One of the many economic casualties of the pandemic has been the threatened closure of local pubs. Life for landlords and landladies has been particularly uncertain. Many have coped by using all their imaginative skills to come up with ways to diversify and thus make a living.
This photograph, from the museum’s collection, prompted an investigation into the fate of the King’s Head, a public house in Oakham. Do stories about past licensees resonate with today’s publicans?
The King’s Head was located on the corner of Bedehouse Row and Simper Street, in the Westgate area of Oakham. In the 1880’s this was a thriving community and a good place to run a successful public house.
Standing outside his pub is Frederick Needham and his wife, Annie. He was landlord of the King’s Head 1901- 1911.
Frederick was a carpenter and continued with this trade after taking over the pub. Perhaps he had to supplement the income from The King’s Head?
Sadly, he died prematurely at the age of forty-two from tuberculosis on March 8th, 1911.
After the death of her husband, Annie took over as licensee in 1911. It was the same year that Ruddles Brewery bought the premises.
Press cuttings reveal that Annie must have been a popular landlady for almost twenty years. Like Frederick, she also diversified the business. A function room was used regularly for various societies meetings, including the Jolly Anglers Club and the Rutland Poultry Society.
Previously to Frederick Needham’s occupancy there had been two licensees.
Alfred Rudkin had had another trade before becoming the pub landlord in 1881: In the 1861 census he is living in Melton Road and working as a wheelwright. Perhaps like Frederick, he also found that the income from the King’s Head was not sufficient in itself to support a growing family. By 1891, the Rudkin family had moved to Trowell, Nottinghamshire where he returned to his trade as a wheelwright.
Between 1891 and 1900, J. T. Speed is recorded in Matkins Directory as a cabinet maker and innkeeper of The King’s Head, Bedehouse Row. Another landlord with an extra string to his bow!
After Annie Needham’s departure from the pub, Cyril Francis Ecob took over the license in June 1930. Unfortunately, there are no records available to find out how he or later publicans faired.
For almost one hundred years, The King’s Head was the popular ‘local’ for many of the nearby residents.
Now, long forgotten. The whole area was demolished in the nineteen seventies. From the early 1980’s Westgate is as it is today: a development of mixed housing, a bus station, car park and the Wilkos store fronting it.
In 2020 there is no physical evidence left to tell of the existence of the King’s Head.
But what’s below the surface? One day, archaeologists might dig down, discover old beer bottles and broken glasses, and retell the story of the King’s Head Inn.
Marion Drake, Volunteer