Public Houses in Belper

From the Mary Smedley Papers donated to the society shortly before her death in 2020.

In the 16th century there were five ale houses in Belper and these were kept by John Bradshaw, Widow Street, John Gyte, Edmund Andrew and Thomas Smyth (taken from a list of Alehouses, Inns and Taverns of Derbyshire in 1577). There were seven in Heage.


The 1844 figures were taken from the tithe award – the 1860 figures are from Harrison’s Directory. Other data was collected from the licensing records by Ellen Wheeldon.

The only detailed analysis we have is for 1871 when 38 males and 16 females are connected with the hotel trade, including barmen, barmaids etc.

John Whittaker was proprietor of the Red Lion (now The Lion Hotel) from about 1785 until it was sold in 1824. It originally had a thatched roof (until 1834) and three stables each able to accommodate a coach team and four horses.

The Lion Hotel

The Lion was advertised for sale in 1824 (in The Times) saying Mr John Whittaker was retiring after being the proprietor for upwards of 40 years; it had two large parlours, five bedrooms, extensive cellars, a brew house, a coach house and stabling for 10 horses. In 1862 the building was extended over the site of “old Sim’s shoeing shop” according to Charles Willott (who wrote a book on Belper and its Environs in 1894) and had a second floor and eleven bedrooms. Mr Joseph Deauville was landlord from 1825 to the late 1830s – this was the busiest time for coaches with twelve coaches calling daily but when the railway was completed in 1840, all but one of the coaches ceased to run. From the late 1830s until 1862 it was occupied by John Charles Taylor who had previously been a druggist, seedsman, snuff and cigar dealer and grocer.

From 1852 “an omnibus from the Red Lion attends all trains” – this ran to and from the original Belper station which was on Derby Road. The proprietor had exclusive rights to run this omnibus.

In 1855 it was a posting house and in 1862 the Inland Revenue held their meetings there. From 1863 until 1868 Mr and Mrs George Leeham ran the Lion and then Samuel Tetley took over until his death in 1888. Mr G Beardsley left the Lion on 16 November 1920 to take The Old Neptune, and he was followed by Mr Wood.

Lion Hotel and garage, Bridge Street Belper
The Lion Hotel on Bridge Street

The George Hotel

According to Willott, the George Hotel was the principal coaching inn with many coaches changing here – it had been the George and Dragon, and in recent years has returned to that name. There was a croft at the rear where mountebanks performed and Willott remembered seeing Matthew Burton with his head and neck clotted with bread and treacle after he had competed for the prize at The George for eating penny loaves and treacle with his hands tied behind his back at the Wakes celebrations.

Bull’s Head, Belper Lane End

From an article in the Derby Telegraph dated 26 August 1983 we hear that the Bulls Head at Lane End was bought by Eric Spencer of a Derbyshire farming family, for £76,000. The Inn is listed in Patterson’s road book of 1794 as a stopping place for coaches on the long haul from Hick’s Hall, London to Wirksworth.

The New Inn, Market Place (now part of Colledge’s) was rebuilt in 1850 by Mr Thornley. The best room on the upper floor fronted the Market Place and was used for all types of public events and was used as the courtroom, until the Public Hall was built in 1882.

Access to the courtroom was up two flights of narrow, exterior stone stairs into a room at the back of the courtroom. Underneath the courtroom were stables and store rooms and one of the rooms had bars at the window, suggesting this was where some of the prisoners were put while awaiting their trial.

It was advertised in 1850 as follows: “The whole of the premises are being entirely rebuilt and fitted up with every convenience necessary for carrying on a large and extended business and very spacious cellaring affords the means of adding to it the wine and spirit trade. The premises will comprise a capital entrance, bar, bar parlour, market parlour, commercial room, two sitting rooms, house place, twelve bedrooms, water closet, and scullery. The out offices will comprise a large brew house and malt chamber, lock up coach house, and good stalled stabling for upwards of twenty five horses. Attached to the inn is a courthouse (70ft long x 30ft wide and 19ft high), with various rooms, now being erected for the purpose of holding therein the Derbyshire County Court for Belper. The Lords of Her Majesty’s Treasury have agreed to pay an annual rent for the use of the courthouse and offices, but the tenants of the inn will be entitled to use them at all times when the court is not sitting. In addition to pure tap water there is a reservoir capable of containing 50,000 gallons of rain water. Gas is supplied at a low rate and parochial payments are moderate in Belper. The tenant will not be required to take any stock or fixtures. If desired the tenant may be accommodated with eight or ten acres of land, within five minutes walk of the inn (Wyver Lane). To an active and enterprising party possessing a capital of not less than £1,500, this property affords an opportunity seldom met with for realising an ample return. The population of Belper is upwards of 10,000. For further particulars apply to Mr. Ingles, Solicitor Belper.”

Willott tells us that it was kept by Mr Jackson at one time and his cousin, a giant of a man, was visiting when a celebration was interrupted by a group of rowdy nailers and a fight broke out and the Pealers were sent for but being unable to restore order asked for Robert to assist and he single-handedly cleared the hall of the drunken brawlers. The first Baron of Beef dinner in Belper was held here to celebrate the inauguration of a new peal of bells for St Peter’s Church on New Year’s Eve 1861 and 100 people sat down to dinner. A Baron of Beef weighed about 260lb. On the reforming of the Rifle Corps there was a parade ending at the New Inn Courtroom where 250 people sat down to dinner.

Extract from the Derby &Chesterfield Reporter 12th September 1850: “To be let and may be entered upon by 20th October next – All the valuable and well accustomed Inn, situated in Belper in the County of Derby, called the New Inn and now in the occupation of Mr J Shorthose. It is in the centre and commands the most eligible situation in the Market Place and for upwards of fifty years past it has been well frequented and has enjoyed the reputation of being the Market-house of the town.”

From William Bamford’s diary of 13 April 1833: “Mr Hutton was a man of superior qualities – excise man turned schoolmaster, did measuring, surveying and made wills – turned auctioneer and after the early death of his son he turned to drink and died penniless – Mr Hutton fell down stairs when in a state of intoxication at Shorthose’ beer house on the Green (Market Place), he died next morning.”

The White Swan public house, Market Place, Belper
The White Swan on Belper Market Place

The Black Swan

The Black Swan, formerly known as the Nether Swan, was the centre of attractions at the Wakes as it was the goal of the donkey race. The large room over the vaults was reached by a flight of stone stairs outside and on one occasion a donkey arrived at the Black Swan at the head of the race and went up the stairs and putting his head through the window brayed at the crowd below.

An advertisement in a local paper of 1828 states that it was a long established and well known travellers’ inn with stabling for thirty horses. At Belper Fair 1745, it is said that a Moss-trooper came to the public room at the Black Swan to stir up the people in favour of Bonny Prince Charlie.

The Upper Swan (upper part of the Black Swan, reached by steps from outside) was well known before 1788 according to an article in the Daily Express of Monday 3 August 1925. The Commissioners for the Enclosure of Common Land met here on 24 and 25 March 1788. The balcony was built around the upper windows of the pub and this was used by politicians to address the people, as were other pubs in the Market Place. In an advert dated 15 July 1823, it states that it has stabling for thirty horses. This stabling was situated in Queen Street.

Other pubs and inns

The landlord of the White Swan had a large pig 9’6″ long & 9’11” round – he went travelling, showing it at fairs.

The White Lion on the Market Place (now Fresh Bite) had, according to Willott, Samuel Hunt (Sammy) as its first host. He sold beer,cider and perry. He was a second hand furniture dealer and a patent brick manufacturer – the first to make bricks with an oblong cavity (frog) on either side. He took out the patent for this, having his name in one of the cavities. Before Crompton House (now Oritental Villa) was built there was a gallery/promenade around the outside of this house from which Lords Waterpark and Vernon once addressed the electorate. The gallery was entirely removed after a fire in 1908/09.

The Commissioners for Common Enclosure heard claims from Belper people at the King’s Head in 1787, but which King’s Head, on Days Lane or Market Place?

There was an inn called The Old Ark on Common Side (Spencer Road). The Durham Ox was also on Common Side – William Milward was landlord in 1849.

The Maltster’s Arms was one of several small beer houses in the 19th century owned by the people who owned the malt house at the bottom of Spencer Road, which became part of Deb. 1846 saw change of name from The Jolly Miller to the Maltster’s Arms, recorded in Bagshaw’s directory of 1846.

The Cross Keys is on the original 1748 court record. The shops below were newly erected in 1789 and called Market Place Buildings.

Bagshaw’s directory of 1846 mentions a new pub, The Owl Inn at Cross Roads (now (Crossroads Farm) and the landlord was William Winson. The Duke of Devonshire received its license in a transfer from The Owl in 1862 – it was previously an ale house.

Black Swan Public House, Belper Marketplace
The Black Swan on Belper Market Place

The Angel Inn was said to be the oldest building in the town in 1880 – it had a thatched roof and closed in 1910. There was a single storey building to the left of the Angel which was a butcher’s shop and the building to the right on the channel was called Angel House and Jabez Milward and his family lived there until 1928. The bungalow which was built behind the Angel was the first to be built in Belper. An estimate of the Angel Inn’s date is 1750, as it was surrendered at a copyhold court in 1782. John Barker was landlord of The Angel in September 1869. In 1899, when alterations were made and some old panelling was removed a clock was found bearing the name Williamson, London October 1683. It was demolished c.1915. It is claimed it was not built as pub, and was lived in by John Milward, 1772 to 1797.

Some Bridge Street pubs: The Nottingham Arms was formerly called The Leopard, and was next to Bowler’s Yard (near Belper Cycles); The Cheshire Cheese is now Goya Hair; The Lord Nelson was formerly called The Land of Promise; The Beehive near Wellington Court is Now Talk Staff Recruitment; Opposite was The Castle Inn, formerly called The Alma after the Battle of Alma, which took place during the Crimean War.

Some King Street pubs: The Imperial Vaults (now Nourish) in King Street has a date stone on the side wall of 1678 but it was not an Inn until about 1860; During alterations to the Rose and Crown in the 1920s a date stone was broken up bearing the date 1680 and the initials A W B in a diamond shape – This pub was near the bottom of King Street and later became Boots the chemists; The Shoulder of Mutton was an alehouse, below Green Hall; The Midland Hotel was built 1878, partly on the site of The King’s Champion, a beerhouse; The Railway Hotel was formerly called The Tiger Inn and was a favourite haunt of the nailers – once when there was a fight here a man was killed and his body was carried off, behind the old malt house (where the station is now) and dropped onto the railway. The yard was the ground for Holloway’s Theatre which frequently visited Belper.

The Pig and Whistle was on Far Laund.

The Talbot at Bridge Foot was rebuilt in 1660. In 1792 the inaugural meeting of the Association for the Prosecution of Felons met there.

The Blue Bell was in the Market Place (now a tattoo parlour).

In 1908 the Acorn Inn on Mill Street belonged to Godfrey Ford, who also owned the Malt House where Deb was later built. Football players using the Acorn Ground used to change in an upstairs club room before the Royal Oak was rebuilt 1914 and the Acorn closed in 1915. The Royal Oak closed in 2010.

The Spread Eagle on New Road (now the Rice Bowl) was built before 1880.

The Lancashire Heifer was on The Chevin – a cattle market was held there twice a year, it was reported in 1760.

Speed the Plough was a beer house on Hopping Hill at Milford in 1832.

There was a rat pit owned by William Smith at the Horse and  Jockey on Cow Hill (now Hillside Rise) in 1863 – it was removed in the February.

The Hope and Anchor was on Laund Hill – James Hatton was licensee in 1855.

A Brook Tavern is mentioned in the Derby Mercury in May 1851.

The Park Tavern on the Butts (sometimes known as the Corner Pin) was previously the Denby Arms.

On 11 October 1830 it was recorded that eleven new publicans opened at Belper.

There were alterations to the Red Lion and the George in 1829.


The Acorn public house on Mill Street Belper
The Acorn on Mill Street

A liquor law was passed in March 1857, that no drink should be served during the hours of worship.

From 1 September 1869 beer house licences came under the jurisdiction of the Magistrates. All the Belper public houses had their licences granted without exception. The beer houses had their licences with the exception of the following who were all deferred for one month: Noah Johnson, John Glew,  James Melbourne, James Hawkins, Richard Allsop and Samuel Sanders of Belper Lane End.

A new licensing act came into force in 1874 for public houses to close at 11pm and on Sundays at 10pm – all public houses outside the town boundary were to close at 10pm.

The Puss in Boots had a verse on the sign outside which was said to have been written by Lord Scarsdale and the licensee, Peter Bate. It went:

The White Lion public house, Market Place, Belper
The White Lion on Market Place

The water kindly turns the mill
While I grind corn for many
And ale, I hope may further still
Assist to turn a penny
Then try my lads, how soon or late,
How ale your strength recruits
You’ll ever find a cheering bate
With honest Puss and Boots.