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Gosport Society

Charity number 289942

There are Six Taverns in the Town


    By H.T. Rogers

This article first appeared in Gosport Records No. 6 Pages 4 to 11 : March 1973


I am often asked what Gosport was really like in the late 18th Century. Were there really all those pubs ? There were indeed and many other things as well. Today about 1350 people live in the area between the Town Hall and the harbour, mainly in high storey flats. It is difficult now to realise that during the Napoleonic Wars a population of over 6000 lived, worked and died, crammed into the same square quarter mile within the old ramparts.


Sailors, soldiers, housewives, post-captains, warrant-officers, boatbuilders, shopkeepers, attorneys, and many crafts which have long since disappeared - soapboilers, slop-fellers, muffin-men, blockmakers, china-menders, etc. Women outnumbered the men by about three to two and as one old writer delicately put it in 1803 'at Gosport the Nymphs of the Sea and the Oceanides and Nereides of South-Street and Rimes-Alley form no inconsiderable portion of their number'.


Add to this nearly seventy alehouses, three coach-houses, two theatres, a bridewell, three breweries, two flour mills, fourteen bakehouses, an iron foundry, malthouses, warehouses and wharves and you get some idea of the busy scene.


The main centre of activity was on Gosport Beach. Several hundred watermen plied for hire across the harbour and to the Royal Navy at Spithead. There was trade to be done with the crowded prison hulks anchored off-shore, and it was easier to carry goods to Alverstoke and Hardway by boat. Fishing smacks sold their catch on the hard, crippled seamen, discharged from Haslar Hospital without pay, begged for a living, and French Prisoners-of-War on parole from Forton hawked ornaments made from mutton bones for pocket money.


Erasmus Carver, the ship owner whose office was on the Green and who sold guns and captured French brandy to African Chiefs in exchange for slaves to take to America, seems a legendary figure from an historic novel today. Yet both he and his skipper Peter Bostock were real live characters who were as well known in the streets of Charlestown as they were in the SHIP INN in Quay Lane in Gosport.


More affluent citizens had houses in Coldharbour and Upper Middle Street (High Street) and a decade ago it was still possible to see their wonderful bow windows and elaborately carved doorways. Traders lived over their shops, but the vast majority of the populace had to eke out an existence in no fewer than 104 back alleys. Many of these alleys had narrow entrances with iron gates to keep out the Press Gang and would widen out into courtyards containing a number of tenements. These were usually just two rooms often housing a dozen or more persons. There would be one earth privy in each yard and a well a few feet away. Many courts had escape ways into other alleys, and once a man was on the run he could disappear into the maze and rarely be found.


Some of the better courtyards with more enlightened landlords remained until a few years ago - SWEET'S ROW, BURNHAM PLACE, NEAL'S COURT. Others such as BROWN'S YARD, HARLEM PLACE, CROWN COURT are better forgotten. No pavements, no lighting, no sanitation; no wonder the people died. No wonder they flocked to the ale-houses. The Reverend David Bogue might thunder damnation from the pulpit of the Independent Chapel but the masses wanted to drown their sorrows.


Facing the beach were THE ISLE OF WIGHT HOY, THE PHOENIX, THE UNION,(named after the Act of Union with Ireland in 1801), THE CITY OF DUBLIN, THE HARE AND HOUNDS, THE TWO SAWYERS, THE CROSS KEYS, THE NAVY TAVERN, THE THREE GUNS (which changed its name to THE THREE TUNS after the Board of Ordnance had objected to its shield being used as a pub sign), THE QUEEN'S ARMS and THE OLD CRISPIN.


Publicans would vie with one another in the splendour and colour of their signs. Many believed in keeping up with the times such as the landlord of the FLOATING DOCK who changed the name to the FLOATING BRIDGE when that new method of crossing the harbour came into being.


Gosport as a naval and military town had many proud patriotic signs - THE AUDACIOUS AND REVOLUTIONAIRE, THE BUNKER'S HILL, THE RODNEY'S ENGAGEMENT, THE BULWARK, and after 1805 the inevitable LORD NELSON. One I like particularly was THE MEDIATOR AND PRIZES which stood in Bemisters Lane. Some signs would indicate the trade guilds which met there. Thus THE OLD CRISPIN (shoemakers), THE TWO SAWYERS (carpenters) and THE BLACKSMITH'S ARMS, which incidentally was the last inn in old Gosport to have a skittle alley. THE ROEBUCK and THE HIGHLANDER were a type of early music hall each offering entertainment of a rather dubious kind. Masonic Lodges met at THE ISLE OF WIGHT HOY, THE SEAHORSE and THE INDIA ARMS. One Lodge in its passion for secrecy insisted on the walls and floors being stuffed with sawdust nearly asphyxiating the members when one night a spark from a fire got under the floor boards.


In an age when people were illiterate it was the custom to hang out trade signs. Publicans had been required by law to do so from the time of Richard II. Many would stick to easily recognisable symbols in much the same way that emerging African Nations distinguish political parties on voting papers today. Hence the LION, DRAGON, STAR, BEAR, ANCHOR, CROWN, etc. Sometimes colours were used to signify which political party met there, i.e. the Whigs or the Tories - THE BLUE LION as against THE RED LION. Some landlords would regard their sign as their own personal property and take it with them when they moved premises. One can find, for example, a WHITE HART in three different places in as many years.


The ale was fairly potent at 3d a quart. In January 1778 one Isaac Carter declares he saw a 'monstrocity' in the passage of the KINGS ARMS after cutting down a woman suicide who had hanged herself. It was sitting between her left breast and shoulder,'much like a human being; and sitting on his haunch it seemed tall enough to lounge the right arm on the head of its victim, and the left on its knee; its colour was not jet black, but dun; its eyes not preposterously large, and in appearance as the sun eclipsed; or seen through a dense mist, like blood'. Possibly the night air had something to do with it. On the other hand it might have been a genuine ghost, so if you want to test it, try standing at the bottom of High Street one dark night. (Ed. Of course you can't buy beer like that these days). On retreating to get his gun Carter states that it disappeared.


Now that THE BELL, originally THE BLUE BELL, has been sadly demolished, only six public houses are open today in the old town area, and of these five date back to the 18th Century. Traces of some of the others remain although the old ARTICHOKE has been swept away to make room for a car park. Incredibly the Tap Room of THE DOLPHIN in North Street is still there, but derelict, and will soon come down. The Inn itself was pulled down over seventy years ago. The most famous of all, THE INDIA ARMS, so tied up in local history and worth an article on its own, has now gone, but the old archway through which the Express Coach left daily at 8 a.m. for London remains and must be preserved.


THE GEORGE AND DRAGON, the sole survivor of all the inns to the south of High Street, still occupies the site it did in 1784 on the corner of Bemisters Lane, although the building itself has changed. Known to seamen the world over as a last port of call on the way back to Fort Blockhouse it belonged at one time to Goodeve's Brewery, which stood close by in Haslar Street and finished up as a laundry.

THE CASTLE TAVERN has an interesting history. In 1778 the old tort on Gosport beach known as Charles Fort was no longer required and empty and a number of persons, including Erasmus Carver, were making use of it quite illegally for storehouses. One enterprising gentleman, Mr. Thomas Morgan, had turned part of it into a beerhouse, paying the Storekeeper of the Board of Ordnance at Portsmouth 10/- a year as acknowledgement. In 1782, after a long legal battle, the Board regained possession and advertised the premises on lease to the highest bidder. Mr. Thomas Whitcomb, Brewer, became the tenant at a more realistic rental of £110 per annum.


During the Napoleonic Wars the fort was again occupied by troops, but by this time Whitcomb had erected THE CASTLE TAVERN immediately adjacent to the walls of the fort. When the war ended the fort was demolished and the stones used to make up the roads. Some Dutch sailors are reputed to have taken a number of the stones to build a house in Chapel Row, but this too has gone. THE CASTLE TAVERN, however, still stands with a new front but inside much the same as Thomas Whitcomb built it.

THE STAR INN. Originally an alehouse with the rather curious name ROYAL HOSPITAL stood close to this site, and shortly after 1800 the landlords, Mr. and Mrs. Rose, decided to build a new hotel, possibly to compete with THE CROWN and THE INDIA ARMS as the principal hostel in the town. It was to have its COFFEE ROOM and ASSEMBLY ROOMS and one has only to look up at its first and second floors to see what a magnificent sight it must have presented in its heyday with the stage-coach leaving for Southampton every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 4 p.m., the guard sounding his horn as the horses came through the arch. For some years the two inns continued close to each other, THE ROYAL HOSPITAL becoming a kind of Tap Room for the coachmen and ostlers while THE STAR catered for passengers and wealthier customers.

By 1820 the older inn had disappeared and I have been unable to pin-point the exact site. There is a theory that both inns faced the High Street, but I believe that THE ROYAL HOSPITAL must have stood behind THE STAR as the archway has always given access to buildings at the rear. Years ago some old cottages stood there.


THE FOX, in North Street, is one of the oldest inns in Gosport and records show that it can boast of having been open to serve the public for 237 years since 1735 when a Mr. Barham and his wife Sarah were the landlords. It may even date back much further. In the early part of this century a malthouse stood in the back yard and one old customer speaks nostalgically of the smell of the malt combined with that of freshly baked bread from a nearby bakehouse as something which a new generation brought up on canned beer and sliced loaves has missed. Until the last war North Street was a busy shopping centre and THE FOX was always popular. It belonged at one time to Biden's Brewery in Seahorse Street.

THE CLARENCE was called THE BLUE ANCHOR in 1800 and it stood among a cluster of old cottages in what was Blue Anchor Lane leading to King Street. Before the barracks were built, the main road, then known as Regent Road, ran across what is now the parade ground to the Double Gateway leading to Forton. A transfer of land resulted in the construction of Clarence Road and the enclosing of Regent Road, the sum of £1,000 being voted to make a 'worthy entrance to the town'. This possibly accounts for the road being so much wider than was the standard at that time. According to the deeds the BLUE ANCHOR, which belonged to Hobbs Brewery, changed its name at the same time. The barracks were built in 1858. A 'Drinkers Guide to Gosport in 1850', published some years ago, describes THE CLARENCE as THE RAILWAY TAVERN, but this is incorrect.


By 1900 the number of public houses had greatly diminished, but according to the Rate Book for that year forty-six were still in business. I am greatly indebted to Messrs. Brickwoods Ltd. for so kindly making their records available, and also to some grand old nonagenarians whose memories go back to the end of last century. In a further article I hope to write of some of the public houses which stood outside the ramparts, and will he glad to hear from any readers who have information.


1. ISLE OF WIGHT HOY


27. YORKSHIRE GREY

54. RODNEY'S HEAD

2. THE PHOENIX

28. KING OF PRUSSIA

55. SUN TAVERN

3. THE THREE GUNS

(later THREE TUNS)

29. LITTLE RED LION

56. BRITISH TAR* (later LORD NELSON)

4. THE UNION

30. RODNEY'S ENGAGEMENT

57. GREEN DRAGON

5. CITY OF DUBLIN

31. BUNKER'S HILL

58. BLACK LION

6. HARE AND HOUNDS

32. OLD KING'S HEAD

59. QUEEN'S HEAD

7. TWO SAWYERS

33. BULWARK

60. WATERMAN'S ARMS

8. THE CROSS KEYS (later PIER HOTEL)

34. SUNDERLAND PINK (later HASLAR TAVERN)

61. SHIP INN*

9. NAVY TAVERN

35. ANGEL TAVERN

62. CASTLE TAVERN

10. QUEEN'S HEAD

36. HIGHLANDER

63. BLACK DOG

11. OLD CRISPIN

37. EAST INDIA ARMS

64. ROYAL COOPERAGE

12. FLOATING DOCK

(later FLOATING BRIDGE)

38. ROEBUCK


65. JOLLY WATERMAN

13. DOVER CASTLE

39. KING'S ARMS

66. THE MITRE

14. THE BLOCK AND BLOCK* (later THATCHED HOUSE)

40. OLD NORTHUMBERLAND  


67. DUKE OF YORK

15. THE SWAN

41. RED LION


68. BLUE ANCHOR

16. AUDACIOUS AND REVOLUTIONNAIRE*

42. BULL'S HEAD* (later ROYAL OAK)


69. Unknown

(probably FARMER'S GLORY)

17. NEWCASTLE-ON-TYNE

43. OLD RUMMER

70. Unknown

(probably THE WHITE HORSE)

18. WHITE HART

44. MEDIATOR AND PRIZES

71. Unlocated

WHEATSHEAF (South Street)

19. GOLDEN CENTURION


45. ROYAL HOSPITAL (later STAR INN)

72. HALF MOON (South Street)

20. THE ARTICHOKE

46. OLD BLUE BELL

(later THE BELL)

73. THREE BLACKBIRDS (South Street)

 21. PRINCESS ROYAL

47. BLACK BEAR

 74. FOUR CASTLES (South Street)

22. GEORGE AND DRAGON

48. FOX TAVERN

75. ROW BARGE (Beach Street)

23. SCOTCH ARMS*

49. CROWN HOTEL

76. ADMIRAL WARREN (Beach Street) BLACK BOY (Middle Street)

24. Unknown (later THE ROBIN HOOD AND LITTLE JOHN)

50. DOLPHIN HOTEL

77. BARFLEUR (Middle Street)

25. BLACKSMITH'S ARMS

51. WHITE LION

78. FOUNTAIN (Middle Street)

26. THE BUGLE

52. THE SEAHORSE

79. TURK'S HEAD (North Street)


53. STAR AND GARTER

80. CART WHEEL (North Street)

DUTCH PILOT BOAT (Middle St.) PLOUGH (Hobb's Passage)

On the above map of Gosport drawn in 1800 we have endeavoured to show the exact sites of the old inns as they existed at the time. We cannot guarantee complete accuracy as many altered their signs when the premises changed hands, roads were not numbered in those days, and in later years were sometimes renumbered. Some of the above sites have been checked in old deeds and confirmed by Rate Book Records which go back to 1838. A plan of a 'Drinker's Guide to Gosport in 1850' published a few years ago makes an interesting comparison but it must be remembered that there is a fifty year lapse between that plan and this map and some of the public houses shown on the plan were not built at the time the map was drawn in 1800. The position of some of the old inns completely defeated our researches but we have been able to show the streets where they were in the 'Unlocated' list above. They may well be duplications of the same inns under another name. Where there is some doubt we have marked with a star.