At some time in the early summer of 1641, probably after divine service on a Sunday all the men of Child Okeford over eighteen gathered to take an oath. Each man had to swear “in the presence of Almighty God,I promise,vow and protest to maintain and defend as farr as lawfully I may with my Life, Power and Estate, the true Reformed Protestant religion expressed in the Doctrine of the Church of England against all Popery and Popish innovations within this realme.”
Some ninety six men swore the oath, and their names were recorded in what were known as the “protestation” returns. Five men, perhaps wisely were“absent” and one George Jeanes refused.It is doubtful that anything happened to him however as the Jeanes family are still to be found in the village in the next century.
One of the men that swore was Arthur Freeman. As might be guessed we know little about him but five other men with the name of Freeman also swore so we can guess it was a pretty large family. Arthur was married and was probably accompanied by his wife Jean and their young daughter Sarah. This would have been a public event to which all in the village would bear witness.
Freeman would have been well known and respected in the village. His family had probably been in the village for a very long time. He was originally a tenant of the lord of the manor , holding his land under a form of tenure dating back to medieval times known as copyhold. He was a part of what was considered to be the backbone of “old England” – the yeomanry. Not perhaps as grand as a Gent or Esquire but a step up from the common people.
Arthur owned a “messuage” or house to which by ancient practice land was attached. His holdings were not insignificant as in addition to the dwelling house he had a garden, orchard and a field of some seven acres in size. There is some evidence that the messuage also had a blacksmiths shop attached at some stage.
James and Desi at the Baker Arms were kind enough to allow me access to a set of nine legal documents [indentures] concerning the Baker Arms [ or Bear or White Bear as it was then known] during the period 1790 to 1832. It is from these documents that we know something about Arthur, his family and the Baker Arms, for the property that Arthur owned in 1641 is the same as the Baker Arms we have today.
Sometime in the 17th century Arthur acquired the free hold of the property, allowing him to buy and sell the property and it is because of this that we know something at least about him and just as importantly we know a bit more about the Baker Arms. Arthur Freeman died in the 1600’s although we don’t know when precisely, and his wife Joane inherited the messuage. She appears to have let it to one Andrew Moore, another name from the protestation records. In time Joane died and the property was passed to their daughter, Sarah Freeman. By this time she almost certainly had married a son from one of the other families in the village by the name of Younge. There were two representatives of the Younge family recorded in the protestation records and it is likely that she married one of their sons. Sarah and her husband had a son called Robert and as the 17th century ended she decided to transfer the property to him.
She did so by what is known as an indenture and we have a copy of what it said .In the language of the time :
“This indenture made the 15th day of December in the 11th year of the reign of our sovereign Lord William III by the grace of God of England Scotland France and Ireland King defender of the faith etc anno dei 1699 between Sarah Younge of Child Ockford in the county of Dorset Widow one of the Daughters of Arthur Freeman late of Child Ockford Yeoman deceased and of Joane his Wife of the one part, and Robert Younge of Child Ockford aforesaid Yeoman Son and Heir apparent of her the said Sarah Younge.”
The premises themselves are not named, few if any houses had names in those days,and so we do not know whether the premises were being used as a pub or even indeed if the premises were the brick building we know today.
Sarah sold the property to Robert “in Consideration the sume of twenty Pounds of lawful money of England …………and in consideration of the natural love and affection which she the said Sarah Younge hath and beareth unto the said Robert Younge her said son”
Robert Younge [ the e on the end was eventually dropped] and his wife Mary, whose surname we do not know, had a daughter Ruth and it was she who married Nathan Bellow Belbin from Sturminster Newton on November 20th 1709. The Belbin [ aka Belben] family are not recorded in the protestation records for Child Okeford and there appear to have been two distinct family lines in Dorset. One based around Dewlish and the other Sturminster Newton.
The Rev. Howard Belben compiled a list of Belbens in Sturminster and has this to say :
“From this couple are descended the BELBIN family of Child Okeford, whose surname from about 1750 onwards was spelt BELBEN. Their descendants included the BELBEN and the STONE BELBEN families of Bideford, Bournemouth, Plymouth, Poole, Sherborne, Yeovil, Saint John’s, Newfoundland, and many other places.”
Whilst Ruth and Nathan’s other children may have got around a bit they started with a son who never moved away from the village, this was Robert Young Belbin who was born in Child Okeford a year after his parents marriage. Robert Young Belben was a publican or victualler and it was likely that he was for the whole of his adult life although we are only able to prove this with certainty from 1754 when he held an alehouse licence for premises in Child Okeford. He was closely involved with other pubs in the area as later in the century we see Belben standing surety for a number of other publicans in neighbouring villages. The premises he owned were what was to become the Baker Arms. Robert Young Belbin was to live until 1799 aged 89. His wife, Elizabeth is said to have had 14 children in 22 years but many had predeceased them. Perhaps, he was beginning to feel his age when in 1790 at the age of 80 he sold the pub.
The sale was between “Robert Young Belbin of Child Okeford in the county of Dorset victualler the grandson and heir of Robert Young heretobefore of Child Okeford aforesaid yeoman deceased the one part” and “William Clapcott of Blandford Forum in the county of Dorset aforesaid common Brewer” and the sum paid for it was £275.
This sale is important as for the first time the name of the property is given: the indenture refers to “ ALL THAT Messuage Tenement or Dwellinghouse now known by the Name or Sign of the Bear”. How or why it was named this is not known. So, in 1790 for £275 and 5 shillings, the Bear Inn passed from the ancestors of Arthur Freeman into the hands of William Clapcott.
The Clapcott family appear to have been quite big: we know there were three brothers, William , John and Joseph and at least one sister Dorothy but little else. When he bought the Bear in 1790 William was 68 years of age [he was to die aged 89 in 1821] and a substantial property owner in his own right, owning some two Inn’s outright and leasing four others. We know little about the family but in 1733 a William Clapcott, possibly his father, was made a Sherriff in Dorset, his brother John owned land in Manston and in 1775 William himself was made a Justice of the Peace.
Something appears to have changed in William Clapcotts circumstances because in 1795, only five years after buying the Bear he began to sell off all of his property and then, shortly afterwards, declared himself bankrupt.
Two years previously his brother Joseph and a man called Henry Snell had entered a “copartnership” agreement with John Clapcott , William’s brother, and in May 1795 William transferred all his property to them. This included the outright sale of the premises “known by the Name or sign of the Bear” in Child Okeford and a pub in Poole which had the rather nice name “Paradise Cellar” situated near the town quay. Perhaps it was too racy a place for Poole as subsequently it was changed to the White Hart.
William also held the leases of four other pubs and their histories [which like that of the Bear] are detailed in the indentures are quite interesting. The first was in Long Critchell [sic] and was known as the Thickthorne Inn . This appears to have been what we would today call a “new build” the land for it having been carved out of the waste or common land in the manor. It appears to have disappeared as there are no pubs today in Long Crichel.
The second was a pub called the Horse and Groome in Pimperne and is probably the current Anvil Inn. The third pub was leased from a man who sounds like something from a James Bond movie, Thomas Erle Drax. Both he and William Clapcott are mentioned in the same newspaper article in 1775 when both were made Justices of the Peace. He was clearly a wealthy man as he stood for Parliament and was MP for Wareham for several years. This pub, the ‘Worlds End’ at Almer ,rather intriguingly says of itself that it was once the oldest pub in Dorset . The reason it says it was once the oldest pub is because it burnt down in 1991 and had to be rebuilt.
The position of the final pub is well described in the indenture : “known by the Name of the Ship Alehouse” it is in Poole “in or near a Street then called Leg Lane Street …. bounded on the Northeast with the Lands of Samuel White ….. and on the South East part thereof with the Land adjoining and belonging to the Dissenting Meetinghouse which said Dwellinghouse and Premises ……were heretofore part of a Close called Skinners Close”
Leg lane street has now become Lagland Street and is crossed by Skinner street. The Dissenting Meeting House was a Quaker meeting house but is now the Poole Old Town Community Centre and the pub survives today as “The Cockleshell” in Lagland Street. It’s current name is redolent of our history as it refers to the Cockleshell heroes of the second world war.
Perhaps even more unusually the “Skinner” of Skinner Close and Skinner Street today was in fact the Reverend John Skinner of the Close New Sarum [Salisbury]. In 1779 he became a “Vicar Choral” at Salisbury Cathedral and the following year was appointed a master at the Salisbury Close Free Grammar school a position he held until his death in 1823. It was he who owned the pub and leased it to Clapcott: I wonder if the Bishop of Salisbury or his pupils ever knew that he owned a pub?
In 1801 the co-partnership was dissolved and in the division of assets the White Bear passed to Henry Snell. He retained the pub until 1813 when it came up for sale again. This time it was sold for £780 to one John Bragg but again we know virtually nothing about Snell or Bragg. What we do know is that the White Bear was still the White Bear.
John Bragg owned the pub for 19 years before selling it and it appears that he changed the name at least twice. The pub was clearly a popular place to hold auctions of land and houses and in 1814 two took place. One in the ‘Bear’ and the other in the ‘White Bear’ so clearly people knew it by both names. In 1815 the name appears to have changed however. Firstly there is an auction that takes place at the ‘Lamb Inn’ and secondly in a survey of the manor undertaken for the Trenchard family John Bragg is named as owning a property that was previously owned by Robert Young Belbin now known as the Lamb. Since there is no evidence that Belbin owned any other land in the village, Bragg must have decided to rename the Bear as the Lamb inn. John Houseley notes that between 1815 and 1818 there are no more adverts for the White Bear but there are for “The Lamb Inn”.
Finally between 1818 and 1821 the pub gained the name it has today – the Baker Arms. In 1821 Bragg applied for an alehouse licence and this time the name of the Inn is on the licence – the Bakers [note the plural] Arms.
In 1832 Bragg sold “ALL that messuage tenement or dwellinghouse heretofore commonly called or known by the name of the “White Bear” but now of the “Bakers Arms”. If there were any doubt as to the provenance of the premises the indenture continues “which said premises were heretofore in the possession of Arthur Freeman afterwards of Andrew Moore or his assigns since of Robert Young Belbin since of William Kerly late of John Newman but now of Peter Howbarts as Tenant thereof….. and which said premises were formerly parcel of a Copyhold Tenement in Child Okeford aforesaid heretofore the Copyhold tenement of the said Arthur Freeman and afterwards of the said Andrew Moores”
We thus have clear evidence that the Baker Arms could date back to the mid 17th century. We cannot be sure that the building we know today as the Baker Arms is the same building as existed then but equally we have no evidence to suppose it is not.
The White Bear, Lamb Inn and Baker Arms.
Although it sounds as if it should be a common pub name the name “Bear”,white or otherwise does not make it into the Morning Advertiser’s1 top 50 commonest pub names nor does it appear to have any particular significance or meaning. Obvious references to bear baiting and so on would hardly seem to apply in Child Okeford. It is first mentioned in the 1790 sale when it is simply the Bear and later the name Bear and White Bear seem to have been used interchangeably.
The Lamb inn is not an uncommon name and traditionally is a reference to the Lamb of God – that is to say Jesus. It is commonly associated with ‘the Flag’ which is said to be the sign of the Crusaders.
The Bakers arms are common enough – but the Baker Arms is almost certainly unique as it is not named for the occupation of baking but for the family who came to live in Shroton. In 1781 a Peter Baker bought Ranston House in Shroton, where he lived until he died in 1815. He had no children and the heir was Sir Edward Baker Littlehales the 1st Baronet. According to Hutchins, in his History of the County of Dorset, Littlehales was a Lieut Colonel in the Army who “rendered important service to his country: both civil and military.” What service this was is not specified but he spent many years in Ireland serving as under secretary for the army in Ireland before retiring to Dorset in about 1819. As a condition of his inheritance he adopted the namer of Baker.
We have no idea why the White Bear was renamed the Baker Arms or why even today the coat of arms of the Baker family with its motto, “finis coronat opus” [The end crowns the work], hangs out side.
It is probably the first Baronet for whom the inn was renamed but he was succeeded by his son, Sir Edward Baker Baker who was very popular locally and sounds much more the type of person to enjoy the facilities that the pub offered.
I am indebted to Nick Kingsley 2for the following information about him. “Sir Edward was succeeded in 1825 by his son, also Sir Edward Baker (1806-77), 2nd bt., who came of age in 1828 amid great local celebrations. After attending Oxford (where he did not take a degree) he gradually took up the offices expected of a leading county gentleman, but apart from an interest as a young man in horse-racing and the local yeomanry it is hard to detect much sign of his personal enthusiasms, and he remains a somewhat enigmatic figure. He never married, and in the 1860s he suddenly abandoned Dorset and relocated to London for the best part of a decade, visiting Dorset only for the occasional Friendly Society dinner. It is surprising to find that his return to Dorset in 1876 was greeted with spontaneous demonstrations of enthusiasm from his tenants and fellow landowners, and when he died the following year the press tributes remained unusually warm.”
1The Trade paper for publicans.