Banner: The King’s Head, Byfleet, c. 1960s. Image courtesy of Byfleet Heritage Society

For many people, the local inn is an essential part of village life, a centre not only for a drink but also for games and conversation, as well as, in earlier days, an escape from energy-sapping hard work and cold and uncomfortable homes. 

Throughout the 19th century, Woking and the surrounding villages had just a handful of pubs, some dating from Tudor times. The tale of the lost pubs is that of shifting populations and shopping centres as in Old Woking, and the decline of heavy manual work in the Knaphill and Brookwood areas.

Ahead of the imminent outdoor reopening of pubs all across the country on 12 April, we thought it would be only fitting to explore the history of Woking pubs with a little help from our amazing heritage volunteers.

Tell us about how you started your research into Woking's lost pubs.

Well, when you research lost pubs, you can’t have a field trip, so we started with some memories, some photographs, and some basic research. For many people the local inn is an essential part of village life, a centre not only for a drink but also for games and conversation, as well as in earlier days an escape from energy-sapping hard work and cold and uncomfortable homes.

Equally the inn has been seen as a cause of drunkenness and anti-social behaviour and at the beginning of the 19th century the government was trying to steer people from gin to beer, hence it was quite easy to open a beer house, but a licence had to be sought to sell anything stronger.

By 1869, the proliferation of beer houses was causing concern and these had to be licenced too. Surveys were carried out to list and analyse the clientele of licensed premises. All these produced records of what pubs were opened, but not always exactly where they were.

Lost Pubs of Woking display © The Lightbox

Where were these pubs located?

Throughout the period, and even into recent times, the villages of Horsell, Byfleet and Pyrford have not had more than a dozen pubs altogether. Some date as far back as Tudor times, and very few have closed.

Around Woking, Old Woking, Knaphill, Brookwood and St John's, the 19th century started with from four to seven pubs, but by the end of the century there were 34. Population growth and the demands of thirst-making jobs such as working on the land or in nurseries, building canals, railways, and the big institutions at Knaphill, as well as making bricks for them, all led to a burgeoning of new premises.

In fact, in 1866 at the annual magistrates’ session when licences were renewed (or refused), one Mr White said: "if their worships had a map before them of Knaphill and Woking Commons marked in white, denoting public houses, it would very much resemble a hailstorm".

Lost Pubs of Woking display © The Lightbox

Can you give some examples?

Firstly, in Old Woking, by 1840 there were the White Hart, White Horse and Crown and Anchor, shortly joined by the Queen’s Head and the Hand and Spear. Even by 1914, the future of the Queen’s Head was in doubt, low use blamed on nearby pubs and the cinema, and by 2012 only the Crown and Anchor survived.

In Knaphill and St John’s, while the inmates of the prisons and the mental hospital could not use the pubs, their builders and later staff could, and first the Anchor, then the Conqueror (later the Prince of Wales), the Crown, the Garibaldi, the Fisherman’s Retreat, the Royal Standard, Robin Hood, Queen’s Head, Row Barge, and Royal Oak, with several unnamed beer sellers were there to quench their thirsts. Of these, there still survive the Robin Hood, Row Barge, the Crown, the Garibaldi, and the Anchor, recently designated an "asset of community value" – not forgetting the more recent Surrey in Hermitage Road.

Lost Pubs of Woking display © The Lightbox

How long have closures gone on for?

Back to Mr White in 1866, "in those districts, public houses were run up. A licence obtained, kept open a year or two, and then, not answering expectations, were closed".  In the next ten years this trend was reversed, but equally, was met by the temperance movement, mostly based on the churches which sought to limit the number and opening times of pubs.

It had mixed success, but the main causes of the decline of the pub are manifold. The cinema was blamed on low numbers at the Queen’s Head, Old Woking, as long ago as 1914, and add to that the growth of more comfortable homes, home entertainment (principally television), more leisure time but more ways to spend it, strict regulations on drink driving, and cheaper beer to drink at home. Over the years, pubs all over the borough have closed or have had to reinvent themselves by being family-friendly or providing new entertainment such as quiz nights, televised sport, or live music.

Acknowledgements to Brewery History Society, Byfleet Heritage Society, Hog’s Back Brewery, Rosemary and Richard Christophers, Neil Burnett, Hazel Gilmore, Richard Langtree, Jenny Mukerji and Kevin Smith.