My publican ancestors

The old Queen Victoria pub, North Moreton

Most of my Berkshire ancestors were agricultural labourers but a few of them ventured into the beer trade and this post focuses on some of the beer sellers and publicans I’ve discovered in my family tree. You might ask what is the difference between a beer seller and a publican. I suspect that beer seller was a more general term which could apply to what we would call an off licence today. However in the censuses I looked at the terms publican and beer seller seem to be used interchangeably so it can be a little confusing.    

The Stickley family from North Moreton appear as publicans in several censuses and across at least three generations. The earliest mention I have found is in the 1841 census when Stephen Stickley, my 4 x great grandfather, listed his occupation as publican, although the Post Office Directory of 1848 says he is a beer retailer. The directory gives a snapshot of some of the key people in the village at the time: 

Stephen died in 1849 and at the next census point in 1851 his widow Vashti (who was his second wife) had taken over the business and is recorded with the occupation of ‘Beer seller – outdoors licence’.  By 1861 Stephen’s son Samuel (my 3 x great grandfather) was living at ‘Beer House, West Street’ although the census says his occupation was agricultural labourer. He probably worked for a local farmer during the day and sold beer in the evenings and his wife Hannah no doubt also helped. In later censuses Samuel is listed as a publican and after his death his son Thomas and daughter Sarah seem to have taken on the family business. 

By the time of the 1881 census Thomas and Sarah Stickley were living at ‘The Queen, West End’ which suggests that the original beer selling business might have turned into a public house, possibly the Queen Victoria, which was in the west of the village and remained open until 1999. Thomas and Sarah were still there in 1891, and in 1901 Thomas was still there, this time with another sister Emily.  By 1911 the Queen was being run by a Mr Hill so it seems that the Stickley’s beer selling days ended early in the 20th century.    

Going back in time, another of Samuel Stickley’s sons, Joseph, also tried his hand as a beer seller in nearby Wallingford, where he was recorded at the Jolly Gardener pub in Wood Street in 1861. His 13 year old sister Martha was also living there and although no occupation is included for her, I imagine she helped in the pub and kept house for her brother. The Jolly Gardener closed in 1910 and is now a private house. In fact it’s a house I used to know quite well back in the 1980s when some friends of mine used to live there.  

The old Jolly Gardener, Wood Street, Wallingford

At the same time as Joseph Stickley was selling beer at the Jolly Gardener, his sister Elizabeth Shayler and her husband Henry (my great-great grandparents) seem to have been running the Carrier’s Arms, which was two minutes walk away in Fish Street (now called St Mary’s Street). The Carrier’s Arms is very likely the pub which survives today as the Coachmakers Arms. I don’t know how long the Shaylers were at the Carrier’s Arms; the census shows them there in 1861 and their son George was baptised at St Leonard’s church in Wallingford the same year. In the census Henry’s occupation is listed as ‘packer for the railway’ so he was clearly working two jobs in 1861, although Elizabeth was quite possibly running the pub most of the time. The Shaylers were back in North Moreton by 1871 so perhaps this lifestyle proved too difficult to maintain as their family grew; by 1871 they had five children and a sixth was on the way. 

Joseph Stickley was also back in North Moreton by 1871 so the foray into beer selling in Wallingford seems to have been fairly short lived. It is difficult to say what motivated them to try the pub trade other than the fact that there was family experience in their home village. There was also an agricultural depression which caused a general move away from agricultural labour during the second half of the 19th century. With fewer jobs available on local farms people would have looked for other opportunities to earn a living, but having tried the pub trade Henry Shayler seems to have decided that the Great Western Railway was a better bet in the long term. He stayed with the railway for the rest of his working life and two of his sons also worked for ‘God’s Wonderful Railway’ as it was sometimes known.  

The Coachmakers Arms as it is today


Public House Families of Wallingford 1785-1920, by Christina Eke and Lynne Thorpe. 

The Lost Pubs Project –


Photo of the old Queen Victoria – Jonathan Billinger / Victoria Cottages, North Moreton / CC BY-SA 2.0

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