HISTORY OF THE KING OF PRUSSIA, Fore Street Bovey Tracey.
Frances Billinge, 8 July 2017.
Number 83 Fore Street is known locally as The King of Prussia. It was recorded as a public house from the early nineteenth century. By at least 2013 it had closed its doors.1 (Figure 1)
Figure 1. The King of Prussia. Frances Billinge 2017
No record yet found explains either when the public house was so named or why. The web site for a public house of the same name in Fowey in Cornwall suggests it was the nick-name of a local smuggler who frequented that hostelry, so it could be that that family had a link with Bovey Tracey; or the name might have arisen from the state visit to England of the King of Prussia among other sovereigns to a celebration in 1814, in connection with the Napoleonic wars, which was widely reported in the local press.2 British Listed Buildings gives its status as Grade II, describing it as sixteenth to seventeenth century and re-modelled in the nineteenth century.3
The site of The King of Prussia is in a prime position along the main street of the historic borough. It is very close to the green where the weekly market was held since at least 1219.4 We do not know what buildings there were at that time and in the ensuing centuries, but visitors to the market would have needed refreshment and possibly lodgings. Records tell us that in the seventeen and eighteen hundreds The King of Prussia was known as ‘formerly Prowse’s house where John Searle had lately lived’.5 We will start by seeing what is known of these two families.
THE SEARLE FAMILY IN BOVEY TRACEY IN THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY
The earliest reference we have to the Searle family living in Bovey Tracey is in the 1655 borough court records.6 Since 1260 Bovey Tracey had the status of a borough and held its own courts. These courts regulated the inheritance of and admission to tenancies, deaths of tenants, and infringements of the local customs and through a process of payments, called fines, made money for the lord of the manor and kept law and order locally.7 The records are only available for some years but do provide us with certain information on people connected with the holding which became known as The King of Prussia. Nicholas Searle was admitted as a tenant by the right of his wife – that is she was the inheritor of the tenancy which the borough customs permitted to pass to him as her husband. This record does not tell us exactly where in the borough Nicholas Searle was living. Also no evidence has yet been found to connect him with the John Searle who later lived at the property later known as The King of Prussia. From 1658 to 1668 Nicholas Searle was a regular member of the borough court jury which indicates he was a man of some social standing.
THE PROWSE AND SEARLE FAMILIES IN BOVEY TRACEY IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
We know from later documents that Prowse held the property, later known as the King of Prussia, before John Searle lived there. From 1699 to 1707 there are references to Bartholomew Prowse being a member of the jury of the borough court. In 1708 John Prowse was appointed as bailiff of the borough which was an important and lucrative position. Bartholomew continued as a juror until 1713 and he was appointed bailiff in 1709, constable in 1710 and portreeve in 1711 when John Prowse was the constable.8 It was not uncommon for one family to hold several offices or to have as many as four places on the local jury. We do not know which of the Prowse family lived at ‘Prowse’s house’ or if it was then known as The King of Prussia. In 1715 the October court was actually held at John Prowse’s house. This indicates the house was big enough to hold the jury and the tenants of the borough.
At various courts from 1724 to 1751 John Searle was also a juror. This might be the same man who was later to live in Prowse’s house or it could be his father or another relative. This shows John Searle’s position of some standing in the borough administration.
The court records of 1752 to 1761 confirm that Samuel Prowse held the tenancy for the holding number seventy in the rent rolls list. The annual rent was 1s 1½d. John Searle actually lived there.8 Searle did have his own tenancy of other property in the borough but he chose to be a sub-tenant of Samuel Prowse.9 This illustrates how people had various types of possession of several properties in the borough. Also the low rental indicates that this had been one of the earlier freehold tenancies with the rent fixed in medieval times and not reviewable by the lord of the manor.10
By 1770 John Searle was describing himself as a yeoman when Mary Stanley was apprenticed to him. This means that he could afford to feed and clothe an apprentice, which often meant a child who was orphaned or whose family was too poor to support them.11
THE KING OF PRUSSIA IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
The first reference so far found for The King of Prussia was in a newspaper advertisement of 1829 citing it as the venue for an auction of a lease for a local dwelling house. The wording indicated that this was a known venue.12 Such auctions continued throughout the century and were often for selling premises or commodities such as wood.13
The court rolls of 1840 inform us that the property, formerly Prowse’s, lately John Searle’s, had been held by John Tapper senior, the holding was number seventy in the rent roll, and the rent remained at 1s 1 ½d a year. John Tapper junior was then admitted tenant.14 From a later court book we learn that this was The King of Prussia. The naming of houses in this way was common as house numbers as we know them were not used. Each holding was described by who had previously lived there. John Tapper was also admitted to ‘late Fryers’, number 110, so he was another person who was building up his property ownership in the borough.
By the time of the 1841 Census Robert Pascoe lived at The King of Prussia as the publican.15 He was approximately forty years old. With him was his wife Mary Pascoe approximately thirty-five years old, a son Samuel aged 15 years, a son Robert aged eleven years, a daughter Fanny aged 8 years, a son John aged 5 years, a daughter Mary aged three years, and a baby Elizabeth who was three months old. Pascoe was living there as a sub-tenant of John Tapper. Pascoe had married into the Tapper family in 1825. Two months later the tithes and land tax of various properties in Bovey Tracey including Glass’s tenement were advertised for sale.16 Robert Pascoe took advantage of this and on the 1844 Land Tax Assessment he was listed as both the owner and the occupier together with others of a holding called Glass’s tenement which, from a later advertisement can be confirmed as being in Mary Street.17 The tax payable was 8s, far higher than for that of a medieval holding such as number seventy in the rent roll. As we will see later, Pascoe was an entrepreneur and the purchase of Glass’s tenement was part of his business development.
From his evidence as a witness in a court case in 1842, we learn that Robert Pascoe also ran a granite quarry on the Duke of Somerset’s Haytor land. This was in connection with the building of the Stover estate.18 In 1850 the local Bovey Tracey vestry appointed Pascoe as one of its surveyors of highways. This was a useful position for Pascoe as he would earn money mending the local bridges and roads.19 On the 1851 census Robert Pascoe was described as a granite mason and innkeeper, born in Penryn in 1800, living with his wife and their four children all of whom had been born in Bovey Tracey.
The Borough Court held in 1852 recorded that John Tapper senior was deceased and the King of Prussia tenancy officially passed to his son also John Tapper. Such change of tenancy was called an alienation and the new tenant paid a fee, called a fine. The family actually living there was the Pascoes.
In 1853 Robert Pascoe was paid £22 for undertaking the repair of Bovey Bridge for the County as reported in the Michaelmas Quarter Sessions.20 In 1855 the Borough Court of Bovey Tracey formally admitted Robert Pascoe as a legal tenant of The King of Prussia in place of the Tappers, and named it as number seventy in the rent roll thus confirming the name with the number.
Pascoe was doing well as the annual tithe audit was held at The King of Prussia in 1857. Local dignitaries attended including the vicar the Rt. Hon. Rev. Charles Leslie Courtenay (brother of the Earl of Devon), John Divett the co-owner of the pottery, Mr Hole of Parke a magistrate and major local landowner, and William Buckingham the mayor of Exeter. Pascoe provided dinner for about seventy people.21
When Robert Pascoe died in 1863 he was described as both innkeeper and road contractor and also highly respected.22 The court later that year confirmed that his property was to go to his wife Mary and that this was both the holding ‘formerly Prowse’s late Searles’ (The King of Prussia ) rent 1s 1½d; and also part of Glasses’ tenement number seven which was to be purchased by James Cade, William Mann and Joseph Kingwell, rent 1s 6d. Mary was admitted tenant to number seventy, (The King of Prussia); and James and Joseph were admitted to number seven, Glasses’ tenement.23
Soon after Pascoe’s death all the King of Prussia property was up for sale which included a dwelling house, shop and premises on Fore Street with Mrs Pitts as tenant; three dwelling houses behind the above occupied by John Mardon, Samuel Dymond and William Gale; garden stable and outbuildings adjoining the above; and orchard of three- quarters of an acre, ‘lately occupied by Mr Pascoe.’24
In 1864 the court books record that John Pinsent bought the property from the representatives of the late Robert Pascoe. The borough court rolls of 1868 and 1870 show that John Pinsent still held the property. In 1870 he was described as being of Newton Abbot which suggests he did not live in Bovey Tracey.
By 1870 the landlady was Mrs Elizabeth Lavis, a widow who was born in Inwardleigh. She was fined £2 for keeping her house open on Sunday 6 November during prohibited hours.25 She had not travelled far to take on The King of Prussia as she and her husband had previously run The Bell Inn across the road by at least 1861. 1871 we learn that Elizabeth’s daughter Mary aged 14 born in Inwardleigh was a barmaid, her eleven year-old daughter born in Okehampton was a scholar, with a further three younger sons and a daughter all born in Bovey Tracey. She also had one boarder and two lodgers. Elizabeth was still the innkeeper in 1881 living on the premises with her locally born children being one son who was a shoemaker, another son John who was a tailor, a daughter helping at home and another son still at school and three lodgers.
In 1889 the local Police Court agreed that Mrs Lavis, who by then was sixty-five, could transfer her licence to her son John Lavis.26 He was twenty-five years old and had been living in the public house since he was at least seven years old. However he did have a trade as in the 1881 census he was described as a tailor.
From a court case in 1891 we learn a little more about domestic arrangements within the King of Prussia. William Stone a hawker from Exeter had slept there overnight and accused William Challis, a Royal Fusilier, of stealing 18s from him. William Stone said that Challis had slept in the same bed as him. This tells us something about the sleeping arrangements in hostelries at the time and is reminiscent of bunk beds today in mountain huts in the Alps where the next arrival just squeezes in.27
In 1899 John Lavis was involved in selling entry forms for the local races. This leisure pursuit was lucrative for him as he applied for a licence to sell liquor at these races. He described himself as of the now somewhat exalted King of Prussia Hotel. This suggests that he was marketing his premises as better sort of accommodation than just an inn.28
THE KING OF PRUSSIA IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
In a rather strange court case reported in 1900 William Rowe admitted stealing a ferret worth 7s 6d from John Lavis. He was found guilty and fined £1. Perhaps there was more to this than is apparent as it seems rather unnecessary to go to the expense of a court case for just the loss of a ferret.29
By 1906 the licence transferred to Tom Pinney, a retired Metropolitan Police sergeant.30 In 1911 he lived on the premises with his twenty-five year-old niece, Fannie Ellis, assisting him, they were both born in Harberton. They had one servant, Sarah Garnish who was born in Great Torrington. This is a pattern which repeats itself throughout Bovey Tracey as people moved in from other parts of Devon to find employment.31
By WWI there was a new landlord, Mr Pinsent, possibly he was the same family who had purchased the premises in 1864. In 1917 Pinsent asked the local petty sessions for permission to change the name of the public house. The presiding judge agreed that, ‘You can’t have the King of Prussia now’, and went on to suggest it might be called the King of Bovey instead.32 By 1920 at the request of the brewery the court agreed the new name of the Heavitree Arms Inn. The judge pointed out that the original name had anyway been painted out for years, apparently because the Canadians objected to it.33 By 1916 a Canadian Batallion was encamped at nearby Stover and these were the men to whom the judge was referring.34
By 1931 there was a new landlord, P. Prouse which we know from his being called as a witness in a court case heard by the Newton Abbot Justices.35 The name Heavitreee Arms persisted as shown by a report of their membership of the local darts league in 1948.36
Any records after this will probably be found in the local newspaper, or you could try a nearby hostelry and ask for memories. Some oral history details are given in The Bovey Book.37
Not a lot is known about The King of Prussia and even its name is enigmatic. Sited in the very heart of the historic borough its inhabitants and customers have witnessed all the local goings on over centuries. Various references show its importance in having hosted important civic meetings and being a venue for financial dealings in a developing economy. Its closure has disappointed many but having survived for centuries it is hoped it will reawaken like a pheonix.
- Tony Allen, 2013. Is Bovey Tracey Too Shabby and Run-Down to Attract Visitors in The Cottage magazine, 9 September, (Bovey Tracey, Cottage publishing); Tony Pearce 2017, personal communication that the public house closed in 2009. I am grateful for having this brought to my attention.
- kingofprussiafowey.co.uk accessed 30 May 2017; state visit by the King of Prussia reported Exeter Flying Post 16 June 1814, p.4 is one of many articles at the time.
- British Listed Building ID 8451 britishlistingbuildings.co.uk accessed 29 May 2017.
- Fine Rolls, Henry III, Roll C 60/11, P. 430, 23 October 1219.
- Devon Heritage Centre D1508M/Manor/Bovey Tracey/1 Court Book 1748,1654-1751; Devon Heritage Centre 5595B Michelmore and Company Bovey Tracey Borough Court Book, 1840-1925.
- Devon Heritage Centre D1508M/Manor/Bovey Tracey/1 Court Book 1655.
- Frances Billinge, 2017. The Customs of the Historic Manor and Borough of Bovey Tracey. Forthcoming, Rep. Trans. Devon. Ass. Advmt Sci.
- Devon Heritage Centre 3861M/89-95, Borough of Bovey Tracey Court Book 1750-1757.
- DRO 3424 Z/E/1 1756 Rental , for example Michelmas 1756 number 70 Samuel Prowse for the house John Searle lives; number 83 John Searle for a house called Gill’s or Skinner’s in Mary Street.
- Billinge, 2017, see note 7.
- Devon Heritage Centre H2160A/P0/44, 1770 Mary Stanley apprenticed to John Searle yeoman.
- Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 21 February 1829, p. 1.
- The Western Times 9 January 1836, p. 2 is an example of the sale of wood from local farms.
- Devon Heritage Centre 5595B Michelmore and Company Bovey Tracey Borough Court Book, 1840.
- The National Archives Census 1841, 185,1 1861,1871,1881,1891,1901,1911 ancestry.co.uk accessed 29 May 2017.
- Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 25 September 1841, p.2.
- Devon Heritage Centre 2160A/PO/1 Land Tax Assessment Bovey Tracey 1844; Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 28 October 1880, p.1 confirms Glass’s tenement being in Mary St.
- The Western Times 30 July 1842, p.1,2, Crown Court Monteith vs. Cumming, I am grateful to Stuart Drabble for drawing this to my attention.
- Exeter Flying Post 1 August 1850, p.8
- The Western Times 22 October 1853, p. 9.
- The Western Times 2 May 1857, p. 7.
- Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 10 April 1863, p.5 described Pascoe as highly respected; ibid. 1 May 1863, p.5 described Pascoe as innkeeper and road contractor.
- Devon Heritage Centre 5595B Michelmore and Company Bovey Tracey Borough Court Books 1863.
- The Western Times 8 May 1863, p.1 sale notice.
- Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 2 December 1870, p. 7.
- The Western Times 8 March 1889, p. 7.
- Ibid. 27 November 1891, p.7.
- East and South Devon Advertiser 17 June 1899, p. 5.
- The Western Times 16 March 1900, p. 7.
- The Western Times 9 May 1906, p. 2.
- Billinge 2017, see note 7; Frances Billinge, 2017. The History of Pullabrook, Bovey Tracey (boveytraceyhistory.org).
- The Western Times 13 June 1917, p. 2.
- Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 3 March 1920, p.1.
- Ibid. 29 August 1916, p. 5.
- The Western Times 10 July 1931, 9.
- South Devon echo 10 January 1948, p. 4.
- Veronica Kennedy, ed., 2004. Public Houses, Inns and Hotels in The Bovey Book, p.p.167-8 (Bovey Tracey, Cottage Publishing).