The Magazine of Lenton Local History Society

Lenton Times Issue 6 - October 1991

More About The Boat

Photograph courtesy of Jeff RoeSee in Lightbox
A view of Priory Street and the original Boat Inn taken in 1902 by A. Spick.

To go with our sponsor's story we provide a brief historical profile of The Boat Inn.

The earliest reference to The Boat Inn so far discovered is in White's 1832 Nottingham directory, which also names Richard Widdison as landlord. The Boat was licensed as a beerhouse, which meant beer and wines could be dispensed but not spirits or strong liquor. This class of public house had only come into being following the passage of the Beerhouse Act of 1830 so in all probability it was Mr Widdison who actually 'launched' The Boat.(*)

In January 1838 the pages of the Nottingham Review reveal that Richard Widdison experienced a family tragedy while at Lenton. For the previous thirty years his wife, Elizabeth Widdison, had suffered from a mental illness that branded her a lunatic. It had been necessary to keep Mrs Widdison locked in an upstairs room at The Boat. One evening a servant was taking up some dinner for her and discovered the room was on fire. Richard Widdison rushed upstairs with buckets of water and managed to douse the flames but the smoke was so thick that he couldn't enter the room. Once it had cleared he was able to locate his wife's body only to find that it had 'burnt to a cinder'. An inquest was subsequently held at The White Hart but the coroner was unable to decide whether the fire had been the result of an accident or a deliberate act on the part of Elizabeth Widdison. (These events bear more than a passing resemblance to part of the plot of Jane Eyre, published in 1847, but we have no reason to suppose Charlotte Bronte ever came to hear of them.)

Image courtesy of Home BrewerySee in Lightbox
Behind The Bar At The Boat

1832-1855 - Richard Widdison
1861-1862 - Richard Widdison-Brown
1864-1866 - Richard Nutt
only 1868 - Mrs. H. Nutt
only 1869 - Elizabeth Hall
1871-1877 - William Boot
1881-1910 - John Woolley
1912-1920 - Edward Pearson
only 1922 - Mrs. Alice Pearson
1925-1928 - William Pearson
only 1932 - Arthur Weston
1936-1938 - Harold Mayfield
1938-1941 - Edward Walton
1941-1958 - Tom Roe
1958-1988 - Fred Roe
1988 - Susan J. Murden

The dates for all but the last four
publicans are taken from the pages
of the local directories or from
Census returns. The dates refer to
the first and last mentions of these

The Boat Inn was eventually rebuilt in 1922-23 but we do have one photograph showing the original building. Some idea of the building's layout is given in the advertisement (shown left) that appeared in the local papers during August 1884. Note that among the outbuildings listed is a brewhouse (with entrance from Abbey Street) which would suggest that the landlord made his own beer. That this was indeed the case is confirmed by William Osmond. Writing in the Notts Weekly Guardian (in the 1920s) about his early memories of Lenton, Mr. Osmond stated that The Boat 'had been known for its excellent home brewed ale, with hundreds coming from near and far to have a drink'. The water used in its manufacture was drawn from a well in the backyard adjoining the churchyard. Following Lenton's incorporation into Nottingham in 1877 the authorities condemned the well because of its close proximity to the graveyard. Instead the publican was forced to use tap water. Unfortunately the tap water had an adverse effect on the taste of the beer and, as Mr. Osmond recalled, those who patronised The Boat 'condemned the beer as not being fit to drink and the public house lost its reputation'. Custom declined and to help make ends meet the landlord was forced to take in lodgers. The 1881 Census returns reveal the presence of four male boarders at The Boat plus, of course, the landlord, his wife and their seven children.

Courtesy of the Nottinghamshire Record OfficeSee in Lightbox
Floor plans showing the layout of The Boat after 1922

In 1884, as is apparent from the advert, The Boat was put up for sale. The local newspapers all report that it eventually fetched £1,325 at auction but they fail to identify the purchaser. It is reasonable to suppose that it was in fact the Basford brewery of W.H. Hutchinson & Son. The name is featured prominently on the exterior of the building in our photograph, which we know was taken in 1902. Hutchinsons were later bought out by Home Brewery in 1916, although the Hutchinson brand name was retained until 1921, after which The Boat would have become a 'Home Ales' pub. The Boat had to undergo further changes when in July 1922 the brewery submitted plans to the City Council for the rebuilding of the pub. These were approved and the work carried out in late 1922/early 1923.

The ground floor of The Boat underwent a major restructuring in the 1970s but the original layout of the new pub is evident from the floor plans shown left. There was never much land attached to The Boat and this rather stymied what Messrs Starr and Hall, the architects, could do with the site. All that seems to have happened is that the stable block and brewhouse were dispensed with which meant that the new building could spread back a bit more. The public were still confined to just two rooms downstairs plus a clubroom on the first floor; essentially the same as before. It makes you think the main reason Home Brewery undertook this reconstruction must have been the poor state of the original building.

Once the building work was finished in 1923 'normal service' would have been resumed but quite how the pub managed to remain in operation during the reconstruction, as surely required by the licensing authorities, is a bit of a mystery. The most recent set of alterations must also have brought their fair share of problems as the ground floor was opened up, and an extension and inside toilets built at the back. The pub did lose its clubroom in order to provide further living accommodation but the extra room downstairs was no doubt judged adequate compensation by all concerned.

(*) Tom Roe only successfully applied for a spirits licence in the late 1940s.

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