Monday, December 13, 2010
George Spinks and his wife Eleanor occupied the northernmost property on Bury Street, number 384. It was beside the canal. In 1841 but they were described as running an Eating House. In 1851 the place is described as the “Locomotive Beer Shop” and it is also so described in an 1852 Trade Directory. This appears from the 1840 Binns and Clifford Survey and another plan drawn in 1845 to be a house with a corner entrance and an extension which was used for the eating house. I have made the assumption that this extension was a single storey only.
The Beer Shop, as distinct from a Tavern, Inn or Alehouse, became possible through an 1830 Act of Parliament known as the Beer Act. It was designed to promote beer as a more healthy beverage than gin and enable any rate-payer to apply for a 2 guinea license from the excise authorities to brew and sell beer from their home. They were distinct from taverns and alehouses, usually larger operations, which were still required to get their license from the Justices of the Peace. So in the context of Wolverton the proprietors of the Radcliffe Arms and later the Royal Engineer would need to make application for their licenses to the local bench, whereas George Spinks needed only to pay his two guineas to the Excise and set up his own brewing pails to remain in business. Later in the century successive acts of 1869 and 1872 brought all establishments selling or dispensing alcohol under much tighter control. In fact the presence of Spinks's Beer Shop was a source of some contention.
The agreement between the Radcliffe Trust and the Railway Company was that no pubs would be built on Railway property. Accordingly the Trust leased land where Wolverton Park now stands to John Congreve and Joseph Clare (both of Stony Stratford) who rushed into building the Radcliffe Arms. Unfortunately for them, the L&BR built a new railway station to the south in 1840 and the Radcliffe Arms was thereafter isolated. The aggrieved Congreve and Clare then prevailed upon the Trust to lease new land in a better location and then built the Royal Engineer in 1841. This building still stands on the corner of the Stratford Road but was not at the time on railway property. In the meantime George Spinks was merrily operating with his Beer Shop licence and presumably taking customers away from Congreve and Clare. There were continual complaints until the building was pulled down in 1856 and Spinks moved away.
A curious contemporary report from Hugh Stowell Brown presents a rosier view.
At the station close to the canal bank there was a small temperance coffee-house, kept by a man named Spinks. A few of us thought that we might hold a Sunday School there. We obtained the use of the room, and started the Sunday School, and I taught there on Sunday forenoon and afternoon for some time. That was the first and for more than a year the only religious service of any kind in Wolverton.
We might conclude, that whatever leanings towards temperance Spinks might have had, commercial realities gained precedence, although, as I have already indicated, beer was thought to have more wholesome properties than some of the distilled spirits on sale at the licensed inns and Spinks may have felt that this was consistent with his beliefs. I rather think that the worldly Spinks saw an opportunity to make some money out of the young and idealistic Brown by serving food when the shop would normally be closed.
George Spinks was born in Spalding in Lincolnshire and somehow fetched up in Caernarvonshire where he met and married his wife and where their first child was born. By some means or other he heard of Wolverton and moved there in 1840 to set up his Eating House. Given the fact that the new population was largely male and single at that time I imagine they did a good business. They left Wolverton before the 1861 Census and I have not been able to trace them in the census indexes, even under variant spellings. The youngest daughter, Janet (Jeanett), appears in 1861 as a 14 year-old house servant in Lancashire, but the rest have proved untraceable without much more effort. It is my guess that the destruction of those cottages at the end of Bury Street in 1857 brought the business to its end and that the Spinks family moved elsewhere. While in Wolverton they ran a busy household. In 1841 they had four lodgers and a servant and in 1851 five children and a servant.