The Four Horseshoes public house at the corner of Basingstoke Road and Long Barn Lane was an ancient hostelry originally known as the Long Barn. In the 1820s, it was at the centre of a libel case involving tenant James Leach and Reading’s brewing and political elites.
‘Horshoes’ is one of the locations marked on Pride’s map of Reading and its surroundings (1790).
The Long Barn
It is possible that the original barn from which the public house took its name was a medieval barn used by Reading Abbey to store agricultural produce. The Abbey was endowed with Whitley Manor, land lying to the east of Basingstoke Road, and given permission by King Henry II to enclose land for a park (Whitley Park), which was to the west of Basingstoke Road. The landholdings met at this point.
The Long Barn public house is referred to, although not by name, in Mary Mitford‘s Belford Regis. She writes of the journey into Reading from Three Mile Cross. After passing the two mile cross, the wheelwrights and the blacksmith and the little farm close to the pound you would reach:
… the series of buildings called Long Row, terminating at the end of the next road with an old-fashioned and most picturesque public-house, with pointed roofs, and benches at the door and round the large elm before it – benches which are generally filled by thirsty wayfarers, and wagoners watering their horses and partaking a more generous liquor themselves.
The pub had recently changed hands when Belford Regis was published in 1835. It had been owned by William Stephens’ Mill Lane Brewery but in 1831 the brewery and its estate was valued for sale to Blandy & Willats who also owned the Castle Street brewery.
The public house was included at a value of £700, later amended in pencil to £750. It was a freehold property and the tenant paid £23 per annum rent. The valuation includes a full description of the public house. It was partly brick built with a plastered front. On the ground floor it had a tap room, bar and parlour, front kitchen, underground cellar and small pantry, and upstairs there were six bedrooms. The property included two stables, a wood, an orchard, a garden and a paddock. Adjoining the pub and included in the valuation were a barn and five dilapidated brick and tile tenements with gardens and a well.
The net profit of the pub from beer was estimated as £15 2s 0d (£15.20). On top of this the sale of spirits produced a profit of £12 10s 0d (£12.50) and the net profit of the pigsty and orchard was £7.
The valuation says that the tenant Thomas Humphries had taken over the house about five years earlier, following which the property had been repaired and added to, and the rent almost doubled from £12 to £23 [ref 1]. The previous tenant had been James Leach.
On the front page of the Tory supporting Berkshire Chronicle on 24 September 1825 was a letter from James Leach of the Four Horseshoes addressed to ‘Brother Landlords’. He described how the renewal of his licence for the public house had been refused by magistrates at the annual licensing sessions [ref 2]. Mr Stephens, the owner of the public house, had attended the sessions with the prospective new tenant Thomas Humphries.
Leach wrote that around midsummer he had been given notice to quit by Mr Stephens and when he attended the magistrates sessions he was surprised to be told that his licence would not be renewed but was not given any reason. In particular he focused on the treatment he received from one of the magistrates, John Berkeley Monck one of the Whig MPs for Reading.
Mr Monck was present, and was appealed to as to whether a licence should be granted or not. He replied it should not, and treated me with great contempt, by refusing to hear any sort of explanation.
The licensing session reconvened the following Tuesday, 20 September. James Leach returned but was told again that his licence would not be granted. On this occasion his attorney stated that the magistrates did not have discretionary powers to refuse licences and that any complaints against publicans had to be investigated. If the offences were proved then the first offence was punished by a fine of £5, the second £10 and the licence was only forfeit on the third offence.
The magistrates were asked about their reasons for refusing the licence:
Mr Monck said that they were not bound to give an answer, and would not state there was any complaint lodged against me. Upon this Mr Monck was asked whether he thought it was right and correct that a man should be condemned unheard, to which he replied, certainly.
At least two of the magistrates were closely connected to brewer William Stephens; J B Monck was his brother-in-law and Robert Harris was in business with him as a banker. The other two magistrates were Dr George Mitford (chairman, as well as father of Mary Mitford) and Rev Henry Stevens.
James Leach ended his letter:
Mr Monck, the great advocate for fair hearing and impartial justice took the most prominent part, and I leave it to yourselves to judge whether he has not by his conduct given fresh proof of his own independence, and the very friendly feelings he entertains towards publicans in general.
Copies of the letter were also distributed as a flyer.
The libel case
The Reading magistrates considered that the letter and flyer were libellous and took legal action. The case of the King v J P Drysdale and others was first heard at the Court of King’s Bench in London in November 1825 and continued until early 1826. J P Drysdale was the printer and the others were the attorney Thomas Smith, James Leach and the two registered properietors of the Berkshire Chronicle [ref 3].
Both the Reading Mercury and the Berkshire Chronicle reported proceedings from their opposite Liberal and Tory political viewpoints. The attorney for the magistrates recounted to the court that Mr Cowslade, printer of the Reading Mercury, had refused to print the pamphlet as he considered it libellous.
The exact words J B Monck used when asked for reasons for refusing the licence were clarified by the magistrates’ legal representative as:
That if the refusal of a licence at the discretion of magistrates and without disclosing their reasons for such refusal, were considered equivalent to the condemnation of a man unheard, undoubtedly the law was so; but that he sat there not to make laws, nor to justify them when made, but simply to obey and execute them, whether wise or unwise, until they should be repealed.
The court examined evidence presented by the various parties to the case. It was conjectured that the reason that Leach’s licence had been refused was because he had fallen behind in paying rent and had already been given notice to quit by Christmas. On top of this, allegations had been made about an argument in the pub between two men, Scavington and Soper which cast aspersions on Leach’s ability to manage the pub properly [ref 5].
It was said that although Soper had second thoughts about making the complaint against Scavington the magistrates Mitford, Monck, Harris and Rev Stevens refused to accept this, they found Scavington guilty and he was fined a shilling [ref 4].
The attorney general went on to consider licensing law:
Now, my lords, I apprehend that the magistrates, in their anxiety to comply with the wishes of Mr Stephens acted improperly in granting a licence to Humphreys [sic]; that they had no authority under the Act of Parliament to grant a licence to a person not then the tenant of a particular house, to keep that house as a public-house at a future day; but this Act clearly shews to your lordships, that during the whole of this transaction, the magistrates acted with a view to the wishes and feelings of Mr Stephens, the brewer and the landlord of the house.
Ultimately, the libel could not be proved and the Lord Chief Justice said:
… I shall end by repeating the observation which I set, that I see no reason for saying that those gentlemen [the magistrates] had acted from improper motives, but that they were mistaken and therefore gave reasonable grounds for supposing that they had been influenced by such motives.
The decision was given on 10 February 1826. There was a short report in the Berkshire Chronicle on 11 February, and a long report covering almost two full pages on 18 February. The judge’s opinion was considered a victory by the Tories.
What happened to James Leach after the libel case was over
James Leach felt that he had been badly used by the Tories to further their political ends. Damage to William Stephens may also have assisted the business interests of Tory brewers Blackall Simonds and Adolphus Hume who was one of the partners in the Castle Brewery. Leach felt that they had pushed him to protest against the injustice he suffered at the hands of the licensing magistrates and retain the Four Horsehoes for as long as possible.
He went into print again in 1827 [ref 6]. In the pamphlet, published in London this time, he said that one of the reasons for this was …
… that Messrs Stephens and Monck, with their friends, should be made acquainted with their real enemies and bona fide calumniators, in those transactions in which I have been made the tool of an ungrateful political party, or as Mr B Simonds, jun, very elegantly expressed himself, “The Pet of the Blues” .
He recounted how after their success in court the ‘Blue Committee’ met at the Broad Face and Mr Wakefield made a speech…
… in which he said he considered that I had been very much persecuted by their political opponents, and that it was but just that a subscription should be opened to defray the expenses attending the defence of the late prosecution [in London].
This was followed up later in the week at a meeting at the Royal Oak where resolutions were carried to organise subscriptions and donations to protect James Leach and his family “from the unmerited destitution and penury to which certain recent prosecutions are calculated to reduce them”.
James Leach says that this failed due to the “foul conduct of J J Blandy” who not only failed to pay the £10 he had subscribed to, but then served notice to evict him from the Four Horseshoes.
Leach stayed at the Four Horseshoes until August 1826, but he was sued for ‘unjust debt’ because of financial difficulties and was imprisoned for 19 weeks; his family had to apply for parish relief.
There were parliamentary elections in June 1826 in which a Tory, George Spence, was elected to one Reading seat and J B Monck retained the other. The result was overturned the next year but during the short period for which Spence was MP, James Leach says that he met him at the Bear Inn. Leach hoped “…that he would see justice done me, if only for the sake of removing the odium which attached to the Blues in consequence.” Ultimately this was to no avail.
He also visited Blackall Simonds, who similarly rejected him, and he reflected on the change in reception over that of a few months before.
… I recollected how earnestly he insisted on my keeping the Long Barn, and promised that I should have one of his best houses; then, again, I remembered how, at a meeting of the Blues in the Upper Ship, he dilated on the wrongs I had experienced, and the advantages that would accrue in consequence to the Blue cause…
Later history of the Four Horseshoes
By 1852 the Four Horsehoes was part of Blandy & Willats brewery estate and was valued on behalf of the three Messrs Blandy in the partnership. At the time the tenant was William Burrow and the property comprised the public house, five tenements and a large brick built barn [ref 7].
In 1856 Blandy & Willats Mill Lane brewery merged with the Castle Brewery to form Blandy, Hawkins & Co. The Mill Lane brewery closed, operations transferred to Castle Street and the Four Horseshoes became a Blandy, Hawkins & Co public house.
In 1903 the licensee was Ellen Ransom who had held the licence for three years following on from her husband who had held it for 27 years. The pub had a bar, tap room and parlour as well as three bedrooms for travellers. The situation of the pub was described as country and the local residents as farmers and agricultural labourers [ref 8].
At that time Simonds public houses dominated Reading. They had 40 alehouses, 36 beerhouses, six beer off-licences and one spirit and wine off-licence. In comparison, Blandy & Hawkins had the third most public houses; 20 alehouses, two beerhouses and a single beer off-licences. Fergusons of Broad Street were second in the league table with eight alehouses, 23 beerhouses and seven beer off-licences. They had only started brewing in 1863, and were originally a wine and spirits merchants.
The Castle Brewery was acquired by the South Berkshire Brewery in 1910 which was then taken over by H & G Simonds in 1920.
In the 1930s a modern public house was built on the site and finally in 1960 Simonds merged with Courage and the Four Horseshoes changed brewery for the last time.
The pub closed in the 1990s and it became a restaurant, the Mongolian Barbecue and later the Eastern Pearl, that closed and was put up for sale in 2012.
Planning permission was given In October 2015 to demolished the pub and replace it with student accommodation. Building is now almost complete.
Sadly the name of the bus stop outside the pub which commemorated the Four Horseshoes long after the pub closed is now the less picturesque ‘Long Barn Lane’.
Reading politics and Reading brewers in the 1820s and 1830s
1826 parliamentary elections
As the June 1826 parliamentary elections approached, the columns of the Berkshire Chronicle continued to refer back to the Leach case and the motives and actions of the Whigs who were involved in bringing it.
The case is important enough to be mentioned in the report on the Reading election of that year in the online history of parliament.
Canvassing resumed in the spring of 1826, supplemented by weekly ‘Snow-Ball’ meetings of the self-styled Friends of Independence and Freedom of Election, and regular meetings of the Blues, of whom Blackall Simonds, a large scale brewer and merchant, had emerged as the leading spirit. At this time the Whigs obtained a rule of nisi against William Drysdale, the printer of the Chronicle, John Jackson Blandy, the town clerk, and two other Blues for libel against Monck, Mitford and two other Whig magistrates.
One of the Reading seats was won by J B Monck and the other, narrowly by four votes, by Tory George Spence. The result was contested and overturned and in March 1827 Spence was replaced by the Whig candidate, Charles Fyshe Palmer, who had previously held the seat.
In the 1880s, William Silver Darter reminisced about the 1826 election and the celebrations that greeted Palmer’s belated victory.
The whole town was decorated with the Liberal flags and streamers, bells were ringing and bands playing from an early hour… Our Reading friends met them at the junction of the two London Roads near the Granby (a few years before the King’s Road was formed) and the procession came down the London Road, London Street etc. By this time all the windows were occupied by ladies whose dresses and party coloured ribbons gave life to the scene… Borne aloft was a large orange banner with the numbers of those who voted as determined by the Committee of the House of Commons:
1830 beerhouse act
1830 is famous in brewing and pub history as the year in which the beerhouse act was passed. This considerably loosened licensing regulations to encourage the consumption of beer rather than spirits, to increase competition between brewers and reduce prices.
Charles Fyshe Palmer supported the 1830 bill but Monck did not. Monck described it in parliament as a measure for “the spoilation and confiscation” of brewers’ property and, on 4 May, presented petitions against it from Reading brewers, magistrates and licensed victuallers.
His colleague Palmer spoke in Parliament about Reading petitions in favour of the bill, in response to which Monck said that he could not accept that :
…the sale of beer should be so extensive, as to enable every man who might so think fit, to turn his house into an ale-house for drinking.
J B Monck did not stand in the 1830 summer election called on the death of George IV.
It is often said that the 1830 act assisted the growth of Simonds’ public house estate. T A B Corley says this was not so but that the explosion in numbers of beerhouses increased the number of customers that Simonds could supply and therefore the quantity of beer produced [ref 11].
Corley quotes evidence given by John Adams, a distiller and hop merchant living in Reading, to a government committee in 1817 that of the 68 public houses in the borough only the two major posting inns were not tied houses.
A press report on the findings of the committee says that the tie to a brewer, distiller or wine merchant was bad for the quality of beer and that people consumed spirits instead:
…the poor and middling classes of the community living in these districts complain heavily of the badness of the commodity which they are compelled to drink, no other being in the market, and are driven thereby to the use of spirits. Mr Adams distinctly states that in houses that have been drawing good beer, and where it is an article approved of, the consumption of spirits is trifling; but where the beer has become bad, that consumption has greatly increased.
The great reform act 1832 and the municipal corporations act 1835
The great reform act of 1832 improved parliamentary representation in rotten boroughs such as Reading.
Municipal reform followed in 1835 after commissioners sent around the country had reported on the local government of some corporations including Reading. Their report on Reading mentions representations that they received alleging preference given in licensing and other transactions to members of the corporation.
Several members of the corporation are brewers, and a charge was made against the borough magistrates, that in order to favour the houses belonging to those brewers, they had refused to licence a public-house in a newly-erected quarter of the town where it was much required. The magistrates allege, and we believe it to be the fact, that there were at that time already between 60 and 70 public-houses in the town; and that great evils having resulted from them, they had resolved to licence no more until the number had been reduced.
Reading’s self-selecting corporation was replaced in 1836 by a more representative system of election of 18 councillors from three wards. The result of the first local election in which 14 ‘Reformers’ and four Tories were elected was reported with great alacrity by the Reading Mercury beneath the headline:
The burgesses of Reading have nobly performed their duty and justified the high confidence of the Legislature placed in their wisdom and integrity.
Thomas Garrard in Abbey ward was the only brewer to be elected; fellow brewers William Blandy, John Yard Willats and Thomas Rickford were unsuccessful [ref 14].
Darter recollects this period in some detail and how:
Prior to 1835, the Corporation were self-elected. Many of the members were brewers and by harmonious action enjoyed a harmonious monopoly.
A letter to the Reading Mercury described them as the ‘Bung-hole Aristocracy’ [ref 16].
- Inventory and Valuation of the Mill Lane Brewery Estate at Reading June 1831. Reading Borough Library, catalogue ref RIW.
- Berkshire Chronicle 24 September 1825 p1. The Berkshire Chronicle first published on 29 January 1825.
- Berkshire Chronicle 19 November 1825 pp1-3.
- The assault and court case was reported in the Berkshire Chronicle 22 October 1825 p2.
- Berkshire Chronicle 11 February 1826 p3 & 18 February 1826 p1.
- A specimen of the honour, patriotism, integrity, consistency & justice of the blues of Reading, exemplified in a narrative of their conduct towards James Leach, late landlord of the Four Horseshoes, at Whitley. London printed by W. Lake, 60 Old Street, Saint Luke’s . 1827. Reading Borough Library, catalogue ref RUA.
- Valuation of Mill Lane Brewery Reading 1852, ref ACC/2305/65/8, within the papers of the South Berkshire Brewery, now with the Courage, Barclay and Simonds records at the London Metropolitan Archives.
- County Borough of Reading Licensed Houses 1903
- Reminiscences of Reading by an Octogenarian (William Silver Darter) pp148-9
- History of Parliament online – John Berkeley Monck 1820-1830
- T A B Corley, Simonds Brewery at Reading 1760-1960. Berkshire Archaeological Journal Vol 68.
- Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser 2 & 3 June 1817. Second Report of the Committee of the House of Commons appointed to enquire into the state of the Police of the Metroplis. Licensed Public Houses.
- Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Inquire into the Municipal Corporations in England and Wales 1835 via Google Books
- Reading Mercury 4 January 1836. Also see, Alan Alexander, Borough Government and Politics, Reading 1835-1985, especially chapters 1 & 6 for a summary of nineteenth century local politics. Alexander’s results of the election conflict slightly with those in the newspaper report.
- Reminiscences of Reading by an Octogenarian (William Silver Darter) p192
- Reading Mercury 21 December 1835 p3
Links & Bibliography
- Planning application 150715 – 177 Basingstoke Road
- History of Parliament online J B Monck, Charles Fyshe Palmer & George Spence
- Brewery History Society Brewerypedia
- Simonds family website with a history of H & G Simonds brewery
- History of Parliament online
- Dennis Wood, Views from the Hill. The Story of Whitley (2017).
- John Dearing. Reading Pubs (2009).
- Whigs and Tories
I would like to thank John Dearing and Mike Brown for access to their unpublished manuscripts on Berkshire Breweries that were particularly useful in unravelling the myriad of partnerships that operated the Castle Street Brewery over the centuries.