Saturday 23 February 2013

The Kings Head Hotel Re-Opens

To commemorate the re-opening of the Beccles Kings Head on Tuesday 26 February 2013, I'm going to share a little bit about what I know of its history and my own personal childhood memories of the Hotel. Over the next few days I will also tweet some 140 character facts on my Twitter account: @RelicsofBeccles.

Nobody knows for certain when the Kings Head Hotel opened its doors for the very first time but there are records of people who owned the tenement wasteland it is situated on as early as 1576. John Denny was the first to be a recorded tenant ("late Townsend"), followed by William Denny and George Cock. What is interesting to note here is that George Cock was the first to be recorded as using the land for Kings Head in 1668.

The Kings Head Hotel is described thus:
"17th and 18th century with alterations. This was a coaching inn, and until comparatively recently the central archway, now the main entrance to the lounge, was open and led through a cobbled yard with gallery round to the yard at the back. The 17th century portion is two storeys and an attic. Three gabled dormers with barge boards. Thin brick..."
"The 18th century parts flank the earlier, one window west and two windows east, three storeys red brick, the attic floor enclosed by a screen wall on main cornice above pilasters. This treatment continued, on return front facing New Market, five windows with central entrance..."

New Market & Kings Head, circa 1910

Thousands of General Meetings, Inquests, Auctions, Lectures, Balls, Celebrations and Ceremonies have been held at the Kings Head since the 18th century. Its walls have seen many people come and go: proprietors, staff and patrons. Many colourful personalities have walked its corridors. For instance:
1760. To be sold at Kings Head, Beccles c176 hogsheads of good French white wines & c180 ditto of Claret. Duty Free, being wreck wines to be seen and tasted at Walberswick, Benacre Hall and Lowestoft.
1802. Peace Thanksgiving Day: 1,600 tickets enabling bearer to 1 lb of beef, 3d loaf and a Quart of Ale. T Rede gave every family peck of coals to cook dinners. Public celebrations dinners at Kings Head & White Lion.
1821. Celebration of Coronation. A bullock roasted; the Cavalry met & fired; Ten barrels of beer distributed; a Dinner of the Corporation & Inhabitants at the Kings Head.
1851. Inquest on William Allen of Kings Head, Died from Apoplexy.
1859. Mayor's Dinner. William Cowles entertained at the Kings Head. A party of friends including the Rector and leading inhabitants of Beccles.
1877. Night Soil emptied during the day. AG Love, Inspector of Nuisances testified against CF Parker and Peter Youngs of the Kings Head. "Offensive smells through the Town." Fined 1s 6d each plus Costs 8s 6d each.
1892. Police Court. Charlotte Youngs, wife of Peter Youngs guilty of wilful damage to windows at the Kings Head, New Market. She caused a disturbance about 6.30pm and was put out the side door. She immediately smashed a window. She was fined 14s 6d, which she could not pay, and was taken to Norwich gaol.
1902. Fire Brigade: Annual Dinner of the Caxton Press Fire Brigade held at the Kings Head Hotel, the Mayor presiding.

Advertisement, circa 1937

My memories of the Kings Head are from my childhood days in the 1970s. My mother worked at the Kings Head as a Chambermaid and Barmaid from 1970 to 1976. I spent many of my weekends and school holidays roaming the corridors of that lovely place, sometimes on my own and sometimes with my friend Trevor (whose Mum, Brenda, also worked there). We got up to all kinds of mischief and I have fond memories of us hiding in a tiny room upstairs where we made a make-shift house with all the threadbare linen and broken crockery from the kitchen.

In 2009 I interviewed my Mum about her Kings Head days and the following is an extract, reprinted here with her kind permission:
"Rotary Day was on a Thursday. We had to plate up all of their meals and send them upstairs via the dumb waiter. No women were allowed in the meeting room you see because it was "secret men's business". My job description as a Chambermaid varied from cleaning bathrooms, changing sheets, arranging fresh flowers, refreshing hand towels, soaps and toilet rolls daily, as well as the usual task of vacuuming, polishing and wiping windows. If I had a breakfast shift I would start at 7 am where I would let myself in to the kitchen, heat the water, and pick up the newspapers. I had to consult a room-service list of residents and prepare their breakfast requirements. After delivering the room-service breakfasts I would have my own breakfast in the staff room before serving in the Dining Room. Then I would have to go and wake the Chef who lived-in upstairs, assist with general waitressing duties and assist with clearing the Dining Room and preparing the tables for dinner, before going home and returning later in the day (or in the evening if I was required as a Barmaid)."

My Mother on Duty
"I fondly remember working alongside Mary as part of my chambermaid duties. Her husband kept a Post Office somewhere, I wish I could remember where it was now. There was Lily the kitchenmaid or "Moaning Minnie" as we all liked to call her. She complained about everything and everyone. Bashi, Ian, John, Frank and Alfred were the barmen and wait staff and we all got along famously. My sister Shirley worked with us for awhile too, as well as young Tina and Brenda who was a single Mum like I was. They were lovely girls."

Kings Head in 1990

Kings Head Hotel in 2007

I wish all the staff and management of Wetherspoon every luck in the world with the re-opening of the Kings Head Hotel this coming Tuesday. I truly wish that I could be there to see it in all its glory and splendour, having had new life breathed into it after being so sadly neglected for the past two or more years. I will get myself back to Beccles one of these days and when I do I should love to walk through its corridors again.
My grateful thanks must go to local historian, David Lindley, for meticulously transcribing reams and reams of newspapers, rate books, almanacks and Official Guides (just to name a few) for the history of Beccles.

Staff and Management, February 2013
Photo courtesy of Beccles & Bungay Journal


  1. Great information about the Kings Head. It's nice to see it looking smart again.

  2. Hello Lynda, many thanks for your comment. I would love to see it again myself. :-)