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Our Bedford Arms was on Tubs Hill: it was a “shant”, built to accommodate the needs of navvies working on the new railway. One of the town’s forgotten pubs, I discovered it by chance whilst researching mid-19th century  beer-houses for my book on the pubs and inns of Sevenoaks. Its life was short but eventful. Through detective work a tale has emerged of humiliating debt-chasing, a wife abandoned, and desperation leading to an audacious failed scam – a fool-hardy attempt to extract compensation from the Railways Board based on lies, falsified records and bribery of witnesses. To the advantage of the nearby Halfway House, its licence expired in 1867 and (until now) it was never heard of again.    

Life in the mid-1860s was hard for most ordinary working families, but there were opportunities for advancement for those with the necessary aptitude, skills and determination - although in the case of beer-houses it was often the brewers or land and property owners who reaped the most rewards.  Joseph Pereira had a grocer’s shop in town, most probably the one in the High Street rented for £24 pa from landowner John Briggs and next to Amos the baker and Kither the gunsmith. When this began to fail, and work began on the new direct line to Sevenoaks and the construction of the second station, in 1863 Pereira set himself up as landlord of the Bedford Arms beer-house by the South Eastern Railway Works. His wife Mary continued to do her best to make ends meet in the grocery. Like the Prince of Wales in Weald and the Railway Tavern in Dunton Green, the Bedford Arms was described as a purpose-built “navvies shant”, providing both beer and lodgings.   In 1867 Mr S. Bligh was reported as the brewer, and he may well have been the owner*. 

Blighs Railway TavernBligh’s Railway Tavern “shant” at Dunton Green. It was said to have had “an air of the Wild West” about it

From the beginning the police had their eye on the place and the thirsty navvies. In November 1863 the ever-diligent Supt. Coleman of the Sevenoaks Division charged Pereira with keeping the Bedford open in prohibited hours on Sunday 11th October. Five persons were found drinking, but the magistrates dismissed the case, albeit with a caution, accepting that they were travellers, and so refreshments were properly provided. (It was somewhat strange that this argument was accepted since the station was not yet open! A quirk in the law which decreed that “bona fide” travellers were entitled to receive rest and refreshment in pubs on demand meant that publicans were able to use this as a defence against charges of supplying alcohol outside permitted hours – although many of the claims were of dubious validity!).  A month later Supt. Coleman tried his luck again, alleging that Pereira kept his house open after 11pm on 3rd November, a further offence under the Beer Acts. Once more Coleman failed to convince the magistrates of any illegality, although Pereira received a second caution.  

After an initial application in 1863 to sell spirits failed, on 26th August 1864 at their first meeting at the new Court House in the police station the Justices were persuaded of the need (and most probably the benefits of control), and approved a three year licence to the Bedford Arms, used “for the accommodation of railway labourers at the works where 400 or 500 persons are employed”.  

Tubbs Hill stationTubs Hill station in the 1870s.  Image courtesy Ed Thompson.Petty thievery was common. In April 1865 Samuel Marswood, a lodger at the Bedford, was accused of stealing a jacket belonging to Pereira, valued at seven shillings. Despite being discovered wearing the jacket at the Railway Tavern at Bat and Ball and resisting arrest, the defendant was acquitted, the court deeming the evidence insufficient. (Although the indomitable Supt. Coleman insisted he nevertheless be remanded for a day).  In October 1866, at the West Kent Quarter Sessions, William Ward was not so fortunate, being sentenced to a month’s imprisonment for stealing twelve shillings and sixpence, three handkerchiefs and other articles belonging to Robert Shaw whilst at the Bedford Arms. Shaw admitted that he was so intoxicated that he did not see the accused, and only noticed the items were missing when he sobered up.


 Prosecution of a Navvy


Non-payment by the shop’s customers and lodgers and drinkers at the beer-house was also a recurring problem, and on frequent occasions the Pereiras turned to the courts to seek restitution of what they claimed was owed. In September 1865 the County Court heard of their financial difficulties, which forced Pereira finally to give up the grocery and try to make a go of the beer-house.   After attempting to recover what debts he could by going round the railway works he “finally went away from the neighbourhood, leaving his wife behind in the beer-house”. In this case against a Mr Brown (the same one?), the debt of £2 and one shilling was for breakfast, dinner and beer. Although Brown claimed that he had paid an agreed sum, the magistrates told him he was a fool for not taking a receipt, and ordered that the whole amount claimed be paid in two months by instalments.

Mr Pereira

Bedford6Navvies working on the construction of the north end of the Sevenoaks Tunnel, 1868.   National Railway Museum Science & Society Picture Library.

By 1867 there are signs of desperation: in April the Pereiras attempted what seems to be an audacious scam – and one doomed to fail.    In April Mrs Pereira appeared before a special jury at the Petty Sessions in the Crown Hotel, claiming compensation from the South Eastern Railway Company. On behalf of her absent husband she alleged that over a period of four months a stoppage of the road passing the shant had caused “a great loss in trade”. John Pereira “came armed with a book”, regularly kept by himself, bearing entries of takings. This he claimed proved that that prior to the stoppage the weekly taking were £25, but fell to £2.10s during the blocking of the road.  Mr S. Bligh was called to corroborate the reduced consumption of beer, and Mr G Hooper, wine and spirit merchant, for a similar proof in respect of spirits.   Under cross-examination however Hooper admitted that Mrs Pereira had induced him to supply false receipts for spirits, by which she might misrepresent the actual consumption and substantiate  her story. He expressed his sincere regret for having lent himself to the transaction and by way of atonement would provide all the information the court needed.

Next, the complainant called as her witness the Road Surveyor, Mr Morgan. But he, “contrary to all expectation” produced tables proving that the works lasted four weeks in September and October, not four months. Not only that, but he was able to pass daily along the road, which was but partially blocked. Addressing the jury, Mr Shield, defending for the company, as well as dissecting “the story that had been got up” by the claimant, argued that  according to legal precedent no claim for loss of trade could be made anyway – only if damage had been incurred.  The presiding deputy sheriff agreed, the jury was so advised, and the suit dismissed. There is no record of a recommendation that the Pereiras be prosecuted for attempted fraud. (Nor is there any reference to Mr Bligh’s integrity).

The exact location of the Tubs Hill beer-house is not known, except that it was close to the railway works at the bottom of the hill.  At the special sessions of 30th August 1867, the “occupant” of the Bedford objected (unsuccessfully) to the granting of a license to the Halfway House on the grounds that it was “near”.  The application for the renewal of the Bedford’s license was refused (presumably since it was at the end of its three-year term).  The shant is likely to have been little more than a rough-and-ready makeshift building.  Evidence suggests that it is unlikely to have been on the site of Samuels Bligh’s 1868 Sennocke Arms (later the Farmers). Could it have been replaced by the more substantial Railway and Bicycle, opposite, which opened a few months later?

As to its name: beer-houses named the Bedford Arms were normally so-called in recognition of the Russell family, great landowners in London and elsewhere. John Russell was created the first Earl of Bedford in 1550. However there is no obvious link with Sevenoaks. Elizabeth Sackville-West did become Duchess of Bedford through her marriage to Francis Russell, the 9th Duke, but this was in 1872.   

If any readers have come across any further information about this little-known beer-house, or have any thoughts on how it acquired its name, please let me know.

*It is possible that this is John Samuel Bligh, Samuels Bligh’s son, who as well as the Holmsdale Brewery owned the Railway Tavern shant in Dunton Green and several others in the area.     

** In fact the Maidstone Telegraph reported on 24th November 1866 that a J Pereira had been assaulted at Tubs Hill by an Italian, Giovanni, although under great provocation. So if it is he, Joseph had either been lying low, or had returned – or it was his brother, John. 

Copyright Keith Wade June 2021. Adapted from the entry in the draft of “The Pubs and Inns of Sevenoaks”. A more detailed article about the navvies and their shants may be found in the 2021 Summer Edition of the Society’s magazine.

Bedford Arms/Book Entry/WebversiontoRB 13June 2021