and deceased would not hear the train. The jury returned a verdict of "Accidental death," and added a rider that, in their opinion, the company was not to blame."
"Shocking Death On The Railway"
Rugby Advertiser : February 18th 1888 Page 3

"A man named Herbert John Wood, painter and paperhanger, said to hail from White Street, Coventry, was found on the line near Skew Bridge, on Tuesday afternoon between 4 and 5 o'clock. He was noticed by number of platelayers who were working on the line, and Mr. R. Healey, Avon Terrace, Wolston, was the first, to reach him. It was at once seen that he was badly injured, and was conveyed by P.C. Hull and Mr. R. Healey to Rugby Hospital. On inquiry at the Rugby Hospital it was stated that Wood was a little better today. As an engine was proceeding along the line near Mr. W. H. Parson's farm, Brandon Wood, early this morning the driver noticed the body of a man lying on the rails. He reported the discovery on his arrival at Coventry, and an engine and brake van was despatched to the spot. The Brandon and Wolston stationmaster was communicated with, and he, in conjunction with P.C. Hull, removed the body to the Royal Oak Inn, Brandon. The body was mutilated. The left leg was cut off at the knee, and the right wrist was nearly severed, whilst there was a severe gash on the chin. The man was wearing a dark tweed suit and a light cap, nearly new, which bore the maker's name, "A. J. White, cap maker, Germain Street." The man was about 5ft. 7ins. to 5ft. 8ins. in height, and had the appearance of having been in the Army. The body has not yet been identified."
"Sensational Discoveries at Brandon"
Coventry Evening Telegraph : April 29th 1914 Page 3

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Related Newspaper Articles

"He was typical of the class of Englishman that is fast disappearing," remarked the Coroner [Mr. E. F. Hadow] at the conclusion of the inquest on the death of Mr. John Turner at the Royal Oak Inn, Brandon, on Saturday afternoon. Deceased, who was 82 years of age, it will be recalled was found drowned in a small well at the back of his house on Friday morning. He was an old and highly-respected resident of Brandon where he had for many years carried on the business of a market gardener. Mr. E. W. Ireson was foreman of the jury. Mr. N. Barker, of Wolston, identified the body and said on April 8th he was in the company of deceased and left him at the gate of his house just before 10 p.m. Witness and his friends never allowed him to go home alone on the dark nights as his right eye was affected. He was strong and healthy and "wonderful for his age," added witness. He kept a number of fowls in his garden and it was his custom to feed them and give them water as soon as he got up in the mornings; he had to get the water from a small well in the garden. Miss Margaret Jane Barker, daughter of the last witness, said that she did some of deceased's housework and usually went to see him early in the mornings. On the morning of April 9th she found the door closed and fastened, there being a slip latch. Not being able to hear him moving about, she went into the garden and found him standing with his head in the well, and immediately sent for assistance. Replying to the Coroner, witness said deceased generally fed the fowls before she went to the house and usually found him at breakfast. Charles Gupwell, of Brandon, said soon after ten he was called to the garden and found deceased in the well. His head was straight down but his legs were on the ground, as he was bending over, and his head was jammed in the wooden frame at the top of the well. The frame was pulled back properly, and when they got him out he was quite dead, there being no injuries to the head. P.C. Jesson spoke to examining the garden. The well was 37 inches deep and the width 26 inches; there was only 23 inches of water; the frame measured 18 inches by 20 inches. The Coroner: It would take him all his time to get his head in that space. Continuing, witness said there was a ladle by the side the well and he thought deceased had taken it to get the water for the fowl. He had his boots on but they were unlaced, and the constable found a broken lace on the ground, which was partly composed of cobble stones. Dr. Ford saw deceased two hours after death and after examination was satisfied that he had died from suffocation through drowning. By the Coroner: It was very probable that a man of deceased's age would turn giddy when stooping over the well. The Coroner: Would you be inclined to favour that opinion rather than the probability of him tripping over his boot lace. The doctor: I think it is more likely that he went giddy, the general appearance of the man was such that this might happen. Summing up, the Coroner said the man's death was undoubtedly due to an accident, but how it occurred might remain a mystery, it was not certain whether he tripped over his bootlace or fainted. But it was probable that if he tripped he would have thrown out his hands, thus making it more difficult for him to get his head down the small hole; he [the Coroner] was inclined to think that he was seized with giddiness, and would therefore be unable to assist himself. A juryman mentioned that he met deceased earlier in the week and he then passed the remark that he did not like stooping over the well. Mr. Ireson said the jury were unanimous that deceased was drowned, and that it was a pure accident. All Brandon residents would regret the loss of such a highly-esteemed inhabitant. The Coroner: He was typical of the class of Englishman that is fast disappearing."
"Drowned in a Well"
Coventry Evening Telegraph : April 12th 1915 Page 2

"Believed to have fallen from an express train in which he was travelling between Euston and Coventry, Charles Haines [48], 48 Court, 11 House, Spon Street, Coventry, was found lying dead on the side of the L. M. & S. Railway line near the Brandon and Wolston Station on Monday afternoon. The body was first seen lying near the side of the "down" line, about half a mile on the Coventry side of Brandon Station by Mr. Bert Ecott, Brandon, the guard on the slow "up" train. On arrival at Brandon he at once informed the officials, who communicated with the police. P.C. Tome and P.C. Haynes immediately commenced investigations, and found that the body had been dragged along the track for a distance of about twenty-four yards. His ribs were very badly crushed, and in falling he must have struck one of the low standards carrying signal wires, for this had been snapped off the base. Apart from this indication that he must have struck the ground with terrific force, there were very few external injuries on the body. In the dead man's possession was a ticket from Euston, and the train from which the body was seen was the first to pass the scene since the express train travelling between those stations, his death is assumed to have been caused from a fall from the express. His spectacles were found about six yards from the body. The body was taken the Royal Oak Inn, Brandon, where it was identified this morning by the dead man's daughter. Later information shows that the dead man's overcoat has been discovered in a railway carriage at Birmingham. Haines was employed by the Raglan Radiator Company, Coventry, and left his home at nine o'clock on Sunday."
"Found Dead on the Railway"
Rugby Advertiser : February 5th 1935 Page 2

"For eleven years, Harry Woods, a young Exhall engine-fitter, who was drowned at Wolston on Monday evening, had not been in the water because he was subject to cramp. On Monday he spent the day with his wife and child picnicking on the river bank, and at six o'clock decided to have a swim. A few minutes later he was drowned in 15 feet of water, prompt efforts to save him being unavailing. This was the story told the Coroner [Mr. E. F. Hadow] when he conducted the inquest at the Royal Oak Inn, Brandon, on Wednesday. The young widow, who was very distressed, told the Coroner that her husband was 22 years of age and they lived at 21, Gospel Oak Road, Exhall. Her husband was able to swim, but had not done any for 12 years because he suffered from cramp. On August Bank Holiday Monday they were spending the day at Wolston, and it was not until six o'clock that her husband left her to go into the water. About twenty minutes later she saw a crowd of people at the spot where her husband had gone in, and on going there found that efforts were being made to recover his body. Sapper James Thomas Oldbury, of the Royal Engineers, whose home is at 19 Marlborough Road, Coventry, and who is spending a holiday in the district, was responsible for the recovery of Woods' body. In evidence, he said that he had been in the water and was dressing when Woods came along and spoke to him. Woods said that he had not been in the water for eleven years, and supplemented that by saying he always got cramp. Hearing this, witness advised him to enter the water at a shallower spot, but Woods immediately afterwards dived at that spot, where there was 15ft. of water. "As soon as he rose to the surface he screamed out." said Oldbury. "I began to undress again to go to his assistance, and as I was doing so two other men went to help Woods. They failed to find him, so 1 completed my undressing and entered the water again. I had to go under the water several times before I found the body lying at the bottom of the pool in the mud. I got him out with assistance and tried artificial respiration without result." The Coroner: On behalf of the county, I would like to congratulate you on the strenuous efforts you made to recover this poor fellow. Further evidence was given by P.C. Moody, of Wolston, who, having been called to the scene, also attempted to revive Woods, while medical evidence was given by Dr. George Campbell. In reply to the Coroner, the doctor stated that he had been informed that prior to entering the water Woods had drunk a bottle of lemonade, and this would contribute to his collapsed condition. He as of the opinion that Woods was overtaken by cramp as soon as he got into the water. Death was due to suffocation by drowning. Returning a verdict accordingly, the Coroner expressed his sympathy with Mrs. Woods."
"Bank Holiday Tragedy"
Coventry Herald : August 9th 1935 Page 10

Enamel Advertisement Sign for Lucas, Blackwell & Arkwright's Ales and Stouts [c.1890]

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