Last Orders at the Clock House: A beerhouse in the 19th century

Clock House, St Albans (1866)
Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban

Leased by partners in Anchor Brewery

The Clock Tower – or the Clock House as it was known in the 1830s – remains one of the city’s iconic buildings. By this time the building was leased by the borough corporation, together with the adjacent timber-built shop, to a succession of different tradesmen.

In July 1835, John William Liddon and James Ford, partners in the Anchor brewery in Hemel Hempstead, signed a 14-year lease for the buildings with 8 years to run. They appear to have employed the tenant, William Norris, to run the pub as well as a butchery.

Beerhouses and alehouses

Like many brewers at the time they were no doubt keen to establish a tied estate of pubs through which to sell their beer and one of the easiest and cheapest ways to achieve this was to open beerhouses, establishments which, compared with alehouses, had limited opening hours and could not sell spirits. In St Albans, not only did Liddon and Ford lease the Clock House, but they owned the Crown & Anchor beerhouse on the corner of Holywell Hill and Sopwell Lane and, for a while, Liddon on his own may have had an interest in the Traveller’s Friend on Verulam Road.

The Clock House and the Traveller’s Friend were short-lived as both ceased trading in the mid-1840s. We cannot be certain about a precise date for the Traveller’s Friend but Liddon had given up the Clock House lease by May 1845.

The reason may lie in the competitive nature of the beer trade in St Albans. With around 30 or so pubs within 400 metres, the beerhouse would have done well to survive unscathed the serious problems that affected the town’s pubs around 1840. It may be no coincidence that William Norris, a “butcher and retailer of beer” living at the Clock House, appeared in the London Gazette in January 1844 announcing his intention to apply for protection under bankruptcy proceedings.


Deeds for Crown & Anchor, Herts Archives & Local Studies (HALS), D/ELs/T135
Abbey parish poor rate assessments 1832-40, HALS, D/P90/11/12-16
St Michaels tithe award, HALS, DSA4/87/1
London Gazette (on-line)
A E Gibbs, The Corporation Records of St Albans, Gibbs & Bamforth, 1890, pp. 200-1 & 207
Allan Whitaker, Brewers in Hertfordshire: A Historical Gazetteer, (Hertfordshire Publications, 2006), pg.114
Deeds, HALS ,D/ECc/T36

My thanks to Alan Smith for his comments about an earlier version of this note (22 August 2019).