The site of Castle Gardens and Hall Close has probably seen as many comings and goings this century, as it did in all the years of its heyday as the site of the Royal Hunting Lodge. A row of three cottages was built in the 1920s by the Rural District Council and in the 40s there were two huts, housing shoe outworkers, the Home Guard and the British Legion. All were demolished in the 1960s, along with The Royal George, a public house that had a big impact on village life.
‘The first mention of this pub being a ‘retailer of beer’ dates back to 1862, when the property was owned by John Tebbutt of Newton, who converted one of his three cottages into a beer house. The 1830 Beer Act had set up these beer houses, which were humbler editions of pubs, often occupying just a room in a cottage and run by labourers and small tradesmen. In 1879 Tebbutt sold the premises, which consisted of the beerhouse and cottages each side, to Campbell Praed, Brewers of Northampton. John Kyle, described as “a dour old scot” became the licensee: he and his son James, whose nine children were all born there, kept the Royal George going until 1914, when Arthur Gray took over. The Kyles were granted a wine license in 1901, but a full publican’s licence was not forthcoming until 1949. It was the Kyles who were responsible for papering the walls with illustrations from Sporting Life and other magazines and newspapers, so that for a long time the premises were known as the Picture Gallery.
It was also during their time that it started being used as the base for both the Geddington Stars and the Geddington Montrose Football Clubs. They used to train in what was known as ‘the top room’, a large outhouse with a high roof in the yard. Tom Brookes, who was both deaf and dumb, being an admirable coach.’
In the images above, John Kyle can be seen in three of them, but it’s noticeable that in 1892 he had a full set of black hair, moustache and beard, but by 1906, it had all turned pure white. (Is this what running a football club does to people?)
‘The pub was taken over in 1914 by Arthur Gray, a keen cricketer, who continued the Royal George’s sporting associations. Match days were particularly busy as Hetty Gray, Arthur’s wife, always produced a sumptuous tea for the visiting teams, often with big rabbit pies, potatoes and vegetables. In addition a tin bath was carried into the smaller outhouse adjoining ‘the top room’, water, which had to be fetched by the bucketful from either of the two pumps in Wood End, was heated in the copper, so they could have a bath. Hetty also regularly washed all their kit.
During the First World War, the Royal George opened at 6.30am, so that farmers and their men could collect their beer to take up to the fields for their dinner break. If supplies of beer were short, as at that time they often were, Hetty would mix containers full of Oxo. Arthur is also remembered for his open-topped ‘charabanc’, used regularly by the cricket team to get to matches. At other times, it was regularly used for collecting coal from Geddington Station and delivering around the village (one of Arthur’s sidelines), the seats being hung in the pub yard, ready to be let down on pulleys when needed. Once it got stuck on Rockingham Hill and needed all hands to push it to the top! However, it also made several excursions to the seaside.
The Grays retired in 1939, moving to a new house in Newton Road. During WWII, all the pubs, but in particular the Star and The Royal George, were favourite haunts of the American airmen from the US base at Grafton Underwood, which boasted no pub of its own. There was a huge fireplace at The George which you could walk into and look up. The chimney had steps used by the young boys that in days past used to climb up and sweep it. It was this chimney that became plastered with signatures of American airmen, including, reputedly, Clark Gable’s. This was the pub’s heyday. When the airmen left, trade fell off and in 1954 Campbell Praed closed it. In 1956 it was sold by auction to a local builder for £250 and briefly the premises were used for residential accommodation. It was eventually demolished in 1965 to make way for Castle Gardens.
Of all the pubs in the village, it was The Royal George that was most vividly remembered for its happy sing-songs, led by Arthur Gray, and its down-to-earth atmosphere.’
From its opening in 1879 to 1939, the pub had only the two landlords, although after Arthur Gray, Bill Sharp took it on until its closure in 1954.
Extracts from ‘Geddington As It Was’. We are extremely grateful to the Estate of its author, Monica Rayne, for permission to reproduce these extracts. The books are available from Geddington Post Office, proceeds from which go to the village’s Samuel Lee Charity.
Our thanks to the following for the loan of the photos, some of which appear in the autumn Newsletter of 2015: Dennis Toseland, Liz Towns and Alan Jones.